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He wanted only what every journalist of the time did: an exclusive interview with the Duke of Windsor. What he got was an astonishing proposition that sent him on an urgent top-secret visit to the White House and a once-in-a-lifetime story that was too hot to print—until now.
December 1991 | Volume 42, Issue 8
McGrath and I waited and talked for a while, and then appeared Captain Drury—tall, thin, in his early thirties, very slick, very smooth, urbane, kindly, hospitable—. He said that the Duke would be glad to see me the following evening. I said that was impossible as I had to get back to the States in time for Christmas. He then went downstairs and talked with the Duke, came back and said the Duke would receive Mrs. Oursler and my daughter, April, and myself at 6 o’clock that evening; that he would talk with them for a few minutes and then would give me an hour. I told Drury some of the things I would like to talk with him about and he promised to prepare the Duke for these questions.
I then went home to lunch with McGrath.…At six o’clock we all went out to Government House, went into the front door and into the very elegant drawing room just refurnished.…After awhile the Duke came in wearing a sport coat, looking very fit. He greeted us affably and talked about his visit to Miami, his first visit to the United States in sixteen years and his wife’s first visit in eight years. Life in Nassau was like living in a village. Getting back to the United States was a tremendously invigorating experience; forty new hotels, throb of energy; good for the soul; is Miami the United States? Where do people get the money? Good thing anyway.
Then Grace and April left, and we sat down to discuss the affairs of the world. I put the questions to the Duke that I had in mind and he answered them as will appear in the Liberty story. Then, to my astonishment, he began to ask me questions. Did I think that America should come into the war? I replied that I did not and told him of the many conversations I had had on this subject with Herbert Hoover, also the point that Hoover had made in his Liberty article about the need for a strong neutral power at the peace table.
At this the Duke became greatly agitated. He said that that represented his own opinion exactly. He asked me if the leading intellectuals with whom I had acquaintance also held this view. I said that some of them did and some of them did not. He asked me if they thought Great Britain could win the war. I said that some of them did and some of them did not. He spoke of the bitterness that was being bred in the people and that there would be need of a reconciling force at the peace table. He said that there was no such thing in modern warfare as victory. There could be no victory.
He reminded me that the German armies were never defeated in 1914—1918; that the German nation collapsed behind the lines but that the lines had never been broken. I asked him if he thought a similar situation was developing now. I pointed out what had happened in Norway and Denmark when German soldiers had been attacked. I pointed out the courage of Marshal Pétain in deposing Laval. I remarked that while news of the Italian defeat was not published in Germany that the underground of rumor was undoubtedly spreading the story and making it much worse than it was and that this might lead to revolution in Germany.
He said there was too much wishful thinking; that there would be no revolution in Germany and it would be a tragic thing for the world if Hitler were overthrown. Hitler, he said, was the right and logical leader of the German people. He said it was unfortunate that I had never met Hitler just as he was sorry he had never met Mussolini. He regarded Hitler as a great man.
I was beginning to feel dazed. For the first time in my life it was literally true that I did not believe my ears. There was a silence. Suddenly Windsor leaned forward, shooting his head out like a turtle and bent almost double in his chair, he looked around at me and said, “Do you suppose that your President would consider intervening as a mediator when, as and if the proper time arrives?”
I tried to keep my voice steady as I replied that in my opinion, the President would do so if the time ever arrived when he thought it would be to the best interests of humanity for him to do so, but I added that…I had had no expression from him on the subject and that my opinion was merely a guess founded on my knowledge of him and what others had said.
The Duke then remarked that few people were aware of what a serious situation Britain was in. England was blockading Germany, but Germany was also blockading England. The submarine losses were enormous and getting worse and creating havoc. The time was coming when something would have to be done. Some one would have to make a move. This was a war between two very stubborn peoples. Again he bent forward in the jackknife gesture and said to me, “It sounds very silly to put it this way, but the time is coming when somebody has got to say, you two boys have fought long enough and now you have to kiss and make up.”
I concealed my horror at this utterance believing that it was to my country’s best interest for me to lead him on. I told him that I did not believe Hitler would listen to any proposals that would give England a break because Hitler had a kind of mysticism that supplanted reason.
He said that he believed that there was a strong enough element in German politics to moderate Hitler’s fanaticism and that a just peace could be made. He agreed with me that the problems of the peace would be infinitely more tragic than the problems of the war.