World War II

A CAPITAL WHODUNIT

Chicago Tribune reporter Chesly Manly knew the document in front of him was the scoop of a lifetime. The date was December 2, 1941, and Manly was reading the U.S. War Department’s most closely guarded secret, a detailed plan to defeat Germany and the Axis in a war that the United States had not yet entered and that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had vowed to keep the country out of.

Manly studied the 350-page tome and wrote his story the next day. Though the plan was a military secret, Manly believed the public was entitled to know about it, and he got the go-ahead from Tribune publisher Robert R. McCormick, a strident isolationist and ardent foe of all things Roosevelt.

“F.D.R.’s War Plans!” screamed the front-page banner headline in the Tribune’s Thursday, December 4 edition. Smaller headlines proclaimed, “Goal Is 10 Million Armed Men” and “Proposes Land Drive by July 1, 1943, to Smash Nazis.” The Tribune’s sister paper, the Washington Times-Herald, played the story big, too.

The secret military plan was a “blueprint for total war on a scale unprecedented in at least two oceans and three continents, Europe, Africa, and Asia,” Manly wrote, and he reported that July 1, 1943, was the date fixed for an Allied invasion of Europe. The plan called for a U.S. armed force of 10 million men, more than seven times the strength at the time, with five million slated to be deployed to Europe. The War Department admitted that Britain and Russia alone could not beat Hitler, Manly noted, and that victory would require the United States to enter the war. An ecstatic McCormick congratulated Manly and the rest of the Tribune’s Washington bureau on what he called “perhaps the greatest scoop in the history of journalism.”

The story was a complete surprise to the government just three days before the Pearl Harbor attack.

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