Almost a year before America was attacked at Pearl Harbor and officially joined World war II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent his top aide to London to promise aid to Prime Minister Winston Churchill with a slightly amended Bible quote. This was the promise that would lead to the Lend-Lease Act, Destroyers for Bases, and other programs that would buy the British Empire time against the Third Reich.
Harry L. Hopkins was a social worker in New York in 1931 when Roosevelt, as the governor of New York, tapped him to run the New York State Temporary Emergency Relief Administration. From there, Hopkins grew professionally closer to the governor and then went with him to the federal level as the administrator of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.
In this role, Hopkins was basically one of the new president’s architects for economic recovery from the Great Depression. He directed the spending of .5 billion to shore up the economy, served on the Drought Committee, the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation, and other groups. Roosevelt eventually named him Secretary of Commerce.
By the time World War II broke out in 1939, Hopkins had been a trusted and capable entity for Roosevelt for eight years. So, despite being an economics guy, Roosevelt still leaned on him for foreign policy, as well.
By 1940 and 1941, Hopkins was being sent to London and Moscow to express support for the Allied Powers holding the line against Hitler. And, in January 1941, that was just Britain.
England was still reeling from the barely successful defense during the Battle of Britain where it staved off the air campaign and prevented a German cross-channel invasion but lost tens of thousands of British civilians and service members in the process.
And so Hopkins re-assured Churchill during a small dinner party by offering a toast with a fitting Bible quote. He altered slightly, saying, “Whither thou goest, I will go. And where though lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. Even to the end.”
That last bit, “Even to the end,” does not appear in the actual Bible quote, though the idea is similar. It’s from Ruth 1:16 which reads, “And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
In the Bible, this is followed by Ruth 1:17 which says, “Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”
So, yeah, “Even to the end,” is just a more succinct version of what Ruth was saying there.
The message could not have been more clear to England, and it wasn’t the only sign that Roosevelt stood with Britain. He gave a speech January 6 where he laid out the “Four Freedoms” as a democratic condemnation of the fascist powers. And, as he built support in Congress, he continued shipping as much military hardware over as he could excuse.
Though America was technically neutral in the conflict at that point, Roosevelt made plans to “loan” equipment to Britain, to rent it out, to trade it for bases, and more. These efforts sent 50 destroyers and thousands of vehicles and weapons across the Atlantic. U.S. ships, including the Coast Guard, assured the sovereignty of other neutral nations, mostly by searching out Nazis and arresting them in places like Greenland.
Of course, all this work raised the ire of the Axis Powers. Combined with an embargo that would starve Japan of oil, this led to an attack against America which, in line with Japan’s military history to that point, took the form of a surprise attack over the seas. And then America took the gloves off, focusing less on sermons at dinner parties and more on smacking the absolute sh-t out of Japanese and German forces.