Churchill and Truman meet in the White House during Churchill’s visit to Washington in 1952.
Finest Hour 186, Fourth Quarter 2019
By Alan P. Dobson
Alan P. Dobson teaches at Swansea University and is editor of International History Review. He is co-author with Steve Marsh of US Foreign Policy since 1945 (2007).
Winston Churchill presided over Britain’s finest hour in 1940 and celebrated victory over the Axis Powers in 1945, but was then unceremoniously turned out of office by the British electorate. In opposition, he was only able to watch as victory gave way to Cold War, and his much-vaunted Special Relationship with the US declined in intimacy and substance. Thus, when opportunity beckoned with success in the General Election in the autumn of 1951, he determined to inject new purpose into British foreign policy and was quick to tend to the “intimate relationship with the United States, which had been a keynote of his policy in the war….” For Churchill that meant above all establishing a close relationship with President Harry S. Truman in order to emulate the successful and rewarding personal relationship that he had experienced with Roosevelt.
Churchill and Truman had little in common by background; Churchill born into a historic and privileged family, Truman born in a simple farmhouse, and their life experiences were also so different, culminating in Churchill being hailed as the greatest man of his age and Truman as the accidental president. Even so, in 1946 when Churchill travelled with the President to Fulton Missouri for his famous Iron Curtain Speech aboard FDR’s old armored railroad car the Ferdinand Magellan, they got on well and established a firm friendship. That was despite Churchill losing over $200 playing poker until the early hours with Truman and his card-playing cronies. Truman and Churchill were now on first-name terms, though Truman confessed to finding that difficult at first because of Churchill’s standing. Sometime later, in July 1948, Truman in the throes of his re-election campaign wrote to Churchill: Read More >
Susan Elia MacNeal, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, Bantam, 2015, 352 pages, $16. ISBN 978–0804178709
Worth Reading ***
Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante is the fifth book in the Maggie Hope Mystery series and is easily as good as, if not better than, the first four novels. Maggie is back as Churchill’s secretary and accompanies him on his post-Pearl Harbor visit to Washington. Churchill wants her not only for her typing and Special Operations Executive (SOE) training, but also to translate for him, as Maggie has been raised in America, and, in Churchill’s words, the United States and Great Britain are “Two nations divided by a common language.”
One of Mrs. Roosevelt’s young female secretaries is murdered early in the novel and made to look like a suicide. In the process of solving the murder, Maggie uncovers a plot by Southern isolationists to blackmail and tarnish the First Lady’s reputation with accusations of sexual improprieties on her part towards the dead secretary, who has seemingly left behind a damning suicide note claiming Mrs. Roosevelt’s behavior toward her was the reason she killed herself. There are also subplots involving the Nazis’ V-1 and V-2 rocket program, the pending execution in Virginia of an innocent black man wrongly convicted of murder, and—for good measure—a visit by Maggie’s former RAF lover to Hollywood to meet Walt Disney about making propaganda cartoons (and conveniently get her ex out of the way so Maggie can rekindle a romantic friendship with a journalist with whom she went to college).
Churchill had a period of leave and managed to obtain his first assignment as a war correspondent for the newspaper. He was reporting on the rebellion against Spanish rule by guerilla rebels in Cuba when he first came under fire. It was also in Cuba that he first refined his well-known taste for fine Cuban cigars. He was attached to the Spanish forces as an observer but his writings reveal considerable sympathies for the Cuban rebels.
When Churchill was eighty-eight he was asked by the Duke of Edinburgh how he’d like to be remembered. He reportedly replied that he’d like a scholarship named after him, like the Rhodes Scholarship but for the wider masses.
To get young Americans studying at the new Churchill College, Cambridge, a Foundation was created as a vehicle for the Churchill Scholarship in July 1959 (in fact, the Foundation predates the Royal Charter for Churchill College and has been a steady companion of the College from its creation). Now called the Winston Churchill Foundation of the US, it’s a reminder of Anglo–US cooperation and friendship. It ‘honours Churchill’s name not by looking back at his past but by looking to the future of science and technology as drivers of global security and economic development’ (Winston Churchill Foundation of the US).
Nial Barr, Eisenhower’s Armies: The American-British Alliance during World War II, Pegasus Books, 2015, 544 pages, $35. ISBN: 978–1605988160
Review by Nigel Hamilton
Nigel Hamilton is senior fellow in the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies. Dr. Hamilton is author of Monty, an award-winning three-volume biography of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. He is currently at work on a three-volume study of Franklin D. Roosevelt as US Commander in Chief during the Second World War. The second volume, Commander in Chief: FDR’s Battle with Churchill, 1943, was published in June 2016.
Winston Churchill was born half-American— and ended his life as an honorary American. Educated as a soldier (at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst), moreover, he probably saw more combat in the field abroad than any US president or British prime minister. A military historian from his first books (The Story of the Malakand Field Force and The River War) to his near-last (The Second World War), he would have loved Niall Barr’s Eisenhower’s Armies: The American-British Alliance during World War II.
Churchill—who had a wonderfully wry sense of humor—would also have been amused, I think, by the change of title as the book crossed the Atlantic—for it was originally published in Britain as “Yanks and Limeys.” (It bore, however, a less sensational subtitle, namely “Alliance Warfare in the Second World War.”)
Both titles are in reality misnomers, for whether it be Eisenhower’s Armies or Yanks and Limeys the 544-page book is far, far more than a study of US and British approaches to military alliance in the Second World War. A full third of the volume covers the period before the United States even entered the war, beginning in the year 1755 and carrying the reader up to Pearl Harbor. Read More >
Clementine Churchill; the Earl of Athlone; FDR; HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone; WSC; Eleanor Roosevelt; W. L. Mackenzie King at the 1944 Quebec Conference
Winston Churchill was, of course, half-American—an accident of birth that at times (notably during the Second World War) came in rather useful. The relationship with the United States of his Scottish-born wife Clementine was perhaps more complicated but at times also remarkably influential.
As a young woman, Clementine had harboured reservations about America. In the 1920s, she had been wary of the way it was displacing Britain as the world’s greatest superpower and was put out by President Coolidge’s refusal to forgive Britain’s debts from the Great War.
She had taken a detailed interest in politics and the international stage ever since her high society marriage of 1908. Since then her ever-increasing understanding of international affairs, close involvement in her husband’s career, and canny judgement of people had seen her become Churchill’s de facto chief adviser and strategist during the First World War. She continued to play a role demonstrably far greater than any other political wife in Britain for the rest of Winston’s career, but in the 1920s she was clearly no supporter of a great Anglo-American alliance.
Coming to America
It was only when she came to the United States in 1930—initially to convince her impetuous nineteen-year-old son Randolph that he was too young to marry a certain Kay Halle from Cleveland, Ohio— that she began to change her mind. Read More >
Their first meeting was not promising. In the summer of 1918, fifteen months after the United States had entered the First World War, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the American Assistant Secretary of the Navy, crossed the Atlantic to undertake an inspection tour of US naval bases and Marine combat in Europe. His first stop was London. On the evening of 29 July, he was one of the guests at a formal dinner in honor of the British war ministers. It was there that he had his first personal encounter with Winston Churchill.
Exactly what transpired is unclear. One has an impression of two big egos competing for attention. Churchill quickly forgot the event. Roosevelt nursed his annoyance. Twenty-one years later, he told Joseph P. Kennedy that Churchill had “acted like a stinker” toward him.1
Their contacts over those years were few and perfunctory. Most notably, Churchill gave President Roosevelt a copy of his multi-volume biography of the first Duke of Marlborough. Roosevelt thanked him and seems never to have gotten around to reading it. Surely, however, the president sympathized with Churchill’s opposition to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasing Nazi Germany. In September 1939, a few days after the Second World War broke out in Europe, Roosevelt sent messages to Chamberlain and Churchill, who was back in the government as First Lord of the Admiralty, inviting them to stay in touch with him on matters of mutual concern. Chamberlain did not respond. Churchill, who asked for and received permission from the Cabinet, did. Neither man could have imagined that an initial brief exchange was the first of nearly 2,000 communications that would pass between them over the next five and a half years. Nor could they have foreseen the way in which an alliance of necessity would develop into a fruitful but ambiguous personal relationship.2 Read More >
An Uneducated Man Speaking His Mind: Winston Churchill and American Universities
Winston Churchill was always somewhat ambivalent about education. He recalled that his schooldays were “the only barren and unhappy period of my life,” and he never attended university.1 Yet he received many honorary degrees in the United States, Great Britain, and Europe. The occasions for these awards gave him the opportunity, originally as Britain’s wartime prime minister and later as an international statesman, to discuss the benefits of education and make wide-ranging assessments of the state of the world. He delivered speeches at universities all over Europe, from Bristol to Brussels, from Leiden to London. But it was his American addresses at Harvard University, the University of Miami, Westminster College, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from the years 1943 to 1949, which were the most significant.
At the beginning of this period, Churchill was Britain’s wartime prime minister and a fervent believer in the Anglo-American alliance. Later, after his election defeat in 1945, he became the leader of the Conservative opposition. Desiring to rebuild his political career, he saw the advent of the Cold War as an opportunity to revive the Anglo-American relationship, which he feared had lapsed after the Allied victory in 1945. In calling for Great Britain and the United States to take concerted action against the expansionist aims of the Soviet Union, he was also re-establishing himself as someone with important things to say about the state and the future of the contemporary world. The ideal place for him to speak his mind on these topics proved to be on American campuses. He utilized these opportunities not only to promote the importance of the Anglo-American relationship, first against Nazi Germany and then the Soviet Union, but also to offer his thoughts on the general importance of higher education. Read More >
It was a grey day in January 1989 when I discovered that my leather-bound copy of The River War, one of thirty-four volumes of the Collected Works of Sir Winston S. Churchill that I had recently purchased, was but an abridgment. Like Churchill himself, if on a more modest scale, I have always lived a charmed life; and, by extraordinary good fortune, my wife Judith and I were halfway through a fifteen-month wedding trip, for most of which we lived in civilized but straitened splendor in London at William Goodenough College, near Russell Square. I was an academic visitor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, working on a book about Churchill’s writings. But half a dozen noble distractions—books on and by Churchill that I have been editing since then—are my apology for my original work remaining incomplete more than a quarter-century later. Four of these distractions have been published, with two more soon to appear: new editions of Churchill’s autobiography My Early Life: A Roving Commission and his most impressive early book The River War: An Historical Account of the reconquest of the Soudan.
Having just finished in autumn 1988a draft chapter about Churchill’s experiences on the Nile nine decades earlier, I was learning that winter about his time in South Africa. But an entry in the bound catalogue of the old British Library stating that the first edition of The River War, published in November 1899, was a two-volume work had led me to look at it. A rare book, it had to be consulted not at my usual seat in the round Reading Room, where Karl Marx had written his book on capital, but in the North Reading Room, where rules were stricter. After the book was delivered to me there, I kept it for days to find out what the differences were between it and the version I owned. It turned out that the first edition had Read More >
Kaarel Piirimäe, Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Baltic Question: Allied Relations during the Second World War, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, xvi + 276 pages, $90.
This book’s cover accurately labels the Baltic nations “a neglected corner of wartime Europe.” But Josef Stalin never neglected them, occupying Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania without ceremony in June 1940. He had waited while fighting the Winter War with Finland in the hope that the three states would Sovietize themselves— which they did not. The swift fall of France that spring only fed Stalin’s suspicions that some sort of Anglo-German entente was afoot, prompting his move.
What could the little Baltic states do? Caught between the Soviet Union and Germany, they had no political leverage and even less military strength. All they really had was their own sense of cultural and (to a somewhat exaggerated degree) historic nationalism. As with Finland, the West reflexively empathized and sympathized (though much less noisily)—and did nothing. Whether the West could have done anything effective is what this book is about.
The stage was set for the entire war by the initial reactions of Britain and the United States: reactions too minor to be called policy. The personal involvement of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt showed equal indifference. Soviet concerns and reactions were far more important to the two leaders than awkward promises of self-determination made in the Atlantic Charter. Read More >
29TH INTERNATIONAL CHURCHILL CONFERENCE, TORONTO, ONTARIO, 12 OCTOBER 2012
By Warren F. Kimball
Canadians valued their independence even while cherishing their special political relationship to Britain and the Empire. With Churchill’s Britain the major ally, Canada tended to be subsumed in Anglo-American negotiations over the conduct of the war, a pattern that alternately pleased and annoyed wartime Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who projected a world role for Canada as the most important member of the British Commonwealth. Because Canadians sought, within the clear limitations of their economic and military strength, to play a global role during and after the war, hemispheric organizations and structures [which FDR promoted] held no appeal.*
Churchill from 1939 through 1945 subordinated Canada to the Anglo-American alliance that, along with the Soviet Union, defeated Nazi Germany. In his wonderful way, Sir Winston blithely assumed—a dangerous act for leaders—that the Empire would support the mother country. He was wrong to a greater degree than he expected about the Indians and the Irish, but not about the Canadians. Read More >
Market Impacts: Financial Aspects of the Special Relationship
By Irwin Stelzer
Dr. Stelzer is an American economist living in London and Washington, D.C. He is U.S. economic and business columnist for The Sunday Times, and Director of Economic Policy Studies at the Hudson Institute, as well as a contributing editor at The Weekly Standard. He is a consultant on market strategy, pricing and regulatory issues for United States and United Kingdom industries.
28th International Churchill Conference, London, England October 2011
I have been asked to discuss the impact on markets and the economy of the Anglo-American relationship, no easy chore.
President John F Kennedy declares Winston Churchill an honorary citizen of the United States
Declaration of Citizenship
April 9, 1963
Response by President John F. Kennedy and the Response by Winston Churchill
Declaration of Honorary Citizen of United States of America
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
WHEREAS Sir Winston Churchill, a son of America though a subject of Britain, has been throughout his life a firm and steadfast friend of the American people and the American nation; and
WHEREAS he has freely offered his hand and his faith in days of adversity as well as triumph; and
WHEREAS his bravery, charity and valor, both in war and in peace, have been a flame of inspiration in freedom’s darkest hour; and
WHEREAS his life has shown that no adversary can overcome, and no feat can deter, free men in the defense of their freedom; and
WHEREAS he has by his art as an historian and his judgment as a statesman made the past the servant of the future;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOHN F. KENNEDY, President of the United States of America, under the authority contained in an Act of the 88th Congress, do hereby declare Sir Winston Churchill an honorary citizen of the United States of America.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States of America to be affixed.
DONE at the City of Washington this ninth day of April, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and eighty-seventh.
Churchill tells the US Congress that Britain is committed to fighting Japan
“It is the duty of those who are charged with the direction of the war to overcome at the earliest moment the military, geographical and political difficulties and begin the process so necessary and desirable of laying the cities and other munition centres of Japan in ashes, for in ashes they must surely lie before peace comes back to the world. ”
‘And here let me say: let no one suggest that we British have not at least as great an interest as the United States in the unflinching and relentless waging of war against Japan. But I am here to tell you that we will wage that war side by side with you, in accordance with the best strategic employment of our forces while there is breath in our bodies and while blood flows in our veins.
The African war is over. Mussolini’s African Empire and Corporal Hitler’s strategy are alike exploded. One continent at least has been cleansed and purged forever from Fascist and Nazi tyranny.
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.