In desperate times, your enemy’s enemy becomes your friend. During the Second World War, the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union would never have been tripartite allies if they had not shared a deadly enemy with Adolf Hitler. The Americans were isolationists, the British were imperialists and the Soviets were communists – most different from the political companions.
But once Germany made its plans for world domination painfully clear, the leaders of the “big three” countries – Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin – realized that the only way to defeat Nazism was to put highlight their important political and personal differences. aside in the name of global security. The only question was, how much was each leader willing to sacrifice to make the difficult alliance work?
Roosevelt, the progressive pragmatist
When World War II broke out in 1939, the FDR was on the verge of being elected for a third historic term as popular and progressive president. The American Congress and the American people hoped not to participate in the Second World War. America felt that it had already sacrificed more than enough young lives during the First World War and did not want to be drawn into another bloody European conflict.
After Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, in direct disregard of British and French demands, the FDR refused to enter the fray, declaring the United States neutral instead. Even when the Nazis invaded Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg the following spring, prompting Churchill to call for strong American support, the FDR and Congress refused to do anything other than provide financial aid and equipment military to the Allied cause.
The relationship between FDR and Churchill echoes the strained alliance between the two largest western democracies. Socially, the two men were a perfect match – both gregarious and aristocratic, with a flair for conversation. But Churchill, a soldier and decorated officer, was a passionate defender of the British Empire, which still controlled vast territories, from Africa to India via the Far East. The FDR, on the other hand, was a staunch critic of what it considered the evils of imperialism.
Watch a preview of World War II: race for victory. The three-part miniseries event will be presented on Sunday June 14 at 9 / 8c.
There was no such easy social connection between the FDR and Stalin, a communist dictator who actively purged all political opposition, even if it meant killing or imprisoning people in the highest ranks of the Soviet government and the military. . However, Roosevelt recognized very early on the political advantages of a positive relationship between the United States and the USSR, in particular as a buffer against the Japanese. In fact, during its first year as president, the FDR took steps to recognize the existence of the Soviet Union and normalize diplomatic relations with the Kremlin.
Throughout 1940 and for most of 1941, the United States remained neutral even when German bombers shelled British cities in overnight lightning strikes against military and civilian targets. During this same period, Hitler reneged on his pact of non-aggression with Stalin and invaded the USSR on June 22, 1941, rekindling the war between the Nazi and Communist nations. The FDR’s main response in both cases was to extend the loan-lease agreements to Churchill and Stalin for arms and supplies manufactured in the United States.
Then, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, forcing the United States to declare war on Japan. Germany and Italy, the other two Axis powers, declared war on America on December 11. The United States had entered World War II, whether we liked it or not.
The Grand Alliance: a marriage of three with hunting rifles
On January 1, 1942, less than a month after Pearl Harbor, the United States, Britain and the USSR signed the “Declaration of the United Nations”, a legally non-binding document which nevertheless harnessed the Big Three in a great alliance for their mutual survival. None of the three great powers could defeat Hitler on their own, but together they plotted to divide and weaken the seemingly unstoppable German forces.
Churchill deeply distrusted Stalin, and Stalin, the famous paranoid, trusted no one. From the start, the FDR found itself in the middle, allaying Churchill’s fears of a communist takeover of Europe while nourishing Stalin’s aspirations for the entry of the Soviet Union into the upper echelons of the political and economic power.
In a private message to Churchill at the start of the tense marriage of three, the FDR acknowledged the apprehensions of the British Prime Minister, while pleading to bring the Soviet Union into the circle of “civilized nations”.
“We all agree … on the need to have the USSR as a fully accepted and equal member of an association of great powers formed for the purpose of preventing international war,” the FDR wrote to Churchill. in 1944, “It should be possible to achieve this by adjusting our differences through a compromise between all parties involved, and this should slow things down for a few years until the child learns to play.”
How FDR conquered “Uncle Joe” at the Tehran Conference
FDR, Churchill and Stalin first met in November 1943 at the historic Tehran conference. From the moment the Americans went to war, Stalin had lobbied for a joint American-British invasion of Western Europe in order to attract German soldiers to the Eastern Front, where the Soviets were suffering massive losses. In Tehran, the Americans and the British embarked on a massive invasion of the French coast in 1944 (“Operation Overlord”) in exchange for Stalin’s promise to join the fight against Japan.
In Tehran, Roosevelt also met privately with Stalin to discuss the central role of the Soviet Union in the post-war United Nations. Roosevelt shared his vision with Stalin of a peaceful world ruled by the “four policemen” of the United States – Britain, China and the Soviet Union – and showed “Uncle Joe” that the America was ready to negotiate directly with the USSR to serve their mutual interests.
“What Stalin wanted to do was revive Russia as a great world power,” says Susan Butler, author of Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a partnership. “Stalin was perfectly happy to do what FDR wanted. Roosevelt reached out – if you behave, you can be my equal. ”
“In my opinion, I think Roosevelt was the only person that Stalin made confidence, ”adds Butler. “I think they had an understanding of the world. It has nothing to do with the fact that Stalin was a paranoid nut. If Stalin trusted someone, he trusted Roosevelt, because Stalin did very well at the hands of the FDR. “
Chez Yalta, an alliance on the brink
The second and last time the three great leaders met was at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. This meeting was very different from Tehran, with the FDR visibly ill and an Allied victory over Germany in sight.
“At that time, FDR, Churchill and Stalin were more concerned about the end of the Third World War,” said Butler. “They thought there was a big possibility that Germany would try to rule the world once again. [The post-war formation of] the United Nations was the main concern of the FDR, which is why it called for the Yalta conference. “
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In Yalta, the three men assumed that the war with Japan would rage long after Hitler’s capitulation. In order to obtain continued Soviet military support against the Japanese and gain Stalin’s full cooperation at the United Nations, the FDR and Churchill agreed to a number of concessions with historic consequences. After the war, the Soviets would retain control of part of Germany and the USSR would also have free reign to influence the governments of its neighbors in eastern Europe and Asia.
There were great hopes that the cooperative spirit of the Grand Alliance would persist after the Second World War, but with the death of the FDR only two months after Yalta, the political dynamic has radically changed. The United States, now under the command of the Harry Truman hard line, has reneged on the FDR’s promise to lend money to the Soviets to rebuild their damaged economy. Coupled with the fears of America and Britain over the spread of communism in Eastern Europe and Asia, the scene was ready for the Cold War.