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Alliance: The Inside Story of How Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill Won One War and Began Another.

Alliance: The Inside Story of How Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill Won One War and Began Another, by Jonathan Fenby, MacAdam Cage, 464 pages, $28.


ANY AMERICAN KID who sat through an afternoon at the movies, listened to a radio program, or read a comic book in the early 1940s could tell you: Franklin Roosevelt said that the English, the Russians, and some others were our friends and that together we would beat the Nazis, the fascists, and the Japanese and make this a better world. It was a message they and their parents heard every day for years. What none of them knew at that time was that this message would shape some part of their lives for the next five decades. Alliance is the story of that message, the three men who helped create it, and how the collapse of their brief partnership pushed the world to the edge of atomic destruction. Author Jonathan Fenby, a veteran British newsman with global experience, wisely uses the three men to propel the action.

In short, the alliance of the Americans, British, and Russians was essentially Winston Churchill's creation. Britain, driven off the Continent, nearly destitute, and facing Nazi invasion, needed help. Churchill turned to the Anglophile Roosevelt for finance and arms aid. Then, when the Soviet Union's peace pact with the Germans collapsed, he turned to the idea that Joseph Stalin, a man he had publicly reviled for years, might make a good third partner, that the enemy of his enemy might be his friend.

A breezy read of Fenby's book could lead some readers to believe this is a gossip-filled tale of booze-fueled international summits that not only resembled picnics, but sometimes actually were picnics. But that was the tradition of the time. Fenby uses the tales of these meetings to compare and contrast the personalities, personal lives, and world outlooks of Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill, and to explore how some of these things shaped their war aims.

At the time when Churchill first reached out to Roosevelt, the British prime minister was a heavy-drinking, cigar-smoking pol whom Roosevelt had virtually written off as a Victorian relic. A descendant of a British military hero (the first Duke of Marlborough), son of an English aristocrat and an American mother, a scion of privilege with little actual understanding of the lives of common men, Churchill believed heart and soul in the validity and rightness of the British Empire and in the innate superiority of the English people over all others. But he also believed in the union of the English-speaking people, and that through Britain's cultural ties he could unashamedly prevail upon Americans for aid.

Roosevelt, too, was a son of privilege, a well-read sophisticate and lover of the arts who was known for his big grin and ever-present cigarette holder. But for reasons that have always fascinated biographers and confounded those contemporaries who called him a traitor to his class, he had a deep intellectual commitment to the welfare of the working man, and he extended this outlook to the world at large, detesting dictators and colonialism. Paradoxically, in his personal life, Roosevelt was not all that deep, dropping friends when convenient and enjoying gossip about the problems of his rich and famous associates.

Stalin portrayed himself as a gruff, simple son of a Georgian peasant, unused to diplomacy and refinements. This, everyone conceded, was a one-dimensional ruse. A former seminarian with a deep understanding of the Bible and the place of belief in people's lives, he was an ardent communist of the oldest school, who had robbed banks in the czarist era to fund revolutionary activities. He had survived the bloodiest and most violent party infighting through guile, wit, chicanery, and a fanatical belief in the rightness of his cause and in the spread of communism worldwide. He was a pipe-smoker who enjoyed getting his generals and associates falling-down drunk on vodka while he quietly nursed one or two glasses of wine, so he could observe what they would say or do when intellectually defenseless.

The entire trio actually met only twice--at Tehran, Iran, and at Yalta in the Soviet Crimea. Earlier, Churchill had done most of the shuttling, meeting with Roosevelt in the Western Hemisphere and North Africa and with Stalin in Moscow. The staffs of each leader did most of the message delivery and an astonishing amount of the basic negotiations on international aid, war strategy, and postwar aims.

Through deep and entertaining preparation, Fenby sets all the players and their subordinates up for the scenes where the fate of the world is decided: where Churchill tries to finagle a place for Britain along with the Soviets in the affairs of southeast Europe, where Roosevelt nearly breaks with Churchill because he deplores the suppression of independence for India, where Stalin boldly lies about his intentions for Eastern Europe, where the Americans try to edge the British out of atomic bomb research while foolishly believing it safe to provide information to the Soviets because they appeared to lack sufficient technological ability to pursue it themselves. Near the end of Alliance, Roosevelt dies and Churchill is defeated at the polls. They are replaced by Harry Truman and Clement Attlee. Stalin, the beneficiary of marginally better health and with no concerns for his political base, is the de facto winner in the last round of negotiations and cuts free of the West. The Cold War begins.

Was the Alliance message a false one? From Fenby's point of view, it was approximately genuine at the outset, but the physical, emotional, and political demands of the Alliance crushed and damaged the messengers themselves, dashing the world's hopes for safety and security. Too much was asked of the three.

--John E. Stanchak

Lancaster, Pennsylvania
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Author:Stanchak, John E.
Publication:America in WWII
Date:Dec 1, 2007
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