Roosevelt and Churchill, 1939-1941
Joseph P. Lash, the author of the award-winning book Eleanor and Franklin, now adds Roosevelt and Churchill, 1939-1941: The Partnership That Saved the West to the several books he has written on major figures of the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Through his activities in the American Youth Congress in the 1930’s, the author developed a close personal friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt. Because of that friendship, he was frequently a guest during the war years at the White House, where he came to know President Roosevelt himself. Lash has combined his knowledge of the Roosevelts gained at firsthand with the recently opened Roosevelt-Churchill correspondence and declassified documents from the British government’s wartime files to produce a sweeping portrait of the two great leaders who forged the Anglo-American alliance against the Nazi dictator, Adolf Hitler.
Indeed, Lash’s twofold objective in writing Roosevelt and Churchill is to develop a better understanding of the character traits of what he regards as two enormously egocentric men in order to learn what attracted them to each other, and to show how their mutual affection literally altered the course of history. To more effectively achieve this objective, Lash employs the narrative style of writing that makes considerable, though judicious, use of anecdotal material. A good story, as well as good history, thus emerges in which there are four general areas of concentration. The most important of these is, of course, the comparisons which Lash offers at various points throughout the book between the backgrounds and personalities of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Otherwise, the book focuses on what may be defined as three major periods in the formation of an Anglo-American alliance. These include the early contacts between Roosevelt and Churchill from September, 1939, to the latter’s appointment as Prime Minister in May, 1940; the genesis of the alliance from the fall of France in June, 1940, to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; and the short span of time from the formal entry of the United States into World War II and the conclusion of an alliance with Great Britain as sealed in the Declaration of the United Nations of January 1, 1942. Lash, in fact, was present on that day at the White House on the occasion of the signing of the Declaration by Roosevelt, Churchill, and the representatives of China and the Soviet Union. The author opens his book with a vivid description of this historic event and recalls that when the signatures had been affixed to the document, there was a sense that Hitler’s doom had been sealed.
The comparisons which Lash draws between Roosevelt and Churchill generally reveal more similarities of character than differences. Both men emerge in the book as charismatic personalities who had the ability to infuse those around them with their own optimism, energy, and sense of purpose. This dynamism helped to compensate for the fact that neither leader was a very good administrator on a day-by-day basis. In wielding their authority, Roosevelt and Churchill, unlike Hitler or Mussolini, always had respect for the people whom they governed. They sensed what people desired, and they had the ability to mobilize public opinion in support of actions which they deemed vital to the national interest. Lash, in a specific reference to Roosevelt, cites the President’s success in obtaining public support for the programs he wanted from the Congress as a central feature of his greatness. To a considerable extent, the ability of Roosevelt and Churchill to shape public opinion in their favor was based upon their skill in public speaking. Roosevelt had to master this skill in order to have men do his bidding; for Churchill, public speaking, in Lash’s view, was a compulsive manifestation of his personality. Churchill, especially, had a love for language and was an artist in choosing just the right word or phrase to drive home the idea he wanted to convey to his listeners. This love also embraced literary composition, to which his multivolume histories of the world wars and the English-speaking peoples so magnificently attest. In sum, both men were endowed with magnetic personalities that attracted people to them, Churchill by his rich imagination and instinct, Roosevelt by a keen sensitivity to men and their dreams. Ultimately, it was their attraction for each other which contributed, in the words of the book’s subtitle, to “the partnership that saved the West.”
There were, however, as Lash points out, a number of singular differences in their personalities. Churchill was the more impetuous of the two, while Roosevelt, because of polio, had long since learned the virtue of patience in dealing with others. As a child, the President had also learned how to hide his innermost feelings and purposes in an effort to protect himself from a very...
(The entire section is 2010 words.)