Fighting World War Two Through Diplomacy
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THE MAKING OF A NATION – a program in Special English by the Voice of America.
History is full of examples of leaders joining together to meet common goals. But rarely have two leaders worked together with such friendship and cooperation as American President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The two men had much in common. They both were born to wealthy families and were active in politics for many years. Both men loved the sea and the navy, history and nature.
Roosevelt and Churchill first met when they were lower-level officials in World War One. But neither man remembered much about that meeting. However, as they worked together during the Second World War, they came to like and trust each other.
Roosevelt and Churchill exchanged more than one thousand seven hundred letters and messages during five and a half years. They met many times, at large national gatherings and in private talks. But the closeness of their friendship might be seen best in a story told by one of Roosevelt's close advisors, Harry Hopkins.
Hopkins remembered how Churchill was visiting Roosevelt at the White House one day. Roosevelt went into Churchill's room in the morning to say hello. But the president was shocked to see Churchill coming from the washing room with no clothes at all.
Roosevelt immediately apologized to the British leader for seeing him naked. But Churchill reportedly said: "The prime minister of Great Britain has nothing to hide from the president of the United States." And then both men laughed.
The United States and Great Britain were only two of several nations that joined together in the war to resist Hitler and his allies. In January, 1942, twenty-six of these nations signed an agreement promising to fight for peace, religious freedom, human rights, and justice.
The three major Allies, however, were the most important for the war effort: the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union. Washington and London did not always agree. For example, they disagreed about when to attack Hitler in western Europe. And Churchill resisted Roosevelt's suggestions that Britain give up some of its colonies. But in general, the friendship between Roosevelt and Churchill, and between the United States and Britain, led the two nations to cooperate closely.
This was not true with the Soviet Union. Moscow did not share the same history or political system as Washington or London. And it had its own interests to protect along its borders and in other areas.
Relations between the Soviet Union and the western Allies were mixed. On the one hand, Hitler's invasion deep into the Soviet Union had forced Stalin and other Soviet leaders to make victory their top goal.
On the other hand, shadows of future problems already could be seen. The Soviet Union was making clear its desire to keep political control over Poland. And it was supporting communist fighters in Yugoslavia and Greece.
These differences were not discussed much as the foreign ministers of the three nations gathered in Moscow in 1943. Instead, the ministers reached several general agreements, including a plan to establish a new organization called the United Nations.
Finally, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met together for the first time. They met in Tehran in late 1943 mainly to discuss the military situation. However, the three leaders also considered such political questions as the future of Germany, eastern Europe, east Asia, and future international organizations.
Later, the Allies made further plans for the new United Nations organization. They arranged for new international economic organizations -- the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. And the Allies agreed to divide Germany into different parts after the war for a temporary period. The Soviet Union would occupy the eastern part while Britain, France, and the United States would occupy the western part.
Washington, London, and Moscow were united during the early years of the war because of military need. They knew they must fight together to defeat the common enemy.
But this unity faded as Allied troops marched toward the German border. Roosevelt continued to call on the world to wait to plan the peace until the last bullet was fired. But Churchill, Stalin, and other leaders already were trying to shape the world that would follow the war. Now, differences between the Allies became more serious.
The most important question was Poland. Hitler's attack on Poland back in 1939 had started the war. Roosevelt and Churchill believed strongly that the Polish people should have the right to choose their own leaders after victory was won. Churchill supported a group of Polish resistance leaders who had an office in London.
But Stalin had other ideas. He demanded that Poland's border be changed to give more land to the Soviet Union. And he refused to help the Polish leaders in London. Instead, he supported a group of Polish communists and helped them establish a new government in Poland.
Churchill visited Stalin late in 1944. The two leaders joined with Roosevelt a few months later in Yalta. All agreed that free elections should be held quickly in Poland. And they traded ideas about the future of eastern Europe, China, and other areas of the world.
Roosevelt was in good spirits when he reported to the Congress after his return. "I come home from the conference with a firm belief that we have made a good start on the road to a world of peace," he said. "The peace cannot be a completely perfect system, at first. But it can be a peace based on the idea of freedom."
Churchill had the same high hopes. "Marshall Stalin and the Soviet leaders wish to live in honorable friendship," he told the British parliament after the conference. "I also know that their word is honest."
Roosevelt and Churchill were wrong. In the months after the Yalta conference, relations between Moscow and the western democracies grew steadily worse.
The Soviet Union moved to seize control of eastern Europe. Stalin began making strong speeches charging that Washington and London were holding secret peace negotiations with Germany. And the Soviet Union refused to discuss ways to bring democracy to Poland.
"I have always held the brave Russian people in high honor," Churchill wrote later. "But their shadow darkened the picture after the war. Britain and America had gone to war not just to defend the smaller countries, but also to fight for individual rights and freedoms.
"But," said Churchill, "the Soviet Union had other goals. Her hold tightened on eastern Europe after the Soviet Army gained control. After the long suffering and efforts of World War Two," Churchill said, "it seemed that half of Europe had just exchanged one dictator for another."
Churchill and Roosevelt agreed in secret letters that they must try to oppose the Soviet effort. But before they could act, Roosevelt died. And the world would live through a new war -- the cold war -- in the years to follow.
Roosevelt's death also ended the deep personal friendship between himself and Winston Churchill. The British leader wrote later about the day he heard the news of the death of his close friend in the White House.
"I felt as if I had been struck with a physical blow," Churchill wrote. "My relations with this shining man had played so large a part in the long, terrible years we had worked together. Now they had come to an end. And I was overpowered by a sense of deep and permanent loss "
The free world joined Churchill in mourning the loss of so strong a leader as Franklin Roosevelt. But it could not weep for long. War was giving way to peace. A new world was forming. And as we will see in our future programs, it was a world that few people expected.
You have been listening to THE MAKING OF A NATION, a program in Special English by the Voice of America. Your narrators were Harry Monroe and Jim Tedder. Our program was written by David Jarmul. The Voice of America invites you to listen again next week to THE MAKING OF A NATION.