Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Perspectives on World War II 'Big Three' Leaders' Decisions

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Perspectives on World War II 'Big Three' Leaders' Decisions

Article excerpt

THIS weighty volume is not a history of World War II, but it is a careful and well-researched study of the relations among the three men whose combined strategies shaped ultimate victory in the biggest war of all time. Its value lies in the details of the context within which each of the three made the big decisions of peace or war.

We see Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for example, shocked by the unexpected fall of France in 1940 and the fear that Britain, too, might be defeated - wanting to help Prime Minister Winston Churchill, but not daring to respond immediately and favorably to Churchill's request for the 50 destroyers needed to prevent a possible German attempt to cross the English Channel.

Roosevelt had to wait until he was reelected before he dared to offer the destroyers in return for use of British bases and for the assurance that the British Navy would never fall into German hands. Soon after concluding the deal, he asked Congress for the funds that made it possible for the British to continue getting the weapons they needed from American factories after their own funds ran out.

Robin Edmonds, author of three earlier books about the Soviets, Americans, and British, is a retired British foreign service officer who at one time was head of the Northern (Soviet Union) Department, and at another time was head of the American Department. He reads and speaks Russian fluently and had access to the Soviet archival material, which became available only recently as part of glasnost.

Much of the material in this book is familiar, but the organization of it around the relations of the three Allied war leaders gives the story new perspective. I lived through the war and covered it as a reporter, but I had not appreciated at the time nor from my previous reading how desperately close Britain came to defeat in 1940, and the Soviet Union in 1941. When Roosevelt and Churchill were bargaining over the destroyers deal, both were thinking of the possibility of a successful German invasion of the British Isles. They talked about where the British royal family would be sent, and Churchill had already sent the Duke of Windsor to Jamaica to keep him out of harm's way. For Roosevelt, a much greater concern was whether the British government would leave Britain and continue the war from the British Dominions and Colonies, taking the Royal Navy with it. The war, when seen through the words of the three Allied leaders, was a much more closely run thing than we who were there knew at the time.

The firmness and consistency of Roosevelt's desire to resist German and Japanese expansionism emerges with fresh clarity from the pages of this book. From the very beginnings of the war, Roosevelt was giving Britain and the Soviet Union all the help that evolving United States opinion would allow. …

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