On Christmas Eve in 1941, two years after Britain entered World War II
and just over two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor
brought America into the war, the two leaders delivered Christmas
greetings to the nation from the South Portico of the White House.
Roosevelt closed his short message as follows: â€œAnd so I am asking my
associate [and] my old and good friend to say a word to the people of
America, old and young, tonight--Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of
Winston Churchill (1874-1965), was still first lord of the admiralty when
he began his close working friendship with Roosevelt in early 1940. He
began a long-term correspondence with Roosevelt as an attempt to get the
neutral United States to enter the war when, in July of 1940, Britain lost 11
destroyers in 10 days.
The most experienced leader of the major nations in World War II,
Churchill had been out of the government in the 1930s because he insisted
that Hitlerâ€™s arms buildup represented a risk to Britain. Britain had
tried to appease Germany until their attack on France made it clear that
Hitler wouldnâ€™t be appeased.
Churchill was energetic, stubborn and obstinate. â€œI have nothing to
offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,â€� he said in May of 1940. â
€œVictory at all costs, victory in spite of terror, victory however long and
hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival,â€� he said a
Churchill was one of the most literate and the most prolific writer of any
national leader in history. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953
for his History of the English-Speaking Peoples. His inspiring rhetoric
roused the British to the struggle. Throughout the war, his V-for-Victory
wave, his bulldog tenacity and his ever-present cigar become symbols of
According to American journalist Edward R. Murrow, Churchill â
€œmobilized the English language and sent it into battle.â€�
His speech before the House of Commons in June, 1940, included these
memorable lines: â€œWe shall fight in France, we shall fight on the sea and
oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the
air, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall flight on the landing grounds, we
shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall
At the end of the Battle of Britain in July of 1940, he pointed out that, â
€œNever in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to
And after the North African Invasion of 1942, he said, â€œNow this is not
the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end
of the beginning.â€�
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) had been born into a patrician
New York family. He was in an unprecedented third term as president and
was expecting to leave office in January of 1945 when the war broke out.
When Mussolini declared war on England and France in June of 1940,
Roosevelt said, â€œThe hand that held the dagger has struck it into the
back of its neighbor." Two days before calling Congress into special
session to revise the Neutrality Act, Roosevelt began a long private
correspondence with Churchill.
Roosevelt, too, had seen and feared the growth of Germany. He, unlike
Churchill, also saw the threat of Japan. In that year he built the Arsenal of
Democracy, drafted soldiers and offered Destroyers for Bases to Great
Britain. He spoke of the Four Freedomsâ€”freedom of speech and of
religion and freedom from want and fear.
Roosevelt proposed the Lend-Lease Act in 1941 to help meet Britainâ
€™s need for supplies while maintaining the appearance of neutrality.
Through it, the US exchanged 50 destroyers for 99-year leases on British
bases in the Caribbean and Newfoundland.
As Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson put it, â€œWe are buying . . . not
lending. We are buying our own security while we prepare. By our delay
during the past six years, while Germany was preparing, we find ourselves
unprepared and unarmed, facing a thoroughly prepared and armed
Churchill and Roosevelt first met face-to-face in August of 1941 aboard a
ship anchored off the coast of Newfoundland. The Atlantic Charter signed
at the meeting became the precursor of the United Nations. From then
until Rooseveltâ€™s death in 1945, the two leaders had a close personal
and professional relationship.
Playwright Robert Sherwood later wrote, â€œIt would be an exaggeration
to say that Roosevelt and Churchill became chums at this conference. . . .
They established an easy intimacy, a joking informality and moratorium on
pomposity and cant--and also a degree of frankness in intercourse which, if
not quite complete, was remarkably close to it.â€�
After the meeting, Roosevelt cabled Churchill, â€œIt is fun to be in the
same decade with you.â€� Churchill later wrote, â€œI felt I was in
contact with a very great man who was also a warm-hearted friend and the
foremost champion of the high causes which we served."
Pearl Harbor changed everything between the two nations. To Churchill,
the Japanese attack represented a victory for Britain by making US
In a speech the next day, Roosevelt called December 7, 194l, â€œa date
which will live in infamy.â€� Within an hour of the speech, Congress
passed a formal declaration of war against Japan. Treaties between
Germany and Japan meant that the US was also at war with Germany, and
that Germany would fight a war on two fronts.
According to William D. Leahy, Rooseveltâ€™s Chief of Staff and
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, â€œChurchill and Roosevelt really
ran the war . . . we were just artisans, building patterns of strategy from
rough blueprints handed us by our respective Commanders-in-Chief.â€�
According to David Stafford, author of the recently published Roosevelt
and Churchill: Men of Secrets, â€œThe intensity of their partnership
during the Second World War often obscures the fact that in many
respects they were an ill-assorted pair. Paradoxically, each defied his
national stereotype. Churchill, the nostalgic Victorian wedded to the
glories of Empire, was emotional, direct and transparent, with a lifelong
predilection for the company of self-made men. Roosevelt, the New
World Democrat, had the manners of an English gentleman, and behind the
surface bonhomie was impenetrable, enigmatic, secretive and
machiavellian. Churchill carefully wrote down his thoughts and instructions.
Roosevelt was deliberately informal, often giving inconsistent verbal orders.
Churchill described him as 'a charming country gentleman whose business
methods are almost non-existent.'
"Yet they had much in common. Each was an ambitious high-flyer who
lived and breathed politics, and each courageously overcame severe
handicaps: Roosevelt a crippling attack of polio, Churchill a debilitating
childhood stammer and lifelong bouts of depression. Both leaned heavily
on their wives. Eleanor became her husband's political eyes and ears,
Clementine provided the emotional rock on which Churchill stood."
Their friendship continued until Roosevelt died just weeks before the end of
World War II.