The Big Two

Churchill & Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence Vol. I, Alliance Emerging Vol. II, Alliance Forged Vol. III, Alliance Declining

edited with commentary by Warren F. Kimball
Vol. I, 674 pp.

Churchill & Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence Vol. II, Alliance Forged

edited with commentary by Warren F. Kimball
773 pp.

Churchill & Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence Vol. III, Alliance Declining

edited with commentary by Warren F. Kimball
Princeton University Press, Vol. III, 742 pp., $150.00 (the set)

If the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States has meaning, then it is nowhere more real than in the wartime relationship between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Yet serious problems exist in the recounting of it. Roosevelt died during the last months of the European war, before he could write his memoirs and without having kept a diary. Churchill also kept no diary, and in his memoirs, written immediately after the Allied victory, he was determined, in the interests of smooth postwar Anglo-American relations, to put his dealings with Roosevelt in the best possible light. Although Churchill published in his memoirs the full text of hundreds of his letters to Roosevelt, their complete correspondence is set out for the first time in these three volumes, expertly compiled by Professor Warren Kimball.

During the interwar years, Roosevelt had read Churchill’s biography of that early Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, in which Churchill had written about the need for firm alliances in defeating a predominant and aggressive European power. For his part, although Churchill had forgotten his brief meeting with Roosevelt, then assistant secretary of the Navy, in London in 1918, he described himself in 1933, in an article widely circulated in the United States, as “an ardent admirer of the main drift and impulse which President Roosevelt has given to the economic and financial policy of the United States.” Also in 1933, he had praised Roosevelt’s “wise action” in seeking to settle the outstanding and divisive Anglo-American war debts. In 1934, in his first radio broadcast to the United States, Churchill had told his listeners, “I don’t say President Roosevelt is right in all his experiments, but one does admire the spirit in which he grapples with difficulties.”

Surprisingly, perhaps, Professor Kimball does not mention these details. Nor does he mention how Roosevelt had responded to Churchill’s distant enthusiasm, sending a message through an intermediary that he was “delighted to have good news of you,” and that he was “particularly pleased” to learn that Churchill was “so definitely in favour of closer Anglo American co operation in the monetary field.”

On his desk in 1937, Roosevelt had a drawing by Churchill: the “currency of the future” as Churchill described it, the pound and dollar signs intertwined. It had been a personal gift. In one of several prewar gestures of friendship, Churchill had entertained Roosevelt’s son James at Chartwell, his country home in Kent. After dinner, Churchill had asked each guest in turn to tell the assembled company his or her “fondest wish.” When the question was put to him, Churchill answered without a moment’s hesitation: “I wish to be Prime Minister and in close and daily communication by telephone with the President of the United States. There is nothing we could not do if we were together.”

This “fondest wish” to be in “close and daily communication” with the President not only came to pass, but is now exposed to public scrutiny …

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