Eisenhower: At War, 1943–1945
Once Germany neared defeat, the problems of the postwar era began. They brought on an acute crisis between the British and Americans and an incipient falling out between both of them and the Soviets, with such grave consequences that we are still living with them today.
Much of David Eisenhower’s book Eisenhower: At War is devoted to the disputes between the British and the Americans over military strategy.1 The main difference between them was that increasingly the British were interested in the future balance of power in Europe, and the Americans were more interested in first defeating Germany and Japan. The British concern had led Churchill to offer Stalin a deal in percentages in October 1944, whereby Great Britain and the Soviet Union would engage in a power-sharing arrangement in Eastern Europe. The Americans were by that time looking forward to the climactic phase of the war in the Far East and the organization of a more effective successor to the League of Nations. To President Roosevelt, the only thing that could justify the sacrifices made in the war was a United Nations capable of guaranteeing the peace, a vision that had not yet been made into a mockery. Historically, the British had pursued a balance of power in Europe for centuries; it had long been a dirty word in the United States.
For better or worse, Roosevelt did not think that the country was ready to be permanently entangled in Europe. Until the atomic bomb put an end to the prospect of Japanese resistance, a large portion of the American forces in Europe had been designated for transfer to the Far East. The President could not in any case make binding commitments in Europe without congressional approval—a daunting condition at that time for any longterm engagements. Personal inclination and practical politics made Roosevelt and those around him prefer to hold the future open and deal with it when it came.
The American dilemma was that Roosevelt and the country at large knew what they didn’t want far more clearly than what they did want. They knew that they did not want Hitler’s Germany to win the war. They knew that they did not want Great Britain to go under. They knew that they did not want Soviet or Communist influence to expand. But they did not know what kind of world they wanted except in the vaguest and most ideal formulas. These inchoate impulses and ill-defined interests resulted in a virtual paralysis of postwar policy making, despite some of the thought given to it in official and unofficial circles. When it came to making decisions, it was more prudent not to foreclose options than to choose between them. In comparison with the United States, Great Britain had well-defined interests and a balance-of-power policy to uphold in Allied negotiations, especially in the case of the traditionalist Churchill.
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