The Allied Coalition | The Second World War

The Grand Alliance, as Churchill liked to call it, known in its last years as the United Nations, had mustered overpowering strength against Germany, Japan, Italy, and such collaborators as the Axis powers could secure in the Balkans, Southeast Asia, and western Europe. Britain and the Commonwealth, the Soviet Union, and the United States were the heart of the Allied coalition.

Nationalist China, for all its inefficiencies, had tied down hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers, and the resources of the French Empire and the French Resistance movements at home and abroad had been valuable. The Allies had been able to count on the resources of many Latin American nations, and Brazil had been an active member of the alliance.

In this truly global war, Brazilian troops had fought in Italy along with American (including Japanese American), French imperial, British imperial, pro-Allied Italian, Polish, and other troops. At the very end of the European war, Argentina, too, declared war on Germany and Japan, even though its fascist leader, General Juan PerOn (1895-1974) had hoped for a German victory.

The instruments of Allied union were the summit conferences of the Big Three—Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin—with the political and military advisers and experts, plus the more frequent Anglo-American conferences. Even before the United States entered the war, Roosevelt and Churchill met off Newfoundland and issued the Atlantic Charter (August 14, 1941), in which they declared support for the freedom of the seas, equality of access to economic opportunity, abandonment of aggression, and the restoration of rights to conquered peoples.

Formal conferences— between Roosevelt and Churchill at Casablanca (January 1943) and Quebec (August 1943), and among the Big Three at Teheran and Yalta—concluded agreements that had been steadily carried on at lower political and military levels. From July 17 to August 17, 1945, a final conference at Potsdam (near conquered Berlin) brought together the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union. With two new figures attending, President Truman and Prime Minister Clement Attlee (1883-1967), they met to confirm the Yalta decisions.

But there were grave military and political matters to be ironed out. For the actual direction of operations in the field, the British and Americans had decided to set up a complete inter-meshing of staffs. All down the line, an American in command always had a Briton as his second, and a Briton in command always had an American as his second. Even the intelligence-gathering apparatus of the two nations was meshed. At the highest level, the combined chiefs of staff, in close touch with top American and British government officials, did the overall planning. The Soviets could not be brought into such close military cooperation, and Soviet troops in the field always fought on their own.

During the war the Allies had agreed that the Axis powers were to be forced into “unconditional surrender.” The Germans must be beaten unmistakably, and Allied troops must enter Berlin as conquerors. There must be no political negotiation at all, simply unconditional military surrender. In Britain and the United States there was some opposition to this policy during the war, partly on humanitarian grounds, but also because people feared that the prospect of unconditional surrender would stiffen the German will to resist and would unite the nation behind Hitler. In retrospect, it seems unlikely that Hitler would ever have negotiated with the Allies; and after the failure of the attempt to kill him in 1944, there was little chance that the Germans themselves would overthrow the Nazi government.

Another political problem created a much clearer rift between the British and the Americans. The underlying issue was just how far anti-German elements in France, Italy, and other occupied lands had to go to prove that they were democratic enough to secure the backing of the Western powers. Here the difference in the underlying tone of American and British policies was evident in the views of Roosevelt and Churchill.

Roosevelt was convinced that if the Allies did not interfere to support conservatives and reactionaries in the occupied lands, but instead allowed these peoples to choose their form of government freely, they would choose democracy. Churchill was less idealistic. He was eager to use any elements that were hostile to the Germans, even if their hostility was quite recent. Furthermore, Roosevelt began to press Churchill for a commitment to decolonization, especially of India, at the end of the war, while Churchill responded that he would not preside over the dissolution of the British Empire.

In French politics the issue was further complicated by Roosevelt’s suspicions of de Gaulle, the chosen leader of the French liberation movement. To Churchill, de Gaulle was a difficult but indispensable ally. As it turned out, the Gaullists, in collaboration with the organized French Resistance in the homeland, did take over the civilian administration of French territory as it was liberated, and France by free popular vote restored a democratic form of government. In 1946 the Italians also narrowly voted for a republic. What had threatened at one time to be a serious difficulty between American policy and British policy was resolved by the liberated people themselves.

But the political issue that bulked largest after World War II was the problem of potential Soviet domination in eastern and southeastern Europe. At Yalta the Western powers had allowed Stalin to push his armies westward and had relied on his promises to permit free elections in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and the Balkans. Most of the smaller eastern European countries had moved toward fascist totalitarianism before World War II, and a transition to communist totalitarianism would not be difficult.

Churchill, who never trusted Stalin, did not dare risk losing Soviet manpower and material resources during the war. Appeasement of Stalin seemed absolutely essential. At the end of the war, the western European states, though victorious, were so near impoverishment that they could play no major role in the balance-of-power politics that would follow, so that the Soviets and Americans soon became the only superpowers. Contrary to its hopes and public expectations, the United States was drawn deeply into European and Asian matters.

When the war ended, there was no peace. The defeat of Germany and Japan was almost immediately followed by the rise of a new aggressor, the Soviet Union, which had already given clear warning of its intentions. The long shooting war was followed quickly by sharp antagonisms between the Soviet Union and its former allies, a degree of hostility so intense it was soon called the cold war.

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