The Price We Paid for Roosevelt's "Unconditional Surrender"
By George Fowler
August 21, 2009
Such references as the Normandy invasion, the Huertgen Forest and the "Battle of the Bulge" would have no meaning to Americans today (not to mention the awesome casualties resulting from these and other late-World War II events) had America's president not held to his policy of total destruction of the European enemy.
A half-century (now 64 years) after the conclusion of World War II, very few people, even those who consider themselves well-informed students of history, have any idea that FDR spurned an equitable European peace in 1943. Thus they have never envisioned the infinitely better postwar world we could have known.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt's apologists rationalize their hero's capitulation to Stalin at Yalta as the result of his being a sick and tired man, near death. To many serious and even casual students of that era, this is nonsense. They view the Yalta agreements as totally consistent with 12 years of pro-Soviet policies emanating from the White House, beginning with the president's 1933 recognition of the Soviet Union following directly on the heels of Stalin's Ukraine genocide. And to the relative few familiar with its particulars, nothing personifies FDR's betrayal of his office, his nation and his civilization more completely than his Unconditional Surrender edict at Casablanca in early 1943.
Even overwhelmingly uninterested people have some grasp of the terrible human and material costs that the United States and Europe bore over nearly half a century following the war; an awesome blood and treasure tax levied by the geopolitical resolution of World War II. Specifically, could military and some highly important diplomatic problems have been solved considerably earlier than the date of Germany's capitulation in May, 1945?
Beyond the bitter recollections of many U.S. Third Army veterans (who drove all the way to Czechoslovakia before being pulled back by Allied summit agreements), Americans in overwhelming numbers have assumed that little could have been done to alter post-war Europe's national boundaries.
We may have felt that the lands of the pre-World War I Czarist, Hapsburg and Ottoman empires, plus Prussia-East Germany, had fallen under the mailed fist of Soviet rule as a matter of historical kismet; in other words, that fate had divided vast areas of land and great numbers of people into essentially good and overwhelmingly evil camps as a test of Western civilization's staying power.
However, the contention that individuals and not unfathomable destiny dictate the tide of events is consistent not only with biblical wisdom but with history's record. In this incredibly consequential case, the record shows that President Roosevelt repeatedly shunned a prime opportunity to end the European part of WWII in 1943, thereby averting the awful carnage and destruction that unfolded during the final two years of conflict. Such a resolution would have greatly enhanced the West's position in the post-war era.
Pre-Pearl Harbor America was vehemently divided over FDR's campaign to get the United States into that war. But few would argue with the premise that, once we were in - for better or for worse - the president had a paramount obligation to win it as quickly and mercifully as possible, while preserving our long-range interests.
Throughout the 40-plus years of the Cold War, anti-communists consistently made a distinction between the peoples of the USSR and their Kremlin masters; the peoples of the captive nations and the Red puppet governments controlling them. But FDR, particularly with the Axis military situation darkening as 1943 dawned, never attempted to shorten the war by separating the German people (and the impressive host of anti-Nazi and non-Nazi figures within that still-formidable country) from their leadership.
Granted, the analogy between the German people under Hitler and Eastern peoples under communism is a highly imperfect one. The Germans felt, it is fair to say overwhelmingly, great loyalty toward the man who had returned their nation to greatness following its humiliating post-World War I period of sadistically imposed revenge.
But for many millions of Germans, gratitude for past miracles could not cloud post-Stalingrad realities. By early 1943 even Josef Göbbels' propaganda efforts could not mask the precariousness of Germany's situation. Had the American and British governments been so disposed, this period marked the first major time-frame (save for mid-1940, when Churchill refused to entertain Germany's honorable peace overtures) when an initiative for peace could have succeeded.
In Through the Looking Glass, a recounting of British intelligence activities by a former top MI6 operative, this crucial point was made: The British intelligence service considered the surrender of Germany's Sixth Army at Stalingrad to be the start of the Cold War. From that point, top MI6 figures concluded, Soviet expansion aims should have been a primary consideration in Western Allied war planning. Instead, FDR, meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at Casablanca, slammed the door on what many would consider not only an option but a paramount responsibility to avert further bloodshed and destruction.
The mid-January 1943 Casablanca conference was held some two months after the American invasion of French North Africa. It dealt largely with the upcoming Sicily-Italy campaign. At a press conference toward the end of the meetings, Roosevelt stated that the Allies would accept only the "unconditional surrender" of the Axis powers. Subsequently this diktat was revised in regard to Italy, in the belief (borne out the following summer) that it could be dissuaded from further honoring its alliance.
Of the momentous announcement, former Ambassador to Moscow (and by then hardening anti-communist) Charles P. "Chip" Bohlen wrote:
Responsibility for this unconditional surrender doctrine rests almost exclusively with President Roosevelt. He announced it . . . ostensibly because there was nothing that he and Churchill had to tell the press of any particular interest. According to Churchill, he was surprised at the announcement.
FDR's son Elliott, present at Casablanca as an aide to his father, quoted the president as saying:
Of course, it's just the thing for the Russians. 'Unconditional surrender.' Uncle Joe might have made it up himself. Long time New York Times correspondent and military analyst Drew Middleton wrote in his book Retreat From Victory that Churchill told him years later:
I was startled by the announcement. I tried to hide my surprise. But I was his ardent lieutenant.
It appears that Sir Winston was attempting to deceive Middleton, among others. In Winston S. Churchill - Road to Victory 1941-1945, Martin Gilbert, Churchill's official biographer, recounted a telegram Churchill sent from Casablanca to Labor Party War Cabinet member (and Churchill's 1945 successor as PM) Clement Attlee. In it Churchill explained how he had emphasized unconditional surrender.
In part, the telegram read:
We propose a declaration of firm intention of the United States and the British Empire to continue the war relentlessly until we have brought about the 'unconditional surrender' of Germany and Japan.
Churchill added that the omission of Italy was designed "to encourage a breakup there." He further stated that Roosevelt "liked the idea" of such a declaration. Quite likely with an eye toward Moscow in particular, the PM noted that the unconditional surrender statement would "stimulate our friends in every country."
Of this announcement Middleton wrote:
The president's apologists have argued that the statement was necessary to convince the Russians of the good faith of the American and British governments and their determination to continue the war against Hitler to complete victory ... Had not the Americans and the British proven their good faith and determination at Guadalcanal and Alamein?
Interestingly, a "show of good faith" toward Stalin was a rationalization used to justify the February, 1945 massive destruction of the virtual "open city" of Dresden. And with figures loyal to Moscow highly placed in both the British and American governmental structures, in addition to highly sympathetic ones such as FDR himself, what more assurance of continuing self-defeating Western allied policies did the Soviet dictator require?
To those who continue to embrace the fallacy that total victory at massive cost was necessary, possibly they will open their minds to the quite practical alternative that FDR and Sir Winston spurned. An American figure central to negotiated peace attempts in 1943 was then-former Pennsylvania Governor George H. Eade. In early January, 1943, just before leaving Washington for Casablanca, Roosevelt appointed Earle U.S. naval attaché at Istanbul, Turkey. Like that neutral nation's inland capital of Ankara (and prominent neutral sites such as Stockholm and Lisbon), Istanbul was a wartime hotbed of negotiations, deals and intrigues as fascinating as those of any fictional thriller. And it was one of the settings where the greatest intrigue of all was ventured. Incredibly, following WWII, Earle's story did not attract the interest of prestigious publications, and it first saw print in a late 1950s issue of that decade's top scandal magazine, Confidential.
The Casablanca conference had coincided with events that ranking British intelligence operatives considered a fertile time to begin working toward some way of ending the war in the West. The American invasion of North Africa in November spelled doom for Germany's hold in that region. And the Stalingrad encirclement would mean the inevitable capitulation of the Sixth Army and the loss of 300,000 German soldiers. The highest card up the Allied sleeve was Abwehr (German intelligence) chief Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. MI6 figures knew what Canaris' boss didn't suspect: this swishy and furtive mastermind of intrigue was disloyal to Hitler, and had been for years.
Head British spy Gen. Stewart Menzies submitted a proposal to the Foreign Office that Canaris be approached regarding the possibility of a Hitler overthrow. His proposal was promptly turned down "for fear of offending Russia," as Menzies commented after the war. Subsequently, SIS Chief of Air Intelligence and Menzies confidante Frederick Winterbotham wrote "... but why we should fall over backwards to appease those who were, and are, pledged to destroy our way of life I shall never understand."
Statements at the time by Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, one of the most prominent pro-war bloc figures in England, made it clear that he neither wanted nor had any instructions from the PM to pursue a negotiated peace based on a successful displacement of Hitler.
German contact with George Earle, referred to in Der Spiegel correspondent Heinz Hohne's biography Canaris as "an arch conservative who yearned to end the ill-starred conflict between the non-communist powers," was set in motion by Capt. Paul Leverkuehn. He headed the German War Organization suboffice in Istanbul and before the war had been an internationally known lawyer who numbered OSS spy chief William J. Donovan among his acquaintances. In fact Donovan, who had been another of Roosevelt's "ardent lieutenants" in working toward U.S. entry into the war, had made anti-Nazi German connections in Spain but was ordered to break them off.
Leverkuehn suggested to fellow conspirators that Baron Kurt von Lernsner, who headed a German cultural group in Turkey, approach Earle. Lernsner had headed the German delegation during the Versailles peace conference that followed WW1, but had been given an inconsequential wartime post due to a fraction of Jewish blood. After an initial positive meeting between the two, Earle agreed to meet with Canaris.
A few days later a short, middle aged man in civilian clothes showed up at Earle's residence. The former Pennsylvania governor and the German intelligence chief talked at length. Canaris expressed his deep concern over Roosevelt's recent unconditional surrender declaration. He said it would play into Soviet hands and that it boded ill for all the Western nations. He pointed out that it left the highly placed anti-Nazi movement in Germany virtually no bargaining power, that it meant war to the bitter end - with the Soviet Union emerging as the dominant influence in Europe.
Gov. Earle agreed with his caller that FDR's stated policy contained disastrous implications. Sensing that Canaris had cards to play, he asked what the German had in mind. Canaris asked Earle whether he thought Roosevelt really meant "unconditional" surrender. He emphasized that Germany's generals, central to any anti-Hitler move, could never swallow such a policy.
"What terms would they consider?" Earle asked. Canaris ended the discussion by answering: "Perhaps you will take the matter up with your president. I am leaving Istanbul this afternoon. I will return in 60 days. I hope you will have something to tell me." Canaris had been vague, but Earle considered it an important feeler from one of the key figures in the German government. Earle sent Roosevelt a detailed dispatch in the next diplomatic pouch to Washington. He received no reply from the president.
In March, 1943 an attempt on Hitler's life failed on a return flight from the Eastern Front to his East Prussia "Wolf's Lair" headquarters. An acid-timed "pencil" bomb hidden in a gift package of brandy froze when Hitler's pilot went to a high altitude to avoid turbulence.
That month Earle's phone rang and he heard Canaris' voice: 'I'm the gentleman who called on you unannounced two months ago. Has there been any progress regarding the matter we discussed?" Earle thought of his urgent message to FDR, then replied, "No, no progress." Subsequently Earle arranged to meet with von Lernsner at a location five miles from Istanbul. The two spoke for three hours, and von Lernsner capped the meeting with the question: If the anti-Nazi leaders succeed in either killing or incarcerating Hitler and his leading functionaries, could an honorable surrender be arranged? It would be with the understanding that a democratic provisional government would take the reins in Berlin. Also, the Germans wanted to arrange military cooperation between the American-British forces and the Wehrmacht, in order to keep the Soviet armies out of Europe.
Earle again made coded contact with the White House. He pleaded with President Roosevelt, an acquaintance of many years, to look into what these people had to offer. Subsequently Earle wrote that "as the weeks passed (with no reply to this second appeal) the Red Army continued to grind its way westward, feeding itself on the tools of war Roosevelt's Lend Lease program provided. I continually pressed the matter with hopeless communiqués, until I sensed the real snag; von Lernsner and his anti-Nazi countrymen had taken an absolute stand against communist expansion. This was disturbing to FDR, a man who had great faith in the integrity of Stalin. During the late spring and early summer of 1943 von Lernsner kept after me, but still no word of encouragement was heard from Washington."
In late summer 1943 von Lernsner outlined a specific plan. In addition to many top military and civilian leaders, a plot was being readied that included Count von Helldorf, the Berlin chief of police, and Freiherr von Boeslager, whose brigade was prepared to surround and take Hitler's Wolfschanze (Wolf's Lair) headquarters. In Berlin Gen. von Beck, one of the highest ranking army officers, was prepared to seize command and to begin moving troops to the Eastern Front once a cease fire with the Western powers had been arranged. Plotters held key positions in Paris and other strategic locations. In fact the network was so widespread that to this day those interested in this period are amazed that Hitler, even allowing for his intelligence chiefs treason, did not get wind of it.
Canaris had sent Count von Moltke to Istanbul in June, where Moltke contacted two OSS-connected professors. He suggested arrangements for a German General Staff officer to travel to England to begin personal contact with the British and American governments. In speaking with the OSS-academics, Moltke echoed the necessity of retracting the Casablanca declaration. This particular overture drew the attention of OSS chief William Donovan. Donovan got Leverkuehn to sign a paper, typed on official German Embassy stationery, promising no opposition to an Allied landing in France if the German terms were met. Donovan's interest was so strong that he decided to try Roosevelt again, but to no avail.
The plotters attempted Allied contacts through seven countries, such as neutral Sweden. But they considered a highest-level Spanish-British liaison of highest import. Canaris had been personally involved with Spanish affairs even before his intrigues behind Hitler's back to prevent Spain's joining the Axis powers. He had been told by Madrid contacts that Generalissimo Francisco Franco, whose admiration for Hitler had waned steadily since Germany's indispensible assistance during the Spanish Civil War, would be most willing to help.
Following World War II Jose Maria Doussinague, Director General of the Spanish Foreign Office, wrote: "To us, the war's solution had always meant an acceptance of our view that the National Socialist regime should be overthrown without, however, destroying Germany. And the anti-Hitler elements had brought us proof that this was not only feasible but comparatively simple."
As 1943 progressed the conspiratorial plot boiled ever more rapidly. The only ingredient necessary to assure success was Western Allied approval. And one individual, sitting in the White House, had merely to signal a green light. Again Earle appealed to the president. All the Germans asked was for Roosevelt's signature on a document of agreement to their basic plan.
To guarantee that this all-important message reached America's commander-in-chief, Earle sent it by both Army and Navy channels as well as the regular State Department pouch. If FDR agreed, Earle was to be flown to Germany to initiate preliminary terms with the Hitler opposition. After many days passed, Earle finally received a reply from the president: "All such applications for a negotiated peace should be referred to the supreme Allied commander, General Eisenhower. "
Of this Earle said:
Although phrased in diplomatic terms, this was an absolute brush-off. Here was clear-cut indication that that president had no interest in a valid plan laid by desperate but honest men to end the war and save countless lives.
As is well known, the final desperate attempt against Hitler's life was an 11th hour snafu. In early summer of 1944 two attempts were called off; one because the plotters wanted to get Himmler and Göring with the same bomb and the second due to Hitler's leaving a meeting unexpectedly.
On July 20 at the Wolf's Lair, Count von Stauffenberg, a handsome nobleman and highly decorated Russian front veteran who had lost an arm and an eye in combat, attended a Hitler conference. Within his briefcase was an English-made delayed-action bomb. Stauffenberg gave his report and, at about 1 pm, left the room. He had placed the lethal briefcase under a table near Hitler.
After Stauffenberg's departure Hitler left his position near the bomb and walked to a wall map across the room. Then someone unwittingly placed the briefcase behind a heavy table stand, away from the Fuhrer. To compound the bad luck of the conspirators, the conference site had been changed; from a concrete bunker under repair to a small wooden building. Thus the concussion factor was minimized when the device exploded.
The tremendous blast killed four and wounded Hitler slightly in one arm. Stauffenberg watched the small structure explode and determined that no one could have lived through it. He instantly phoned key plotters in Berlin: Hitler is dead. Proceed with the takeover. But within a few hours Hitler was addressing the nation by radio, telling Germany of the "treachery" of "a clique of ambitious and criminal officers." He called failure of the attempt a sign from providence that he had been spared to fulfill his mission.
Nazi retribution was swift and incredibly ugly. Some 7,000 military and civilian figures were rounded up, and 5,000 of them were executed. Von Stauffenberg's relatives throughout Germany were thrown in concentration camps, where some died. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the famed "Desert Fox" and an outer-rim figure in the conspiracy, was given his choice of suicide and a state funeral (death attributed to war wounds) or a court martial and very unhappy consequences for his wife and son (he chose the former). Canaris, who withdrew from the bomb plot because he felt that Hitler & Co. should be spared so they could be imprisoned and subsequently tried by the Allies, was hanged from a meat hook.
Thus the abortive final coup attempt came a year or so later and in a much more haphazard manner than would have been the case had Allied cooperation been forthcoming.
Following the final failed attempt on Hitler's life, Germany proceeded to dig in for the awful nine and a half months to come. Hitler lifted the long time ban on political activity in the armed forces, and every general staff officer was to be a "National Socialist officer-leader." The party also demanded the Nazi salute from all officers rather than the conventional military salute. Ironically, Hitler and other top Nazis had long expressed contempt for communist political trappings within the Soviet military.
In a March, 1985 column the highly respected John Chamberlain noted that we've never gotten the true story of the Roosevelt circle's war aims in Europe; that is, why American and British armies were held back from a dash to take Berlin during the months following the attempt on Hitler's life.
Chamberlain wrote that "What we really need is an exposure of the agreements made well before the end of World War II which set specific limits to the Eastward sweep of the Eisenhower and Montgomery armies." The actual chain of command was Eisenhower with Montgomery and Omar Bradley as co-subordinates. And the two main driving forces were those of Montgomery's command and George Patton's Third Army. As Supreme Allied Commander, Eisenhower was carrying out the strategic designs of the president through his handpicked political general, Chief of Staff George C. Marshall.
Drew Middleton wrote in Retreat from Victory that both Patton and the previously cautious Montgomery were convinced that they could drive their armies to and beyond Berlin, split the Reich and end the war. Middleton, for many years New York Times military affairs editor, noted that of the many German commanders and military experts he had spoken with in subsequent years, all had agreed that a determined thrust by either army would have succeeded.
The advantages to the Western allies of victory in 1944 rather than in 1945, as the result of a successful offensive by Montgomery or Patton, are obvious today. They certainly were obvious to a great number of soldiers and politicians, Americans as well as British, in 1944. But not to Eisenhower.
In the minds of many, questions regarding Ike's wretched strategy of slow advance along a broad front, against a terribly depleted German army with virtually no air support and awesome logistical problems, have never been satisfactorily answered. Eisenhower rationalized his cautious (and costly) approach to Germany in his postwar best seller Crusade in Europe. But almost certainly the strategic call was made from the Roosevelt inner circle and relayed to Marshall to Eisenhower. Ike ordered the frustrated field commanders to slow down in the closing stages of the war and meet the advancing Red Army at the Elbe River, in the heart of Germany.
In the 1943 book The World of the Four Freedoms, written by Roosevelt's Groton-Harvard schoolmate and his undersecretary of state, Sumner Welles (who was in many respects the actual secretary of state, as Cordell Hull bitterly realized), there is a map showing the intended borders of postwar Germany. These 1943-drawn borders, largely along the Elbe, became almost exactly the East-West zones of postwar occupation, and subsequently, the borders of East and West Germany. This realization may be of little comfort to those diehards who still believe "Roosevelt was a sick man incapable of standing up to Stalin at Yalta."
However, as stated previously, individuals and not historical destiny dictate the tide of events. In this case there is a solid body of evidence spelling out how President Roosevelt rejected a prime opportunity to end the European war in 1943. Had Roosevelt seized the moment, he would have strengthened the West's hand immeasurably and cut the legs from under a murderous despot named Josef Stalin.
Following the Dunkirk evacuation and France's capitulation, Hitler had in effect told Churchill: "Let us stop this now. My interests lie to the East, and the British Empire should remain a structure for the maintenance of world stability." But in an address broadcast throughout the United Kingdom and publicized worldwide, the man who had recently succeeded Neville Chamberlain as prime minister retorted: "We will never parley; we will never negotiate with Hitler and his gang."
These words were celebrated as evidence of Sir Winston's magnificent fighting spirit, setting a No. 10 Downing Street tone in marvelous counterpoint to the anguished and spent image of Mr. Chamberlain. Few realized that such bravado was expressed with knowledge of the American president's full commitment to war, or Mr. Churchill's ensnaring debt to those financiers and war profiteers who had more than once saved him from financial ruin.
The abject failure of the 1943 German peace attempts indicates that the British and American warlords would "parley" with no one, not even those who risked everything, their families included, in opposing Hitler. Many have concluded that they had always looked beyond Hitler, to the destruction of Germany itself.
If this be the case, as the record clearly indicates, Churchill was departing from Britain's long-held policy of alliances aimed at divide and conquer; to side with weaker allies against the strongest perceived threat to the realm and thereby assure British supremacy. Unconditional surrender also ensured a critical sapping of Britain's resources and guaranteed the full postwar billowing of the "Four Freedoms" socialist tide that washed away European empires. The still-endless decades of post-colonial starvation and chaos are eloquent if bitter testimony to this truth.
Thus the eloquent wordsmith was eventually forced to consume one of his most determined utterances: "I have not become the King's First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire."
Roosevelt, who came in with Hitler in 1933, went out with him in 1945. Winston Churchill lived for two decades following the silencing of the European and Pacific guns. He saw his beloved empire crumble, Britain enter succeeding stages of economic and social rot, and Germany re-emerge as Europe's leading nation. Ironically, one must conclude that those who placed their heads on the block to kill Hitler might have heeded his words and saved themselves the trouble. The Führer had stated on more than one occasion that it was not only him that his enemies wanted out of the way. They were bent on destroying Germany in any case.
Source: The Barnes Review, 1995 (pp. 9-14)