Professor Says Roosevelt, Churchill Differed Markedly In Postwar Vision

November 17, 1998

By DAVID WILLIAMSON
UNC-CH News Services

CHAPEL HILL - While many people have reconsidered World War II from the perspective of a half century, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill historian decided to look at the war from the opposite direction -- how did leaders of the West envision the future during the great conflict?

Dr. Gerhard L. Weinberg, William Rand Kenan Jr. professor of history, says Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill differed markedly -- and sometimes heatedly -- in their visions for the postwar world. They fought, figuratively, over colonialism, trade, France, China, the United Nations and other topics.

"As we look back today on the ways their perceptions differed, Roosevelt's vision proved to be more in tune with the actual course of developments," Weinberg told an American Historical Association meeting in Birmingham, Ala., Friday (Nov. 13).

"Whatever his patrician origins and status - a point on which the two men were actually rather similar -- Roosevelt was more in touch with trends of the time," the professor said. "Looking forward rather than backward, he was always a confident person, some would say an over-confident one. The two very much respected each other and almost invariably did what they could, often with considerable difficulty, to resolve their differences."

Roosevelt and Churchill did agree early on the necessity for unconditional surrender by the Axis powers - unlike after World War I -- and that Germany should be reasonably well off economically but militarily impotent after the war, Weinberg said.

"Surely the most significant difference between Churchill and Roosevelt during the war was their view of the future of the colonial empires," he said. "Roosevelt took a wholly negative view of all colonial empires, and since Great Britain had the lion's share of colonies in more ways than one, this naturally focussed disproportionate attention on the British Empire and its largest component, India."

While Churchill retained what could be considered an imperialist vision for the future of the empire and opposed independence for its members, the American president saw the demise of European colonialism as inevitable, Weinberg said.

Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull also strongly advocated reducing barriers to international commerce, not only for economic reasons, but also to reduce tensions that had led to war in the past, he said. Churchill and most of his government opposed ending economic protectionism not only to allow Britain to recover from the exertions of war, but also to bolster the British Empire.

The latter also sought a European security organization, while the president favored -- and won -- a more global organization that became the United Nations, Weinberg said. Churchill won concessions on a strong postwar role for France and Charles de Gaulle, a difficult man Roosevelt little respected and thought might try to become a dictator. Roosevelt also yielded to Churchill on military occupation zones in Germany and continued British control of Hong Kong.

"It was efforts to reconcile the sometimes glaring conflicts which made it possible for the two leaders and their countries to hold together in a terrible war and to continue to do so in the troubled peace which followed," he said. "We still remind one another of war between our two countries every time we sing our national anthem - after all, whose bombs were bursting in air? - but it would surely be difficult to find anyone in either country who seriously expects a repetition."

Weinberg is author of "The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany," "A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II" and other works. He received prizes from the American Historical Association and the German Studies Association for the former. The Society for Military History presented its 1995 Distinguished Book Award to him for the global history, which both the Book-of-the-Month Club and the History Book Club offered members.

A native of Germany, Weinberg spent part of the war in England and later served in the U.S. Army occupying Japan. He worked on Columbia University's War Documentation Project from 1951 to 1954 and directed the American Historical Association's project for microfilming captured German documents from 1956 to 1957.

Weinberg also found and edited Adolph Hitler's second book, and as a special consultant to Newsweek, urged caution when the magazine was considering buying rights to the dictator's diaries, which later turned out to be forgeries.
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Note: Weinberg can be reached at 919-962-3945 (w) or 563-4224 (h).
Contact: David Williamson, 962-8596.
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University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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