The "Grand Alliance," as Churchill phrased it, was a shaky expedient held together by the common desire to defeat the Axis Powers. The principal goal of the "Big Three" Allied leaders—President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet premier Josef Stalin—was winning the war, and most of their early diplomacy focused on military issues. Wartime unity was difficult to maintain, however. There were, for example, heated disagreements over a second military front in Europe. The Soviets complained that the Americans and British were prepared to fight until the last Russian fell. For their part, the western allies were painfully aware that Stalin had signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler in 1939 and brutally occupied the Baltic States and part of Finland after the war began.
A second important diplomatic objective, especially toward the end of the conflict, was winning the peace. There were fundamental ideological and cultural differences between the western democracies and the Soviet Union, and the Allied leaders had disparate visions for the post-war world. Stalin, recognizing that Russia was invaded by Germany twice during the twentieth century, was primarily concerned with securing his western borders. Churchill was opposed to Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, but he also was concerned with maintaining the far-flung British Empire and his nation's declining status as a world power.
During the war, President Roosevelt was deeply concerned with keeping China and the Soviet Union fighting in order to tie up the bulk of the Japanese and German forces. Later in the conflict, he referred to the "Four Policemen"—the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, and Nationalist China—when discussing the post-war world. He was also uneasy about the long-term goals of both Churchill and Stalin. A certain degree of distrust was inevitable under the circumstances, and effective diplomacy was needed to maintain the Grand Alliance until Germany and Japan were defeated.
Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Churchill crossed the Atlantic to meet with Roosevelt at the Arcadia Conference and discuss military strategy. They emphasized the "Germany First" plan, to the relief of Stalin, and laid the groundwork for the Combined Chiefs of Staff. On January 1, 1942, the Roosevelt administration drafted a "Declaration by United Nations," which endorsed the Atlantic Charter and called for a post-war peace organization. Ultimately, nearly 50 nations signed the Declaration, establishing a wartime coalition against the Axis.
The chief point of contention between the Allied leaders during 1942 was the question of a second military front against the Germans. Stalin, whose forces were engaged in a titanic struggle on the Eastern Front, demanded a cross-channel invasion of Western Europe. American military strategists, led by General George Marshall, favored such an invasion because they feared the Soviets might be forced to conclude a separate peace. Churchill, however, won President Roosevelt's support for an invasion of Southern Europe through North Africa and the Mediterranean. "Operation Torch," the invasion of French North Africa, was launched in November. The Germans subsequently occupied Vichy France, and the Allies recognized Charles de Gaulle as the leader of "Free France."
In mid-January 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill met at Casablanca, in Morocco. Stalin declined to attend because of the battles raging in the Soviet Union, although FDR interpreted his actions as signaling concern over the lack of a second front in Western Europe. Churchill and Roosevelt pledged there would be no separate peace negotiations with Hitler, and that the war would be fought until the "unconditional surrender" of the Axis powers. This was to reassure Stalin, but it strengthened the resolve of the hardliners in Germany and Japan and possibly prolonged the fighting. Agreement was also reached in principle on a second front, although its location was not determined. Stalin was pleased on both counts, and the Casablanca Conference cemented the Grand Alliance.
The first meeting between the Allied foreign ministers was held in Moscow in October 1943. By that time, the military tide in Europe had turned, with Italy abandoning the Axis and joining the Allies. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, British foreign secretary Anthony Eden, and Soviet foreign commissar Vyacheslav Molotov discussed plans for a second front, and agreed on an independent Austria and the partition of Germany following the war. Stalin pledged that the Soviets would join the war against Japan after the defeat of Hitler. The Chinese ambassador in Moscow joined in the Declaration of Four Nations on General Security, calling upon "all peace-loving states" to establish an international organization to maintain "peace and security" in the post-war world. The Allied ministers also agreed to prosecute Nazis for war crimes.
A series of diplomatic conferences took place in the Middle East before the end of 1943. Late in November, President Roosevelt traveled to Egypt to join Churchill and Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) in signing the Cairo Declaration. The Allied leaders reiterated their pledge to continue the war in the Pacific until the "unconditional surrender" of Japan, vowed to strip Japan of all its League of Nations mandates and military conquests since 1914, and added that "Korea shall become free and independent." Congress responded by repealing laws prohibiting Chinese immigration and naturalized citizenship. The Cairo Declaration raised Chinese and Korean morale, and assured the Soviets that there would be no separate peace with the Japanese. Roosevelt and Churchill then flew to Tehran, the Iranian capital, to meet for the first time with Stalin.
The Tehran Conference gave the Allied leaders a chance to size each other up in person. Roosevelt was impressed with Stalin's "very confident" personality and announced that they "got along fine" with one another. The two met privately on several occasions, but FDR deliberately did not meet alone with Churchill during this summit, in an effort to assure Stalin that no private deals were being brokered between the western Allied leaders. Both military and political issues were discussed by the Big Three, including "Operation Overlord," the codename for the cross-channel invasion to be launched in the spring. The long-awaited second front in Western Europe would be coordinated with another Allied landing in southern France and a Soviet offensive from the east. A pleased Stalin renewed his pledge to join the war against Japan once Germany was defeated. Shortly after the conference, Roosevelt appointed General Dwight David Eisenhower to command Overlord.
Political agreements were more difficult to achieve. When Roosevelt complained that Americans were concerned with the fate of the Baltic States, Stalin replied that he better get busy on some "propaganda work," because the citizens of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia had voted to join the Soviet Union. Furthermore, Stalin pushed for the western boundary of Poland to include portions of Germany, while the Soviet Union would absorb an eastern region of Poland. FDR acceded to this, although he acknowledged that he could not do so publicly before next year's presidential election. The Allied leaders also appeared to be united in relegating France to minor-power status in the post-war world.
The final major issue under discussion at Tehran was post-war Germany. Stalin wanted Germany to be completely dismembered, Roosevelt favored dividing the country into five autonomous districts, and Churchill envisioned incorporating part of Germany with Austria and Hungary into a Danubian confederation. Unable to reach a settlement on the fate of Germany, the Big Three decided to postpone that question.
His first face-to-face negotiations with Stalin gave Roosevelt the impression that he was able to influence the Soviet leader. The president returned home to tell the American people that he "got along fine" with Stalin. For his part, the discussions with Roosevelt and Churchill probably strengthened Stalin's determination to seek territorial concessions in the latter stages of the war. This was the last summit meeting that focused primarily on military strategy and winning the war. The apparent Allied solidarity at Tehran, particularly on military matters, belied the fundamental differences between the western democracies and the Soviet Union that increased as Germany was being conquered.
In late August 1944, after the cross-channel invasion at Normandy put the Germans on the defensive in Western Europe, Allied diplomats began a six-week conference at Dumbarton Oaks, an estate near Washington, D.C. The negotiations included representatives from the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, and China, and resulted in a working draft for the United Nations. The post-war peace organization would consist of a Security Council, General Assembly, Secretariat, and an International Court of Justice. It was agreed that the Four Policemen and France would have permanent seats on the Security Council, and each have a veto power. A decision on membership of the General Assembly was postponed after Stalin insisted that all sixteen Soviet Republics receive equal representation. The Big Three would work that out at a future meeting.
Roosevelt and Churchill met again in mid-September at Quebec, Canada, to discuss post-war plans for Germany. The partition of Germany had been agreed upon, although the occupation zones had not been delineated. The chief question at Quebec was whether Germany should become an agricultural nation or be reintegrated into the European industrial community. Henry Morgenthau, the Jewish secretary of the treasury, favored turning Germany into "a goat pasture," forever eliminating it as a military threat. Secretary of State Hull, supported by Henry Stimson in the War Department, warned that a revitalized Germany was essential to the economic well being of Europe. Roosevelt and Churchill nonetheless initially supported the Morgenthau Plan, and Stalin was already on record as supporting the dismemberment of Germany.
With the post-war fate of Germany and Eastern Europe unsettled, Churchill urged another summit meeting with the Big Three before the end of the year. President Roosevelt, however, was preoccupied with the election campaign, and Stalin refused to leave the Soviet Union. So, Churchill flew to Moscow in October to confer with Stalin. The American ambassador to the Soviet Union, Averill Harriman, attended the negotiations as an observer. During their deliberations, Churchill and Stalin agreed to shift the boundaries of Poland to the west, giving the Soviet Union the territory it coveted in the east.
Churchill and Stalin also reached a more controversial deal known as the "Percentages Agreement." In a classic example of realpolitik, the two Allied leaders carved the Balkans into spheres of influence. The Soviets, for example, received 90 percent control in Rumania; Britain, the same percentage in Greece. Roosevelt, who was willing to accept a temporary division of authority until the Germans were defeated, opposed permanent spheres of influence. He stated that the United States would not be bound by the agreement, but with the Red Army sweeping into Eastern Europe, he had little political leverage. As the war was being won in Europe, the Allied leaders began focusing on winning the peace.
The second and final summit meeting attended by the Big Three was held in early February 1945, at Yalta on the Black Sea. Roosevelt's advisers included chief political troubleshooter Harry Hopkins, and the new secretary of state, Edward. R. Stettinius, Jr. The war against Hitler was entering its final stages, with the Allies closing in on Germany and the Red Army controlling much of Eastern Europe. The conflict in the Pacific, however, was far from won. One of Roosevelt's objectives at Yalta was to get a firm commitment from Stalin that the Soviet Union would enter the fight against Japan once the Nazis were defeated. Shortly before they met, Churchill warned Roosevelt that Yalta "may well be a fateful conference."
Among the major issues settled at Yalta by the Big Three were the partition of Germany and future war reparations. It was agreed that Germany was to be divided into four zones of occupation, with a French sector carved out of the British and American zones. Berlin also was divided into four zones, although the city was wholly within the Soviet sector. Churchill was the driving force behind the decision to include France—he was deeply concerned that the United States would withdraw from European affairs as it had after the First World War. The Big Three also agreed to a reparations commission and tentatively allotted 50 percent of about $20 billion to the Soviet Union. This was a compromise. Stalin wanted punitive reparations to permanently eliminate Germany's military and economic capabilities, Churchill contrastingly sought sufficient reparations that would not destroy the German economy, while Roosevelt wished to avoid the mistakes of the Versailles Treaty.
The United Nations was another major topic discussed at Yalta. The Dumbarton Oaks Conference left several significant procedural and organizational issues unresolved. Stalin, for example, pushed for an unrestricted veto to prevent even the discussion of certain subjects. Roosevelt and Churchill prevailed, however. It was decided that the permanent members of the Security Council could not stifle debate, but they could veto any substantive action by the General Assembly. The Big Three further agreed that the first meeting of the United Nations would be held in San Francisco, in late April.
The fate of Poland was the most difficult problem faced by the Allied leaders at Yalta. Stalin made it clear that the issue was "a matter of life and death for the Soviet Union." The chief point of contention was recognition of either the Polish government-in-exile operating in London, or the provisional government based in Lublin that was dominated by communists. To further complicate the situation, the Red Army was occupying Poland, and Stalin wanted the post-war boundaries to be moved westward to compensate Poland for the eastern territory annexed by the Soviet Union. Roosevelt and Churchill, bowing to military reality, conceded on the boundary issue and acknowledged the communist domination of the Polish government. Yet, the western Allied leaders gained some concessions. Stalin agreed that the Lublin government would include Poles from "abroad" and pledged to hold "free and unfettered elections as soon as possible."
Roosevelt allowed Stalin to dominate the discussions pertaining to Poland because he desperately wanted the Soviets to join the fight against Japan. American military analysts estimated that there were two million Japanese troops on the home islands, and an equal number on the Asian mainland. The atomic bomb was still in the developmental stage when the Big Three met at Yalta, and FDR believed that Soviet participation in any military invasion or naval blockade of Japan was essential to victory.
For his part, Stalin expected to receive territorial concessions for entering the war in the Pacific within "two to three months" after the surrender of Germany. The Soviets were promised the Kurile Islands, the southern half of Sakhalin Island, Port Arthur (Darien), and the South Manchurian Railroad. Stalin, in turn, agreed to recognize the Nationalist Chinese government led by Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek), which was engaged in a bitter civil war against Mao Zedong's communists.
At the conclusion of the Yalta Conference, the Allied leaders approved the Declaration of Liberated Europe. Spurred by Roosevelt, the Big Three agreed that post-war "interim governmental authorities" were to be "broadly representative of all democratic elements in the population and pledged to the earliest possible establishment through free elections of Governments responsive to the will of the people." The Declaration, coupled with the promise of a United Nations organization to maintain world peace, contributed to the general spirit of hopeful optimism that gripped western leaders following the Yalta Conference. President Roosevelt informed the Congress, after his return to the United States, that the era of "spheres of influence and balances of power" was ended.
The apparent solidarity and good will that permeated the Yalta Conference soon faded. In light of the ensuing Cold War, the post-war agreements negotiated by the Big Three remain controversial. Some historians equate Yalta with Munich and appeasement; others blame Roosevelt's deteriorating health for his failure to take a hard enough line against Stalin. The military situation in Europe, however, and the desire to bring the Soviets into the fight against Japan, called for compromise. Most of the settlements reached at Yalta—especially those pertaining to Eastern Europe—employed language vague enough to allow the Soviets to violate the spirit if not the letter of the agreements. Under the circumstances, however, there was little short of war that the U.S. and Britain could do about it.
On April 12, 1945, President Roosevelt died suddenly. Harry S. Truman, vice president for less than three months and untutored in foreign affairs, entered the White House. Truman told reporters that he felt "as if the sun, moon, and the stars" had fallen upon his shoulders, but he was determined to follow through on FDR's vision of a United Nations. Secretary of State Stettinius met in San Francisco with delegates from nearly 50 nations, and signed the U.N. charter on June 26. Unlike the League of Nations, organized following the First World War, the Senate overwhelmingly approved American participation in the United Nations by a vote of 89 to 2.
The Allied leaders, including President Truman, gathered for a final time at Potsdam, near Berlin, following the surrender of Germany in early May. On July 17, the first day of the conference, President Truman received a report of the successful testing of the atomic bomb. Several days later, he informed Stalin that the United States had a new weapon of "awesome destructiveness," and the Soviet premier replied that it should be used against the Japanese. In the middle of the conference, Winston Churchill was replaced by Clement Attlee, whose Labor Party won the parliamentary elections. Ernest Bevin succeeded Anthony Eden as foreign secretary.
Potsdam was Truman's first meeting with Stalin. The president, with the atomic bomb as his "ace in the hole," vowed to "state frankly what I think." Truman used similarly blunt language in describing the Soviets as "pig-headed." He and his newly appointed secretary of state, James F. Byrnes, no doubt expected to use "atomic diplomacy" to sway the Soviets. The development of the atomic bomb, however, did not guarantee success at Potsdam for the Americans. Stalin, for example, had already arranged with the communist-dominated government of Poland to move the nation's boundary further west to compensate for territory annexed by the Soviet Union.
Final plans were drawn up at Potsdam to divide Germany into four zones of occupation, but Truman succeeded in allowing each of the victorious Allies to exact reparations only from their sector. Furthermore, the partitioned nation was to be treated as "a single economic unit," ensuring that a revitalized Germany would contribute to the recovery of war-torn Europe. The Allied leaders agreed to remove all vestiges of Nazism from post-war Germany and hold war crime trials "to bring these criminals to swift and sure justice." Lastly, the Council of Foreign Ministers (including representatives from France and China) was established to settle unresolved territorial issues and draft peace treaties with the defeated powers.
On July 26, Truman, Churchill, and Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) signed the Potsdam Declaration, which repeated the call for the unconditional surrender of Japan. Stalin did not participate because the Soviets were not yet a belligerent in the Pacific war. Without mentioning the atomic bomb, the Declaration warned that the "alternative [to surrender] for Japan is prompt and utter destruction." Thousands of leaflets subsequently were dropped over Japanese cities calling for unconditional surrender, but military commanders held out hope that the Soviet Union could be persuaded to arrange a diplomatic settlement.
President Truman viewed the Japanese diplomatic maneuvering as a rejection of the unconditional surrender terms, and on his journey back to the United States, gave the final order to drop the atomic bomb. Truman was certainly aware of the political ramifications of atomic warfare. Attacking Japan enabled the United States to demonstrate the awesome force of the new weapon and keep Soviet military participation in the Pacific theater negligible, ensuring American domination of the peace negotiations. Truman also considered the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in making his decision.
On August 6, 1945, four days after the Potsdam Conference ended, the Enola Gay, a B-29 captained by Colonel Paul Tibbets, lifted off from Tinian with an atomic bomb nicknamed "Little Boy." The five-ton bomb was released over Hiroshima, Japan's eighth largest city and headquarters for the Second General Army. The destruction was devastating; about 80,000 people were killed and "the whole city was ruined instantaneously." Three days later, Nagasaki was virtually destroyed by the second atom bomb and another 35,000 were killed. Between the two bombs, precisely three months after Germany's surrender, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and marched troops into Manchuria.
On August 10, after conferring with Emperor Hirohito, the Japanese government agreed to surrender although they insisted on retaining the emperor's role following the war. Secretary of State Byrnes ambiguously replied that "the authority of the Emperor" would be decided in surrender terms dictated by the "Supreme Commander of the Allied powers." The formal surrender took place on September 2, in Tokyo Bay aboard the battleship Missouri. General Douglas MacArthur presided over the ceremonies. As the Supreme Commander of the Allied occupation forces, MacArthur was instrumental in guiding Japan through the establishment of a constitutional democracy in which women—as well as the emperor—played significant roles.
The controversy over the decisions made by the Allied leaders at the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences intensified as time passed, but President Truman's decision to drop the atomic bombs immediately drew mixed reactions. Critics argued that he should have pursued other military options, including waiting for the Soviet Union to join the fight and implementing a naval blockade of the home islands. Others claimed Truman should have demonstrated to Japanese observers the destructive force of the new weapon in a staged exhibition on a remote target.
Supporters of the president's decision to drop the bombs argued that the alternatives were not realistic. Japanese hardliners would never surrender as long as they could resist, as evidenced by the kamikaze tactics employed late in the war. Additionally, there was only enough material to build two bombs, and a demonstration might not work as planned. Ultimately, an invasion of the home islands would be launched with a horrific loss of life on both sides. Truman's military advisers estimated that American casualties would be in the hundreds of thousands, in addition to the 100,000 prisoners of war held by the Japanese. Total casualty figures, including Allied and Japanese losses, were estimated as high as one million.
Truman ultimately authorized the bombings based on what he perceived as military necessity. He was convinced the Japanese would fight fanatically—like "savages"—to protect their homeland. He later declared that he viewed the "bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used." Nonetheless, President Truman understood that the impact of atomic warfare far exceeded its geographic targets. The nuclear age had dawned.
The Grand Alliance was a military success—Germany and Japan were defeated by the fall of 1945. However, despite the agreement to organize the United Nations, nothing close to a lasting ideological or political alliance was formed among the Allies during the Second World War. There were simply too many irreconcilable differences between them, exacerbated by a traditional distrust that commenced with the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.
Actions taken by the Allied powers during the war likewise increased tensions within the Grand Alliance. The Soviets were angered by the delayed second front in Western Europe and the negotiated peace with the Italian government, which they viewed as setting a precedent they could exploit. Stalin was also kept in the dark about the development of the atomic bomb, although the British were fully apprised of the Manhattan Project. Contrastingly, the United States and Britain recalled Stalin's non-aggression pact with Hitler prior to the German invasion of Poland in 1939, and were suspicious of Soviet intensions in Eastern Europe as the war wound down.
The post-war goals of the United States and the Soviet Union were similarly incompatible, especially as they related to Eastern Europe. Soviet troops liberated Hungary, Bulgaria, and Rumania from the Germans but remained an occupation force after the war. Britain was the dominant Allied power in Greece; the United States controlled post-war Japan. It appeared that the Big Three were already going their separate ways in the immediate aftermath of World War Two.
Underlying the growing rift between the United States and the Soviet Union was a clash of ideologies and cultures. American political leaders viewed international trade as the foundation of world peace. The spread of capitalism and free markets, they argued, would encourage democracy around the globe. The United States, with the world's strongest economy and a nuclear monopoly, could afford to champion the collective security approach embodied by the United Nations. Stalin rejected the American position in early 1946, claiming that global peace was impossible "under the present capitalist development of the world economy."
The Soviet Union remained committed to balance-of-power global politics and carving out its own spheres of influence. Twenty million Soviet citizens had fallen in the fight against Hitler, and much of the country's infrastructure was in ruins. The Red Army, while massive, was not a first-rate technological military force immediately following the war. The Soviets also lacked atomic weapons. Stalin therefore was concerned primarily with national security, which meant a communist Eastern Europe. In Churchill's memorable phrase, an "iron curtain" soon descended across the European continent.
Given the disparate ideologies, cultures, and national security imperatives, it was almost inevitable that the Grand Alliance would crumble after the war was won. The Cold War era was dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union. Both of the two "superpowers" imbued their respective ideologies with idealistic and moralistic overtones—leaving little room for compromise. The struggle was soon between the "free world" and the "godless communists." Such alarmist rhetoric poured fuel on the fire, and encouraged the "Red Scare" exploited by Senator Joseph McCarthy.
The end of the Second World War signaled more than the defeat of the Axis powers. By 1950, the United States had embraced the "containment policy," enunciated by George F. Kennan, in an effort to combat Soviet expansionism. The Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), represented a combination of political, economic, and military adjuncts to the containment policy. The United States also returned to a peacetime military draft, and greatly increased its military budget. The Cold War remained a focal point of American politics and foreign policy for decades to come.