Give me allies to fight against!
There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them.
THE GRAND ALLIANCE OF WORLD WAR II, SOMETIMES CALLED THE “Strange Alliance,” joined together Britain, the world’s greatest colonial power, led by Churchill; with Russia, the world’s only Communist nation, led by Stalin; with the United States, the world’s greatest capitalist power, led by Roosevelt. Only Hitler could have brought them together, and only the threat of Nazi Germany could have held them together through four years of war. The Big Three mistrusted each other, but each of the partners knew he needed both of the others. No combination of two was powerful enough to defeat Germany. It took all three to do the job.
So the Grand Alliance was both harmonic and successful. Despite many stresses and strains, it held together to the end, a great achievement. In the process, however, nerves and resources were stretched almost to the breaking point.
The process began in January 1942 when Churchill and his military leaders came to Washington to discuss strategy. Churchill advocated a series of operations around the periphery of Hitler’s European fortress, combined with bombing raids against Germany itself and encouragement to Resistance forces in the occupied countries, but no direct invasion. He called this “closing the ring.”
The American military opposed Churchill’s policy. Marshall felt that the concept was risky rather than safe, and that it would waste lives and material rather than save them. To leave the Red Army to face the bulk of the Wehrmacht, as Churchill advocated in effect, was to court disaster. Marshall was not at all sure that the Russians could survive unaided, and he thought it would be the greatest military blunder in all of history to allow an army of eight million fighting men to go down to defeat without doing anything to prevent it. For the Allies to avoid a confrontation with the Germans on the Continent in 1942 and 1943 might save British and American lives in the short run, but it might also lead to a complete victory for Hitler. Even if Churchill was right in supposing that the Red Army would hold out, Marshall believed that the effect would be to let the war drag on into 1944 or even 1945. The end result would be higher, not lower, Anglo-American casualties.
Marshall therefore proposed that the Anglo-Americans set as a goal for 1942 a buildup of American ground, air, and naval strength in the United Kingdom, with the aim of launching a massive cross-Channel invasion in the spring of 1943. Only thus, he argued, could the Americans bring their power to bear in a decisive manner, the Allies give significant help to the Russians, and the final aim of victory be quickly achieved.
There were two specific problems with Marshall’s program of a 1942 buildup and a 1943 invasion. First, it would be of little help to the Russians in 1942, and second, it would mean that the United States would spend the whole year without engaging in any ground fighting with the Germans. The second point worried Roosevelt, for he wanted to get the American people to feel a sense of commitment in the struggle for Europe (well into 1942 public-opinion polls revealed that Americans were more eager to strike back at the Japanese than fight the Germans). The fastest way to do it was to get involved in the European fighting. The President therefore insisted that American troops engage German troops somewhere in 1942. But Roosevelt was also drawn to Churchill’s concept of closing the ring, with its implication that the Russians would take the bulk of the casualties, and he was determined that the first American offensive should be successful, all of which made the periphery more tempting as a target than northwestern Europe.
Marshall proposed, as an addition to his program for a 1943 invasion, an emergency landing on the French coast in September 1942. The operation, code name SLEDGEHAMMER, would be a suicide mission designed to take pressure off the Russians. It would go forward only if a Russian collapse seemed imminent. But although Marshall had no intention of starting SLEDGEHAMMER except as a last resort, he could and did hold it out to FDR as an operation that would satisfy the President’s demand for action in 1942. The obvious difficulty with SLEDGEHAMMER was the risk, and Churchill countered with a proposal, code name TORCH, to invade French North Africa. This was certainly much safer than a cross-Channel attack in either 1942 or 1943, especially since it would be a surprise assault on the territory of a neutral nation. (North Africa was ruled by the French government at Vichy, under Marshal Henri Pétain; it was Fascist and pro-Nazi, but had declared its neutrality in the war.) TORCH dovetailed nicely with British political aims, since it would help the British reestablish their position in the Mediterranean.
Roosevelt had to choose between Marshall’s and Churchill’s proposals. The pressures on him, from all sides, were as tremendous as the stakes. Soviet Foreign Minister V. M. Molotov had visited him in the spring. Although the President had tried not to be specific about where it would be opened, Molotov, like the rest of the world, thought of a second front only in terms of the plains of northwestern Europe. Roosevelt also knew that the hard-pressed Russians—facing nearly 200 German divisions on a front that extended from Leningrad to the Caucasus, with huge areas, including their prime industrial and agricultural lands, under occupation, with millions of dead already, and with a desperate need for time in which to rebuild their industry and their army—regarded a second front as absolutely essential and as a clear test of the Western democracies’ good faith. If the Anglo-Americans did nothing soon to draw off some German divisions, the Russians might conclude that it meant the Allies were willing to see Hitler win, in the East at least.
EUROPE IN 1997
Roosevelt was never foolish enough to believe that anyone but the Nazis would benefit from a German victory over Russia, but he did have other concerns and pressures. America was far from full mobilization. Whatever Marshall’s plans, the U.S. Army could not invade France alone. Even in combination with the British the United States would have taken heavy casualties. Churchill and his military were insistent about not going back onto the Continent in 1942, or indeed until everything had been well prepared, and they made North Africa sound attractive to the President. Churchill was willing to go to Moscow himself to explain TORCH to Stalin, and said he could convince the Soviets that TORCH did constitute a second front. Given British intransigence, it seemed to FDR that for 1942 it was TORCH or nothing. He picked TORCH.
On July 28 Roosevelt gave his orders to Marshall. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of the American forces in Britain, commented bitterly that it could well go down as the “blackest day in history.” Eisenhower and Marshall were convinced that the decision to launch a major invasion of French North Africa in November 1942 would have repercussions that would shape the whole course of the war, with implications that would stretch out far into the postwar world.
They were right. Once TORCH was successful, the temptation to build up the already existing base in Algeria and Tunisia and use it as a springboard for further operations was overwhelming. By far the greater part of the Anglo-American effort in 1942 and 1943 went into the Mediterranean, first in North Africa, then Sicily (July 1943), and finally Italy (September 1943). Impressive gains were made on the map, but there was no decisive or even significant destruction of German power.
The practical problems involved in launching a 1942 or even a 1943 invasion were enormous, perhaps insurmountable. It is quite possible that the British were right in arguing that a premature cross-Channel attack would simply result in a bloodbath. But political motives were paramount in the TORCH decision. Churchill wanted a strong British presence in the Mediterranean, while Roosevelt wanted a quick and relatively safe American involvement to boost morale at home. Both got what they needed from TORCH.
When TORCH was launched (November 8, 1942), the Americans scarcely knew what to anticipate. Because they believed that the French Army in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia was at heart anti-German, they hoped the invasion would be unopposed. American spies and secret agents had been operating in North Africa for two years. They were members of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), an organization created by FDR at the beginning of the war, modeled after the British Secret Service. In setting up the OSS, Roosevelt told the man he selected to head the organization, William Donovan, that this was a no-holds-barred war and that the OSS must fight the Gestapo with Gestapo techniques. Roosevelt then gave Donovan an unlimited budget (literally) from blind Congressional appropriations. Nevertheless, by European standards the OSS was woefully amateur in its methods, techniques, ideology, and politics. Its agents represented a political rainbow of reactionary Ivy League sportsmen, radical Jewish intellectuals, members of the Communist Party, U.S.A., and every shade in between. All they had in common was a hatred of Hitler.
Later in the war the OSS did do much good work, especially in combination with the British and Resistance behind German lines in Europe. But in 1942, in North Africa, the OSS was out of its depth in the complexity of French politics. When Pétain had surrendered to the Germans, General Charles de Gaulle had refused to obey the Vichy government and instead had flown to London, where he denounced Pétain as a traitor and claimed that he, de Gaulle, was now head of a new French government that would continue the war. De Gaulle called his organization the Free French. Few Frenchmen in the colonial armies of France rallied to de Gaulle, however, because it was easier and safer for them to remain loyal to Pétain.
The Americans, although they were invading North Africa, did not want to fight the French. They preferred to make a deal. But Pétain had ordered resistance to any invasion, from whatever direction.
Admiral Jean Darlan, the commander in chief of Vichy’s armed forces, was in Algiers when the invasion began. Thanks to clumsy OSS work, his own secret service was fully informed of the American plans. Darlan was bitterly anti-British, author of Vichy’s anti-Semitic laws, and a willing collaborator with the Germans, but he was ready to double-cross Pétain. He agreed to a deal, which required the French to lay down their arms, in return for which the Allies would make Darlan Governor General of all French North Africa. General Henri Giraud would become head of the North African army. Within a few days the French officers obeyed Darlan’s order to cease fire, and a week after the invasion Eisenhower flew to Algiers to approve the agreement. FDR gave his approval to the Darlan deal on the basis of military expediency.
The result was that in its first major foreign-policy venture in World War II, the United States gave its support to a man who stood for everything Roosevelt and Churchill had spoken out against. Darlan was the antithesis of the principles the Allies said they were defending.
The Darlan deal raised a storm of protest. Critics raised serious questions: Did it mean that when the Allies went into Italy they would make a deal with Mussolini? If the opportunity presented itself, would they deal with Hitler or the German generals? Roosevelt rode out the storm by stressing the temporary nature of the deal. Darlan, increasingly indignant, complained that the Americans regarded him as a lemon to be squeezed dry then thrown away when its usefulness was over.
The controversy ended on Christmas Eve 1942, when a young Frenchman in Algiers assassinated Darlan. The assassination was part of a widespread conspiracy that involved more than two dozen men, but no positive evidence exists to show who was ultimately behind the plot to kill Darlan.
Whoever did it, the embarrassment of dealing with Darlan was over. As Eisenhower’s deputy, General Mark Clark, put it, “Admiral Darlan’s death was... an act of Providence... His removal from the scene was like the lancing of a troublesome boil. He had served his purpose, and his death solved what could have been the very difficult problem of what to do with him in the future.”
But deep-rooted Russian suspicions about American political intentions for liberated Europe increased. At the conclusion of the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, Roosevelt tried to allay them. He announced that the Allied policy toward Germany and Japan—and by implication toward Italy—would be to demand unconditional surrender.
What did this mean? Roosevelt did not spell out the details. Presumably, unconditional surrender meant the Allies would fight until such time as the Axis governments put themselves unconditionally into the hands of the Allies, but beyond that nothing was known. What kind of governments would replace those of Mussolini, Tojo, and Hitler? Obviously there would be a period of military occupation, with control invested in an allied military governor, but then what? FDR did not say.
He did not because in all probability he did not know himself. A self-confident pragmatist, he was sure that he could handle situations as they arose. He would continue to make most of his decisions on the basis of military expediency. Meanwhile, he had assured Stalin and the world that there would be no deals with Hitler and his gang, and that the Allies would fight on until the Axis governments surrendered, at which time he would settle everything and satisfy everyone. It was a brilliant stroke. By keeping war aims vague, he prevented bickering among the Allies.
Roosevelt’s self-confidence was immense, but not always justified, as Franco-American relations soon demonstrated. At the beginning of 1943, Giraud was still leader of France’s North African forces but even with American support he would not remain so for long. With British encouragement, de Gaulle came to Algiers, organized the French Committee of National Liberation, and joined Giraud as co-President. Giraud was a political innocent, however, and despite Roosevelt’s efforts de Gaulle soon squeezed Giraud out of the French North African government altogether. By the end of 1943, FDR’s French policy was a shambles and de Gaulle was in power.
The major Anglo-American military operations in 1943 were directed against Italy. The invasion of Sicily began in July; the assault on the Italian mainland followed in September. Even though Italy quit the war, it was not until mid-1944 that the Allies reached Rome, and the spring of 1945 before they controlled the whole of Italy. Heavy military commitments had been made for limited results. The Allies had tied down twenty German divisions in Italy, and they had obtained some additional airfields from which to send bombers against Germany.
Two weeks after the landings at Sicily, the Allies bombed Rome for the first time. As a result of the raid, and because of the deteriorating military situation, the Fascist Grand Council overthrew Mussolini. Marshal Pietro Badoglio replaced him. Badoglio’s sole objective was to double-cross the Germans. The Anglo-Americans were willing enough to oblige.
The Italians wanted protection against the Germans for the government in Rome, and to be allowed to declare war on Germany and join the Allies as a cobelligerent, thus, avoiding the humiliation of signing an unconditional surrender.
Churchill and Roosevelt gradually gave Eisenhower permission to concede the central Italian demands. They wanted both stability in Italy and a neutral Italian army and were thus willing to deal with Badoglio to avoid social upheaval and possibly chaos. They finally allowed the Italian government to surrender with conditions, to stay in power, to retain administrative control of Italy, to retain the Italian monarchy, and eventually to join the Allies as cobelligerent.
The result was that by 1945 the same political groups that had run Italy before and during the war were still in power, backed by an Allied Control Council from which the Russians had been systematically excluded. Stalin had protested initially but did not press the point, for he recognized the value of the precedent—those who liberated a country from the Nazis could decide what happened there. He was more than willing to allow the Allies to shape the future in Italy in return for the same right in Eastern Europe.
American foreign policy in World War II was too complex and diverse to be encompassed by any generalization, no matter how sweeping. In lieu of a policy, most political decisions were dictated by military necessity. If, for example, the Americans tried to promote a right-wing government in French North Africa and Italy, and allowed the British to do the same in Greece, it was equally true that the United States dropped arms and equipment to the Resistance in France, which was decidedly left wing, and to Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia, who was leading a Communist revolution. Within occupied France the Americans had to deal with the Resistance, since there was no one else fighting the Nazis, but in Yugoslavia there was an alternative to Tito in the form of a guerrilla force under General Draja Mikhailovitch, who supported the monarchy and the London-based Yugoslav government-in-exile. Eisenhower and the Americans followed the British lead in giving aid to Tito, however, because he was supposedly more effective than Mikhailovitch in fighting the Nazis. Actually the civil war was as much Croatians versus Serbians as it was Nazis versus Communists.
In January 1944 the confusion and drift that had characterized American policy came to an end. America was more fully mobilized than it had ever been. Eisenhower took command of the Allied Expeditionary Force (AEF) in the United Kingdom and began the preparations for Operation OVERLORD, the cross-Channel assault. From that point on, a single question dominated American thought: Will this proposal help or hurt OVERLORD? OVERLORD had top priority and subsidiary operations geared to it. America was now concentrating exclusively on the defeat of Germany. Postwar problems, for the most part, could be decided in the postwar period. In general, this was true until the very last day of the war.
And rightly so. OVERLORD was not only the supreme military act of the war by the Anglo-Americans, it was also the supreme political act. It was the ultimate expression of a permanent and fundamental goal of American foreign policy—to maintain the balance of power.
Examples of America’s newly developed leadership and single-mindedness abound. Most involved the British, practically none the Russians, partly because the Americans had a close working relationship with the British and almost no contact with the Red Army, and partly because the British were more concerned with long-range questions than were the Americans. Three issues were especially important: What to do in the Mediterranean, what form the advance into Germany should take, and whether the objective should be Berlin or the German Army. On all three issues the Americans had their way. American preponderance in the Allied camp had become so great that, if necessary, the Americans could insist upon their judgment, while the British simply had to accept the decision with the best grace possible, for their contribution to Anglo-American resources was down to 25 percent of the whole.
American domination of the Alliance reflected, in turn, a new era in world history. The United States had replaced Great Britain as the dominant world power. By 1945 American production had reached levels that were scarcely believable. The United States was producing 45 percent of the world’s arms and nearly 50 percent of the world’s goods. Two-thirds of all the ships afloat were American-built.
On the question of what to do in the Mediterranean, the Americans insisted on slowing down operations in Italy and using the troops instead to invade the south of France in order to provide a covering force for OVERLORD’s right flank. The British objected, advocating instead operations into Austria and Yugoslavia, but they dared not argue their case on political grounds for they realized that Roosevelt would turn a deaf ear to their political case. As FDR told Churchill, “My dear friend, I beg you to let us go ahead with our plan, for purely political reasons over here, I should never survive even a slight setback in OVERLORD if it were known that fairly large forces had been diverted to the Balkans.” (That year, 1944, was an American presidential election year; FDR was running for a fourth term.) On June 6, 1944, OVERLORD was launched. It was staggering in scope, with 5,000 ships, 6,000 airplanes, and 175,000 men landing in France. The warriors came from 12 nations, led by American, British, and Canadian forces. It was a grand show of Allied unity, and for that reason successful.
Churchill hoped to secure the British position in the Mediterranean by taking all of Italy and the Adriatic coast. He later declared that he was also interested in forestalling the Russians in central Europe, but he never used such an argument at the time. To the contrary, he repeatedly told Eisenhower—who bore the brunt of the argument on the American side—that he wanted an extended offensive in the Adriatic strictly as a military proposition. Eisenhower was convinced Churchill had Britain’s postwar position in mind and told the Prime Minister that if he wished to change the orders (which directed Eisenhower to strike at the heart of Germany), he should talk to Roosevelt. On military grounds Eisenhower insisted on a landing in the south of France.
Churchill could not persuade Roosevelt to intervene, and the landing took place in August 1944, ending the Allies’ opportunities to extend operations into Eastern Europe or the Balkans. The Americans had been willing to go as far east in the Mediterranean as Italy, but no farther. The possibility of the Soviet Union’s postwar expansion into the Balkans or Eastern Europe did not seem to the Americans to be important enough at the time to justify a diversion from Germany.
A second great issue, fought out in September 1944, was the nature of the advance into Germany. Eisenhower directed an offensive on a broad front, with the American and British armies moving toward Germany more or less abreast. General Bernard L. Montgomery, commanding the British forces, argued for a single thrust into Germany, insisting that his plan promised a quick end to the war. Churchill supported Monty, partly because he wanted the British to have the glory of capturing Berlin, mainly because he wanted the Anglo-Americans as far east as possible when they linked up with the Red Army.
Eisenhower insisted on his own plan. He was absolutely convinced that the broad front was militarily correct. Whether he was right or not depended upon one’s priority. If the main goal were to ensure a German defeat, Eisenhower’s cautious approach was correct. But if the goal were to forestall a Russian advance into central Europe by an Allied liberation of Berlin, Prague, and Vienna, Monty’s audacious program was better. Roles had been reversed. Eisenhower and Marshall, who in 1942 had been willing to accept any risk to go across the Channel, now adopted a dull, unimaginative campaign. The British, who earlier had hesitated at the thought of confronting the Wehrmacht on the Continent, were now ready to take great risks to get the war over with and occupy Berlin.
In the early spring of 1945 the Allies moved across the Rhine into Germany on a broad front. As immediate objectives Eisenhower ordered the encirclement of the industrial Ruhr and a drive to Dresden to link up with the Red Army in central Germany, which would cut Germany into two parts. Montgomery and Churchill objected. They wanted Eisenhower to give priority to supplies and air support for the British drive to Berlin, in order to get there before the Russians.
There has been much confusion about Churchill’s advocacy of Berlin as a target. It is commonly asserted that he wanted to keep the Russians out of eastern Germany, to retain a united Germany, and to maintain Berlin’s status as the capital, and that if only the Allies had captured the city there would have been no Berlin problem. This is nonsense. Aside from the military factors (it is probable that Eisenhower’s men could never have taken Berlin ahead of the Red Army), these views do not remotely reflect the policies Churchill was advocating. He never thought in terms of denying to the Russians their position in East Europe generally or eastern Germany specifically, a position that had been agreed to much earlier. Once the 1943 cross-Channel attack had been scuttled, there never was the slightest chance that the Russians could be kept out of East Europe. Churchill realized this: His famous agreement with Stalin during their Moscow meetings in the fall of 1944 signified his recognition that Russian domination of East Europe was inevitable.
What Churchill did want from the capture of Berlin was much less grandiose. His major concern was prestige. He told Roosevelt that the Russians were going to liberate Vienna. “If they also take Berlin, will not their impression that they have been the overwhelming contributor to our common victory be unduly imprinted in their minds?”
Roosevelt’s major concerns, in the weeks before his death on April 12, were to create the United Nations (the San Francisco Conference to draw up the Charter began its sessions shortly thereafter), to insure the participation of the U.S.S.R. in the United Nations, and to maintain cordial relations with Stalin. He refused to take a hard line with Stalin on the Russian occupation of Poland or on Stalin’s suspicions about the surrender of the German forces in Italy to the Western Allies. The President was not an experienced diplomat, and right to the end he had no clear goals for the postwar world. His sponsorship of the United Nations indicated that he had adopted Woodrow Wilson’s belief in collective security, but the nature of the United Nations Roosevelt wanted, dominated as it was by the great nations on the Security Council, indicated that he retained a belief in spheres of influence for the great powers. So did his frequent remarks about the “Four Policemen” (China, Russia, Britain, and the United States).
But if much of Roosevelt’s policy was cloudy, mystifying even his closest advisers, one thing was clear. To the exasperation of some members of the State Department, not to mention the ambassador to Russia, W. Averell Harriman, the President refused to become a staunch anti-Soviet. Harriman, Churchill, and later Truman assumed that Russia would be unreasonable, grasping, probing, power hungry, and impossible to deal with except from a position of great strength and unrelenting firmness. FDR rejected such assumptions. Furthermore, he seems to have felt it was only reasonable for the Russians to be uneasy about the nature of the governments on Russia’s western frontier, and therefore was willing to consider Stalin’s demands in East Europe. There was also an assumption, shared even by Churchill, that Stalin was stating the obvious when he remarked in early 1945 that “whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system.” Churchill, who had taken the lead in establishing this principle in Italy and Greece, later denounced Stalin for practicing it in East Europe, but the evidence indicates that Roosevelt was realistic enough to accept the quid pro quo.
The nature of the alliance with Russia was generally confusing. After the Nazi invasion the Red Army became heroic, and Stalin appeared as a wise and generous leader in the American press. Whether this had a deep or lasting effect on a people who mistrusted and feared Communism as much as they did Fascism is doubtful. Behind the scenes, meanwhile, and especially in the State Department, anti-Soviet feeling kept bubbling up. George Kennan, though a rather minor functionary in the State Department at the time, best expressed the mood two days after the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941: “We should do nothing at home to make it appear that we are following the course Churchill seems to have entered upon in extending moral support to the Russian cause. It seems to me that to welcome Russia as an associate in the defense of democracy would invite misunderstanding.” Kennan felt that throughout Europe “Russia is generally more feared than Germany,” and he implied that he agreed with this estimate of the relative dangers of Communism and Fascism.
The sentiment that Kennan expressed in 1941 may have been dominant in the State Department, but the department was not setting policy. Roosevelt extended lend-lease to the Russians and gave moral support to Stalin. Bending to State Department pressure, he did refuse Stalin’s request in 1941 for an agreement that would recognize Russian territorial gains under the Nazi-Soviet Pact, remarking that territorial questions could be settled at the end of the war. But beyond that issue Roosevelt concentrated on working together with Stalin against the common enemy. Kennan continued to protest. In 1944, when the Red Army had driven the Germans out of Russia and was preparing for the final offensive, Kennan argued that the time had come for a “full-fledged and realistic political showdown with the Soviet leaders.” He wanted to confront them with “the choice between changing their policy completely and agreeing to collaborate in the establishment of truly independent countries in Eastern Europe or of forfeiting Western Allied support and sponsorship for the remaining phases of their war effort.”
By this time Kennan was the chief adviser to the American ambassador in Moscow, Harriman, who accepted Kennan’s views. Harriman advised FDR to cut back on or even eliminate lend-lease shipments to Russia. Roosevelt refused and the aid continued to flow, providing Russia with essential equipment, especially trucks. The West needed the Red Army at least as badly as the Russians needed lend-lease. Although Kennan had failed to see this, Marshall and Roosevelt were clear enough about who needed whom the most. Their greatest fear was precisely Kennan’s greatest hope—that once the Red Army reached Russian borders, it would stop. The Germans could then have turned and marched west, confronting the Western Allies with the bulk of the Wehrmacht. Britain and America had not mobilized nearly enough ground troops to batter their way into Berlin against such opposition.
Further, there was the frightening possibility of new secret weapons. Germany had made rapid strides in military technology during the war, German propaganda continued to urge the people to hold on just a little longer until the new weapons were ready, and FDR knew that the Germans were working on an atomic bomb. The V-weapons,4 jet-propelled aircraft, and snorkel submarines were bad enough. To halt lend-lease to the Russians would slow the Red Army advance, giving the Germans more time to perfect their weapons, if it did not cause Stalin to withdraw from the war altogether.
The central dilemma of the war was embodied in these considerations. Until the end almost no one in power wanted Russia to stop its advance, but few Americans or British wanted Russia to dominate East Europe. It had to be one or the other. Roosevelt decided that the greater danger lay in an end to Russian offensives, and he continued to give Stalin aid and encouragement for the Russian drive to the West.
At his own level Eisenhower made his decision about Berlin on military grounds. He thought it was madness to send his forces dashing toward Berlin when there was little, if any, chance that they would arrive before the Red Army. He also needed a clearly recognizable demarcation line, so that when his forces met the Russians there would be no unfortunate incidents of the two allies mistakenly shooting at each other. He therefore informed Stalin that he would halt when he reached the Elbe River. Churchill kept pestering him to push on eastward; finally Eisenhower wired the Combined Chiefs of Staff: “I am the first to admit that a war is waged in pursuance of political aims, and if the Combined Chiefs of Staff should decide that the Allied effort to take Berlin outweighs purely military considerations in this theater, I would cheerfully readjust my plans and my thinking so as to carry out such an operation.” He was not, in other words, willing to risk the lives of 100,000 or more men for no military gain. The Combined Chiefs made no reply, and for Eisenhower, military considerations remained paramount.
While Eisenhower’s forces occupied southern Germany, the Russians battered their way into Berlin, suffering heavy casualties, probably in excess of 100,000. Herbert Feis points out that they gained “the first somber sense of triumph, the first awesome sight of the ruins, the first parades under the pall of smoke.” Two months later they gave up to the West over half the city they had captured at such an enormous price. At the cost of not a single life, Great Britain and the United States had their sectors in Berlin, where they remained through the Cold War.
More important, the war ended without any sharp break with the Russians. There had been innumerable strains in the “Strange Alliance,” but the United States and Russia were still allies, and in May 1945 the possibility of continued cooperation was, if frail, alive. Much would depend on the attitude of the United States toward Soviet actions in East Europe. It was as certain as the sun’s rising that Stalin would insist on Communist dictatorships controlled by Moscow. The economic and political leaders of the old regimes would be thrown out, along with religious leaders and editors. With them would go some of the most cherished concepts in the West—freedom of speech, free elections, freedom of religion, and free enterprise. The men who ran the American government could not look with any approval on the suppression of precisely those liberties they had fought Hitler to uphold. President Harry S. Truman (FDR had died in April 1945), his advisers, and the American people would never be able to accept the forced communization of Eastern Europe.
But the experience of World War II indicated that the United States still had alternatives, that hostility was not the only possible reaction to Stalin’s probable moves. The United States had demonstrated an ability to make realistic, pragmatic responses to developing situations. America had aided Tito and supported the French Resistance, had refused to get tough with the Russians, had made major decisions solely for the purpose of bringing about the fall of Nazi Germany.
In the spring of 1945 America had enormously more power, both absolutely and in relation to the rest of the world, than she had possessed in 1941. To a lesser degree, that had also been the situation in 1918, but after World War I America had disarmed and for the most part refused to intervene in affairs outside the North American continent. She could do so again, and indeed Roosevelt had privately confessed to Churchill that he doubted if he could keep American troops in Europe for more than a year or so after the conclusion of hostilities.
America was the victor. Her decisions would go far toward shaping the postwar world. In May 1945 she did not have a firm idea of what those decisions would be. It was still possible for the United States to travel down any one of several roads.