Military history

“The Touch of the World”

THE Emperor of the West arrived in Casablanca at 6:20 P.M. on Thursday, January 14, 1943, tired but exhilarated after the five-day journey from Washington. With the gray in his cheeks offset by the glint in his eye, Roosevelt was bundled into a mud-smeared sedan for the circuitous drive to Anfa Camp. Installed in Villa Dar es Saada, the president welcomed Churchill for the first of ten meals and forty-three hours of conversation they would share in Casablanca. An air-raid warning after midnight required them to finish the colloquy by candlelight before Roosevelt finally went to bed at three A.M. “Winnie is a great man for the status quo,” he mused, smoking a final cigarette in his uptilted holder. “He even looks like the status quo, doesn’t he?”

Preserving the status quo ante bellum—particularly in maintaining His Majesty’s empire—was very much part of the British scheme and, in keeping with Churchill’s plan, the prime minister wooed Roosevelt while his military lieutenants wooed the American joint chiefs. At 2:30 P.M. on January 15, a dozen of the most senior generals and admirals in the Anglo-American alliance strolled back from lunch to a high-ceilinged, semicircular banquet room off the main corridor of the Anfa Hotel. Full of sunbeams and the fragrance of cut flowers, the room was dominated by a large rectangular table. Sentries guarded the door, where a neatly printed placard read: “Business: Chiefs of Staff Conference.” This would be the third session of the combined chiefs in Casablanca, and before returning to the paramount issue of a global war strategy they were to hear from General Eisenhower this afternoon on the Tunisian campaign and his plan for Operation SATIN.

Poor Eisenhower: yet another room filled with bemedaled generals whose military plumage bespoke battlefield exploits greater than his own. He looked haggard, thanks to his high blood pressure, the purple bags beneath his eyes, and the lingering grippe—exacerbated by chain smoking—that had kept him in bed for four days after Christmas. “Ike seems jittery,” Roosevelt later commented. The flight from Algiers this morning had hardly been restful. Two engines on Eisenhower’s Flying Fortress had failed and the passengers spent the last fifty miles of the flight standing at the exits with parachutes on, ready to jump. As he strode to the head of the table the British eyed him curiously, still intrigued by how such a man could emerge from lowborn obscurity to hold this high command.

He spoke without notes. Yes, there had been setbacks in Tunisia, unfortunate delays. The roads were bad, the weather horrid, the mud unspeakable. A single dirt runway needed 2,000 tons of perforated steel matting to make it mud-proof, but to carry that matting required the total cargo capacity of the North African rail system for at least a day. British and American soldiers had learned valuable combat lessons. As for the French—and here Eisenhower took his revenge for those long hours in the Gibraltar tunnel—they had the misfortune of being led by General Giraud, who “might be a good division commander but has no political sense and no idea of administration.” In a final plunge of the knife, Eisenhower added that dealing with the late Darlan had been easier.

The SATIN offensive, scheduled to begin in a week, looked promising. “At first, operations on the right flank were looked upon primarily as a diversion,” Eisenhower said. “But it now seems probable that it will be possible to advance on Sfax and hold it with infantry, while withdrawing the 1st Armored Division as a mobile reserve further to the rear.” If successful, SATIN would cut the Axis forces in half.

Watching this performance with heavily lidded eyes was General Sir Alan Brooke, chief of the Imperial General Staff and among the greatest soldiers of the war. Immaculate, punctilious, utterly fluent in French, Brooke came from a family of Northern Ireland baronets known as “the fighting Brookes.” With brilliantine-black hair and a face as pinched as an ax blade, he had narrow shoulders, spindly legs, and the unnerving habit—as described by an admirer—of “shooting his tongue out and round his lips with the speed of a chameleon.” He had been mentioned in dispatches six times in the Great War, but his charmed life had changed in April 1925 when he rolled his Bentley on a slippery road, breaking his own leg and his wife’s spine; she died a few days later.

“I very much wish I could have been finished off myself at the same time,” Brooke wrote. Increasingly taciturn and withdrawn, he developed a pronounced stoop and a perpetual frown. Remarriage brought new happiness—for decades, Brooke wrote his second wife lyrical love letters, always signed “Your devoted old Alan”—without rectifying the stoop, the frown, or the taciturnity. “Colonel Shrapnel” ’s signature phrase was a blunt “I flatly disagree,” often accompanied by the snap of a pencil. In January 1943, he was fifty-nine years old. Birding was his greatest civil passion, and he could treat The Truth About the Cuckoo like Holy Writ. This very morning, prowling the beach with his field glasses, Brooke had jubilantly spied a goldfinch, a stonechat, sanderlings, and a ring plover, all carefully recorded in his journal.

Such sightings did not distract him from the task at hand. As the officer largely responsible for extracting the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940, Brooke was disinclined to underestimate German ferocity, and he flatly disagreed with what he privately described as Eisenhower’s “ridiculous plan” for SATIN. As for Brooke’s opinion of the commander-in-chief himself, his diary entry for December 28, 1942, was unsparing: “Eisenhower as a general is hopeless! He submerges himself in politics and neglects his military duties, partly, I am afraid, because he knows little if anything about military matters.”

Now Brooke pounced on Eisenhower like a hawk on a pigeon. How, he asked, would the II Corps drive to the sea be coordinated with Anderson’s First Army in the north and Montgomery’s Eighth Army in Libya? If Anderson was bogged down for two more months, would not Arnim’s forces “thin out in the north and defeat the Sfax forces in detail?” Montgomery was still a week from reaching Tripoli, and Eighth Army would be “quite immobilized” until the shattered port there could be reopened. Rommel no doubt “would react like lightning” to any attack on Sfax that threatened his logistics lifeline. The Desert Fox still had an estimated 80,000 German and Italian troops, Arnim 65,000. Would not II Corps risk being trapped between Arnim and Rommel, with little prospect of help from Anderson or Montgomery? In fact, an Ultra decrypt today had disclosed that Rommel’s 21st Panzer Division had already begun moving north into Tunisia.

Eisenhower tried to regroup in the face of this onslaught, but he got no help from the American chiefs, Hap Arnold, Ernest King, and Marshall. The latter appeared somnolent after a heavy lunch and had yet to open his mouth. “Fredendall’s plan,” as Eisenhower called it, envisioned Ward’s 1st Armored Division as a counterpunching force to stave off Rommel. Eisenhower faced “the dilemma of either allowing the troops in the north to deteriorate by remaining inactive in the mud, or suffering some losses through keeping them active.” The latter, he believed, “was the lesser of the two evils.” Even so, he looked forward to discussing the issue further and “to make any necessary adjustments in the plan.”

Eisenhower saluted and left the room with the grim look of a man in full retreat.

The British and American chiefs of staff or their deputies had met fifty-six times since an initial strategy session in January 1942, but Casablanca revealed that they were still not speaking the same language. They reached quick agreement at Anfa on several matters, including the need to bolster Stalin’s Red Army, to concentrate air attacks against the German homeland, and to suppress marauding U-boats, whose number had doubled in 1942. But the preeminent issues were how to divide Allied war resources between the Pacific and Atlantic wars, and where the next blow should fall. On these vital questions, no unity obtained. It is axiomatic that commanders in conference tend to be on their best behavior and therefore at their least useful. The first few days ofSYMBOLdemonstrated that they could also accomplish little while behaving badly.

No sooner had Eisenhower left the conference room than Brooke resumed the dripping of water on stone that Churchill required. He believed that “final victory in the European theater before the end of 1943” was possible. Repeating arguments he had made in earlier sessions, he also maintained that Japan’s offensive power had already been blunted and that Tokyo’s defeat was certain once Germany surrendered. But if the Germans were allowed to defeat the Soviet Union, the Third Reich could become impregnable. Therefore, the Allied strategy should be not just to defeat Germany first, as Roosevelt and Churchill had agreed a year earlier, but to put the overwhelming weight of Allied resources into the European theater.

But where to strike next? The American inclination was to “strike directly at the heart of the enemy over the shortest possible route”: a cross-Channel assault on the north coast of France aimed at Berlin. Yet—and here those red leather folders from theBuloloreappeared, to reveal wondrously precise studies and statistics—the Germans had forty-six divisions in France and the Low Countries, plus another eleven available nearby in Germany. Moreover, good east-west rail lines in northern Europe would allow the Wehrmacht to shuttle seven more divisions from the Russian front to the west in two weeks. By September 1943, the latest prudent date for a cross-Channel invasion before bad weather intruded, the Allies could stage twenty-five divisions at most in Britain, hardly an invincible force; also, shipping and landing craft shortages meant that the initial assault wave against the fortified Atlantic Wall would be limited to six divisions, although Eisenhower’s own planners in London had recently recommended at least twelve.

All of which argued for further Mediterranean operations, starting in Sicily. The island had five hundred miles of mostly unfortified coastline. As Churchill had told Stalin, “Why stick your head in the alligator’s mouth at Brest when you can go to the Mediterranean and rip his soft underbelly?” Owing to the flimsiness of the Italian rails, vulnerable to Allied air attack, the Wehrmacht could move only one reinforcing division south in two weeks. Knocking Italy out of the war, the British estimated, would cost Germany fifty-four divisions and more than 2,000 planes. And reopening the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal would save the Allies the equivalent of 225 ships, Brooke concluded—a huge bonus in a global war where shipping was often more precious than manpower. The red folders snapped shut.

As Brooke had listened to Eisenhower with predatory patience, so Admiral King listened to Brooke. Easily the most pugnacious of the three American chiefs—fittingly, he had an anchor tattooed on one forearm and a dagger on the other—he had been described by one admirer as “a formidable old crustacean.” Bibulous and lecherous, with a foghorn voice that could be heard the length of a carrier deck, King was “always ready to find Albion perfidious,” in Marshall’s phrase, and the admiral smelled perfidy in this room amid the hibiscus and hair oil. The Pacific was his theater, and he would not step back. King has “his eye on the Pacific. That is his eastern policy,” a British admiral concluded. “Occasionally he throws a rock over his shoulder. That’s his western policy.”

King threw a rock. He did not object to Sicily per se, but he believed that the British did “not seem to have an overall plan for the conduct of the war.” Their dismissal of the Pacific was simply anathema. Tokyo was replenishing its empire with raw materials from conquered territories, he asserted, and fortifying an inner defensive ring in the East Indies and the Philippines. Bitter fighting with flamethrowers and grenades would persist on Guadalcanal for nearly another month, and a comparably bitter campaign was just ending in Papua New Guinea, where American and Australian casualties exceeded 8,000. In the far north, a small American force had just landed on Amchitka to begin reclaiming the Aleutians; that campaign would last until summer.

Like Brooke, King recycled arguments made in earlier sessions; the discussions were beginning to seem circular. The admiral considered it “necessary for the united nations to prevent the Japanese having time to consolidate their gains.” Of nine fronts now engaged by Allied forces, four were in the Pacific. Were the British aware that only 15 percent of the Allied war effort was being channeled into the Pacific? That proportion, King believed, should be doubled.

If not precisely a lie, the 15 percent statistic was certainly not the truth. More than half of U.S. Army forces overseas and one-third of the combat air groups were arrayed against Japan; virtually all U.S. Marines overseas—now four divisions, and growing—also served in the Pacific. At least three times as many ships were required to transport and sustain troops in the vast Pacific as were needed in the Atlantic.

No matter: it was “essential to maintain the initiative against the Japanese and not wait for them to come against us,” King argued. As for Brooke’s rebuttal—that the Allies lacked sufficient resources to wage all-out war against both Japan and the European Axis—King shrugged. Hap Arnold and Marshall remained silent. The session broke up before five P.M.

Battle lines had been drawn. Brigadier General Albert C. Wedemeyer, a War Department planner who so distrusted the British that he secretly tape-recorded meetings with their officers, bitterly opposed further dabbling in the Mediterranean. “If we subscribed to the British concept,” Wedemeyer warned the American chiefs after the meeting, “we should disperse our forces in an area which is neither vital nor final.” But a cross-Channel invasion in 1943 looked unlikely without a change of heart in London.

Brooke recorded his assessment of the day’s events later that night. In an uncharacteristically fraternal diary entry, he wrote: “There is no doubt that we are too closely related to the Americans to make cooperation between us anything but easy.”

Casablanca lay a thousand miles from any battlefield, but the casualty roll here was growing. SATIN had been mortally wounded; Eisenhower’s reputation was injured, if less grievously. “Deficient of experience and of limited ability,” Brooke concluded in his diary. Word soon circulated that the Tunisian offensive had been scrubbed. Clark told Patton that the British were simply trying to garner all the glory in Tunisia by excluding Americans from the final kill. “If so,” Patton wrote in his diary, “it is too terrible for words.”

After his humiliating performance in the hotel conference room, Eisenhower slowly walked beneath the coconut palms to Villa Dar es Saada. The president wanted to see him at four P.M. Precisely what Eisenhower should do now in Tunisia, particularly with II Corps, was as uncertain as his own future. “His neck is in a noose and he knows it,” Butcher would write two days later. Despite Marshall’s efforts to give Eisenhower rank comparable to the senior British field generals’, Roosevelt balked at awarding him a fourth star. Harry Hopkins recorded the private exchange at Anfa:

The President told General Marshall that he would not promote Eisenhower until there was some damn good reason for doing it, that he was going to make it a rule that promotions should go to people who had done some fighting, that while Eisenhower had done a good job, he hasn’t knocked the Germans out of Tunisia.

And now Marshall himself was irked at Eisenhower’s limp showing before the combined chiefs.

Sitting in his zebra-skin living room, Roosevelt ruminated at length on the improbability of France regaining her prewar stature. After wondering aloud “what I’m going to do with Tunisia after the war,” he quizzed Eisenhower on the campaign.

“Well? What about it? What’s your guess?”

“Sir?”

“How long it’ll take to finish the job?”

Eisenhower hesitated. The president seemed far too sanguine about fighting in the Tunisian winter.

“With any kind of break in the weather, sir, we’ll have ’em all either in the bag or in the sea by late spring.”

“What’s late spring mean? June?”

Eisenhower nodded. “Maybe as early as the middle of May. June at the latest.”

He had committed himself. Victory in Africa by mid-May.

That night Eisenhower lingered in Patton’s villa until 1:30 A.M., confiding his anxieties. “He thinks his thread is about to be cut,” Patton wrote in his diary. “I told him he had to go to the front. He feels that he cannot, due to politics.”

Brooke’s deputy, General Sir John Kennedy, observed of Churchill: “He is difficult enough when things are going badly, more difficult when nothing is happening, and quite unmanageable when all is going well.” Despite frictions within the military councils,SYMBOL was going very well in the prime minister’s estimation; if not unmanageable, he was certainly ubiquitous. Escaping from the Anfa compound on January 16, he was found strolling the beach near the El Hank lighthouse, pockets bulging with seashells. During another beachfront expedition, he came upon several American sailors with a guitar; at his request, they serenaded him with “You Are My Sunshine.” Walking back to Villa Mirador after a late-night dinner, Churchill was challenged at three A.M. by a young sentry from North Carolina who bellowed, “Corporal of the guard! I have a feller down here who claims he is the prime minister of Great Britain. I think he is a goddamn liar.”

Mornings, he lounged about in a pink gown, nipping breakfast from a wine bottle or studying his traveling collection of military maps. Eventually dressing in his coverall “zip rompers,” he played countless hands of bezique, or watched field marshals build sand castles and skip stones into the surf. “Come and see my maps,” he urged. “Will you have a whiskey?” Long past midnight he debated issues large and small with his minions, whose bleary yawns he dismissed: “Very well, if you don’t care about winning the war, go to sleep.” He tended “to view with contempt suggestions that did not originate with himself,” a British general observed, and when challenged he huffily replied, “You have grown fat in honors from your country, and now you betray her. All you want is to draw your pay, eat your rations, and sleep.” Excessive civility annoyed him, too. “We don’t get paid to be polite to each other,” he snapped. All in all, he was having a wonderful time.

Roosevelt also found Anfa a great tonic. He lunched in the villa garden, drank old-fashioneds, and read a popular play, The Man Who Came to Dinner. Two of his sons, both in uniform, stayed with him at Dar es Saada; the president guffawed at their two A.M.account of touring Casablanca’s cobble-paved souk and red-light district—a walled village where visitors sipped sweet mint tea as dusky harlots lifted their skirts and ground their hips like a prurient vision from Burton’s Arabian Nights.

A state dinner for the sultan of Morocco and his grand vizier went well, though Churchill grumbled because, in deference to Muslim sensibilities, no alcohol was served. The prime minister insisted on a postprandial open bar so he could recover from the pernicious effects of teetotalism. At noon on January 17, Roosevelt received General Noguès, still clinging to power as Moroccan resident-general. When Noguès complained that Jews in Morocco and Algeria were demanding restored sufferage, Roosevelt jauntily replied, “The answer to that is very simple, namely, that there just aren’t going to be any elections, so the Jews need not worry about the privilege of voting.” The president also proposed restricting Jewish participation in law, medicine, and other professions to reflect Jewish percentages in “the whole of the North African population.” This, he told Noguès, would “eliminate the specific and understandable complaints which the Germans bore towards the Jews in Germany” for disproportionately dominating certain occupations. Despite his commitment to the large freedoms underpinning the Allied cause, Roosevelt no less than Churchill could be “a great man for the status quo.”

Around and around went the chiefs. Debate descended into dithering, then regained the altitude needed for earnest dialogue, which still led nowhere. On Saturday, January 16, the morning after Eisenhower’s rout by Brooke, Marshall opened the session with a dozen rapid-fire questions, some incisive and all legitimate. The American chiefs, he said, were curious “to learn the British concept as to how Germany is to be defeated.” Would Sicily be “merely a means towards an end, or an end in itself?” American strategists believed that if Mussolini’s government showed signs of collapse, Hitler would send Wehrmacht troops to reinforce the easily defended Italian boot. What then? What should be the Allies’ “main plot” for winning the war? “Every diversion or side issue from the main plot acts as a suction pump,” Marshall added.

Brooke had spotted a whimbrel, a yellow wagtail, and five small owls. He had also seen this American argument winging around Anfa many times by now. Out came the red leather folders. “The Germans have forty-four divisions in France,” he said in a monotone that implied exasperation. “That is sufficient strength to overwhelm us on the ground and perhaps hem us in with wire or concrete…. Since we cannot go into the Continent in force until Germany weakens, we should try to make the Germans disperse their forces as much as possible.”

There it was, and there it remained. The Americans, whose delegation included but a single logistician frantically thumbing through three loose-leaf notebooks, tended toward observation and generality. British statements bulged with facts and statistics fromBulolo’s humming war room. The Americans had an inclination; the British had a plan. The American chiefs also lacked a viable alternative to Churchill’s “soft underbelly”: Roosevelt had held but a single planning session with his military brain trust before Casablanca, and if the president held strong views on the timetable and strategic trajectory of the war he had yet to share them with his chiefs.

That evening, Marshall told Roosevelt that the American chiefs intended to endorse the British plan for the invasion of Sicily, now codenamed HUSKY. As selfless as he was austere, Marshall was enough of a poker player to know when to fold his hand. The new requirement for twelve assault divisions in a cross-Channel invasion rather than the anticipated six; the need for more robust amphibious training, so amply revealed during TORCH; a decision to cut back landing-craft production in favor of more urgently needed convoy escort warships; and the simple need for Allied unity: all played into his decision. The British, moreover, were “not interested in occupying Italy,” Marshall told the president. “This would add to our burdens without commensurate returns.” Roosevelt agreed.

The Army chief also knew the strategic value of a good bluff, and for two days he kept his change of heart from the British. More sparring followed, more circular squabbling, especially over the Pacific. “We cannot defeat Germany and Japan simultaneously,” Brooke pleaded on Monday morning, January 18. “Because of the distances involved, the British chiefs of staff believe that the defeat of Japan first is impossible, and if we attempt to do so we shall lose the war.” Marshall simply reiterated his opposition “to interminable operations in the Mediterranean.”

After two stormy hours, the meeting broke up at one P.M. Despondency etched Brooke’s narrow face. “It is no use, we shall never get agreement with them,” he told Field Marshal Sir John Dill, the senior British officer in Washington. Dill urged resolve. “You cannot bring the unsolved problem up to the prime minister and the president,” he warned. “You know as well as I do what a mess they would make of it!”

And then the logjam broke. The British proposed a compromise in which the Allies agreed to retain the initiative against Japan without undermining “any opportunity that may present itself for the decisive defeat of Germany in 1943.” Marshall, King, and Arnold pored over the paragraph, scratched a few minor amendments, and pronounced themselves satisfied. Roosevelt and Churchill blessed the agreement at 5:30 P.M. in Dar es Saada and returned to their cocktails. The document, Admiral King suggested, “goes a long way toward establishing a policy of how we are to win the war.”

The plan indeed affirmed the primacy of the war against Germany. It enshrined a Mediterranean strategy, while confirming the American determination to punish Japan without mercy. It also demonstrated the ability of the British to outmaneuver and outmuscle their American allies. The experience had been chastening. “They swarmed down upon us like locusts,” Albert Wedemeyer told the War Department.

“We lost our shirts,” Wedemeyer added. “We came, we listened, and we were conquered.”

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If Roosevelt shared these sentiments, he kept them to himself, perhaps because he recognized the inevitability of American dominion. The old imperial order was cracking under the pressure of global war, and all the red leather folders in the British Commonwealth would not preserve the status quo forever.

Besides, the president had pressing business. At 9:20 A.M. on January 21, dressed in a felt hat and gray suit, he set off in an olive-drab Daimler limousine escorted by motorcycles, reconnaissance cars, and a pair of jeeps bristling with Secret Service agents. North they sped through the blustery morning, eighty-five miles to Rabat. “Roadsides were a panorama of Arabs and Moors in their flowing robes and burnooses, veiled women, French poilus, large bearded natives astride the rumps of tiny burros…and innumerable cyclists,” a captain in the motorcade reported. To distract curious onlookers from the Daimler, Secret Service agents stood in their jeeps and pointed at the sky or pretended to tumble halfway out of the vehicles. Outside Rabat, agents erected a privacy screen and lifted Roosevelt from the car into the front seat of a jeep.

Patton, immaculate in jodhpurs and gloves, greeted him with a salute and a crinkled grin. Though he hid it well, the strain of guaranteeing security for SYMBOL had exhausted him. At three one morning Patton barged into the Secret Service command post at Anfa. “The Heinies know the president is here and they’re coming to get him!” he warned. Agents calmed him down and sent him packing—“They are a bunch of cheap detectives always smelling of drink,” Patton fumed. The demands of this inspection trip further inflamed him. First, Clark had ordered him to find some “Negro troops who had participated in our landings” to show the president, who was considered partial to Negroes. Then the Secret Service insisted that all 20,000 troops under review be disarmed and kept 300 feet from the road; soldiers could keep their rifles but no bullets. Now as the motorcade rolled through the 2nd Armored Division, a dozen agents kept their submachine guns trained on the docile troops standing at attention. Patton was furious.

Rumors that FDR was in Africa had provoked derisive scoffs. “Anything is possible,” the 2nd Armored Division chaplain said, “but this story to our mind reaches the height of fantasy.” Then the order “eyes right” was given and there he was, sitting sidesaddle in the jeep: the leonine head, the big shoulders, the jaunty cant of the cigarette holder clenched between his teeth. From deep in the ranks came a plainly audible “Jesus!” The president waved, and the motorcade swept on to the 3rd Infantry Division.

They stopped for a lunch of boiled ham and sweet potatoes at an Army field kitchen while a band played “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.” Next came the 9th Infantry Division—Clark drew Roosevelt’s attention to a conspicuously placed contingent of black soldiers—before the procession sped through Port Lyautey to Mehdia. Precise rows of American and French graves overlooked the turquoise Sebou River below the Kasbah walls. A bugler blew “Taps” as aides propped two wreaths against a plaque commemorating the “Battle of Mehdia, November 8–11, 1942.” His bared head bowed, Roosevelt contemplated the dead for a long, long moment.

Cold rain drenched the Secret Service agents in their jeeps on the return to Casablanca. The sight pleased Patton, who was riding in the Daimler with the president. Roosevelt “says India is lost” to the British empire, Patton wrote in his diary that night, “and that Germany and Japan must be destroyed.” For his part, Roosevelt later noted that Patton had told him “at least five times that he hoped to die with his boots on.”

Back in his villa, Roosevelt ate a quick supper and went to bed at 9:30. This had been a long day for the Emperor of the West, but a gratifying one. He had seen the future: the legions of democracy in serried ranks of herringbone twill, brave men who would unshackle a continent.

The distant roar of surf rolled over Anfa’s green lawn like a dreamy cannonade. Translucent with African light, a cloudless sky domed the camp, and only a frond-tossing breeze off the sea restrained the midday sun from overbearing intensity. At fifteen minutes past noon on Sunday, January 24, twenty-seven reporters and almost as many photographers were herded through two rows of barbed wire toward Dar es Saada. They had spent the morning in an empty bungalow used as a holding pen, amusing themselves with a French edition of the Decameron and swapping conjectures on why they had been summoned to Casablanca.

Sitting cross-legged on the damp Bermuda grass, the scribes glared at an officious press officer who bustled among them warning, “No questions, no questions.” Purple sprays of bougainvillea climbed the white columns of a loggia leading from the villa’s rear door to the terrace, where a pair of leather drawing-room chairs stood before a microphone. “We’ll need four chairs,” a young officer called. Two more quickly appeared. A dozen admirals and generals drifted through the shrubs or leaned against the orange trees, and no sooner had the reporters voiced their surprise—Was that Marshall? What the devil was Brooke doing here?—than they fell silent in astonishment at the sight of the prime minister and the president emerging from the villa, escorted by the khaki-clad figures of Generals Giraud and De Gaulle.

Immense effort had been devoted to getting these two French rivals to share the same stage. Giraud considered “petit De Gaulle,” as he called him, “a self-seeker and a bad general.” De Gaulle, the £70 million his Free French movement had received from the British notwithstanding, considered Giraud an Anglo-American puppet. When Roosevelt summoned Giraud to Casablanca for a public display of French unity, he came running, only to find that his stock had tumbled since those heady hours at Gibraltar when Eisenhower had begged for his help. After their first meeting at Anfa, Roosevelt had dismissed him as “a dud” and “a very thin reed,” and the Army’s supply chief opened his own session with Giraud by instructing the translator, “I want you to begin by telling this Frog that Uncle Sam is no Santa Claus.”

For his part, De Gaulle refused to leave London for Casablanca until Churchill, livid and embarrassed, threatened him with financial excommunication. “We call him Jeanne d’Arc and we’re looking for some bishops to burn him,” the prime minister said sourly. Roosevelt had long considered De Gaulle an aspiring tyrant, and he found no reason to reform his opinion during their meeting in the Dar es Saada living room. To forestall any Gallic treachery, the entire Secret Service detail—a dozen of them cradling submachine guns—had secretly taken positions behind drapes and doorways throughout the villa.

But here they were on the Dar es Saada terrace, two immensely tall Frenchmen wearing identical expressions of peevish disgruntlement. Two agents hoisted Roosevelt from his wheelchair and set him as gently as a porcelain figurine on one of the leather chairs. Eleven days of sun had bleached the dark hollows beneath his eyes. He removed the cigarette from his lips and called greetings to several reporters he knew; to the rest, he offered a broad grin. Churchill, dressed in gray pinstripes and carrying a cane, slumped into another chair. A black cigar swiveled in his face. Photographers trampled the bird-of-paradise beds in a frenzy of clicking shutters.

“You’ll run out of ammunition before we’ve finished,” the prime minister warned. He had objected to a noon photo session on grounds that it was far too early for him to appear at his best, but had agreed to “put on a very warlike look” for the occasion. Now he scowled at the sun and tugged the brim of his homburg. One reporter thought he resembled “Peter Pan with a cigar stuck in his mouth” to another, he seemed “a rather malicious Buddha.” Roosevelt asked if he would care to remove his hat for the cameras.

“I wear a hat to keep the sun from my eyes,” Churchill replied. “You should wear one.”

“I was born without a hat,” the president said with a chuckle. “I don’t see any reason for wearing one now.”

As the generals took their chairs—Giraud stiff as a tin soldier, De Gaulle slouching, cigarette between his thumb and forefinger—Roosevelt offered a few sketchy words about the conference just ended. Details must remain secret, he said, but the meeting had been “unprecedented in history. The chiefs of staff have been in intimate touch. They have lived in the same hotel. Each man has become a definite personal friend of his opposite number on the other side.”

The chiefs stared impassively from their foliage redoubts.

So, too, had Generals Giraud and De Gaulle been in intimate touch, the president added. (In truth their brief dialogue had been limited, as one diplomat noted, to each offering “the other the privilege of serving under him.”) Asking in fractured French for the two generals to demonstrate their commitment to the liberation of France, Roosevelt grasped each by the elbow and almost physically lifted them from their seats. They stood, they shook, they sat—so quickly that the photographers howled and they had to repeat the pose with grim, waxwork smiles. “This is an historic moment,” the president declared. The generals then stalked off through the banana trees, leaving their minions to release a joint statement of haikulike concision: “We have seen each other. We have discussed.” Roosevelt waved and called after them, “Bon voyage!”

“It was all rather embarrassing,” reporter Alan Moorehead later recalled, “like the first rehearsal of an amateur play.”

Now the president had another issue he wanted to raise.

“I think we have all had it in our hearts and heads before, but I don’t think that it has ever been put down on paper by the prime minister and myself, and that is the determination that peace can come to the world only by the total elimination of German and Japanese war power,” he said. Perhaps even the British journalists knew the story of U. S. Grant, who at Appomattox in April 1865 had demanded unconditional surrender from Robert E. Lee?

Similar terms seemed fitting in this war, Roosevelt said. “The elimination of German, Japanese, and Italian war power means the unconditional surrender of Germany, Italy, and Japan.” He glanced at a sheaf of notes. “It does not mean the destruction of the population of Germany, Italy, or Japan, but it does mean the destruction of the philosophies in those countries which are based on conquest and subjugation of other people.”

The reporters might even consider calling this conference the “unconditional surrender meeting,” he added. Churchill nodded. “I agree with everything that the president has said.” The Allies must insist upon “the unconditional surrender of the criminal forces who plunged the world into storm and ruin.”

No one scrutinizing that Buddha-like countenance guessed that Roosevelt’s proclamation had caught the prime minister short. After the war, Churchill suggested that the unconditional surrender demand had taken him completely by surprise, but that was disingenuous; the issue had been raised by Roosevelt on the evening of January 18, when Churchill even proposed a joint statement “to the effect that the united nations are resolved to pursue the war to the bitter end.” He had then cabled London for advice from his war cabinet, which on January 21 unanimously endorsed the concept and, unlike the prime minister, also favored extending the surrender demand to cover Italy. What Churchill had not expected was that Roosevelt would make such a blunt declaration here and now.

For his part, the president later said the notion “just popped into my mind”—a ludicrous claim: in the notes he referred to at the press conference, the term “unconditional surrender” appeared three times. After contemplating the concept for over six months, Roosevelt had broached it with his military chiefs at the White House on January 7; none of them objected and, what is more remarkable, neither Marshall nor any other chief thought to initiate staff studies of what the demand might mean for the conduct of the war. At Anfa, the American chiefs had briefly discussed the issue among themselves, listening without comment to General Wedemeyer’s impassioned warning that “unconditional surrender would unquestionably compel the Germans to fight to the very last” and would “weld all of the Germans together.”

What was done was done, and much debate would be devoted in the coming months and years to the consequences of such a grand action taken with so little forethought. Clearly, Roosevelt was eager to avoid the mistakes of 1918; the ambiguous armistice signed then had later allowed the Nazis to claim that political betrayal rather than battlefield reverses caused Germany’s defeat in World War I. But the president’s Civil War analogy was flawed: Grant had issued his famous terms in 1862 during the siege of Fort Donelson in Tennessee, not three years later in Virginia. Nor was unconditional surrender a feature of Britain’s wars: none of the fifteen since the end of the sixteenth century had ended thus. Perhaps a closer parallel lay in the Third Punic War, when Rome demanded that Carthage unconditionally surrender all her “territory, cities, and citizens,” as scholar Anne Armstrong has observed; the Carthaginians refused, and the war ultimately ended with their city’s obliteration in 146 B.C.

What was done was done indeed. The reporters had their story. Soon they would repair to the same airy room where the chiefs had met, collectively churning out 100,000 words on their typewriters, while censors scrutinized each new page before passing it to Signal Corps radiomen for transmission. But first the two leaders invited the correspondents to come forward and shake hands. Squinting from under his hat brim, Churchill extended a hand to each in turn, asking, “What’s your paper, eh? What’s your paper?” Next to him Roosevelt canted his head and beamed like a ward heeler cadging votes. “Pleased to meet you,” he said. “Pleased to meet you.”

As a Scottish reporter strolled toward the hotel with an American colleague, he cocked a thumb toward the president. “Ah,” said the Scot, “he has the touch, the touch of the world, has he not?”

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