Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill

For Better
Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill

At the beginning of World War II, when Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt first came together to form an alliance against Hitler, they were a study in contrasts: Roosevelt, secretive; Churchill, transparent. Roosevelt, calculated and at times manipulative; Churchill, expressive and at times impulsive. Roosevelt, intent on keeping the United States out of the war; Churchill, equally intent on bringing the United States into the war. The two couldn’t have been more different in personality, interests, or beliefs.

Still, over the course of the war, the two leaders were able to forge an alliance based on what Jon Meacham calls an “epic friendship” in Franklin and Winston. Of the many things that went into that friendship, one thing stands out. Says Meacham: “They always kept the mission—and their relationship—in mind.”

Unlike today’s leaders in the public and private arenas, Roosevelt and Churchill understood that their relationship would have a decisive impact on their mission, and so they gave it the same strategic attention they gave every other aspect of the war. Between 1941 and 1945 they met nine times around the world, and they constantly wrote or cabled each other between visits. As a result, when they clashed, their relationship was up to the task. Instead of denigrating or discounting each other’s perspectives, they sought to understand their differences; instead of manipulating one another, they took each other’s interests into account; and when pressures bore down on one or the other of them, instead of criticizing how they were handled, they offered a helping hand.

“I realize how the fall of Singapore has affected you and the British people,” Roosevelt wrote to Churchill when he fell under attack in the US and in Britain. “It gives the well-known backseat drivers a field day. . . . I hope you will be of good heart in these trying weeks because I am very sure that you have the great confidence of the masses of the British people. I want you to know that I think of you often and I know you will not hesitate to ask me if there is anything you think I can do.”

Toward the end of the war, after failing to reach agreement over how to structure the peace, Churchill wrote to Roosevelt, just a week before the President died: “I regard the matter as closed and to prove my sincerity I will use one of my very few Latin quotations, ‘Amantium irae amoris integratio est.’” Translation: “Lovers’ quarrels always go with true love.”

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