Our ISP seems to have conquered the Internet ills it had yesterday.
The Civil War battle at Fort Donelson earned Ulysses S. Grant the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant (see it there?…”Ulysses S”…”U. S.”…”Unconditional Surrender”?). But you probably didn’t need to be reminded of that, much less have it explained. It’s one of those pieces of Americana that just never goes away.
But that same demand, emanating from the mouth of President Franklin Roosevelt at the end of the Casablanca Conference 80 years later on January 24, 1943, was probably a little more surprising, particularly considering the circumstances under which he said it. In 1862, Fort Donelson was beaten and General Grant’s Union forces had clearly won the day. In January 1943, the same could not be said for Allied forces fighting around the world.
To be sure, there had been victories. The Wehrmacht had been stopped and reversed at Moscow. Leningrad was suffering badly, but holding on. And Paulus and his men had been outflanked (brilliantly, I may add) and then surrounded at Stalingrad…a massive defeat there was looking inevitable. But even with those losses, German strength in the east was formidable.
In North Africa, the forces of America, Britian, and France were struggling to make good progress against a German enemy that, even in a somewhat weakened state and at the end of a very long supply line, was still a formidable foe. To the east, British forces were pushing the remnants of Rommel’s powerful Afrika Korps towards Tunisia.
And American Marine and Army forces were on the verge of seizing Guadalcanal in the Pacific.
So there had been gains and some considerable victories, but calling for “unconditional surrender” at this point was not all that unlike the Indianapolis Colts calling for the Jets to forfeit the game this afternoon when the Colts were down 17-13 in the 3rd quarter (though Manning’s men had gained the momentum). The Allied forces clearly had momentum, but they were still behind with a long ways to go.
But Roosevelt was convinced that (eventual) victory was certain, and he had discussed the policy with his Joint Chiefs prior to leaving for Casablanca. And so, at the conclusion of the Conference, in front of the cameras and with Prime Minister Churchill sitting next to him, he stated that, “The elimination of German, Japanese, and Italian war power means the unconditional surrender by Germany, Italy, and Japan.”
Prime Minister Churchill reaction, which he controlled very well, was still one of surprise. In his book War Summits, David Stone recognizes this but also clarifies the Prime Minister’s position. He writes, “Apparently, although he had certainly broached the subject with Churchill beforehand, Roosevelt’s decision to announce it at this press conference took the British leader by surprise. However, this would appear to have been more a question of presentation and timing rather than an indication of any disagreement over policy, and Churchill immediately endorsed and reinforced Roosevelt’s announcement at the January 24 press briefing.”
Neither Roosevelt nor Churchill had the clairvoyance to see that the Second World War was going to last another two-and-a-half years, but they had laid down the terms under which it would end.
Recommended Reading: War Summits