Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Churchill and Stalin: Comrades-in-Arms during the Second World War by Martin Folly, Geoffrey Roberts, and Oleg Alexandrovich Rzheshevsky

 "Churchill and Stalin" offers a limited but enlightening look at the relationship between the leaders of the British Empire and the Soviet Union during the Second World War.  The initial 70 pages outline in broad strokes the progress of their relationship, from the eve of the war, through the German invasion of Poland and France, and the eventual invasion of the Soviet Union.  Equal weight is given to the words and actions of not only Churchill and Stalin, but also Roosevelt and numerous personalities that made an appearance and impact (Eden, Molotov, etc.).  The initial chapters are followed by document collections that give further depth to the relationship that developed between these two men.  

It's difficult to judge what their specific thoughts were at the moment without recalling in hindsight what eventually took place in the latter period of the war and in the immediate postwar period. However, if readers are able to contextualize the events that preceded the various meetings in London, Moscow, the US, and the eventual large gatherings in Tehran, etc., they'll be impressed by the sheer amount of topics covered and the details that were touched on and thought about.  Consistent requests, telling omissions, plans for the future, etc., are all worth paying attention to while keeping in mind how the war was unfolding and where the attention and focus was at any specific time.  Soviet desperation and requests for assistance are front and center in 1941 and 1942 as Churchill makes promises only to renege on them a few weeks or months later, at times due to circumstances out of his control.  One of the major points the authors make is that making promises came easily for Churchill, keeping them was the real issue.  For Stalin it was the opposite, it was difficult for him (similar to Molotov) to make a final statement about anything without diving into numerous details and questions that delegations were often unable to fully answer to their satisfaction.  Britain was happy to enlist Soviet aid in the fight against Hitler, but the Soviets questioned whether that happiness was based on their suffering as they retreated in the face of continued German advances or whether Churchill genuinely wanted to join forces, help supply the Soviet war effort and, sooner rather than later, open a second front to take the pressure off the Red Army.

We take for granted how difficult wartime diplomacy can be, especially when the outcome is not yet foreseeable.  In these pages readers can begin to get a good idea of what thoughts plagued these two men as they tried their best to create some type of alliance and 'friendship' while planning for the postwar period.  

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