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Diplomacy and Conflict • Negotiating Peace: Diplomacy During WWII

Following the successful Allied landings in North Africa and the breakout of the British Eighth Army at El Alamein, British prime minister Winston Churchill and U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Combined Chiefs of Staff met at Casablanca, Morocco, between January 14 and January 24, 1943. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was invited but declined to attend, citing the pressure of military operations.

The principal topic of discussion at the conference—which was code-named SYMBOL and took place in a hotel complex in Anfa, a suburb of Casablanca—was strategic military options once North Africa had been cleared of Axis troops. The British, who arrived at the meetings far better prepared than the Americans, made a strong case for invasions of Sicily and then the Italian peninsula. The Americans, who preferred concentration on a cross-Channel invasion of France, reluctantly acceded. "We came, we listened, and we were conquered," remarked Maj. Gen. Albert Wedemeyer, one U.S. attendee.

The Allied leaders at Casablanca took another important step in deciding to launch a combined bomber offensive against Germany. On the day the conference opened, the survivors of a special convoy from Trinidad arrived at Gibraltar. The convoy's devastating losses to German U-boats—77%—forced the two Allied leaders to assign priority to winning the Battle of the Atlantic. They agreed to divert to that struggle additional convoy escorts, escort carriers, and aircraft assets.

But the Casablanca Conference is chiefly remembered for Roosevelt's surprise announcement that the Allies would insist on "unconditional surrender." Churchill, who had not been informed that the announcement would be made, nonetheless immediately supported it. Some have charged that this decision needlessly prolonged the war by preventing negotiations with factions in the German resistance to Adolf Hitler that might have led them to topple his regime. Certainly, the declaration was a windfall for the German propaganda machine. In making the announcement, Roosevelt had in mind World War I and the way the German Right had utilized the November 1918 armistice to spread the myth that Germany had not been defeated militarily. That outcome had been a powerful assist in Hitler's rise to power.

Another aspect of the Casablanca Conference concerned relations with the French. Gen. Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French, was not informed of the meeting beforehand; Churchill simply ordered him to Morocco, which was then still a French protectorate. Roosevelt and Churchill pushed de Gaulle into a partnership with Gen. Henri Giraud, who had been spirited out of France by submarine. De Gaulle, already upset because Britain had undermined the French position in Syria and Lebanon, was eventually able to elbow the politically inept and equally stubborn Giraud into the shadows. However, the whole affair affected de Gaulle's attitude toward the United Kingdom and the United States.
Spencer C. Tucker
Dr. Spencer C. Tucker graduated from the Virginia Military Institute and was a Fulbright scholar in France. He was a U.S. army captain and intelligence analyst in the Pentagon during the Vietnam War, then taught for 30 years at Texas Christian University before returning to his alma mater for 6 years as the holder of the John Biggs Chair of Military History. He retired from teaching in 2003. He is now Senior Fellow of Military History at ABC-CLIO. Dr. Tucker has written or edited more than 50 books, including ABC-CLIO's award-winning The Encyclopedia of the Cold War and The Encyclopedia of the Arab-Israeli Conflict as well as the comprehensive A Global Chronology of Conflict.

Among honors he has received for his publications are two John Lyman Book Awards from the North American Society for Oceanic History (1989 and 2000), the Rear Admiral Ernest M. Eller Naval History Prize for best article in naval history (2000), the Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt Prize for best book in naval history (2004), two Society for Military History awards for best reference work in military history (2008 and 2010), and four American Library Association RUSA Outstanding Reference Source awards (2009, 2010, 2014, 2015).

Further Reading

Berthon, Simon. Allies at War: The Bitter Rivalry among Churchill, Roosevelt, and de Gaulle. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2001; Kersaudy, FranÁois. Churchill and De Gaulle. New York: Atheneum, 1982; Larabee, Eric. Commander in Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants & Their War. New York: Harper and Row, 1987; Viorst, Milton. Hostile Allies: FDR and De Gaulle. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

MLA Citation

Tucker, Spencer C. "Casablanca Conference." World History: The Modern Era, ABC-CLIO, 2020, worldhistory.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1324096. Accessed 20 Jan. 2020.

Entry ID: 2171547

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