Letter: Churchill's wartime rights and wrongs

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The Independent Online
Sir: I am one of those historians whom Professor Watt in his admirable review ('Into the field of human conflict', 16 January) describes as 'revising the Churchillian version of the Second World War' with the help of recently released archives. As Professor Watt points out, it has been known since the publication of Woodward's official history in 1972 that Sir Robert Craigie, ambassador in Tokyo, had emphasised that with a different foreign policy Japan could have been kept out of the war in 1941.

In my book Churchill as War Leader - Right or Wrong? I produced the documents that show Churchill's unreasonable rage with Craigie for stating what was clearly true. Yet there is no mention of this in Dr Charmley, Martin Gilbert or Churchill's own memoirs.

It is untrue Churchill 'crawled' to the President. He frequently took a strong stand against Roosevelt but, as the war went on, Britain became more and more a junior partner, impotent to reject American policy. On two occasions Churchill drafted letters to Roosevelt threatening resignation and, although he did not send them, instead he made his own strong views crystal clear. The first was after the Indian leaders refused a generous offer conveyed to them by Stafford Cripps of conditional independence, and Roosevelt insisted in spite of this that India should be given independence immediately. The second was when America refused to support Churchill's Mediterranean strategy with a landing in Istria which could well have made the 'blood bath' of the cross-Channel invasion unnecessary.

Potsdam in 1945 is the most glaring omission. There Churchill ignored the strong advice of the British Foreign Office conveyed to him by Sir Alexander Cadogan that the Japanese would definitely surrender at once without any need to drop atom bombs provided they were given a guarantee that the Emperor could continue to rule.

The new US President Truman and the new Foreign Secretary Byrnes were given similar advice by their foreign office, but they still insisted that the atom bombs must be dropped. Churchill meekly acquiesced.

Yours faithfully,




18 January