Roosevelt Demands Unconditional Surrender
by Jonathan Goodwin
Betrayed, by Herbert Hoover
of unconditional surrender hung heavy over the Second World War;
the term played a leading role in the buildup to the use of the
atomic bomb by the United States against Japan. I have written about
this in a review of another book, The
Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb, by Gar Alperovitz. The
review can be found here.
From my review
of Alperovitz work, I quote the following:
and especially after Germany was defeated, Japan made many overtures
looking for a path to surrender. Japan did this directly to the
U.S., and also through various other diplomatic channels. Additionally,
the U.S., due to interception of Japanese transmissions, understood
well the situation and desires of the Japanese government and
An end of
the war was desired. Japans primary (and substantially only)
concern was with the continued insistence by the Americans of
the idea of unconditional surrender. To Japan, this
meant risking the life and government of the Emperor a
possibility that was beyond consideration. Japan seemed quite
prepared for a complete surrender of all military activity and
assets, but as the Emperor was in a manner considered a god,
the idea of his embarrassment and dethroning let alone
the risk of standing for war crimes was unthinkable.
most U.S. military leaders made quite clear to the political leaders
that the best hope for a surrender of Japanese military forces
was for those forces to get the word from the Emperor in
other words, the maintenance of the Emperor was a necessity if
there was to be hope of avoiding a devastating and continuing
fight to the finish with Japan.
I do not intend
to dive further into the end of the war and the decision regarding
the use of the bomb at this time; I am looking forward to reading
Hoovers treatment on the matter. However, I refer to the Japanese
view to demonstrate the strong impact the term unconditional
surrender had on disallowing the bringing of the war to an
earlier and less destructive conclusion.
leaders, primarily Roosevelt, continually insisted on the term,
whereas the military leaders saw the cost this condition would have
on the battlefield. So much for allowing military leaders the room
to fight the war.
of unconditional surrender as necessary to bring the was to conclusion
first came into being as a result of the Casablanca Conference between
Roosevelt and Churchill, in mid-January, 1943.
situation at the time was as follows: the Germans were defeated
at Stalingrad in November, 1942, with the remainder of their troops
in that region having surrendered to the Russians. According to
General Anders, For Germany, it was a blow from which she
. In the Pacific, MacArthur had achieved
successes in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The Chinese Nationalists
under Chiang Kai-shek were fighting against both the Japanese and
the Chinese Communists, led by Mao Tse-tung.
chagrin, Roosevelt and Churchill went soft on the timing of establishing
a second front in Western Europe. Churchill conveyed to Stalin that
the allies would be prepared for such an assault in August, but
the commitment was quite conditional. Stalin desired the attack
to come in the Spring or early Summer. Of course, it did not even
come that year.
At the conclusion
of the conference, Roosevelt and Churchill held a press conference.
Roosevelt said that he and Churchill
determined to accept nothing less than the unconditional surrender
of Germany, Japan, and Italy
later that he was surprised by this statement. Churchill adds that
he was told by Harry Hopkins that the President said to him:
suddenly the Press Conference was on, and Winston and I had had
no time to prepare for it; and the thought popped into my mind
that they had called Grant Old Unconditional Surrender,
and the next thing I knew I had said it.
Is it possible
that the President made such a strong demand off the cuff? Did it
just pop into his mind, as he apparently told Hopkins? Did he not
realize a press conference was upon him, with no time to prepare?
Of all the things that might have popped into his mind, why this?
the statement later (for example in a February 1943 address to the
White House Correspondents Association), demonstrating that
it was not a passing phase.
of Staff were apparently not consulted. Admiral William D. Leahy,
in his book, says:
far as I could learn, this policy had not been discussed with
the Combined Chiefs and, from a military viewpoint, its execution
might add to our difficulties in succeeding campaigns because
it would mean we would have to destroy the enemy
Others in the
military expressed similar concerns. Such a demand would compel
the Germans (and eventually the Japanese) to fight to the last.
Instead of being encouraged to withdraw support from Hitler, such
a demand would place even the most moderate of German military leaders
and soldiers in the position to have to fight unto the end. It would
weld the enemy together, instead of offering an opportunity to break
the enemy apart. Military leaders added that the result of unconditional
surrender would be to destroy Germany, leaving Russia to dominate
Europe after the war.
in interviews after the war, commented on the difficulty of this
condition. In interviews with British historian B. H. Liddell Hart,
generals told him that but for this they and their troops
the factor that was more important would have been
ready to surrender sooner, separately or collectively
In a most prophetic
statement, early in 1943 the Spanish Foreign Minister Count Francisco
Gomez Jordana y Souza sent a memorandum to British Ambassador Sir
events develop in the future as they have up to now, it would
be Russia which will penetrate deep into German territory. And
we ask the question: if this should occur, which is the greater
danger not only for the continent but for England herself, a Germany
not totally defeated and with sufficient strength to serve as
a rampart against Communism, a Germany hated by all her neighbors,
which would deprive her of authority though she remained intact,
or a Sovietized Germany which would certainly furnish Russia with
the added strength of her war preparations, her engineers, her
specialised workmen and technicians, which would enable Russia
to extend herself an empire without precedent from the Atlantic
to the Pacific?
And we ask a second question: is there anybody
in the centre of Europe, in that mosaic of countries without consistency
or unity, bled moreover by war and foreign domination, who could
contain the ambitions of Stalin: There is certainly no one
In 1949, Edward
C. W. von Selzam, a former member of the German Foreign Service,
in a letter to the New York Times, said regarding the condition
of unconditional surrender that it
most of the vacillating generals away from the opposition, and
attached them for better or worse to Hitler
In this, I contend, the real tragedy of the Casablanca Declaration
is to be found.
a member of the British Cabinet, in 1949 denounced Unconditional
Surrender as the greatest blunder of the war.
military editor of the New York Times, gave his view:
surrender] was perhaps the biggest political mistake of the war
was an open invitation to unconditional resistance; it discouraged
opposition to Hitler, probably lengthened the war, cost us lives
But was it
simply a political mistake? On several occasions, by
both military and political leaders, Roosevelt was approached about
this demand. In some cases, the desire was to seek clarification
what exactly was meant by the term (in 1945, this was certainly
important to the Japanese, as the primary concern was for the future
of the emperor)? Such clarification would have made it easier, perhaps,
for the enemy to stop the fight. In other cases, it was to stop
referring to this condition soft-peddle it, if you will.
In each case,
Roosevelt refused. Despite the costs to the U.S. and allied military
of fighting an enemy with this unconditional surrender hanging over
their heads, Roosevelt would not budge. What others have graciously
called a blunder or a mistake seems instead
to have been a carefully chosen path by Roosevelt. He (and later
Truman) had countless opportunities to take a different approach.
They chose not to do so. This choice prolonged the war, and in doing
so cost countless thousands if not millions of lives of combatants
and civilians for both the allies and the enemy.
will refer to a statement made by George Victor, in his book The
Pearl Harbor Myth: Rethinking the Unthinkable:
poorly explained by making assumptions that crucial acts by competent,
conscientious leaders were capricious, careless, or negligent.
And U.S. leaders who figured in the Pearl Harbor disaster were
highly competent and conscientious.
was speaking of the events preceding Pearl Harbor, it strikes me
that the statement is equally applicable to events in Germany. For
such a significant event as the terms by which the greatest war
the world has known would be brought to an end, it is not possible
that this idea was born on the fly. This was a deliberate choice
by Roosevelt, and later continued by Truman. If the desire was to
bring an early end to the war, it was a tragic choice. Therefore,
one must conclude there was a different desire.
with permission from the Bionic
© 2012 Bionic