The Casablanca Conference

From January 14 to January 24, 1943, the first war conference between the Allied Powers, was held in Casablanca, Morocco. The purpose of the conference was relatively vague. It took steps toward planning the allied strategy and the end of the war. Initially, it was to be a Big Three meeting between Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. It became a Big Two meeting when Stalin declined the invitation. With his country besieged by both Hitler and the harsh winter, Stalin didn't feel that he could leave. Even without Stalin, or perhaps due to his absence, the Casablanca Conference was successful. It set basis and direction for the rest of the war. And most importantly, it established terms of unconditional surrender.

No sitting President had ever been to Africa, nor had a U.S. President ever left the country during a time of war. But in the middle of January 1943, FDR became the first President to do these things. At the time, these firsts were very important in the public's mind. All newspaper articles of the time reminded the public again and again of these firsts. For example, a long detailed article about the entire Conference started by describing these firsts. (Appointment 11) How and when Roosevelt left the U.S. and arrived in Morocco was kept secret. The President's trip itself wasn't disclosed to the public until he was already safely back in Washington. Based on newspaper headlines of the time, like "Bullets, Mystery, Secrecy, and Censorship Plagued Reporters of Casablanca Conference," it is safe to assume that the press wasn't happy about the lack of information provided. Both Roosevelt and Churchill went to Casablanca equipped with modern aircraft, cars, jeeps, caravans and most importantly guards. The Conference took place in a hotel, likened to a mansion, in a room called simply Villa Number 2. The hotel was heavily guarded and surrounded by barbed wire, but that didn't stop Churchill and Roosevelt from taking jeep trips to the medieval marketplace in town and presenting a unified front to German spies and the world.

The most significant accomplishment of the Casablanca Conference was the approval by both Roosevelt and Churchill of the policy of unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. To most, the condition of unconditional surrender seemed to make the most sense. None of the newspapers were surprised by the declaration. In fact, some of them even pointed out that it was a logical idea. (Allied 17) A year earlier, the idea would have been unthinkable. But the Allied position had changed much for the better in the previous twelve months, making the proposal valid. In fact, the big doings were agreed upon without much disapproval. Still, the Conference did have its critics. There was more than one unfavorable editorial written about the Conference. One critic felt that Roosevelt would have been better off visiting a battle and seeing the horrors first hand. The critic, Wendel Willkie, went on to say that the Conference wasn't a big success because Stalin was missing.

The importance of the unconditional surrender declaration can be see in several ways. First, it showed both the British and American desire to permanently eliminate the threat of Germany. This assured the Soviets that the U.S. and Britain were in the fight to the end, thus encouraging the Soviets to keep fighting on the western front, even while a cross-channel attack was being delayed. Secondly, the declaration crushed any hope Hitler may have had of a peace negotiation It was believed that this declaration hung Hitler out to dry, leaving him to face his foreseeable defeat. This Conference helped to pave the way for the final Allied victory in Europe, V-Day.

The Conference was also the first time that the two disassociated French leaders, Henri Giraud and Charles de Gaulle, were brought together. When first invited to Casablanca, Giraud quickly accepted the invitation, but de Gaulle initially refused. Only after Churchill threatened to withdraw support from him and his French government, operating from Britain, did de Gaulle hesitantly accept the invitation. At the Conference, a picture of the two French leaders shaking hands was taken. They also issued a joint statement saying, "'We have met. We have talked. We have registered our entire agreement on the end to be achieved which is the liberation of France . . . This end will be attained by a union in war of all Frenchmen.'" (Allied 17) This photography and statement were very superficial and deceiving. The two French leaders were still unwilling to cooperate. Despite the efforts by Roosevelt, Giraud and de Gaulle both refused to join together forming a single unified Free French command.

The Casablanca Conference marked the beginning of the end for Hitler and his Nazis. The Conference helped to unit the Allied powers. The unconditional surrender declaration, resulting from the Conference still affects us today. Had the Allies not insisted on total unconditional surrender, Hitler might have negotiated a peace settlement and could have continued to be in power and cause additional disasters. The Casablanca Conference is notable for historical reasons, not relating to the war. Historically, it has been shown to be one of the last times when Great Britain could try to assert itself over the United States. The decline of the British economy along with the increase in U.S. Nationalism and the U.S. economy, brought about the inevitable shift in power. The U.S. was destined to be a superpower, but Great Britain was not. Still, at Casablanca the two leading Allied nation were able to work together on equal ground. Under the leadership of Roosevelt and Churchill, the two nations began the task of preparing for the end of the war and a new global era.

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