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PRIMARY DOCUMENTS  |  Provoked by Pearl Harbor: The White House Meetings of FDR and Churchill, December, 1941
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Activities: II. Inside the White House


When Winston Churchill visited the White House from December 22, 1941, through January 14, 1942, he stayed upstairs in the Rose Room, now known as the Queens' Bedroom. On January 3, 1942, he wrote home to Clement Attlee, a British cabinet minister: "We live here as a big family, in the greatest intimacy and informality, and I have formed the very highest regard and admiration for the President. His breadth of view, resolution, and his loyalty to the common cause are beyond all praise."

Ask students to click on and read excerpts describing aspects of the relationship between Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt and the circumstances that shaped the Arcadia meetings. Then have them complete one or more of the following activities:

  1. Immediately after Pearl Harbor, Prime Minister Churchill decided that he wanted to go to the United States to see President Roosevelt. As he said in his cable to Roosevelt, "I feel that all of these matters, some of which are causing me concern, can best be settled on the highest executive level." As was the custom for the prime minister, Churchill asked the permission of the king (George VI) to leave the country. It was granted. Ask students to compose a letter that Churchill might have written to the king upon prime minister's return to Great Britain. In the letter, ask them to make a case for the idea that the face-to-face contact between the two leaders had been beneficial to the war effort, including setting in place some firm ideas regarding a "lasting peace."

  2. In writing to the king about his planned trip to America, Churchill expressed his fears: "We have also to be careful that our share of munitions and other aid which we are receiving from the United States does not suffer more than is, I fear, inevitable." Some critics of Churchill claimed that his visit to the White House and his subsequent relationship with Roosevelt were not genuine but rather based strictly on political and military expediency. Ask students to gather evidence from all of the documents presented here that Churchill held Roosevelt in high regard, that theirs was a relationship of mutual respect, admiration, and idealistic affinities. Ask students to incorporate their findings into seven or eight diary entries written from the perspective of either a family or staff member who would have been at the White House during Churchill's visit.

  3. As excerpt "G" indicates, Franklin Roosevelt admired Churchill's "mobile Map Room" and had one created for the White House. Ask several students to research the Allied and Axis military situation in early 1942. Have them illustrate the theaters of action, using colored pins, on a world map. As a parallel assignment, ask other students to illustrate a world map showing how the military situation had changed by early 1945. After the maps are displayed, use them as a means of helping students write compare-and-contrast statements about the progress of the war.

  4. In excerpt "H," Harry Hopkins noted differences in the methods Roosevelt and Churchill used in preparing speeches. Discuss this passage with students so they can better understand its meaning. After discussion, invite one group of students to read and analyze Roosevelt's Annual Message to the Congress, January 6, 1941, and have another analyze Churchill's Message to the Congress, December 26, 1941. Each group should examine the selected speech in the light of differences between the two leaders' styles, as noted in the excerpt. Have students relate their findings to the class, using specific passages from the two speeches to validate their points.

  5. Robert Sherwood in Roosevelt and Hopkins noted, "Churchill was in the White House because he was the King’s First Minister, but he could not forget that he was also a professional historian who was most sensitive to the radiations of the past." Engage the students in a discussion about historiography, the process or methods used to write history. Consider these questions: Might Churchill's "sensitivity to the radiations of the past" have shaped his memory of President Roosevelt and the White House visit as described in his 1950 book, The Grand Alliance? How might the fact that Roosevelt died before the end of the war have influenced Churchill's memory of his time with the president? What if, despite valiant efforts, the Grand Alliance had not won the war? Might an historian such as Churchill then view this period differently? Robert Sherwood worked in the Roosevelt administration as a speechwriter. How would that have affected his objectivity in writing a biography of Roosevelt and Hopkins? In what ways would his insider's position strengthen his ability to tell the story? Doris Kearns Goodwin was a small child in the early 1940s. Would her view of these events necessarily be more objective? What is the value of a memoir such as the one written by Alonzo Fields? After the discussion, lead students to better comprehend the importance of reading history from a variety of perspectives.


Inside the White House: Excerpts

A. Roosevelt and Churchill, a first meeting. Even before the White House visit, Winston Churchill had met the president in August 1941 on the British ship, Prince of Wales, as it lay at anchor off the coast of Newfoundland. It was during this time that they prepared the Atlantic Charter. Robert Sherwood, the biographer of FDR advisor Harry Hopkins, shed light on the relationship that developed between the two leaders during these meetings.

B. Churchill: His faith in America's fighting spirit. Shortly after Winston Churchill heard the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he exulted in the knowledge that the United States would now be in the war, and that with the resulting military support, the British would win their fight against Hitler. He also offered his thinking about the character of the American people whose leader he was about to visit.

C. Churchill: Preparing to meet with the president. As Churchill traveled aboard ship to the United States in December 1942, he prepared to meet the President by writing three papers on the future course of the war as he conceived it. In this passage, he explained his thinking.

D. Churchill: His impressions of Roosevelt at the White House. Churchill arrived in the United States and flew from Hampton Roads, Virginia to Washington to begin his visit. In this segment, Churchill described some first impressions of Roosevelt, and how the relationship was strengthened as the leaders met at the White House.

E. Churchill: The chief butler's view. Alonzo Fields was the chief butler at the White House when Churchill visited. In his book Fields described his first impressions of the prime minister.

F. Churchill at the White House: An insider's view. Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt's chief advisor, lived at the Executive Mansion during this time and his room was across the hall from Churchill's. Hopkins's biographer provided an insider's view of the prime minister's routines.

G. Roosevelt and Churchill in the "map room" Roosevelt was very impressed with Churchill's "mobile map room," and set about to have one of his own. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin described the map room and Eleanor Roosevelt's reaction to seeing the two leaders working there.

H. Roosevelt and Churchill: Preparing speeches. Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote about Churchill’s concerns over the speech he was to give before Congress on December 26, 1941, and described Harry Hopkins's observations about the differences in speech preparation styles between Churchill and Roosevelt.

I. Churchill on the Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee. Winston Churchill offered his opinion about what he considered one of the most important outcomes of the Arcadia meetings, and discussed the benefits of the two nations sharing a common language.

J. Churchill and Roosevelt: A light moment. President Roosevelt wanted the Soviets to agree to the inclusion of the phrase "religious freedom" in the Declaration by the United Nations. Churchill teased the President about his persuasiveness on this subject.





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