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MHQ Reader Comments: FDR’s Policy of Unconditional Surrender

Originally published on Published Online: August 28, 2009 
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FDR flanked by Soviet leader Josef Stalin (left) and British prime minister Winston Churchill (right). [Library of Congress]
FDR flanked by Soviet leader Josef Stalin (left) and British prime minister Winston Churchill (right). [Library of Congress]

MHQ Reader Comments
Spring 2009

Please send comments, which may be edited for length and clarity, with name and address to

In reading Thomas Fleming's work "A Policy Written in Blood," (Winter 2009) I am struck by its similarity to much that is heard on talk or sports radio. In that venue, it is a common tactic to take a ridiculous or indefensible position and then to defend it to the hilt, merely to call attention to oneself.

Mr. Fleming's piece is self-contradictory, flawed, and worst of all, seems to lack any affinity for the time of which he speaks.

Some examples: Mr. Fleming relates how that political neophyte, Winston Churchill, was caught off guard by the announcement of a policy of "unconditional surrender" on January 24, 1943, by his "devious American counterpart," FDR. It left Churchill "dumbfounded."

It is worth noting paragraph six of the Prime Minister's Report to The British Deputy Prime Minister and The War Cabinet, dated January 20, 1943, in which Mr. Churchill discusses unconditional surrender. The only reported complaint from the War Cabinet centered on the exclusion of Italy from the unconditional surrender demand that was to be put to Japan and Germany.

In The Hinge of Fate, Mr. Churchill goes to great lengths to explain his support for unconditional surrender. He felt it was the most reasonable course of action. Mr. Churchill's position was again laid out in his speech at the Guildhall on June 30, 1943.

By 1943 the world had seen Mein Kampf, the invasion of Manchuria, Nazi eugenics, Nazi Health Courts for Racial Hygiene, forced sterilization and government-sponsored euthanasia of the handicapped, the Nuremberg Laws, the Rape of Nanking, Kristallnacht, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the invasion of four neutral countries by the Nazis, terror bombing of Rotterdam, Coventry, the Blitz, Pearl Harbor, Leningrad, Lidice, the Bataan Death March, the very literal enslavement of millions in Europe and Asia; and Stalingrad.

You will notice that I haven't even noted the death camps, the ongoing Japanese atrocities, or the attempted extermination of the Slavic peoples.

Faced with this "stench in the nostrils of God" that was the Axis, to demand anything less than unconditional surrender would have been an obscenity and a policy favored only by a coward or a fool.

—Jerome D. Boyle, Omaha, Neb.


Thomas Fleming responds:

Mr. Boyle displays a remarkable ability not to read what is stated in calm, matter-of-fact prose. All his objections are answered in the article. Churchill was dumbfounded because in their earlier discussion FDR did not give him the slightest hint he was going to make unconditional surrender a public policy. This was the quintessential blunder of unconditional surrender. It was why Stalin objected to it. And Eisenhower. It made the Germans fight harder and ballooned American casualties.

As for Churchill's favorable statements about the policy during the war, what else could he do? He was not about to reveal a deep fissure in Anglo-American relations. I have included a perfectly good explanation of why Churchill wrote a letter dissing Eisenhower's attempt to get around the policy but Mr. Boyle either hasn't read it or has forgotten it.

As for Mr. Boyle's long list of all the terrible things the Germans and Japanese did—this is mostly postwar hindsight. Very few Americans hated the Germans in World War II. That is evident in the famous anecdote I also included in the article. After his visit to the first concentration camp liberated by the Allies, Eisenhower asked the sentry on duty at the gate: "Do you still have trouble hating them?"

I fear Mr. Boyle has succumbed to Lord Robert Vansittart's mindless German hatred. It is sad to see someone with an Irish name embracing the thinking of this man who personified the worst side of the English character—the tendency to condemn whole races and nations. Has he learned nothing from his Irish ancestors? This is how the British government kept "us" (my four grandparents were born in Ireland) under its heel for 800 years. Americans, with millions of German immigrants in our marvelously diverse nation, should know better.



One Response to “MHQ Reader Comments: FDR’s Policy of Unconditional Surrender”

  1. 1
    David All says:

    Fleming's nasty response to Boyle's good comment on Fleming's article proves Boyle's point. Fleming is a smear artist whose style as shown by his comment about Boyle's persumed Irish ancestry. Fleming is just a slighty less nasty version of Patrick Buchanan.

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