Casablanca Conference Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In January 1943, the tide against the Axis powers was beginning to turn. However, when the war would end was still anybody's guess, and most of the major battles in which the United States would participate lay in the future. At the Casablanca Conference, American president Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill met to determine the Allies' next moves, first of which were the invasions of Sicily and Italy in an attempt to force Germany to surrender. After invading Sicily and Italy, the leaders determined to concentrate military efforts on Germany, specifically on its eastern front, and agreed to send more supplies to the Soviet Union to assist in this mission. At the same time, Roosevelt sought to spell out a larger vision of the global conflict. He both invoked the contributions to the Allied war effort by China and other nations outside the Atlantic world and stated clear goals for the war, which included the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. In addition, his statements contained both immediate practicality and long-term visions of the postwar world.

Summary Overview

In January 1943, the tide against the Axis powers was beginning to turn. However, when the war would end was still anybody's guess, and most of the major battles in which the United States would participate lay in the future. At the Casablanca Conference, American president Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill met to determine the Allies' next moves, first of which were the invasions of Sicily and Italy in an attempt to force Germany to surrender. After invading Sicily and Italy, the leaders determined to concentrate military efforts on Germany, specifically on its eastern front, and agreed to send more supplies to the Soviet Union to assist in this mission. At the same time, Roosevelt sought to spell out a larger vision of the global conflict. He both invoked the contributions to the Allied war effort by China and other nations outside the Atlantic world and stated clear goals for the war, which included the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. In addition, his statements contained both immediate practicality and long-term visions of the postwar world.

Defining Moment

The Casablanca Conference and the resulting declaration by Roosevelt and Churchill came amid the culmination of three important developments of World War II. In January 1943, the outcome of the war was still very much in doubt. The Soviets had only recently stopped retreating, and two of their most important cities were still under siege. While the United States achieved victory in the Battle of Midway in the Pacific in June 1942, almost simultaneously the last American stronghold in the Philippines, on the Bataan peninsula, had fallen. The United States was about to take Guadalcanal, but this was a far cry from domination of the western Pacific. The rollback of Japanese successes was only beginning. Perhaps the best news around the time of the Casablanca Conference was that it seemed German and Italian forces in North Africa would soon be defeated. Three-and-a-half years into the war, the Allies would finally be completely victorious in at least one region.

However, German submarines were wreaking havoc in the North Atlantic. Several more months would pass before the Allies effectively reduced this danger to one that did not threaten the entire war effort. As historian David Kennedy notes, even just before the Casablanca Conference convened, an Allied convoy carrying supplies to Allied forces in North Africa disappeared, and only when survivors appeared in Gibraltar did the full extent of the destruction become apparent.

Also at the conference, the ongoing question about whether or not to open, or even what constituted, a second front in Europe was a major point of discussion. With massive German armies still on Soviet soil, including a large proportion of their armored divisions, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin continued to demand a second front in France. Western allies discussed the feasibility of an invasion across the English Channel, which might be costly but also impactful. They also discussed attacking the “soft underbelly” of Europe through Italy.

In the third development, related to the second, the Soviets launched a counterattack at Stalingrad that, by February 1943, had encircled and entrapped the German Sixth Army. American and British minds began to ponder what the postwar world would look like. Would a militarily victorious Soviet Union dominate the Eurasian landmass? While victory against the Germans and Japanese was the top priority, the power of the Soviet Union remained a concern as well.

Author Biography

Born in England in 1874, Winston Churchill was a war correspondent, member of the House of Commons, secretary of war, and twice prime minister (1940–45 and 1951–55). His first stint as prime minister included England's toughest days during World War II.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born in 1882 in Hyde Park, New York. Before becoming president of the United States in 1932, he was a state senator, assistant secretary of the Navy, and the governor of New York. In 1940, Roosevelt ran for and won an unprecedented third term as president. He won a fourth term in 1944, when the United States was at war.

Once the United States entered the war, the two leaders worked closely to achieve success. Roosevelt died in 1945, and Churchill died in 1965.

Historical Document

The decisions reached and the actual plans made at Casablanca were not confined to any one theater of war or to any one continent or ocean or sea. Before this year is out, it will be made known to the world-in actions rather than words-that the Casablanca Conference produced plenty of news; and it will be bad news for the Germans and Italians-and the Japanese.

We have lately concluded a long, hard battle in the Southwest Pacific and we have made notable gains. That battle started in the Solomons and New Guinea last summer. It has demonstrated our superior power in planes and, most importantly, in the fighting qualities of our individual soldiers and sailors.

American armed forces in the Southwest Pacific are receiving powerful aid from Australia and New Zealand and also directly from the British themselves.

We do not expect to spend the time it would take to bring Japan to final defeat merely by inching our way forward from island to island across the vast expanse of the Pacific.

Great and decisive actions against the Japanese will be taken to drive the invader from the soil of China. Important actions will be taken in the skies over China-and over Japan itself.

The discussions at Casablanca have been continued in Chungking with the Generalissimo by General Arnold and have resulted in definite plans for offensive operations.

There are many roads which lead right to Tokyo. We shall neglect none of them.

In an attempt to ward off the inevitable disaster, the Axis propagandist are trying all of their old tricks in order to divide the United Nations. They seek to create the idea that if we win this war, Russia, England, China, and the United States are going to get into a cat-and-dog fight.

This is their final effort to turn one nation against another, in the vain hope that they may settle with one or two at a time-that any of us may be so gullible and so forgetful as to be duped into making “deals” at the expense of our Allies.

To these panicky attempts to escape the consequences of their crimes we say-all the United Nations say-that the only terms on which we shall deal with an Axis government or any Axis factions are the terms proclaimed at Casablanca: “Unconditional Surrender.” In our uncompromising policy we mean no harm to the common people of the Axis nations. But we do mean to impose punishment and retribution in full upon their guilty, barbaric leaders…

In the years of the American and French revolutions the fundamental principle guiding our democracies was established. The cornerstone of our whole democratic edifice was the principle that from the people and the people alone flows the authority of government.

It is one of our war aims, as expressed in the Atlantic Charter, that the conquered populations of today be again the masters of their destiny. There must be no doubt anywhere that it is the unalterable purpose of the United Nations to restore to conquered peoples their sacred rights.

Glossary

theater of war: the entire area in which ground, sea, and air forces are, or may be, directly employed in war operations

Document Analysis

The first section of the Casablanca declaration celebrates the recent American victories at Midway and Guadalcanal in the Pacific and notes the contributions of Allies other than the Soviet Union, Britain, and the United States (specifically Australia and New Zealand).

Roosevelt mentions another important member of the Allies: China. Chinese forces, both communist and noncommunist, had hampered a million Japanese troops that might otherwise have fought American forces on the islands dotting the Pacific.

The middle section notes the “Axis propagandist” that seeks to divide Allies. This may be in reference to the shooting confrontation that occurred between American forces attempting to land in Algeria in November 1942 and French soldiers under the command of pro-Nazi Vichy French leaders. After two days of fighting, American general Dwight D. Eisenhower persuaded the French commander, Admiral François Darlan, to allow the American troops to land unopposed. Following this event, Roosevelt faced a public backlash against the Darlan Deal because Darlan supported the pro-Nazi French regime in Vichy and was considered an enemy. Axis propaganda took advantage of events such as this to portray the Allies as willing to betray each other. Perhaps to illustrate the alliance between the United States and France, the Casablanca declaration includes mention of both the French and American Revolutions and notes the similarities between ideologies of the two countries: “The cornerstone of our whole democratic edifice was the principle that from the people and the people alone flows the authority of government.”

Finally, in addition to reiterating the principle of self-determination announced in the 1941 Atlantic Charter, the Casablanca declaration was the first time that Roosevelt announced the Allied demand for the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. This aim was partly based on the Allied understanding of the vicious nature of the Axis governments and societies, which, the Allies believed, would require reconstruction. However, David Kennedy has noted that Roosevelt used this phrase because in early 1943, the United States was the junior partner of the Allied forces, as both the British and the Soviets had been fighting Nazi Germany for a longer period of time. Therefore, according to Kennedy, Roosevelt insisted upon an unconditional surrender in order to delay “political bargaining” over Eastern Europe and other regions until after the war. By emphasizing the necessity of total victory before negotiation, Roosevelt avoided conflict among the Allied powers (especially between the Western powers and the Soviet Union) over territorial and political issues in Eastern Europe before Germany was defeated.

Essential Themes

The most striking theme of the Casablanca Conference is the undeclared consensus that political conflicts among Allies were likely to arise in the postwar period. The postponement of discussions about the postwar state of Eastern Europe stemmed from Roosevelt's recognition that the Soviet Union had realized its military potential and would likely become a behemoth that Western Europe and the United States would have to address. Also, the doctrine of unconditional surrender carried with it the belief that Japan and Germany would need to be reconstructed after the war, not only physically, but also socially and politically, in order to avoid a repeat of conditions that led to World War II. Indeed, the remaking of Japanese and West German societies and their economic resurgence within only a decade of the end of the war showed this policy to be a resounding success. Less successful was American postwar policy in China, where the American-supported Nationalist government ultimately failed in 1949. Nonetheless, while these statements by Roosevelt certainly had importance for the immediate context in early 1943, they also had reverberations across subsequent years, both during the war and afterward. Roosevelt's double objective—to address the present situation with an eye to the postwar landscape—reveals him to be a leader who was thinking critically and actively about both short- and long-term American actions and goals.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Herring, George C. From Colony to Superpower: US Foreign Relations since 1776. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
  • Kennedy, David M. Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945. New York: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.
  • Kimball, Warren F. The Juggler: Franklin Roosevelt as Wartime Statesman. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991. Print.
  • Stoler, Mark A. Allies and Adversaries: The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Grand Alliance, and US Strategy in World War II. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2003. Print.
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