Friday, August 01, 2008

The Churchill Series - July 31, 2008

(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

On the evening of December 7, 1941 Churchill and the American Ambassador, John G. Winant dined the the PM's official country home, Chequers. In his Churchill and America, historian Martin Gilbert records the following:

”I turned on my small wireless set shortly after the nine o’clock news had started,” Churchill later wrote. “There were a number of items about the fighting on the Russian front and on the British front on Libya, at the end of which some few sentences were spoken regarding an air attack by the Japanese on American at Hawaii, and also Japanese attacks on British vessels in the Dutch East Indies. …

Winant later recalled the ensuing scene. “We looked at one another incredulously. Then Churchill jumped to his feet and started for the door with the announcement, ‘We shall declare war on Japan’”
Gilbert’s account continues:
Winant added: “There is nothing half-hearted or un-positive about Churchill – certainly not when he is on the move. Without ceremony I too left the table and followed him out of the room. ‘Good God,’ I said, ’You can’t declare war on a radio announcement’

He stopped and looked at me half-seriously, half-quizzically, and then said quietly, ‘What shall I do?’

The question was asked not because he needed me to tell him what to do, but as a courtesy to the representative of the country attacked. I said, ‘I will call up the President by telephone and ask him what the facts are.’ And he added, ‘And I shall talk with him too.’”
Roosevelt and Churchill did talk. Roosevelt confirmed the attack (“We are all in the same boat now.”) and said he would ask Congress the next day to declare war. Churchill promised Britain would declare war “within the hour” of Congress’ war declaration.

A few minutes after their conversation ended, Churchill’s principal private secretary informed him the Admiralty had just confirmed that Japanese forces were attacking British bases in Malaya.
Martin Gilbert, Churchill and America. (pgs. 240-244)