TEACHING THE NEXT GENERATIONS: THE BERMUDA ESSAYS -CHURCHILL’S ART OF NEGOTIATION

Finest Hour 123, Summer 2004

Page 34

By ATTIYA TALBOT, BERKELEY INSTITUTE, BERMUDA

A committee consisting of James W. Muller, chairman of academic advisers; Terry McGarry, TCC press agent; and Richard Langworth, editor of  Finest Hour, judged the essays by Bermuda students, arranged by John Plumpton at the 2003 Bermuda Conference. The committee also ranked the best overall. The top three were by Attiya Talbot of Berkeley Institute (published herewith) and Rowland Robinson and Michelle Smith, both of Bermuda High School.

In addition to sponsoring the Bermuda essay contest, XL Corporation provided five $5000 prizes for visits to England by the respective winners. They enjoyed tea with Lady Soames at her home, a priceless opportunity to see her photos and memorabilia. They visited Chartwell, where Carole Kenwright hosted a lunch and personal tour; participated in an educational program on the Blitz, with Jo Hunt at the Cabinet War Room; and visited Blenheim Palace and WSC’s gravesite at Bladon. Of the five winners, two are studying English Literature, two Law, and one Biology. All received a marvelous immersion in the Churchill saga.

The Churchill Centre expresses its gratitude to our sponsors, XL Capital Ltd., XL Foundation Ltd. and Axis Capital Holdings Ltd., for their generosity in making the contest possible.


Throughout history, mankind has been confronted with conflict. Yet, when contending parties show willingness to make compromises, negotiated settlements are possible. The art of negotiation—the ability to seek favourable compromise—is crucial in politics.

Compromise and negotiation go hand in hand. With negotiation, parties may not always get exactly what they initially hoped for; but each receives some part of what they wish to achieve. When parties compromise, each will “give a little, in order to get a little.”

A fine example of one great compromiser is Winston Churchill, who helped orchestrate the tenuous political bond between Britain and the United States by employing his negotiation skills. During World War II, Churchill, was the archetypal negotiator. He was a courageous man with artful skills, tremendous oratory, ambition, confidence, and will. These qualities, along with his aristocratic lineage, made him revered and venerated by the British public.

Born to Lord and Lady Randolph Churchill on 30 November 1874, Winston had a mixture of British and American blood, his mother being American and his father British. Some would argue that it was this blend of national characters that sparked his desire for the two nations to become allies.

It was obvious to Churchill that Britain would need American aid in combating Germany. But America was neutral, refusing to take sides. Churchill undertook the task of persuading America and President Roosevelt to come to Britain’s rescue. He knew it would be “virtually impossible for Britain to defeat Germany unaided”; so he used his art of negotiation. Each agreement or compromise he made proved risky, but in the end decisive.

Before the war Churchill had sought to pull the European nations together to combat Germany’s aggressive moves. By June 1940, Hitler’s armies had defeated nearly all of western Europe and were bombarding France to the point of collapse. Churchill flew several times to Paris, determined to use whatever influence he could to deter France from surrender. Understanding that Hitler would have nothing but contempt for any country begging for peace, he also had to convince his own War Cabinet not to give in. On May 28th he eloquently declared that “nations which went down fighting rose again, but those which surrendered tamely were finished.” Through his speeches, Churchill convinced the British War Council and the country that Britain would fight on against Germany for as long as was necessary.

When France finally surrendered on 18 June 1940, Churchill knew that the battle against Britain was imminent, and he fervently sought American support and assistance. To this end Churchill would travel across the Atlantic to meet President Roosevelt, whom he ultimately met eleven times during the war, traveling at great risk, and at one meeting even suffering a heart attack. So determined was he to nurture the American relationship that he was able to negotiate the setting up of a Combined Chiefs of Staff of U.S. and British commanders.

One early action of Churchill’s that convinced President Roosevelt to assist Britain was the 1940 Oran incident, involving the French navy. With the northern part of France occupied by Germany and the southern part still under a doubtful French government, there was concern in Britain over the future of the powerful French warships at Oran in French North Africa. The fear was that if these ships fell into German hands they would greatly affect the balance of power at sea—Germany would have the upper hand.

The French were given the options of supporting the British Royal Navy, or sailing to the West Indies, or scuttling their vessels. They refused to accept any option. As a consequence of their refusal, at Oran on 3 July 1940, the Royal Navy opened fire, putting most French vessels out of commission and killing 1200 French sailors. This had been a hard decision to make, but when Churchill spoke to the House of Commons he was cheered by this signal to the world of the extent to which Britain would go to survive. President Roosevelt, on observing this action, began to sense that Britain was worth backing.

After Oran, the United States agreed to manufacture aircraft for Britain, as well as additional war materiel. But Churchill also needed more destroyers to combat Germany’s submarines, which threatened to disrupt Britain’s ocean lifeline. He persisted in negotiations with Roosevelt, and in January 1941 worked out the Lend-Lease Program. This provided that Britain would receive many tons of military supplies and equipment from the United States in exchange for American use of military bases in various British locations, including Bermuda.

Churchill continually nurtured his relationship with Roosevelt, making it clear that Britain could not afford to pay for all that was needed in fighting for the common cause. America agreed, with the help of Churchill’s persuasion, to send supplies to Russia and share the escort protection of North Atlantic convoys. Roosevelt also planned to send bombers to the British in North Africa.

The British-American relationship orchestrated by Churchill soon began to bear fruit. The supply of military equipment to Hitler’s enemies, albeit on a “cash and carry” basis, was also beginning to liberate the American economy from the long depression. Recognizing that the time would soon come when Britain could no longer afford to pay cash, “Lend-Lease” allowed a continuation of supplies and equipment with a promise of repayment after the conclusion of the war. Nevertheless, the United States and President Roosevelt were not completely convinced to become directly involved in the war.

Churchill artfully continued to plead with the Americans to join the war effort, and his words “touched not only the British people’s hearts but affected the emotions of their future American allies.” Then, on 7 December 1941, following an escalation of Japan’s resentment of American efforts to limit its expansion in the Pacific, Japan attacked the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii. The Congress declared war and Churchill finally had the U.S. as a full partner. He had always been confident that he could “drag” the United States into the war, though it was Pearl Harbour which finally convinced the Americans that their national interest was at stake.

In facing the difficult task of negotiating war policy with Roosevelt, Churchill had to be prepared to sacrifice a great deal, for Roosevelt too was a skillful negotiator. For instance, even before entering the war, Roosevelt had insisted on Britain handing over some of her naval bases and financial assets in return for the fifty old destroyers which proved to be largely out of date and useless. Still, though Roosevelt was forced into the war by Japan, he accepted Churchill’s arguments to fight and defeat Germany first.

Both leaders had their own reasons for being tough negotiators. Roosevelt had suspicions that Churchill wanted to expand British imperial possessions, while Churchill on the other hand came to believe that the quarrels over empire masked America’s own aspirations. Churchill realized that he had to maintain good relations with the United States to fight the war, and often sacrificed his own deeply felt beliefs about Roosevelt’s foreign policy.

For example, Roosevelt insisted on the “unconditional surrender” of Germany before any negotiations of peace could take place. In accepting this policy to please Roosevelt, Churchill committed Britain to a principle that “ensured that the fighting would stop with Soviet troops on German soil.” This induced much criticism from the British public and press. But both leaders realized that they would have to be committed to a unified policy.

Just before Pearl Harbour, Roosevelt and Churchill signed an unofficial agreement called the Atlantic Charter, which pledged to support the right of all nations to choose their own form of government, to work toward the improvement of economic and social conditions around the world, and to protect all people from want and fear. The concepts outlined in this agreement later formed the basic principles upon which the United Nations was founded.

The importance of negotiation and compromise cannot be understated. Certainly these skills were successfully employed by British and American leaders during World War II. As a result, even today, over sixty years since Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill fought their war, we find the British and Americans engaging in negotiations to seek favourable compromise in their effort to resolve conflicts. Perhaps some of our present-day leaders could take a page from Winston Churchill’s book if they wish to preserve freedom and lasting peace.

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