January 14, 1943: The Casablanca Conference begins. Codenamed SYMBOL, it was held at the Anfa Hotel in Casablanca, French Morocco and lasted until January 24. The Allied powers met to plan the next phase of World War II. US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British PM Winston Churchill, and Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud for the Free French forces were in attendance. Premier Joseph Stalin declined to attend because of ongoing problems in Stalingrad which necessitated his remaining in the Soviet Union. The attendees produced what was known as the Casablanca Declaration. Their purpose was unconditional surrender of the Axis Powers.
The British, exiled French, and Americans produced a unified statement of what the outcome of the War must be. Roosevelt borrowed the term “unconditional surrender” from US Civil War General, Ulysses S. Grant who issued the same demand at Fort Donelson and Fort Henry. A month later, during a radio address, Roosevelt explained what was meant by the term. The common people of the Axis powers would be left in peace, but their “guilty, barbaric leaders” would be punished and retribution would be exacted.
At the time, the leaders presented a united front. There is no evidence of unanimous decisions found in the source documents. Churchill did not share Roosevelt’s need for German capitulation. When Roosevelt made his public announcement about the Declaration, it was noted that Churchill was attempting to hide his shock. There is speculation that the public statement was made in order to keep Soviet forces engaged with the Germans on the Russian front and to prevent Stalin from negotiating a separate peace with Nazi Germany.
Although presented as a desired outcome for the War, it was realized in many places that if Germany sued for peace and rid themselves of Hitler, the War would end. Britain did worry about what would happen post-war if accommodations were made and feared a Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe. Anti-Nazi government officials were in meetings with MI6 to eliminate Hitler and sue for peace. Wilhelm Canaris, head of German intelligence was one of these men. His overtures to Roosevelt were studiously ignored by the American. Although unconditional surrender was the most notable edict, there were other topics under discussion. The leaders discussed the next phase of the war, aid available to help the Russian offensive, German submarines in the Atlantic, disposition of war materials after the war, and how to apprise Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek of the meeting’s results.
Responsibility for this unconditional surrender doctrine rests almost exclusively with President Roosevelt. – Charles Bohlen
We no longer demand anything, we want war. – Germany’s foreign minister, August 1939
Sure, we want to go home. We want this war over with. The quickest way to get it over with is to go get the bastards who started it. The quicker they are whipped, the quicker we can go home. The shortest way home is through Berlin and Tokyo. And when we get to Berlin, I am personally going to shoot that paper hanging son-of-a-bitch Hitler. Just like I’d shoot a snake! – General George S. Patton, Jr.
We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender. – Winston Churchill
Also on this day: Dr. Albert Schweitzer – In 1875, Dr. Schweitzer was born.
Where Are They Now? – In 1129, the Knights Templar were given Papal approval.
Human Be-In – In 1967, thousands met in protest at Golden Gate Park.
Today – In 1952, The Today Show premiered.
Denmark’s New Queen – In 1972, Queen Margrethe II began her reign.