• U.S.

The U.S. At War, The Last Stage

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Prime Minister Winston Churchill heard the news while he was having a quiet supper with U.S. Ambassador John Gilbert Winant at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country house some 25 miles from Downing Street. Winston Churchill picked up the telephone and called an extraordinary session of Parliament for the next afternoon. Then he and Mr. Winant set out for London.

The British public heard the news not many minutes later in a BBC newscast. It was no great surprise, but it left a disturbing question to sleep on. Would the U.S. be able to keep supplies flowing to Britain, now that she was at war herself?

There was no formal meeting of the War Cabinet. But all night long Prime Minister Churchill, Ambassador Winant and members of the Cabinet kept informal vigil at No. 10, weighing and discussing each fragment of news as it came in. Again Winston Churchill used the telephone, this time to call Franklin Roosevelt in Washington. They discussed a synchronized declaration of war on Japan.

Their decision was outdated by the rush of history. A few minutes later word came to No. 10 Downing Street that Japan had declared war on both the U.S. and Britain, had attacked Malaya. Unlike the President, the Prime Minister needed to wait for no formalities. At 12:30 on Monday he held a meeting of the War Cabinet. To British Ambassador Sir Leslie Robert Craigie in Tokyo went orders to ask for his passport and to tell Japan that Britain was at war. This was a full nine hours before President Roosevelt signed the U.S. declaration. Churchill had nearly lived up to his November promise to declare war on Japan “within the hour” after an attack on the U.S.

In the afternoon the Prime Minister stood before the House of Commons and reported in a short, eloquent speech that Britain had a new enemy. Said the incomparable orator: “In the past our light has flickered. Today it flames. In the future there will be a light that shines over all lands and seas.”

Less eloquent, but just as typical of Britain’s belief in the U.S. as a comrade-in-arms, was a London bobby’s remark: “This is the last stage. The war couldn’t end until America was in. Now that she is in, the end is in sight.”

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