Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship by Jon Meacham

“Churchill’s attitude toward Roosevelt was one of profound affection and regard.” This quote is from Anthony Montague Brown and it, or some version of it, is repeated several times throughout this book. Interestingly enough, the same is never said about the way Roosevelt felt about his British counterpart. It is for this reason that I have a hard time calling their relationship a “friendship.” It seemed more like unrequited love.

Meacham explains why both men were the way they were. And both explanations are the same age-old tale: daddy issues. Winston Churchill was never able to satisfy his father, so he spent his adult life trying to impress and gain the praises of one of the most powerful men of the century. On the flip side, Roosevelt was spoiled by his parents, so his self-importance made him a hard man to impress, since he felt the better man regardless.

I get it. The psychology explains most of it. And World War II makes up the rest of the explanation. Churchill was desperate. He (and his military) needed help. And Roosevelt was the only man powerful enough to help in the way Churchill needed.

All of that aside, the relationship between the two great men was painfully one-sided. Churchill seemed deeply and sincerely interested in the friendship. He wrote letters, gave gifts, he even traveled to Washington D.C. to see Roosevelt. Roosevelt however, was distant and cold. He was a friend when duty required him be so, but otherwise he considered himself a superior human being, and above needing friends.

There were instances of affection from Roosevelt. Like when he offered his unconditional help to Churchill (and Britain) lost a battle in Tobruk. Or the moment they shared on a rooftop in Marrakech overlooking the city. But he could have just as easily turned on Churchill. Like in Teheran when Roosevelt joined Joseph Stalin in teasing Churchill all night, leading Winston to be jaded by Roosevelt’s kindness.

The relationship between these two larger-than-life men was, and remains, complicated. For me, calling it a “friendship” is a little too optimistic. Whatever they were to each other didn’t matter though. For they were heroes to their countries.

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