Schiller Institute on YouTube Schiller Institute on Facebook RSS

Home >

This Week in History:
January 23 - 29, 1943
The Casablanca Conference

January 2011

This week it seems appropriate to review a historical event that occurred in January of 1943: specifically, the Casablanca Conference between U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. This conference, which included a rotating cast of military and civilian visitors, lasted from Jan. 11 to Jan. 24. This was a fateful conference in more ways than one, particularly in that it resulted in the decision of the Allies to make their first invasion of the Nazi-held continent of Europe by opening up the Southern Front through Italy, rather than pursuing the cross-Channel assault, which was then delayed for more than a year (until D-Day). But our reason for dealing with it here, is a different one.

Already, by August 1941, it had become clear that Roosevelt and Churchill had different visions as to what the postwar world would look like. We rely here heavily on the small 1946 memoir, As He Saw It, by FDR's son Elliott Roosevelt, who attended some of the major pow-wows during the war with his father. According to Elliott, the meeting which framed the Atlantic Charter, a meeting held in Argentia, Newfoundland, featured a significant confrontation between the two world leaders over whether "18th-Century methods," the phrase FDR used to describe the imperial methods of the British Empire, would be permitted to continue after the war.

The same debate continued at Casablanca, according to Elliott. Today, as a gang of would-be imperialists counsel the President to follow down the road to an American Empire, we would do well to recall this discussion, and take lessons from what FDR had to say.

Casablanca-Conference - Seated: President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill. Standing, front row, left to right: General Arnold, Admiral King, General Marshall, Admiral Pound, Air Chief Marshal Portal, General Brooke, Field Marshal Dill, and Admiral Mountbatten. January 1943.

The Casablanca conference being FDR's only trip to Africa, a land colonized by a variety of European nations, FDR took the opportunity both to visit certain regions, and to speak with some of the local leadership. Two events are instructive. First, he told Elliott about a stop he made in Gambia, a small strip of land owned by the British Empire. FDR was appalled at the state of the "natives," their low wages, their very high mortality rate. "Life expectancy—you'd never guess what it is," he said to Elliott. "Twenty-six years. Those people are treated worse than the livestock. Their cattle live longer!" This observation, the President told his son, underscored his determination that such colonialism had to end.

This was not an isolated observation. A couple of days later, FDR was lunching with friends and began to expatiate on the kind of development which would be possible in Africa. He reminded Elliott and his guests that there were underground rivers in Africa. "Divert this water flow for irrigation purposes? It'd make Imperial Valley in California look like a cabbage patch! And the salt flats: They were below the level of the Mediterranean; you could dig a canal straight back to re-create that lake—one hundred and fifty miles long, sixty miles wide. The Sahara would bloom for hundreds of miles!"

"Wealth!," he cried. "Imperialists don't realize what they can do, what they can create! They've robbed this continent of billions, and all because they were too short-sighted to understand that their billions were pennies, compared to the possibilities! Possibilities that must include a better life for the people who inhabit this land...."

The second singular event was FDR's invitation to the Sultan of Morocco for dinner, an event to which Churchill was also invited. Elliott describes it this way:

"...[A]s the conversation proceeded, Churchill grew more and more disgruntled. What was the trouble? Father and the Sultan were animatedly chatting about the wealth of natural resources in French Morocco, and the rich possibilities for their development. They were having a delightful time, their French—not Mr. Churchill's strongest language—easily encompassing the question of the elevation of the living standards of the Moroccans and—the point—of how this would of necessity entail an important part of the country's wealth being retained within its own boundaries."

Eventually, FDR brought up the potential of oil deposits in French Morocco. The Sultan, while happy, deplored the country's lack of trained scientists and engineers, to which FDR responded that "Moroccan engineers and scientists could of course be educated and trained under some sort of reciprocal educational programs with, for instance, some of our leading universities in the United States." He went on to present the idea of the Moroccans using American firms, but maintaining considerable control of their resources, obtaining the major part of the income stream, and eventually taking them over.

Elliott notes that only Churchill appeared disgruntled, glowering and biting at his cigar.

Empire Means War

But, besides the positive vision that FDR was putting forward—one which was never realized, and is all the more poignant because of the genocide going on against Africa today—President Roosevelt had another point which he was consistently pressing in discussions with his son, and more or less directly with others. To put it simply, he was concentrated on the fact that "empires mean war."

Elliott Roosevelt quotes him as follows:

"The thing is, the colonial system means war. Exploit the resources of an India, a Burma, a Java; take all the wealth out of those countries, but never put anything back into them, things like education, decent standards of living, minimum health requirements—all you're doing is storing up the kind of trouble that leads to war. All you're doing is negating the value of any kind of organizational structure for peace before it begins."

Usefully, Elliott reports his own challenge to his father. Why should we interfere? he asks his father, with either the French or the British maintaining their empires. FDR responds sharply:

"I'm talking about another war, Elliott. I'm talking about what will happen to our world, if after this war we allow millions of people to slide back into the same semi-slavery!

"Don't think for a moment, Elliott, that Americans would be dying in the Pacific tonight, if it hadn't been for the shortsighted greed of the French and the British and the Dutch. Shall we allow them to do it all, all over again? Your son will be about the right age, fifteen or twenty years from now."

He concluded with his own commitment: "When we've won, I will work with all my might and main to see to it that the United States is not wheedled into the position of accepting any plan that will further France's imperialistic ambition, or that will aid or abet the British Empire in its imperial ambitions."

* * *

Following Roosevelt's death, of course, this commitment was broken—and both Britain and France maintained their empires, to the detriment of the entire world. Today, as the intellectual heirs of Churchill sing the siren song of "empire" again, FDR's words should ring in our ears, and be taken to heart.


The original article was published in the EIR Online’s Electronic Intelligence Weekly, as part of an ongoing series on history, with a special emphasis on American history. We are reprinting and updating these articles now to assist our readers in understanding of the American System of Economy.

Related pages: