Together We Stand is a long book, but then again, it is a big subject. I have divided it into four parts, and for those who balk at attempting nearly 800 pages in one go, I think it is perfectly possible to read each part separately.
When the book first came out in the UK, I did not include an introduction, but with the benefit of a bit more time to digest the work as a whole, I felt it could have benefited from a brief note setting up the themes and suggesting why this crucial year of the Second World War was so important for Britain and America. It truly was the first time these two nations had come together, the ramifications of which are still being felt today. So here is the introduction that is now included in the US edition and the paperback version in the UK and Commonwealth:
In November 2003, George W. Bush was preparing to embark on the first state visit to Britain of an American president, an occasion that was seen as an opportunity to reaffirm the Anglo-US nexus. Before his departure, the president invited a few British journalists into the Oval Office, where the bronze bust of Winston Churchill by Sir Jacob Epstein -loaned by the current Prime Minister, Tony Blair – was on display. ‘I thought he was a clear thinker; Bush said of Churchill to the journalists assembled before him, ‘the kind of guy that stood tough when you needed to stand tough; he represented values that both countries hold dear – the value of freedom, the belief in democracy, [and the] human dignity of every person; Bush also likes to point out that he uses a desk that was once used by America’s wartime leader, President Franklin D. Roosevelt; as the two nations have stood shoulder to shoulder once more, Bush has drawn inspiration from the part both Roosevelt and Churchill played in forging this alliance and the ‘moral leadership’ he believes they both demonstrated.
Bush’s fascination with Churchill is telling. It would be inconceivable for an American president to have the bust of any other national leader on his desk. It was Churchill himself who first openly talked of a ‘special relationship’ between America and Britain, during his famous Iron Curtain speech of 1946. Yet, however deeply entwined many may believe the two nations to be, the truth is that the foun¬dations of this alliance were laid down only comparatively recently, during the period outlined in this book. Before the Second World War, it would also have been unthinkable for an American president to have gazed at the bust of a British prime minister for inspiration. Until then, Britain was still seen by most Americans as the old enemy, the evil empire that had wished to stifle the American settlers under the yoke of imperialism. Britain was also the nation against which the United States fought its first two wars. In classrooms from Connecticut to California, schoolchildren were taught that the British redcoats had been the bad guys, the oppressors of.freedom. True, the two nations had come together – briefly – during the First World War, but American troops entered the fray only at the end of that bitter conflict and even then were commanded by Americans only. There was little unity of command on the Western Front. Furthermore, Britain and America were culturally, worlds apart, despite the link of a common language; there was no sense of an ‘anglosphere’ existing in 1939.
This point needs to be borne in mind when considering the birth of the Anglo-US alliance. There was much suspicion between the leaders and commanders of both nations and while there were undoubtedly considerable disagreements, the success of their partnership was, unquestionably, an extraordinary achievement.
Much has rightly been made of the close partnership of President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill; their friendship and mutual understanding was crucial to the success of Allied fortunes, yet considerable credit needs to be given to the military commanders, General Dwight D. Eisenhower especially, for establishing a joint command structure and unity of purpose between two nations that was unprecedented in history. Significantly, President Bush also has a bust of Eisenhower in the Oval Office, the man who led the first major Anglo-US combined operation – the invasion of Northwest Africa in November 1942 – and who later became the Allied Supreme Commander.
The relationship has been tested since Churchill’s speech of 1946: , during the Suez Crisis of 1956, and again when Britain resisted pressure to send troops to Vietnam. The US was angered by Britain’s withdrawal from the Far East during the 1960s, while British concerns over the US invasion of Grenada in 1983 were ignored. Nonetheless, for over sixty years, America has had no greater friend within Europe, and the two nations have, in recent years – in Iraq, in the Balkans, and in Afghanistan – rekindled the military alliance that was forged in 1942-43.
Studies of the North African campaign have traditionally been hindered by national bias. British historians have tended to give the impressioin that the fighting there was all over half an hour after the end of the Battle of Alamein in November 1942, the first decisive Allied victory on land against the Axis. American historians, on the other hand, have somewhat blanked any military operations in North Africa prior to November 1942, when US troops landed in Northwest Africa. Few realize that there were a number of American forces helping the British in the Western Desert of Egypt and Libya, or that they made a considerable contribution to the victory at Alamein. Similarly, many Americans could be forgiven for thinking the war in Northwest Africa was an entirely American show. Our preoccupation with the subsequent D-Day landings and the campaign in Northwest Europe has also tended to belittle the Allied achievements earlier in the war.
Yet our knowledge of what was to follow should not cloud our judgment of what was a critical period of the war. May-June 1942 marked the nadir of Allied fortunes in the. war against Germany and Italy. America was still a comparatively young nation, ill¬prepared for the fight ahead, while Britain, for all her experience and two-hundred-year empire, was also woefully equipped for the kind of warfare Germany had developed. Only when the extent of these deficiencies are examined can the true scale of the remarkable turn-around that followed be properly appreciated. And this is the point: Allied fortunes turned only once Britain and the United States started to work closely together, and this only began in earnest during the summer of 1942. Materially, America’s contribution to the British campaign against Rommel in the Middle East cannot be underestimated, but it is also worth pointing out that at the time, the TORCH landings in Northwest Africa in November 1942 were the biggest seaborne invasion the world had ever seen. And they were planned and put into operation in just three months across thousands of miles of hostile sea.
It is also worth remembering that for all the trials and tribulations that followed the TORCH landings, by the time victory was finally achieved in May 1943, the Allies had reclaimed all of North Africa and had captured a quarter of a million men, more than the total number of troops in the US Army in 1939, and more than were captured at the great Russian victory of Stalingrad. Significant tactical and doctrinal developments had also been made, developments that were carried through to Sicily, Italy and Normandy. The use of air power in support of ground forces, as still used in Iraq and Afghanistan today, were developed during this period in North Africa; so too were many of the command structures.
This is why this critical period from the summer of 1942 to May 1943 is so important. In the corridors and offices of Washington and London, and in the sand, mud and mountains of North Africa, one of the great political and military alliances was born, an alliance that has had a lasting and profound effect upon the history of the world.