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Chancellor Emeritus Leutze Discusses Churchill/America Relationship

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

UNCW Chancellor Emeritus James Leutze was part of a special program recognizing Winston Churchill, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

The March 23 event was hosted by The Sister Cities Association of Wilmington in recognition of Churchill’s passing 50 years ago. Leutze discussed the complex man who became one of the most revered leaders of the 20th century and his special relationship with the United States.

It was while working on his dissertation at Duke University that Leutze became intrigued with the Churchill/America relationship. During his research, he found there was some misunderstanding on the relationship between then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Churchill.

“It was implied that there was an exceedingly close relationship between the two men, making collaboration between the two countries easy,” said Leutze. 

More than 1,700 messages were exchanged between the two leaders. Only 700 of them were from Roosevelt to Churchill. There were 11 in-person meetings. Churchill made trips to the United States because Roosevelt’s physical ailments prevented him from traveling. 

Initially, the U.S. didn’t want to become involved in World War II. Churchill knew that the U.S. was poorly prepared for the war and helped with supplies, knowing that he needed the Americans as an ally. As the war waged on, the Churchill/Roosevelt relationship was affected. Roosevelt felt Churchill was condescending. In turn, Churchill felt Roosevelt was unappreciative.

Neither the U.S. nor Britain wanted a German victory. “Tough negotiations over technology and other matters began between the two in the spring 1941,” explained Leutze. It was Churchill who advised the U.S. to fight Germany first, then Japan.

Roosevelt would embarrass Churchill in front of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who caught on that he could drive a wedge between the two. “Roosevelt was a bit naive to think he could have a personal relationship with Stalin and eventually realized that,” said Leutze.

Churchill did develop close friendships with presidential advisors Harry Truman and Harry Hopkins who convinced Roosevelt to continue to work with Churchill. Later, Churchill was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States.

"This relationship was not as close as many thought, but more practical. These were two fascinating people who had a lot to deal with," Leutze said in his closing remarks.

Leutze served as Chancellor of UNCW from 1990-2003. A noted war historian, he is a former professor of history at UNC, where he was twice recognized for his excellence in undergraduate teaching.  Prior to UNCW, he served as president of Hampden-Sydney College. He created Globe Watch, an international affairs program, which aired for 15 years on public television networks. He received the Bernath Prize for distinguished publication in the area of American foreign policy and the John Lyman Book Award in U.S. Naval History. His most recent book, “Entering North Carolina: Set Clocks Back 100 Years,” is in bookstores now.