World War II


In 1943, when the Second World War had reached its most pitiless intensity, three of the world’s most powerful men—unlikely allies against the Axis onslaught—met together for the first time. In their respective formative years, one had been a soldier, another a murderer, and the third a politician. None fully trusted the others. It was a scene out of Shakespeare perhaps, or even the Bible.

Winston Churchill, the soldier, reasoned in a military frame of mind. He was fair but ruthless, canny and perceptive. Joseph Stalin, on the other hand, quite literally murdered his way to the top of the Soviet Union and, with his hands covered in blood, was suspicious of all and loyal only to the Communist ideal of eventual world domination. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the politician, had an easygoing personality and believed in negotiation in good faith. He thought that deals could always be made between honest men.

The three leaders met in November 1943 in the Iranian capital of Tehran—the Allies had occupied the country since 1941—to strategize the war’s end and beyond. The vivid experiences of each man’s youth informed their differing psyches, personalities, and approaches to the tasks at hand. While that can be said of any decision-maker at any meeting, this was no ordinary meeting. Events put in motion at Tehran would determine Europe’s fate for generations to come.

WINSTON CHURCHILL WAS A BRITISH aristocrat who had graduated from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in 1894. He later explained that his father had encouraged an army career because he thought young Winston was “too stupid” to become a lawyer. Churchill endured a baptism by fire with immediate combat stints in Cuba and India in 1895 and 1896 respectively and, in 1898, served in the deserts of Sudan with British general Herbert Kitchener’s expedition against an army of 60,000 Islamic fighters. There, on horseback, Churchill saw intense action amid a swarm of sword-wielding Dervishes, shooting them down from his saddle one by one, and remarking later “how easy it is to kill a man.”

In 1899, during Britain’s second war with the Boers of southern Africa, Churchill further distinguished himself, making a dramatic escape as

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