- Great Britain
- Along with Germany, France, and Spain, Great Britain was one of the leading Western European nations at the end of the 19th century and a major imperial power. However, although victorious in 1918, following the devastating effects of World War I, Great Britain suffered from political instability and uneven economic development. While such new industries as chemicals, electrical goods, and automobiles began to grow, particularly in the 1930s, such older staple industries as coal mining, steel, and shipbuilding were in decline. Unemployment never fell below 10 percent in the 1920s, and with the onset of the Great Depression after 1929, the rate rose to more than 20 percent. The nation was also beset by labor conflict, with major strikes occurring in 1919 and the General Strike in 1926. After 1920, political power shifted from the centrist Liberal Party to the Conservative Party, with a brief minority Labour Government in 1924. Labour again regained power as a minority government in 1929, but faced by the economic crisis, it collapsed in 1932 to be replaced by a National Government consisting of some Labour MPs, Conservatives, and Liberals. Leadership passed from Ramsay Macdonald (Labour) to Stanley Baldwin (Conservative) and finally in 1937 to Neville Chamberlain (Conservative).The National Government was increasingly forced to respond to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany, and the Chamberlain administration was generally associated with the policy of appeasement that allowed Hitler to rearm and embark on expansion, first into the Rhineland, then Austria, and then Czechoslovakia between 1936 and 1939. Following the meeting between German, French, and British representatives at Munich in September 1938 in which the Sudetenland was ceded to Hitler, Chamberlain claimed to have achieved “peace with honor” and “peace in our time.” However, when it became clear that Germany next threatened Poland, the British and French issued guarantees that they would maintain Polish independence. Thus when German armies invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, Britain and France declared war on 3 September, and World War II had begun.After a period known as the “Phoney War,” in which all sides prepared their forces, in 1940 German armies quickly overran Denmark and Norway and in May launched their assault on Belgium and the Netherlands. Faced with these setbacks, Chamberlain was forced to resign and was replaced as prime minister by Winston Churchill. Promising nothing more than “blood, toil, tears, and sweat,” Churchill proved an inspirational wartime leader with his famous “V sign” gesture for victory—the personification of British resistance. That resistance was evident during the Battle of Britain, in which the Royal Air Force overcame the German Luftwaffe’s attempts to gain air superiority over Great Britain in July through October 1940, prior to a possible invasion. The British people also demonstrated a dogged determination in response to the “Blitz,” the German bombing of major towns and cities between September 1940 and May 1941 that claimed more than 43,000 civilian lives. These events were reported on by American reporters like Edward R. Murrow and Ernie Pyle, and Great Britain increasingly began to receive aid from the United States. Having secured a lend-lease agreement in March 1941, Churchill met with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in August and agreed on a common vision for the postwar world based on the Atlantic Charter.Once the United States entered the war in 1941, cooperation between the two major Allies was established and a common strategy agreed upon at the Arcadia Conference. Other wartime meetings between British, U.S., and Soviet leaders and representatives took place at Casablanca, Tehran, Moscow, Yalta, and Potsdam. Although there were strategic differences between the British and Americans, for example concerning the invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch) and then Sicily (Operation Husky), the two nations generally worked closely together. Beginning in 1942 U.S. forces were based in Great Britain, leading to the buildup of D-Day and the invasion of Normandy. U.S. wartime aid and military presence helped to cement the “special relationship,” which Churchill referred to after the war. Although Churchill was defeated in the elections of July 1945 and a Labour Government under Clement Attlee came to power, the relationship grew stronger when Great Britain, already impoverished by the war, faced economic crisis during the winter of 1946 and 1947. The British government indicated that it could no longer carry the burden of supporting royalist forces against leftwing groups in Greece and called upon the administration of Harry S. Truman for assistance. The response was the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, providing military and economic aid to European countries.As one of the four occupying powers in postwar Germany, Great Britain worked closely with the United States during the Berlin Airlift in 1948. The British were also instrumental in securing the U.S. military commitment to the security of Europe in the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and from 1948 onward, U.S. Air Force bombers were located on British airfields. Britain actively supported the United States during the Cold War and committed 63,000 troops to the United Nations forces in the Korean War. However, British power was much diminished, and as parts of its empire gained independence, it could no longer claim to be a superpower. The Suez Crisis in 1956, in which Great Britain and Israel attacked Egypt, weakened its influence in the Middle East and strained relations with the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration. Great Britain increasingly favored Europe, joining the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973. Nonetheless, relations with the United States continued to be strong, particularly during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, respectively.
Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . Neil A. Wynn . 2015.