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The Atlantic Charter

Atlantic Charter, August 14, 1941

The Atlantic Charter is a legal document and one of the most famous documents in the history of the World War II. It was drafted while the British were fighting in World War II against Nazi Germany. The United States of America were not part of the war at the time and did not enter to the war until after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, but were heavily involved in supplying war equipments and money for Britain and the Soviet Union. The President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Prime minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill, met aboard the U.S. cruiser Augusta and the British warship Prince of Wales in Placentia Bay off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada on August 9-12, 1941. This historic meeting was one of the best kept secrets of the war. During these four days of meetings, they discussed and drew up a join statement of the basic principles and objectives that guided the United States and Great Britain in their alliance against the Axis powers during World War II. The statement was proclaimed to the world by President Roosevelt on August 14 and after its publication became known by the name of Atlantic Charter. It was an affirmation, as stated in the document, “of certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they based their hopes for a better future for the world.”

The Charter consisted of eight principles. In the first four points, F. D. Roosevelt and W. Churchill formed the basic principles of the international justice. First, both countries renounced to the territorial or other aggrandizement as a result of the war. This principle of no aggrandizement is a fundamental difference between the Axis powers which seek territorial aggrandizement and the United States and Great Britain, who did not. They agreed to the abandonment of the conquests and aggression policy, which was the basic principle of the security and good neighbour policy. The second principle expressed a wish to see no territorial changes without the freely-expressed consent of the people concerned and condemned interventionist policies of all kind. In other words, they condemned all territorial changes that were realized by aggression or conquest. In the third point was expressed the right of all peoples to choose their own form of government and the wish to see sovereign rights and self-government were restored to those who had been forcibly deprived of them. The form of government could not be imposed upon a nation by a foreign country, since a choice is the sovereign right of all people. The fourth point reflected the American principle of free trade. At this point they had pledged to work for all states to have access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials which were needed for their economic growth. The main importance of this principle was the elimination of restrictions on foreign trade and the suppression of monopoly of raw material. The fifth principle expressed the British and American desire of the world cooperation to secure improving of labour standards, economic advancement and social security for all. The sixth and the seventh principle were focused on world organization. In the sixth point, they expressed their wish for peace in which people of all nations could live secure within their own borders, free from fear or want. The United States and Great Britain jointly assumed the responsibility for the destruction of Nazi tyranny and for the peace, security and prosperity of the post-war world through a combination of a join economic and military force. The seventh principle proclaimed a liberty of the oceans and the high seas. According to them, peace should enable all people to travel in the oceans and the high seas of the world without impediments. In the eight and the last point, they called for the disarmament of the aggressor states and abandonment of the use of force by all nations, and the creation of a wider and permanent system of general security.

In the 1930s, the wars that were breaking out in the world seemed far away for Americans. After the World War I they were very hesitant to involve themselves in another distant war. Also the Depression made foreign policy seem remote and unimportant. The United States passed two Neutrality Acts (1935 and 1936) aimed at keeping the country out of the war. The acts prohibited any loans or credits to belligerent countries and outlawed the export of arms, ammunition or implements of war from United States to any belligerent country or travel on belligerent ships. Neutrality was the United States official policy and was confirmed in a new Neutrality Act in 1937. “Innocent peoples, innocent nations are being cruelly sacrificed to a greed for power and supremacy,” Roosevelt warned, “If these things come to pass in other parts of the world, let no one imagine that America will escape.” But most American ignored Roosevelt’s warning. They believed that the best thing to do was to isolate themselves from the outside world.

In 1939, war broke out in Europe. By the summer of 1940 Hitler’s armies had overrun all of Western Europe. Only Great Britain still resisted. America’s immediate response to the outbreak of war in Europe was President Roosevelt’s proclamation of neutrality. However, in 1940, President Roosevelt persuaded Congress to replace the Neutrality Act with cash-and-carry policy that allowed the sale of material to belligerent countries for cash as long as they arranged for the transport using their own ships. Early in 1941 the British ran out of money and Roosevelt persuaded Congress to accept the Lend Lease Act, which was passed by Congress on March 11, 1941. The Lend Lease Act gave President the powers to sell, transfer, exchange, and lend equipment to any country to help it defend itself against the Axis powers. The European allies didn't have to pay cash or arrange transportation any longer. Instead, the U.S. would demand payment at a later time. The Lend Lease was important in helping Britain to continue to fight against Hitler. And when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, Roosevelt used the Lend Lease Act to send aid to them, too. Roosevelt proceeded to produce weapons that the Allies needed to fight the war and made the U.S. in the “Arsenal of Democracy”.

In early 1941, Roosevelt sent his confidant to London to propose the first meeting between the two leaders. They decided it was prudent to meet to discuss the crisis, as well as they needed to formulate a joint strategy and to respond to growing pressure from within their own countries to declare a common purpose and they agreed to a shipboard meeting in the reaches of Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. To protect the prime minister during his dangerous ocean crossing aboard the battleship, Prince of Wales, the president insisted upon absolute secrecy. As a cover story, the White House staff was informed that the president was departing for a fishing trip aboard his yacht, but a day after beginning his holiday, Roosevelt and his confidents embarked on a heavy cruiser Augusta and set course for Newfoundland. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Churchill staged a flag day in London and managed to slip away to the Royal Navy base at Scapa Flow where he embarked aboard the battleship HMS Prince of Wales. Roosevelt and Churchill, which were travelling along with their respective staffs, met at sea off the Newfoundland coast under heavy naval protection. The leaders met each other for the first time and discussed the details of the United States serving as “the Arsenal of Democracy”, of lend-lease assistance to Britain and Russia and strategies to combat aggression by Axis powers. In the end, they jointly issued an eight-point declaration known as the Atlantic Charter, the most famous result of their meeting. Here they publicly announced that in the name of “their hopes for a better future for the world”, they wanted no territorial aggrandizement themselves, supported freedom of trade and of the seas, and respected “the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live.” By issuing the Atlantic charter, both leaders sought to delineate a contrast between themselves and their adversaries, and provide principles around which their people could rally for a crusade.

Shortly after the return of Prime Minister Churchill to London, after his interview on the high seas, met with the representatives of ten governments that supported the principles of the Atlantic Charter and pledged to assist in its implementation to the full extent of its forces. On 24 September the Soviet Union signed the declaration together with representatives of the occupied countries of Europe: Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Yugoslavia and France.

Four months after the Atlantic Charter, on 7 December 1941, the Japanese pilots attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbour in the Hawaiian Islands and the war got to all American homes. Although it lasted only two hours, the Japanese attack damaged the American Pacific fleet, destroyed the base at Pearl Harbour, sank eight battleships and killed over 2400 U.S. military personnel. The day after the attack the United States declared war with Japan, officially entering World War II. On December 11, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States. The war in Europe and the war in Asia became one war. Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States were the Allies on one side and Germany and Japan were the Axis on the other.

The Atlantic Charter was incorporated into the United Nations Declaration adopted on January 1, 1942. Roosevelt called “United Nations” to the Allies of World War II and the Declaration of United Nations was the basis of the modern UN which is the largest international organization that exists. The number of member states is 192. This organization’s stated aims are facilitating cooperation on issues as international law, peace and international security, economic and social development, human rights and the achieving of world peace. Concern for human rights was one of the main reasons for the creation of the United Nations. The atrocities and genocide of World War II contributed to creation of this new organization which should work to prevent similar tragedies in the future. In the recent years, the Atlantic Charter has been cited as a milestone in the pursuit of universal human rights.

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