The myth of the special relationship

Truman evidently took on board Churchill’s nostalgia, but managed to give him the most marvelously insensitive present. This was a photograph from the 1945 Potsdam conference. Since the photographer had been standing behind Churchill, Truman dominated the picture. All that could be seen of his British counterpart was the bald spot on the back of the prime minister’s head. ‘Truman was quite abrupt…with poor old Winston,’ wrote one British official who witnessed the meeting. ‘It was impossible not to be conscious that we are playing second fiddle.’

The British were delighted when Eisenhower became president. But when Churchill put the idea of a special relationship to Ike, Ike was unconvinced. In his diary, he described Churchill’s faith in such an arrangement as ‘almost childlike’, and dismissed it: ‘any hope of establishing such a relationship is completely fatuous’.

The problem was that, while Churchill was proposing a partnership of equals, Britain was grossly indebted to the United States and clearly entering a period of rapid decline. The evidence nourished Ike’s secretary of state, John Foster Dulles’s skepticism about the people he referred to as ‘our cousins’. ‘He had absolutely no regard for them internationally,’ recalled one of Dulles’s advisers.