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Immortal Meals 6#: Arguments at Tehran October 19, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

WIBT (Wish I’d been there)  moments from the Big Three Conference at Tehran in 1943 are so numerous that a casual reader would be spoilt for choice: Marshal Voroshilov dropping the Sword of Stalingrad at the worst possible moment in the ceremonials; German intelligence’s attempts to kill Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin; agreement on the United Nations; not to mention Stalin’s fear of flying. However, if Beachcombing would have been present at only one scene it would have been a dinner – one filed away in his immortal meals series – held on 29 November where Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin all sat down with a few other luminaries including Eden, Hopkins, Harrhim, Molotov and Elliot Roosevelt the President’s son. The most vivid account of the meal comes from Churchill’s pen, not least because this was his one proper stand up argument with Uncle Joe.

Stalin… indulged in a great deal of ‘teasing’ of me, which I did not at all resent until the Marshal entered in a genial manner upon a serious and even a deadly aspect of the punishment to be inflicted upon the Germans. The German General Staff, he said, must be liquidated. The whole force of Hitler’s mighty armies depended upon about fifty thousand officers and technicians. If these were rounded up and shot at the end of the war German military strength would be extirpated. On this I thought it right to say, ‘The British Parliament and public will never tolerate mass executions. Even if in war passion they allowed them to begin they would turn violently against those responsible after the first butchery had taken place. The Soviets must be under no delusion on this point.’

As Beachcombing has noted before in this place Churchill was a knight of the shires from the mid nineteenth century who had accidentally strayed into the mid twentieth. It would have been well worth seeing him lecturing a totalitarian regime on ‘the British parliament and public’.

Stalin, however, perhaps only in mischief, pursued the subject ‘Fifty thousand’, he said, ‘must be shot’. I was deeply angered, ‘I would rather’, I said, ‘be taken out into the garden here and now and be shot than sully my own and my country’s honour by such infamy.’

The meal, if Beach recalls correctly, was held in the Soviet Embassy. When Churchill offered then to have himself shot in the garden, one suspects that Stalin and Molotov were on the edge of gratefully accepting. But before they could do so Roosevelt offered an uncharacteristically gauche compromise: in his defence the President’s health had not been good in the preceding days.

[Roosevelt] had a compromise to propose. Not fifty thousand should be shot, but only forty-nine thousand. By this he hoped, no doubt, to reduce the whole matter to ridicule. Eden also made signs and gestures intended to reassure me that it was all a joke. But now Elliot Roosevelt rose in his place at the end of the table and made a speech, saying how cordially he agreed with Marshal Stalin’s plan and how sure he was that the United States Army would support it. At this intrusion I got up and left the table, walking off into the next room, which was in semi-darkness.

Churchill was always sensitive to American cozying up to the USSR, particularly when the US ignored Britain, as she systematically did at Tehran. However, help was at hand…

I had not been there a minute before hands were clapped upon my shoulders from behind, and there was Stalin, with Molotov at his side, both grinning broadly, and eagerly declaring that they were only playing, and that nothing of a very serious character had entered into their heads. Stalin has a very captivating manner when he chooses to use it, and I never saw him do so to such an extent as at this moment. Although I was not then, and am not now, fully convinced that all was chaff and there was no serious intent lurking behind, I consented to return, and the rest of the evening passed pleasantly.

Rather movingly after dinner in a private place (charm 554) Churchill told his confidantes, thinking no doubt of a newly reinvigorated Soviet Union, that there ‘might be a more bloody war’. However, he would not be there to see it. ‘I want to sleep for billion of years’. Then ‘stupendous issues are unfolding before our eyes, and we are only specks of dust, that have settled in the night on the map of the world’.

Churchill, at base, was a decent old cove, ready – one of the proofs of gentlemanly conduct – to defend his enemies while they were bleeding on the ground. Nor was this an isolated incident. When, indeed, in 1944 Morgenthau presented his plans for the pastoralization of Germany Churchill noted that ‘it was unnatural, unChristian and unnecessary’, quoting Burke’s glorious words ‘you cannot indict a nation!’

But before Beachcombing gets sentimental about the man who dragged the Empire through Gallipoli in the First World War and back into the Gold Standard in the 1920s it is worth remembering that it was Tehran where the US and the UK condemned millions of central Europeans to fifty years in the Gulag.

Beach is always on the look out for striking historical meals: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com