IN AUGUST 1942, Churchill and Stalin met for the first time. That event was the least discussed and yet perhaps the most important among the many “summits” of the Second World War.
The entire history of World War II proves the then-supreme importance of great national leaders and of their relationships. How contrary this is to the widely accepted and trusted idea: that history and politics and societies are governed by economic and “material factors,” that the primary importance of individual persons belongs (if it ever belonged) to earlier ages. The entire history of the Second World War denies this. Its course was set by Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. Without Churchill: Hitler may have won. Without Roosevelt: Churchill may not have prevailed. Without Stalin: Churchill and Roosevelt may not have been capable of entirely conquering Hitler.
As the war dragged on, summit followed summit. From 1934 to 1944, Hitler and Mussolini met ten times, but none of their meetings was very consequential—mostly because after 1937 Hitler had the upper hand; Mussolini could not sway him. Churchill and Roosevelt had met first in 1918, neither of them heads of their governments then; Churchill forgot that encounter (this disappointed Roosevelt in 1940). They met twice in 1941, 1942 and 1943, and in 1944 once, almost always in the United States. They sat down together with Stalin two times (the so-called three-man conferences), in 1943 (Tehran) and in 1945 (Yalta). In July 1945, Stalin met Churchill and Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman, in Potsdam.