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Documentary Probes Wartime Rivalry Among Allied Leaders - 2002-05-22


In the war against Hitler, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and French General Charles de Gaulle formed a unified front. But a new documentary film making its debut on television this week shows that, behind the scenes, the men were often in bitter disagreement.

It has long been known that Roosevelt and Churchill did not have overwhelming confidence in de Gaulle. But documents recently released by the British Cabinet Office show that this dearth of confidence was actually outright distrust. Churchill bugged the phone of the French Resistance leader. On another occasion, he ordered de Gaulle arrested should he try to leave London. According to the new documentary film Allies at War, Roosevelt fully supported these decisions.

Roosevelt's grandson, Curtis Roosevelt, a former United Nations officer who grew up in the Roosevelt White House, says de Gaulle was simply not trusted. The United States and Britain wanted to win the war at all costs, he says, but de Gaulle had a different agenda. "De Gaulle's objective was to put France back on the map," he said. "He actually did accomplish this. He actually got France to be one of the four occupying powers in Germany. France was on as a permanent member of the Security Council. And yet, the fact is that France was a defeated country."

Mr. Roosevelt says the heroic status de Gaulle enjoys today in France belies the fact that, in the 1940s, he was a "political neophyte' and was not well known outside of Paris.

Executive producer of Allies at War, Stephen Segalla, agrees. But he says the most important thing about the film is the simple truth it reveals. "Even world leaders are human beings," he said. "Sometimes, for good or for ill, their personal lives and motivations and likes and dislikes and foibles, get caught up in the decision-making process."

'Allies at War' will make its debut this week on American public television. It has already aired in France, where Mr. Roosevelt now lives. He says the French were surprised to see a de Gaulle they had 'never seen before' - struggling to gain a seat at the table of power.

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