Earlier this week I had an early morning dentist appointment in midtown Manhattan and afterward went looking for Chartwell Booksellers, an independent bookstore founded in 1983 dedicated to selling books and ephemera related to Winston Churchill. I was only “vaguely” looking for the shop, knowing it was in the general area but not all that worried should I not see it. It did not appear and so I stopped for a quick coffee & croissant before moving on with my day. I next stopped in the public area of a skyscraper to wash my hands when, lo and behold, there was Chartwell Booksellers in the lobby. I did not buy anything but intend to go back. I took a few photographs of the shop windows and texted them to a friend in another state who has a similar interest in the period. This led to a back-and-forth text discussion of the merits and demerits of Churchill and Roosevelt. Needless to say, both men were extremely gifted and flawed individuals whose successes and failures run parallel and still resonate today. Entirely coincidentally my quick visit to the bookstore fell on the eightieth anniversary of the Placentia Bay conference in Newfoundland at which the president and prime minister discussed the war in Europe. It was less than two months after Germany’s surprise attack on the Soviet Union, their ally of nearly the previous two years. The United States was still technically neutral in the war, though earlier in the year in his January 6 address to Congress Roosevelt had laid out his idea of the Lend-Lease project in what is now known as the Four Freedoms speech.
The relationship between the United States and Great Britain during the Second World War was more fraught and complicated than most people realize even today. Hiding the fissures is what good diplomacy does. Churchill, Roosevelt, and scores of military and civilian leaders hashed out various logistics from August 9-12. On August 14 the two leaders issued the Atlantic Charter, a basic framework of principles for what both war and peace might look like. In the coming years the Atlantic Charter was often more honored in the breach than in reality. It’s not that surprising given the complexity and fluidity of a war that took the lives of sixty million people and wounded and displaced millions more. Three quarters of a century later it is still impossible to wrap one’s mind around it. Above is an extraordinary piece of material culture: a 1942 map created by cartographer and graphic designer Leslie MacDonald Gill for the British magazine “Time and Tide” with the text of the Atlantic Charter and a map of the natural resources of the “United Nations” that by then were fighting the Axis Powers. The map struck a chord with the British and American publics, so much so that the London Geographical Institute and Denoyer-Geppert Science Company of Chicago mass produced it in poster form in 1943 and sold it by the thousands. In the ensuing decades the “Time and Tide” map of the Atlantic Charter has appeared in museum exhibitions and at trade shows in London, Miami, and elsewhere. One thing I find striking is how colorful it is. I was talking to someone a few weeks ago about how we interpret the World Wars as having been in black-and-white because almost all of the photographs and moving images are such. The people of the time literally saw it differently.