History & Culture / Politics

Churchill and Roosevelt’s Brushes with Death Changed History

AMAC Exclusive – By – Herald Boas

FDR Roosevelt ChurchillThe two leading democratic figures of World War II, in separate incidents a year apart, came within inches of not surviving and coming to power to lead the Allies to victory in the critical global conflict only a few years later.

On December 13, 1931, Winston Churchill, then a backbench member of Parliament, was visiting New York City. He had just finished dinner and returned to his hotel when his friend New York financier Bernard Baruch, called to invite him to his nearby Manhattan townhouse for an evening meeting. On his way there, Churchill, accustomed to English automobile traffic going on the opposite side of the street, looked the wrong way while stepping off the curb, and was hit by a speeding car. Churchill was taken immediately to a hospital with very serious injuries, but he survived – barely.

Just over a year later, on February 15, 1933, President-elect Franklin Roosevelt was visiting Miami, Florida, and had just made a short speech to a large crowd which had surrounded his open car. Seeing Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who had come to Miami specifically to see the incoming president and plead for federal aid for his debt-ridden city, Roosevelt invited the mayor to sit next to him in the back seat of the car. Just then, a deranged assassin stepped out of the crowd and fired several shots at Roosevelt. Heroically, a woman named Lillian Cross who was standing next to the assassin grabbed his arm, causing him to miss the president-elect. Tragically, four others were wounded, including Cermak, who died in a hospital three weeks later. The assassin was quickly tried and eventually executed in April of 1933.

On March 4, 1933, eighteen days after the shooting, Roosevelt was inaugurated as president of the United States, declaring “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

After recovering from his injuries, Churchill returned to England. (Ironically, the governor of New York the night when he was hurt was Franklin Roosevelt!) Soon after his return and Roosevelt’s inauguration, Churchill began to speak out against a growing and ominous threat from a rearming Germany whose new leader, Adolf Hitler, had come to power on January 30, 1933.

World War II broke out on September 30, 1939 after Hitler invaded Poland from the west while Soviet Russia invaded from the east. After 24 years, Churchill was reappointed first lord of the Admiralty. A year later, as Hitler overran Europe, he became prime minister, at age 61.

Meanwhile, Roosevelt would go on to preside over the United States at time when American public opinion was against U.S. involvement in the European war. Roosevelt detested Hitler but, as he intended to run for a third term in 1940, could only respond to Churchill’s repeated pleas for help with indirect aid such as the Lend-Lease program. Had a different individual been President, even that crucial assistance might have been withheld, and Britain might well have not withstood the Nazi onslaught.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and Germany’s declaration of war on the U.S. a few days later, brought Churchill and Roosevelt together formally as allies for their epic partnership to win World War II.

This partnership, and possibly the favorable outcome of the war, would not have happened if the two men had not, by a few inches, survived their near-deaths a few years before.

Fifty years later, another leader—this time newly-inaugurated President Ronald Reagan –escaped death by inches before he went on to end the Cold War and grow the U.S. economy. Leaving the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 30, 1981, the new president was shot in the chest by a crazed young man, and rushed to a nearby hospital close to death. Surgeons saved him, but reported that if the bullet had gone another inch, it would have been fatal.

Derided by his opponents for his Hollywood movie background, Ronald Reagan subsequently played a key role (with British Minister Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II) in ending the Cold War, as well as reuniting Germany and reforming national economic policy.

Six weeks after Reagan was shot, on May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot three times by a would-be assassin in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in Rome. Although he lost much blood, he survived, but again, only narrowly. The Pope went on to be instrumental in freeing his native Poland and Eastern Europe from communism, and in ending, along with Ronald Reagan, the Cold War.

As with Churchill and Roosevelt half a century earlier, it was only an inch or so between life and death for Reagan and Pope John Paul II — yet an incalculable distance for how history played out.

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Diana Erbio
2 months ago

Interesting history! Where is that statue…may be I’ll post it at my Statue Page.

JimH
2 months ago

My opinion about FDR: With a bit more diplomacy we could have avoided our entrance into WW2 and let the European and Asian wars fight it out without the USA. Without our involvement perhaps no communist China, no Korean War, no Vietnam, no Soviet Union, no Cold War. AND most important, 600,000 American lives saved.

Yvonne Cevello
2 months ago
Reply to  JimH

And we’d all be speaking German!

Bill on the Hill
2 months ago

Herald Boas has once again hit a homerun here…I’m trying my level best to get off this computer today & this article from AMAC pops up! An interesting set of fates for all those concerned for sure… Interestingly about Churchill too is the fact he was half American being born to an American mother & a British father. I’m actually glad that Chamberlain didn’t get dragged into this story on the WWII side of it…Moving forward in time to when Reagan was shot by Hinkley (?) at very close range too boot & he survived! Mention of the ” Iron lady ” i.e. Margaret Thatcher is always good as she & Reagan got along splendidly… Pope John Paul II must have been one tough hombre to take ( 3 ) bullets & live through it back in 1981… 40 years ago now, where has the time gone? I know one thing with no uncertainty, I ain’t 28 anymore, LOL!
Bill on the Hill… :~)

JOHN
2 months ago

I am NOT a fan of FDR! Progressive agenda driven Socialist. Winston Churchill was a far superior Leader and Diplomat! FDR cozied up with Joe Stalin with the axiom of “The enemy of my enemy IS my friend” Stalin took every advantage of FDR’s lack of experience. The attack on Pearl Harbor was the rallying factor FDR NEEDED to get involved in WW2. FDR used his ill-gotten popularity and the Depression to start and pander to many Socialist Programs of dependence on Government!

Bill on the Hill
2 months ago
Reply to  JOHN

John…To think I thought I was the 1st to comment on this article, however I see you beat me by 18 minutes, LOL!
Take note in my above comment, I cleverly gave NO mention of FDR for whatever it’s worth…
I wasn’t alive in his day, however all can see the lasting effects FDR left on Federal Government social programs & all of those today that take full advantage of said gov’t subsidies, i.e. FREEBIES.
Bill on the Hill… :~)

Beth
2 months ago

Yes that is true of FDR that it was not intended to keep people down after the war a lot of women had to give up their jobs for the men to take them back but eventually women start getting in the workplace more and more it was to help people out in a very horrible time of need and after that probably several years later more and more women our tin the workplace And still this nation Thrives The democratic party at that time it’s not the radical party we have today the pandemic caused a lot of damage people were out of work for months on end did you want our country to starve and die and not have any help Donald Trump got everything startedAnd in place then this man that we have a president he’s trying to take credit for all the work that he did to get things moving it was not an easy task only a coward does that

xzimppledink
2 months ago
Reply to  Beth

dad and mom both worked at the Mare Island shipyards, they were frozen to the job. Mom hated wearing the heavy leather welding clothes and was overjoyed when she was abe to leave. Went too beatuy school, started her own shop and lived happily ever after.

xzimppledink
2 months ago
Reply to  Beth

working conditions during the WW2 time were very harsh, this generation could not relate. When I wored at the Douglas aircraft factory in 1953 there were still older women hold over from WW2 so not all the ladies actually left. I installed cockpit instruments in the F4D carrier based interceptor but was not allowed to SIT while working, had to crouch and not use the seat. Working on mobile training units I had to STAND at the workbench, not alowed to drag up a chair. Not only the women left but the men also, they quit building ships for the war. Most of the men had to find other employment, Dad took a dirty job on the ford assembly line and stayed there for 30 years

JOHN
2 months ago

Hey Bill, I see that you and I share similar perspectives to historical outcomes.
I was not born during the FDR regain but grew up in the immediate aftermath with a GIANT**?** in my head.
Keep up the education with me….

Pat
2 months ago

Thank you for this educational article as I love history.

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