On January 1, 1942, three and a half weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China signed the Declaration of the United Nations in Washington, DC. Twenty-two smaller countries soon joined them. The document, never submitted to Congress for approval, had scant official standing. One of its four major signatories, the Soviet Union, remained aloof from the fight against Japan, although Japanese aggression had brought the United States to war (Keegan, 2005).
From the beginning, the military effort was to focus on Germany, already at war with Britain and the Soviet Union. The United States agreed in considering Germany the most dangerous member of the Axis alliance, Japan a secondary threat, and Italy (the third Axis power) militarily insignificant. The United Nations Declaration made specific reference to the principles of the Atlantic Charter, a statement of joint war aims, issued by President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in August, 1941 (Keegan, 2005). Neither a treaty nor an executive agreement, it likewise had no official standing beyond that of a press release. .For this reason, the human tendency to embody nations in their leaders seems especially appropriate and may serve as an organizing principle for this lesson (Michael, 1999).
Roosevelt clearly expected the United States to emerge from the war as the worlds strongest power and hoped to lead America away from its isolationist tendencies toward a world leadership that would not include territorial gain but would mean dominance somewhat akin to that exercised by Britain in the nineteenth century. He saw himself during the war as a mediator between Prime Minister Churchill ("the Old Tory") and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ("the Old Bolshevik"). Roosevelt’s liberal and anti-imperialist outlook notwithstanding, the United States clearly saw itself as the dominant power in the Western Hemisphere and intended to defend that position (Michael, 1999).