It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything from the Romano Archive, which is a terrific repository of rare, high-quality color footage from the World War II era. However, I happened to notice the above clip, which is a collection of shots of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt conferring with various heads of state from the Islamic world, most notably King Farouk of Egypt and Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. This very rare footage was shot in February 1945 as Roosevelt made a foreign trip on the way home from the Yalta Conference which had occurred a few days later.
This interesting footage is timely to review because this week marks the 70th anniversary of the Yalta Conference, where Roosevelt met with the other Allied war leaders, Winston Churchill of the UK and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union. Where the previous “Big Three” conference in Tehran in November 1943 yielded a clear direction for the Allies in winning the war and at least a hint of what the postwar order would look like, the legacy of Yalta is much more mixed. Roosevelt has been criticized for “giving away” too much, especially Poland, to Stalin; I’m not sure I agree with these criticisms given the situation with which Roosevelt was presented at the time. Also remember he was dying. You can plainly see in this footage that he’s quite ill, barely moving at all as the foreign leaders come to him. In a little less than two months he was dead, leaving Harry Truman to finish what he started.
In researching this article I happened to come across the following photo, which was taken at the same time as the footage above.
This was taken aboard the USS Quincy, and the man in the burnoose to Roosevelt’s left (you see him in the video at 3:18, and a much clearer shot at 3:41) is King Ibn Saud. This meeting between Saud and Roosevelt–the first-ever conference between a Saudi ruler and a President of the United States–was extremely fateful in world history. Beginning with this brief conference, 70 years ago this week, the United States maintained a special strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia which continues to this day. Now with the succession of the Saudi throne in the news, and the wisdom of our alliance with the Saudis continually tested by events like the September 11 attacks, the legacy of Roosevelt is more pertinent than ever. History does matter. In this clip you can see it happen–you don’t often get that chance.