January 14, 1943: The Casablanca Conference begins.
Codenamed “SYMBOL”, this Allied conference was conducted in a hotel in Casablanca two months after the British-American invasion of French North Africa. Originally intended to be the first meeting of the war between the “Big Three” (Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin), the conference ended up settling with the Big Two plus the French - Churchill, Roosevelt, and Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud were the only leaders in attendance; the Russian leader was, reportedly, too occupied with his own nation’s ongoing efforts to drive out German forces. Notably, in attending the conference, Franklin Roosevelt became the first sitting American president to visit Africa and the first to leave the country during wartime. Among the issues discussed was a plan to invade the “soft underbelly of the Axis” - Italy, which would open up another front on continental Europe and hopefully relieve pressure off the Soviets. Another product of the conference was the Casablanca directive, plans for the bombing of strategic targets in Germany to be launched from Britain.
But by far the single most significant product of this conference was the Casablanca Declaration, which announced to the world that the Allies would accept nothing less from the Axis powers than unconditional surrender, a phrase Roosevelt had lifted from the American Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant. He assured that although this policy would ideally mean the end of the Axis threat forever, it was not aimed at the people of each respective nation but rather “the philosophies in those countries which are based on conquest and the subjugation of other people”.
Churchill and Stalin both disapproved of the policy, and it ended up serving as motivation for the Axis powers, now presented with two options by the Allies (total, crushing defeat and victory) to fight even harder. The Allied policy of “unconditional surrender” may have even prolonged the war in this way, and also because it was a useful propaganda tool in Axis countries. Late in the war, the Japanese made this statement, probably representative of many Axis attitudes toward unconditional surrender, to Soviet officials:
...so long as England and the United States insist upon unconditional surrender, the Japanese Empire has no alternative but to fight on with all its strength for the honor and existence of the Motherland.