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Character Sketches

Character Sketches
Chapter 34: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Shadow of War, 1933 - 1941


Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

Hitler was regarded as a vulgar laughingstock in Germany in the 1920s, but he eventually ruled more of Europe than anyone since Napoleon.

The son of a minor Austrian bureaucrat who was over fifty years old when Adolf was born, Hitler constantly envisioned himself as a great artist, but his grades and talent were so poor that he failed to get into a Vienna art school. He later painted pictures and baked them so he could sell them for high prices as valuable works by old masters.

Hitler was a total failure until he joined the German army during World War I and became completely caught up in the German cause. Through long years of speaking in beer halls, Hitler became adept at reading audiences. His emotional, ranting speeches had great hypnotic power. Except on matters of war and politics, Hitler was totally ignorant and had banal or vicious views that he nevertheless considered the thoughts of genius.

Quote: Man has become great through struggle.Whatever goal man has reached is due to his originality plus his brutality.Through all the centuries force and power are the determining factors. (Mein Kampf, 1924)

REFERENCE: Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962).


Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965)

Churchill was a powerful British politician and statesman long before his heroic leadership against the Nazis in World War II.

Churchills father was Lord Randolph Churchill, a descendant of the seventeenth-century duke of Marlborough. Churchill later wrote a biography of his distinguished ancestor, Marlborough. His mother was an American, and he always cherished his half-American ancestry.

The brash young Churchill dashed around the remote spots of the British Empire at its height in the 1890s, seeking adventure and glory. He found it during the Boer War, and wrote dramatic accounts of how he escaped from Boers by hiding under floorboards.

Churchill became the powerful first lord of the admiralty during World War I at age thirty-nine, but the daring Gallipoli campaign in Turkey that he organized proved a disaster. Churchill then lost influence and spent much of the 1920s and 1930s as a political outcast, until the rise of Nazism gave him a new opportunity. He was stubborn and self-willed, and almost childish in his vanity and outbursts of temper. Yet he was warm-hearted, generous, courageous, and capable of strong sympathy with others. During the London blitz, he insisted on sharing the hardships of the people and often wept when he saw bombed-out houses and churches.

Quote: We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight in the fields and streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender. (Speech, 1940)

REFERENCE: William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, 2 vols. (1983, 1988).


Joseph Stalin (1879 - 1953)

Stalins name and picture were everywhere in Russia during his brutal rule, but after de-Stalinization his name and image were completely erased from the Soviet Union.

Stalins real name was Joseph Dzhugashvili. He later chose Stalin (steel) as his revolutionary name. Stalins parents sent him to a seminary to become a priest, but he joined revolutionary movements and was expelled.

At the height of his tyranny in the 1930s, Stalin exiled or killed millions of people, including even his closest associates and one of his own family members. His second wife committed suicide in 1932, leaving a letter accusing him of numerous crimes. For many years, all Soviet artists, writers, musicians, scientists, and others had to sing Stalins praises and have their work approved by him. He was suspicious, cruel, and paranoid but could exude great charm on occasion.

Quote: It may be asked how could the Soviet government have consented to conclude a non-aggression pact with such perfidiousfiends as Hitler and Ribbentrop? Was this not an error on the part of the Soviet government? No.We secured to our country peace for a year and a half and the opportunity of preparing our forces. (1941)

REFERENCE: Adam Ulam, Stalin: The Man and His Era (1973).



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