In the internationally crisis-ridden late 1930s, Curtin's party split over foreign policy, but he favored extensive rearmament and moving closer to the United States for protection. When World War II began, he refused to join the coalition government headed by Sir Robert Menzies but pledged his party's support for war. On 3 October 1941, Curtin became prime minister; he remained in that post until his death almost four years later. He emphasized his country's growing autonomy from Britain by making a separate Australian declaration of war on Japan following that country's attack on Pearl Harbor. Curtin infuriated both Winston L. S. Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt by refusing to allow Australian troops returning from the Middle East to divert to Burma. He called for greater Australian reliance on the United States and, from spring 1942, worked closely with the U.S. commander in the South Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur, in demanding more British and U.S. resources for the Pacific Theater. Curtin nonetheless resented Australia's exclusion from many critical wartime decisions, and he sought to develop a Commonwealth secretariat. A heavy smoker, Curtin died of lung congestion at Canberra, Australia, on 5 July 1945.
Curtin, John. In His Own Words: John Curtin's Speeches and Writings. Ed. David Black. Bentley, Australia: Paradigm Books, Curtin University, 1995.; Day, David. John Curtin: A Life. New York: Harper Collins, 1999.; Ross, Lloyd. John Curtin: A Biography. South Melbourne, Australia: Macmillan, 1977.; Smith, Frederick T. Backroom Briefings: John Curtin's War. Ed. Clem Lloyd and Richard Hall. Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1997.; Truscott, Lucian K., Jr. The Twilight of the U.S. Cavalry: Life in the Old Army, 1917–1942. Edited and with Preface by Lucian K. Truscott III and Foreword by Edward M. Coffman. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989.