Defaming FDR
And other great men besides.


Conrad Black

Rather than dwelling on the falsehoods of the West or Stone accounts, I hope it is useful to recount the salient facts, so obscured have they become in cant and emotionalism. The much-maligned Roosevelt was the only leader of a major power in the Thirties not to be ashamed of: neither a totalitarian dictator (Hitler, Stalin), nor a strutting mountebank of a dictator (Mussolini), nor an appeaser of dictators (Baldwin, Chamberlain, Daladier, et al.). He warned the French not to allow German remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936, and was skeptical about Munich: He instructed his ambassador in London, the unfortunately selected Joseph Kennedy, that he could not congratulate Chamberlain on Munich, other than personally and verbally only. He warned Stalin in August 1939 not to make a non-aggression pact with Germany. He told Stalin in 1941 (a couple of months before Pearl Harbor) that the Japanese were moving their forces south to secure their oil supply in the face of the American oil embargo, which enabled Stalin to move 20 divisions from the Far East for the final and successful defense of Moscow and Leningrad.

Roosevelt was concerned that if the Western Allies did not seriously open a second front in Europe, Stalin would negotiate a separate peace with Hitler. Because Churchill and his senior generals feared becoming mired again in northeast France as in the hecatomb of World War I, Roosevelt had to enlist Stalin at the Tehran Conference to support cross-channel landings. Churchill and his staff believed that Stalin agreed to this only because he thought that such landings would distract Hitler but enable further Soviet penetration into Western Europe. This was probably true, but Roosevelt had more faith than Churchill or Stalin in the possibilities of a successful 1944 Allied landing in France, and, once again, he was right. This Ms. West decries as ignoring General Mark Clark’s advice, prompted by Churchill, to surge up the Adriatic and through the Ljubljana Gap and take Vienna. Eisenhower and Marshall advised that there was no such gap and it was a choice between Vienna and Paris. Because Churchill had generously had Austria designated a German-conquered state at Tehran, and therefore entitled to Four Power occupation like the rest of Germany but under gentler ruleswe ended up without Soviet occupation of either of those capitals.

In 1940, Germany, France, Italy, and Japan had all been in the hands of dictators hostile to the Anglo-Americans; in 1945, all were entirely, or in the case of Germany, largely, occupied by the Western armies and were brought into or back into the West as flourishing democracies and allies of the Anglo-Americans, and the Russians had taken over 90 percent of the casualties in subduing the Germans. At Yalta, Stalin pledged that there would be free elections and that the Soviets would depart from the Eastern European countries. Roosevelt was advised by his military chiefs that the carnage on Iwo Jima and Okinawa, where the U.S. took 70,000 casualties on small islands, indicated that conquering the home islands of Japan would cost a million casualties — and that he should therefore try to secure Soviet cooperation in invading Japan until they were sure atomic weapons would be effective (they were tested successfully only at Los Alamos in July, three months after Roosevelt died).

Roosevelt had said to Churchill, Anthony Eden, Henry Stimson, Archbishop Spellman, Lord Keynes, and Admiral Leahy, among others, that Stalin could be a real post-war problem. He planned to offer demilitarization of Germany (the power Stalin feared, for obvious reasons), a $6.5 billion reconstruction program, and an unspecific brandishing of atomic weapons (if they worked) as incentives to Stalin to honor his Yalta commitments on Eastern Europe. The strategic team he assembled — Truman, Marshall, Eisenhower, Acheson, Kennan, Bohlen, and others — devised the containment strategy and applied it, and their successors applied it, nine administrations of both parties, until the Soviet Union disintegrated and international Communism imploded, without a shot being exchanged between the United States and the USSR. It was the greatest and most bloodless strategic victory in the history of the world; Roosevelt’s aid to the democracies in the first two years of World War II and his strategic conduct during that war were a historic masterpiece, entirely consistent with the military direction provided by Roosevelt’s personal selections of Marshall as army chief of staff and of Eisenhower, MacArthur, and Nimitz as theater commanders.

Henry Wallace was a flake, a mad choice for vice president; FDR made such choices occasionally, as with Kennedy for London and Joseph Davies for the embassy in Moscow. Wallace opposed the Marshall Plan and opposed NATO, and opposed atomic development. If he had succeeded to the presidency, he would have done a 180-degree turn or been impeached for incompetence on such a scale that it would be deemed a high crime, and for once, the impeachers would have been correct (which they were not with Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton, who never should have been threatened with impeachment as they were). The seven terms of Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower were a golden age of the American presidency. All three had their faults, but FDR took over a completely economically and psychologically depressed country in 1933 and — as Mr. Churchill said in his parliamentary eulogy of him, FDR “raised the strength, might, and glory of the great Republic to a height never attained by any nation in history”; and his successors, both of whom he elevated from comparative obscurity, raised it higher.

These conspiratorialists are idiots: pernicious, destructive, fatuous idiots. West and Stone and Kuznick are entitled to freedom of expression, though they abuse it with their unutterable myth-making and jejune dementedness, as they hurl the vitriol of the silly and the deranged at people who should be on Mount Rushmore. The Yalta myth, inflated by Ms. West with the unfounded new flourish that Harry Hopkins was a Commie spy, like the unspeakable fraud that Truman, not Stalin, started the Cold War, is a revenance of the psycho-Roosevelte-mentia virus, like the pestilence of collaboration described by Camus in The Plague. “Only the mute effigies of great men . . . conjured up a sorry semblance of what the man had been.” That is the problem.

— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, A Matter of Principle, and the recently published Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America from Colonial Dependence to World Leadership. He can be reached at [email protected].