Tuesday, August 4, 2015

FDR at War part 2

So, it's 1941, and England does nothing but lose battles — in Europe, the Pacific, the Middle East. Churchill won't give India a nod toward independence. Small wonder then, that his Indian troops desert him, in Singapore and elsewhere. So much for the precious Empire. Nor are even English troops much committed to the defense of Singapore as they would be, say, to the defense of London. Churchill has a hard time coming to terms with this. Roosevelt sees it clearly.

Hitler has not yet been bloodied and seems invincible.

Then Pearl Harbor, and we are at war with Japan. Hitler makes the enormous blunder of joining with Japan by declaring war on the United States. Had he not done so, it's quite possible FDR could have not have overcome American isolationism sufficiently to declare war on Germany.

The United States has a tiny army, about the size of Romania’s (can you imagine?), but is ramping up fast. FDR tours the country and witnesses our industry pumping out tanks, planes, ships at a rate far beyond all the Axis powers put together.

But what to do with this burgeoning force of arms?

Many in FDR's general staff urge a cross-channel invasion of France. Churchill knows that's folly. Hitler has 25 crack divisions waiting. FDR knows this is not the time.

Others in FDR's staff want all attention, and all resources, redirected from Europe and the Atlantic to the Pacific war against Japan. Japan, having suffered a crushing reversal at Midway, is not the threat it was but still on the move.

FDR refuses that option as well.

He will not abandon the war in the Pacific — his demand on Japan remains as from Pearl Harbor on a demand for unconditional surrender — but neither will he abandon the war in Europe.

His solution is a major landing in North Africa — not an Allied landing, an exclusively American one.

Why not allied? Why no Brits? Among other reasons there is that FDR has made a point of not warring on Vichy France, the hope being that the French forces still intact in N. Africa will not oppose America as they would have their old foe, England. And mostly, they don't.

FDR's main opposition comes from within: Marshall, Stimson etc. approach mutiny in their dissent. But FDR knows how to get his way, how to assert that at the end of the day (and as per the Constitution), he is after all, commander-in-chief.

Stalin, for all that he'd love a major offensive on the Western front, for which he accepts his allies may not be prepared, gives this initiative — codenamed TORCH—  his blessing, including his  literal God Bless. FDR, hearing Harriman's report about his meetings with Stalin, is impressed by how quickly Stalin got the point, when his own chiefs of staff had such a hard time.

Hitler is astonished. The Americans have landed in great force, leaving Germany's underbelly exposed. 

Between the Soviet defense of Stalingrad and the American landing in North Africa, the German high command begins to entertain the notion their crazed, genocidal war is going to be lost.

FDR was that rare thing, a great leader in both peace and war.


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