Monday, August 3, 2015

Readings: FDR in Command

I have back pain, more specifically, coccyx/tailbone pain, which only subsides when I am on my back.

Reading on my back is not painful. So I read.

Now reading the "Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942" by Nigel Hamilton (2014).

Focuses on FDR as commander-in-chief.

On his unifying the disparate armed services, directing them to report directly to him.

His saying no to service chiefs who wanted him after Pearl Harbor to devote everything to the Pacific war against Japan. FDR favored a Europe First strategy, even while going forth with Midway etc, and a policy of unconditional surrender toward Japan.

He thought the defeat of Japan would not bring about the defeat of Germany, though the defeat of Germany would doom Japan.

His defying Churchill, chiefly in re Churchill's unwillingness to promise India any kind of independence. Hence Indian troops fled from the defense of Singapore and other Crown jewels. So, in fact, did English troops, much to WC's mortification, when they surrendered en masse with nary a fight to small Japanese forces.

What did Singapore etc. mean to them? The Empire? Right.

This, for FDR, contrasted with how Philippine troops, their country granted independence, sided with us against Japan.

FDR's precise estimation of MacArthur, blowhard and "braggart" as Eisenhower termed him. MacArthur wanted to be named commander-in-chief even while FDR was president. In one face-to-face, he spoke to FDR as the President politely informed him you do not talk to the President.

MacArthur apologized and heeled. But in the Philippines his whole air force was destroyed on the ground despite direct warnings the Japanese were coming. He lied about the strength of his forces as against those of the Japanese, his point being not to fight but to burnish his image.

He demanded of Philippine President Quezon that Quezon back pay him, MacArthur, millions of dollars for services rendered, this (well-documented) in the midst of a crisis in the war.

FDR, well-apprised, denied DM the titles of command he craved, and yet chose to make use of him, in somewhat the same way he made use of Churchill, another, far more necessary braggart.

(DM, when forced to fight, was good at it.)

The potential rift with Churchill was of course more significant. Winston thought American arms would not only save England but guarantee its Empire, which it was beyond him to conceive of relinquishing. FDR believed the Atlantic Charter, to which Winston was signatory, said otherwise, and did not make exception for English colonies or dominions.

So, here I am, midway [sic] through, a portrayal of FDR by a Brit historian who sees him as uncommonly astute and able to sort through massive info — including impressions of people — to make historic decisions.

Hamilton reproduces one of FDR's key fireside chats, which stands out in the plain truths about the situation it presents and neither bloviates nor talks down to Americans, while rallying them.

What Hamilton does not say but I do, is that FDR's basically successful guidance of the United States through the Depression, along with the patrician authority that was his birthright, afforded him rare credence among Americans.

And FDR knew how to extract from Republican opponents the best they had to offer. He charmed them and brought their talents on if he could.

The book ends in 1942.

I should add that in that time frame FDR judged it too soon for opening a second front in France.

He was with Churchill about that, though not necessarily with Stalin. However, as per Hamilton, when Stalin was apprised of FDR's plans to challenge Rommel in North Africa by way of an American landing, he wished that enterprise nothing less than God Bless.

The moral of the story, so far, is that in FDR we had the rare good fortune of a leader our values and power, not yet arrogant and presumptuous, deserved and required.

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