Sure to be the most controversial history book of the year, acclaimed historian Thomas Fleming takes a hard look at Franklin D. Roosevelt's conduct as American's commander-in-chief during World War II in "The New Dealers' War." The result is a scathing commentary that will have partisans howling in protest.
History textbooks rarely discuss the fact that during the war, the country was as divided politically as it is today. Filled with hubris after stomping Wendell Wilke, the GOP's standard-bearer in 1940, FDR proceeded to blunder the Republicans back into a governing alliance with anti-New Deal Democrats by 1942.
Fleming takes FDR to task on three major fronts. First, his maneuvering to get the United States into the war before the military buildup was complete exposed 30,000 Americans in the Pacific to death, captivity and torture and America a year of horrific losses.
Second, the New Dealers' radical policy of unconditional surrender extended the war and cost hundreds of thousands of Allied lives. Finally, Fleming contends the New Dealers were more comfortable with Stalin than the British Empire as a post-war ally, and they foolishly sought the destruction of Germany's industrial capacity.
Though the leaking of the Rainbow Five war plans was the biggest story in the firstweek of December 1941, Fleming is the first in a long time to discuss it. German documents reveal that U.S. newspaper reports that America US was planning to create a 10 million-man army to invade Europe led Hitler to declare war on the United States while it was still reeling from Pearl Harbor, rather than wait for a build-up.
Fleming engages in a bit of speculation. Although no one knows who leaked Rainbow Five, Fleming - who interviewed General Wedemeyer, the plan's author - does the Sherlock Holmes routine of eliminating all the other suspects, leaving FDR as the only logical choice. Fleming plays fair by showing his method and letting us draw our own conclusion.
While Fleming presents loads of evidence that FDR was doing his best to get America into the war, he actually debunks the theories that claim the president allowed the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor to happen.
In one of the most controversial stances in the book, Fleming takes a very critical view of the policy of unconditional surrender.
It was bought by the American public then and now, but this policy lengthened the war and caused hundreds of thousands of extra Allied casualties. FDR's announcement of the unconditional surrender policy left British Prime Minister Winston Churchill "dumbfounded," and the top U.S. military leaders, Gens. George C. Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower bitterly opposed it.
While it is speculation to suppose that allied support for the German Resistance would have made it successful, the fact is undeniable that dithering over terms of surrender in Italy gave the Germans time to reinforce and cost more than 200,000 Allied casualties.
Fleming thinks that 55 years after the fact, it might be time to cut through the wartime propaganda and take a clear-eyed look at FDR. His policies certainly aroused a stir at the time - so much so that FDR barely hung on to power within his own party and lost it in the Congress for the last term of his presidency.
Instead of wasting half a day in the theater with the inane movie, "Pearl Harbor," try "The New Dealers' War." Seeing myths exploded and sacred cows butchered is far more stimulating than video game-style special effects.