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A well researched although often quirky history
on August 2, 2000
Forged in War is a well researched although often quirky history of Churchill and Roosevelt during World War II. As diplomatic history, this book is a good review of the key events during the war years, including the many conferences and meetings between Churchill, Roosevelt, and sometimes Stalin. Kimball reminds the reader that during the war Britain and the United States were allies with the Soviet Union. He correctly discourages the reader from using the Cold War as a prism for viewing the decisions of high strategy made during the war, while at the same time he reviews those key wartime decisions that were so important in shaping the postwar world.
Kimball uses various unnamed sources throughout his otherwise meticulously researched book. For example on page 10 at the end of a paragraph about how postwar leaders "exploited the Churchill legend" Kimball states: "Even one of those convicted in the Watergate affair during the Nixon years adopted as his public motto a Churchill admonition not to give way "in things great or small, large or petty." On the next page he refers to: "One student of international affairs, who by 1990 had become a regular contributor to the op-ed page of the New York Times . . . ." Such references to unnamed sources leaves the reader wondering why Kimball uses such sources at all, if he can't or won't name his source.
Kimball is a talented writer although he too often inserts comments that remind the reader when he is writing-in the 1990s-and by doing so he cheapens his narrative. One example is in reference to the Yalta Conference and its influence on postwar popular culture. "Fifty years after the Big Three met in the Crimea, a supermodel, appearing in a motion picture depicting her vacuous, if remunerative, occupation, specified the place of the conference in historical memory. Searching for a stark contrast between what she did and what was truly important, she quipped: 'I mean, the worst thing that can happen to me is I break a heel and fall down. This is not Yalta, right?'" (pp. 310-311) He then refers to this broken heel later in his text. The name of the supermodel is supplied in an endnote, however the reference is a strain on the narrative. Kimball would have done much better not to include such references at all, however they are laced throughout the book.
Despite such quirks in his narrative, Kimball still manages to deliver a good review of the leaders and their strategies for winning World War II. Churchill is depicted as loveable, immature, brilliant, drunk, determined, and loyal to his country and empire. Roosevelt is shown to be shrewd, duplicitous, patrician, informal, irreverent, and equally committed to his nation's interests. FDR constantly urges Churchill to abandon his colonies in favor of self-determination for those under British rule. Churchill is adamant in his desire to maintain the empire. Kimball completed a three-volume study titled Churchill and Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence. He draws heavily on this research and includes choice quotes from the correspondence between the two wartime leaders. Kimball looks far beyond the Churchill-Roosevelt correspondence however, and gives the reader a comprehensive summary of both the Churchill-Roosevelt relationship and their independent actions as they led the world to victory over the Nazis. The book focuses on the war in Europe with fewer references to the war in Asia. Stalin is also prominent in this narrative as befits the leader of the nation who took the brunt of what Hitler's armies had to offer.
Kimball reviews all of the summit meetings of the war from the Atlantic Conference through Yalta. Churchill met with Roosevelt eleven times, with Stalin twice, and all three met on two occasions. The travel logistics and risks were enormous in these meetings, especially for the handicapped Roosevelt. Churchill too was not a young and strong man. Included among Churchill's many serious health problems is the story of when he nearly died of pneumonia after the Tehran Conference.
Kimball argues against putting excessive blame to "losing eastern Europe" at Yalta, reminding the reader that most of the postwar agreements, including the fate of eastern Europe, were already agreed to prior to Yalta. Those agreements were made with the Soviet Union when they were a desperately needed ally in the fight against Hitler. Churchill was especially worried about Stalin negotiating a separate peace with Hitler.
Even with his quirky writing style, Kimball managed to write an excellent history of Churchill, Roosevelt, and their wartime leadership that led to the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and set the foundation for the postwar world.