Always fiercely contested on matters of domestic policy, Franklin Roosevelt faced even more opposition when it came to international relations. His first two terms in office coincided with the rise of a powerful isolationist movement that urged the government not to involve itself in foreign entanglements. That movement, coupled with strongly anti-British sentiment that owed much to America's large Irish and German populations, hampered Roosevelt's efforts to set the nation on the side of England when it became apparent in the late 1930s that a European war loomed.
To placate his opposition, Thomas Fleming charges in The New Dealers' War, Roosevelt promised "that he would never send American soldiers to fight beyond America's shores." Yet, Fleming continues, on December 4, 1941, the Chicago Tribune revealed the existence of elaborate war plans involving the landing of an American force 5 million strong in Europe by 1943. The revelation gave isolationists fits, of course, but their criticism was effectively silenced three days later when a Japanese force attacked Hawaii. In declaring war on Japan and its allies, Roosevelt's New Deal administration imposed what Fleming considers to have been an unreasonable demand for the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. That demand, he believes, compromised internal resistance to the enemy regimes. Its prosecution also legitimized the use of what Fleming calls "hateful tactics" such as the bombing of civilian targets and the use of nuclear weapons.
Fleming's revisionist study will be of greatest interest to those already inclined to the view that Franklin Roosevelt tricked his country into fighting Fascism. Other readers may take issue with his ad hominem, ideological arguments. Either way, his provocative thesis is sure to promote debate. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Fleming, who previously endeavored to rehabilitate the villainous Aaron Burr in Duel, now attempts even more absurd revisionism. Franklin Roosevelt has been lauded by most historians most brilliantly by Eric Larrabee in his book Commander in Chief (1987) as a shrewd political and military strategist who conducted both aspects of WWII with great guile, wit and efficiency. Fleming, however, portrays FDR as an inefficient and oafish warmonger spoiling for battle amid world political, economic and social tensions he did not understand. Fleming revives the well-worn canard that FDR wanted, needed and invited the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Then he quibbles with the notions of "unconditional surrender" and "total war" imposed on the Axis powers, speculating that some compromise should have been reached. Fleming fails to see what Roosevelt and Churchill (who called him "the most skilled strategist of all") clearly did that Hitler and his allies represented not just standard political and military aggression but a new dark age. Fleming implies that Stalin posed an even larger threat to culture and history, but that the left-wingers of Roosevelt's New Deal government were not disposed to see his evil. In truth, Roosevelt had few illusions when it came to the Soviets. Realizing their potential to be either formidable foes or formidable friends, he chose the latter at the same time reminding the sometimes disapproving Churchill that one occasionally needed to fight fire with fire. Photos not seen by PW. (May 1) Forecast: The controversy that will undoubtedly ensue on this book's publication should drive sales up.
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