FDR — from military triumph to personal tragedy

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FDR — from military triumph to personal tragedy

War and Peace: FDR’s Final Odyssey: D-Day to Yalta, 1943–1945 (FDR at War) by Nigel Hamilton, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, US $30.00, Pp 580, May 2019, ISBN 978-0544876804

French and British troops evacuated from Dunkirk in the summer of 1940 as the invasion by the German Wehrmacht seemed imminent. The situation was reversed three years later after Americans led the invasion by the Allies in the spring of 1944. In War and Peace, Nigel Hamilton argues that “Churchill was fearful, and did everything he could as prime minister and quasi commander in chief of the forces of the British Empire to postpone the landings, or sabotage the invasion elsewhere.” War and Peace is the fascinating story of how President Roosevelt held the feet of the British to the D-Day fire. Nigel Hamilton says that seventy-five years after the triumphant Allied landings in Normandy it seems a shame that FDR’s role as commander in chief should largely have been forgotten. For, more than any other single individual, it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, commanding the Armed Forces of the United States, who made D-Day happen — moreover who made the fateful decision, in person, in North Africa, over who was to lead the historic landings.

Nigel Hamilton argues that the man who had been ultimately responsible for the Allies’ war-winning strategy was unable to take full credit for it. The US commander in chief had fallen gravely ill with flu on his return from the Middle East. And he never got better — a reality his staff hid from the media. For all that he might dream, following the greatest amphibious invasion in history, of setting foot on the shores of liberated Normandy as his US chiefs of staff were able to do, it was not to be. Instead, he grew more and more sick with heart disease — more seriously ill than any but his closest confidants knew. As his heart plummeted, he was unable to focus on war. This was before D-day and the fourth election. Nigel Hamilton tells us that the president never recovered, though he survived to see at least that the war would be won –and how. As a result, though, his last year as commander in chief was the very opposite of the manner in which he had led the Allies since Pearl Harbor.

Many historians have judged Franklin Roosevelt’s military role in World War II on the basis of his final year in the White House, thus entirely misconstruing his singular, overarching contribution to the victory over the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan. Nigel Hamilton has shown not only how dire was FDR’s affliction, but also how exactly it affected his decisions and once masterly performance as commander in chief of the Western Allies in World War II after Pearl Harbor. Winston Churchill may have been a great national leader but a deeply flawed commander in chief of British Empire forces — was only too happy to take from him in literary retrospect.

Like the preceding two volumes in the series, War and Peace is also a thoroughly researched study of the last year of FDR’s leadership as the commander in chief. It provides new perspectives. It is an attempt to do justice to FDR which was denied to him by many historians. If some historians have underestimated FDR’s role, Nigel Hamilton has given him his well-deserved place in history. Nigel Hamilton shows that FDR was a far better commander in chief than he is usually thought to be and Prime Minister Winston Churchill was no match to him. Nigel Hamilton shines a light on some of FDR’s less explored accomplishments. Nigel Hamilton shows that World War II might have taken a different course if FDR were not in the driving seat. Nigel Hamilton is an impeccable and superb historian who writes like a gifted storyteller.

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