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FDR, the President whom nobody knew
December 2017 / January 2018

This book should have been clearer than it was in explaining that Roosevelt extended US territorial waters from three to 1,800 miles and ordered the US Navy to attack on detection any German ship discovered in that vast area, while, through Lend-Lease, extending the British and Canadians, and later the USSR, anything they asked on very lax deferred payment terms. It was, to say the least, an idiosyncratic definition of neutrality, and those powers could not have continued in the war without it.

There is minimal presentation of the competing strategies for pursuing the war, and underestimation of British scepticism about the invasion of France. There is no mention of why Roosevelt stayed in the Soviet legation at Tehran, apart from the remoteness of the US mission (and it was Roosevelt’s emissary, Republican general Patrick Hurley, not Stalin as Dallek writes, who recommended it), in order to ensure that Stalin was lined up in advance to advocate the cross-Channel invasion rather than Churchill’s plan for attacking in the Balkans and counting on Turkey joining the war. This was a diplomatic stroke of genius, and Dallek seems completely unaware of it. The scepticism of Churchill and the chief of staff, Brooke, to the invasion persisted until about six weeks before D-Day.

Dallek doesn’t focus on British grievances that the cost of Lend-Lease was excessive (which, in all the circumstances, was rather ungrateful and which American historians generally ignore), though he does describe Roosevelt’s generosity in dealing with Britain’s straitened financial circumstances by 1944. There is no mention here that the Churchill-Stalin spheres of influence agreement (October 1944) included Hungary, and no mention — not a word — of the Battle of the Ardennes, which delayed the crossing of the Rhine by three months and cost the Americans 60,000 casualties. There is not a hint even of the existence of the European Advisory Council, which set the Allied occupation zones in Germany. There is not a word about the fate of Czechoslovakia, as it was not mentioned at either of the tripartite summit conferences or in the Churchill-Stalin agreement. Dallek ignores the fact that Roosevelt opposed any demarcation of spheres of influence or German occupation zones, because he correctly foresaw that once the Western Allies were across the Rhine, the Germans would fight with their customary ferocity in the savage war with the Russians in the East, but give way quickly in the West to put themselves in the hands of the more generous Anglo-Americans. For the same reasons, Stalin wanted the demarcation, and so did Churchill, but that was because of his concerns about the Western front and his consciousness that Britain would only have 16 divisions in Germany, to about 75 for the US, and the UK might end up with a small zone.

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