“The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942” by Nigel Hamilton (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 528 pages, in stores)
Nigel Hamilton’s explosive insight into people, events and the raw power that killed the worldwide plans of conquest envisioned by the Germans, Japanese and Italy rattled this reviewer’s long-held assumptions of World War II.
Hamilton credits President Franklin Delano Roosevelt with personally planning strategies that dealt major combat defeats to Japan’s Tojo and Germany’s Hitler within 10 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Unraveling the popular legacies of figures such as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Gens. Douglas MacArthur and George Marshall, Hamilton gathered massive evidence to support FDR’s winning battles.
Hamilton writes that Stimson, a Republican, was at one point “sailing close to sedition” in opposing his boss, the nation’s commander-in-chief.
Worse, Hamilton charges, Republicans were undermining FDR’s war efforts although Roosevelt was attempting to portray the fight as a bipartisan effort.
Hamilton, who once was a guest in Churchill’s home, candidly reveals that embarrassing mistakes of the British prime minister were omitted from his six-volume memoirs. Unfortunately, Roosevelt died before an FDR autobiography was possible, but Hamilton’s book may help repair the loss. This book delves deep into history and pulls no punches.
On Feb. 12, 1942, Republican nominee Wendell Willkie, whom Roosevelt had defeated in 1940, declared that FDR should abandon his constitutional responsibility as commander-in-chief and appoint MacArthur to the post.
One day later, MacArthur secretly extracted a $500,000 bribe from the president of the Philippines, the country that MacArthur’s command had just lost to Japanese invaders.
Recognizing MacArthur’s popularity, FDR banished the general instead of prosecuting him. MacArthur was given command of only part of the Pacific Theater under FDR’s handpicked “Supreme Commander of the Pacific,” Adm. Chester Nimitz.
Cracking the enemy’s radio code, Nimitz adroitly ordered the historic June 4, 1942, one-day “Battle of Midway” that sank four Japanese aircraft carriers, including the Akagi, the ship that six months earlier had launched the Pearl Harbor air attack. Having lost a quarter of its pilots, Japan’s naval dominance of the Pacific was over, and America had gained revenge.
Hamilton squarely credits FDR with conceiving Col. James Doolittle’s April 18, 1942, bombing of Tokyo by B-25 bombers flying from an aircraft carrier. Less than five months after the Pearl Harbor attack, Japan’s invincibility was shattered. Stimson had opposed the Doolittle raid but admitted in his diary that it had “a wholesome effect” on Japanese sentiment.
Despite the determined three-year rampage that was continued by the Japanese Imperial forces, FDR argued with his military leaders and Republicans that the United States should concentrate first on defeating Hitler, then mop up the Japanese.
Churchill, U.S. generals and Stimson championed a 1942 invasion of Europe. Recognizing the well-placed Nazi defenses and lacking ample weapons and trained forces, Roosevelt opposed and virtually vetoed the early attack.
The British prime minister, whose long record of losing battles is outlined in this book, was an eloquent champion of his personal, often mistaken views. Hamilton depicts FDR as accusing Churchill of caring more about preserving the British Empire than defeating Nazi Germany.
Churchill’s defiance reached its greatest height when he adamantly refused FDR’s suggestion that granting India independence would inspire its troops to more heartily fight the Japanese to save their homeland.
The prime minister was determined to preserve the “empire” — which soon would crumble.
The book describes how troops of the British Empire wilted in several battles, including 45,000 Indian soldiers who quickly surrendered to invading Japanese at Singapore. Churchill found the losses inexplicable and disgraceful despite his own World War I debacle at Gallipoli.
After delaying an invasion of Europe until America’s war machinery manufactured ample arms for the job, FDR stood virtually alone against his own military leaders in hatching the plan to invade Northwest Africa. He championed the invasion as gaining a “second front” against the Germans and Italians, plus providing a second launching pad for the invasion of Europe.
Stimson and Marshall adamantly opposed the strategy. The author suggests Stimson leaked news stories to undermine his commander-in-chief’s ideas, seemingly discounting the eight years FDR was assistant Navy secretary.
Nonetheless, FDR’s African invasion was an astounding victory with Gens. Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton, two of the Democratic president’s favorites, in key roles in the detailed planning and leadership.
The American invasion of western Africa came shortly after British forces led by Gen. Bernard Montgomery in east Africa had repelled Gen. Erwin Rommel’s Panzer Army in Egypt. This reviewer recently visited the graveyards of El Alamein and saw many, many Australian and New Zealand and a few English hometowns on acres of tombstones.
At the end, Hamilton promises a sequel revealing FDR’s “global strategy that will defeat Hitler and the Japanese.”
The 11 months this book covers required 48 pages of references and notes that reflect telling interviews, rich academic research and scholarship. The 445 pages of text are well-written with an intimacy that FDR, had he lived past April 12, 1945, and the war’s Aug. 15 end, may have penned as his autobiography.
The first 11 months of America’s part in the war also is a stunning revelation of how the counter thrusts of 26 nations were hammered together by Roosevelt to defeat Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini in 45 bloody months.
— Joseph H. Carter Sr., for The Oklahoman