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Book review: 'The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942' by Nigel Hamilton

Masterfully researched history book credits President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a brilliant military strategist who spearheaded the Allies’ efforts against the Germans, Japanese and Italians in World War II.
Oklahoman Modified: July 3, 2014 at 7:24 pm •  Published: July 6, 2014

“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’s failures

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