This year has been set aside by the Powers That Be for a "celebration" of America's role in World War II: America's political and cultural elites are looking back on that historical moment, sixty years later, with unabashed nostalgia. It was the necessary prelude to yet another "unipolar moment," as Charles Krauthammer describes the present post-cold war position of US global dominance, the moment when America stepped out onto the world stage with both feet and buried dreaded "isolationism" seemingly forever. The construction of one more war monument memorial in Washington, what will surely turn out to be a veritable shrine to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, has recently been approved by a Republican president, and, on the cultural front, we have been barraged by a flurry of films ("Pearl Harbor"), books (The Greatest Generation), television spectaculars, and pious pronouncements from the usual suspects about the glorious greatness of America during the war years. But, so far, the party isn't going so well. . . .
The "Pearl Harbor" movie was a box-office flop, political infighting over what form the World War II monument will take has already begun; and, in a development that has restored my faith in human nature, a recent wave of historical revisionism, which exposes and debunks the mythology of the "Good War," is cresting just as the festivities reach their height. First came Robert Stinnett's Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor. The Stinnett volume shows that the President of the United States not only knew when and where the Japanese attack would take place, but also puts it in its proper context as the logical outcome of a provocative policy aimed at getting us into the European war through the Asian "back door." Stinnett's not-too-narrow focus on this linchpin event illuminates perfectly the policy of deceit that preceded our entry into the war by throwing the spotlight on the machinations behind the Pearl Harbor debacle. Now, with the publication of Thomas Fleming's (not the editor of Chronicles magazine) The New Dealers' War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and The War Within World War II (Basic Books, 2001), the entire landscape of the wartime era is lit up bright as day.
The real role of "that man in the White House" as a power-mad, pro-Soviet, warmongering Machiavellian, whose political instincts and ideology were closer to that of his buddy "Uncle Joe" Stalin than to any American politician, is here exposed by Fleming, an acclaimed historian and novelist of note. Before the Doris Kearns Goodwin Brigade goes into overdrive smearing and castigating the author, let's take a look at the book that deals a knockout punch to the myth of the "Good War" and the cult of Saint Franklin.
Fleming sets out his credo as a writer and historian in the Introduction, where he recalls that in the vestibule of his family home in the Jersey City of the 1940s, a portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt hung on the wall "where many devout Irish-Catholic families hung a portrait of the Sacred Heart of Jesus." But this essentially religious feeling of loyalty and hero-worship is "the stuff of novels, not history." The purpose of historical fiction is to entertain, and, perhaps, make a larger point about the meaning of the past and the nature of human memory. The historian's task is the exact opposite: it is "to separate history from memory" and get at the truth. "In our understanding of the cataclysm that historians call World War II, we are in the final stage of celebrating the riches of memory," he writes. "We are saluting the generation that won the titanic global conflict. There is nothing wrong with this impulse. These men and women deserve the literary and cinematic cheers we are giving them." Ah yes, "but memory," he reminds us, "is not history."
FDR's present-day idolaters, the high priests of global interventionism who burn incense at the altar of the "Good War" god, see the past through the eyes of the present the politically corrected present, that is but this, Fleming reminds us, is the province of the novelist, not the historian. In The New Dealers' War, Fleming gives us history seen through the "eyes, the voices, the hearts and minds of the men and women who lived through a particular time, as they experienced it." I must say that, as a writer, Fleming succeeds in bringing a sense of drama and immediacy to his prose like no other historian I can recall. Reading this book is like reading an expertly-consructed mystery, as the author lets clue after clue lead the reader to a final inescapable conclusion: that the "Good War" wasn't so good after all.
On December 4, 1941, the Chicago Tribune headline was blazing with extraordinary news: FDR'S WAR PLANS! The story detailed a heretofore secret document prepared by the Army and Navy in which a ten-million man army would be raised, half of which would invade Europe in 1943. The Tribune reporter, Chesly Manly, even reprinted the cover letter of the plan, a note from the President authorizing its preparation. The public outcry was deafening. This from the man who had vowed during his fight for a third term that he would "never" send American troops to fight in Europe!
You have to remember, also, that (prior to Pearl Harbor) over 80 percent of the American people opposed America getting into the war, and the anti-war America First movement was holding rallies and battling the interventionists on the floor of Congress. Roosevelt, meanwhile, was denying that his actions and words were designed to get us into war, and he reiterated his campaign pledge that the Yanks were not coming. Disillusioned by the betrayal of Versailles, and the debunking of the propaganda that got us involved in World War I, Americans were inclined to stay out of it this time: especially since the Russian Reds and their socialist siblings, the German Nazis, had turned on each other, like scorpions in a bottle, most were content to let them fight it out and, hopefully, destroy each other in the process. But back to "FDR"s War Plans". . . .
Not surprisingly, the man suspected of having leaked the super-secret "Rainbow Five" plan, General Albert C. Wedemeyer, had strong ties to America First and the anti-interventionist faction of the military. The secretary of state declared that the man who had leaked the document "had blood on his hands," and the FBI questioned Wedemeyer, and his family, getting him to admit that he attended America First meetings (out of uniform) and investigating his German-American family tree. But Wedemeyer, it turned out, was innocent: they had nothing on him, and General George C. Marshall stood up for him. Who, then, was the leaker? The probable answer is sure to surprise (if not shock) you.
Meanwhile, the "back door" to war with Japan in the Pacific was widening. Fleming details the series of provocations, punctuated by American intransigence, that disregarded the desperate last-minute efforts of the Japanese to reach a peaceful settlement including the little-known Lanikai incident, in which the President ordered the USS Lanikai, a lightly-armed vessel off the Philippine coast, to set sail for Indochina, held by the Japanese, where it would be a sitting duck for Japanese warplanes. On December 8, however, the commander of the Lanikai received a radio message telling him to come home. The war in the Pacific was already in progress, and his mission was redundant.
The big problem was now how to accomplish the final aim of FDR's war plan: provoking Germany into declaring war. Since this was the one event that Hitler most dearly wished to avoid, it was hard to see how this could be accomplished but not if you were a master strategist (and completely without any moral scruples) like Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Faced with the prospect of war with Japan, but not with Germany and Italy, the provocation he devised was incomparably clever: he would leak the "Rainbow Five" plan to the isolationist press and hope that Hitler would take his cue from there. It worked. A few days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Germany declared war in the US, citing the Tribune story as proof that FDR had been preparing for war all along. As Fleming puts it:
"Pondering this awesome problem [how to get Germany to declare war], Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to capitalize on the one huge advantage he had over his opponents, both at home and abroad. He knew, thanks to the Purple intercepts, that war with Japan was going to start in a few days, a week at most. Why not leak Rainbow Five to one of the antiwar leaders, who would undoubtedly leak it to one of the antiwar newspapers, and inspire all these angry people to fulminate against it in their most choleric fashion? When Japanese aggression exploded in their faces, they would be left speechless with embarrassment and politically neutered. But that would be a minor triumph, compared to the real purpose of the leak: to provoke Adolf Hitler into a declaration of war."
While there is as yet no absolute proof that FDR was the leaker, as Fleming admits, no other explanation fits the known facts: Wedemeyer was exonerated by the military investigation, and the claim by William Stephenson, the head of British intelligence in the US, to have concocted the plan out of whole cloth, is here debunked: "Rainbow Five" was undoubtedly a real military plan, one worked on by Wedemeyer and others, and its leakage was a major military blow to the US. Stephenson, in his book A Man Called Intrepid, furthermore claims that it was he who provided FDR with the phony maps detailing an alleged Nazi plan to invade America and this was entirely made up out of whole cloth. Fleming asks: "Would a president who had already used faked maps and concealed from Congress the truth about the naval war in the North Atlantic hesitate at one more deception?" Readers of Stinnett's Day of Deceit will also ask: would a man who sacrificed thousands of American lives and a good percentage of America's Pacific fleet hesitate to sacrifice the national security in hopes of achieving his longstanding goal of getting into the European war? The official investigation "quit" when it reached a certain point, as several military and government figures involved later admitted, and Fleming makes quite a convincing case as to why: after all, were they supposed to arrest Roosevelt for treason? If only they had. . . .
As an introduction to the character of FDR who called himself "the juggler" and insisted that, quite often, his right hand did not know (or want to know) what his left hand was doing this incident sets the scene for the rest of the book, which is a devastating indictment of the wartime President on every front. Fleming surveys the New Deal, and sees it in much the same way as John T. Flynn depicted it in his As We Go Marching, an "American" variation of national socialism or corporatism such as had arisen in Germany, Italy, and Russia: "In a world where Russia had embraced a form of state control called communism, and Germany had opted for another variety of the same nostrum, national socialism, while Italy embraced fascism, yet another variation on authoritarian rule, the New Deal's attempt to insert the government into American business on a broad and apparently permanent scale, alarmed not a few people."
This echoes the analysis not only of Flynn, but also of other Old Right critics of the New Deal such as Robert A. Taft and Senator Burton K. Wheeler, who saw FDR as a would-be American Caesar. The court-packing scheme, FDR's attempt to bend the US Supreme Court "nine old men," he called them to his will and overcome the last obstacle to his assault on the hated "economic royalists," is seen by Fleming as an act of hubris for which the President paid dearly. The GOP said relatively little, while the Democrats tore themselves apart in an internecine battle between urban New Dealers and Midwestern progressives, who were outraged at the President's bid to seize power. Conservative Republicans and Midwestern progressives of both parties came together in their opposition to FDR's brazen Caesarism, and their analysis, given short shrift by liberal historians, is here treated not only respectfully, but also seamlessly integrated into Fleming's narrative as prescient and self-evidently valid especially seen against the background of FDR as a schemer and master manipulator.
His "quarantine the aggressors" speech, given in 1937, had not resulted in any great interventionist movement, and Roosevelt had been forced to back away from his initial stance on account of overwhelming antiwar sentiment. It is "a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead and to find no one there," he confided to one of his advisors. The American people did not want to be led down the road to collectivism and war, they were resisting it every step of the way. But the President's pronounced sense of vainglory dictated that only he could "lead a unified America into war with the Axis powers, and rescue liberalism from domestic defeat," writes Fleming. "These two ideas soon became closely interwoven in his mind" and, I might add, closely interwoven in history.
It was, FDR believed, his moral duty to run for a third term. To rescue the New Deal, which had failed to solve the problem of unemployment, the second phase of the President's political program was put into operation: "The New Deal of War." War would achieve full production and damn near full collectivization. In the phrase of Harry Hopkins, the President's closest advisor, what the New Dealers wanted was "a New Deal for the world" a worldwide leveling redistribution of wealth, and a new "democratic world order." The Westerm democracies, wrote Hopkins in a memo to FDR, "must wage total war against totalitarian war. It must exceed the Nazi in fury, ruthlessness, and efficiency." Here, again, the Old Right critique of the New Deal as the "War Deal" is echoed or implied in Fleming's narrative: we would probably win the fight against national socialism in the trenches, said Rose Wilder Lane at the time, only to witness the triumph of national socialism on the home front.
The attack on Pearl Harbor produced just what our scheming President had long hoped for a nation united in its hatred of the enemy, and one in which political dissent could be crushed effortlessly. Not long after the attack, the police arrested a young man in Chicago who had been so indiscreet as to boo a newsreel shot of Roosevelt. Edwin A. Loss, Jr. was fined $200 (a hefty fine at the time) for disorderly conduct. This was the wartime zeitgeist that our present-day intellectuals love to extol: we were all "united" then, they say, and wasn't it wonderful? The only proper response is: hell no! The GOP, while issuing a statement of support for the President and the war effort, also warned against the danger of one-man or one-party rule. The GOP chairman declared that the US must not become a carbon copy of the enemy it sought to destroy: as Fleming writes, "it was the opening shot of the war within the war" a war waged by Roosevelt and his cronies against the Constitution, the American system of free enterprise, and the fundamental liberties that we were supposed to be fighting for.
I can only call attention to the highlights of this 500-page historical opus, and perhaps a better strategy would be to point out its three main themes: the "war within the war," the criminal policy of demanding unconditional surrender that resulted in discouraging and repudiating the German resistance to Hitler, and FDR's strange willingness to give the Soviets everything they wanted and more. Here is the first major history of World War II that covers, in any detail, the Great Sedition Trials of 1944, in which the administration rounded up a potpourri of antiwar opponents, branded them part of a worldwide Nazi conspiracy, and held a mass trial involving over 50 defendants, all accused of "sedition." It was the President who pressured his attorney general, Francis Biddle, a liberal, to repeat the repression of World War I, where antiwar radicals had been rounded up and thrown in jail, and mob violence had targeted German-Americans; against his better judgment, Biddle went along, after initially resisting, and Fleming shows how these trumped-up charges resulted in a farcical trial that proved such an embarrassment to the administration that it finally had to be dropped.
Then there was the internment of Japanese-Americans, which, as Fleming shows, was pushed by the most left-wing elements of the New Deal coalition, in shameless alliance with outright racists such as Rep. John Rankin of Alabama, who, in claiming that Japanese were untrustworthy unto the third generation, declared "Once a Jap, always a Jap. You can't any more regenerate a Jap than you can reverse the laws of nature." Even before Pearl Harbor, the leftist daily newspaper PM, in New York, was calling for the FBI to "crack down" in Hawaii, where many Japanese-Americans lived. After Pearl Harbor was bombed, the beloved future "Dr. Seuss," Theodore Geisel, drew racist cartoons of slanty-eyed "Japs" lining up to collect TNT at a house labeled "Honorable Fifth Column." (Incredibly, as I was writing this review, I happened to see an exhibition at the San Francisco Public Library where an entire book of these racist cartoons is proudly on display!) Another racist Geisel cartoon shows a sinister-looking Japanese holding a spyglass: the piece was entitled "Waiting for the Signal from Home." This appeared in PM days before FDR issued the order consigning Japanese-Americans to the internment camps.
Another aspect of "the war within the war" was the struggle between the populist liberalism of the New Deal and the corporate liberalism that made it possible to win the war. Fleming depicts this as a battle between the New Dealers on the left (such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Henry Wallace), and FDR's corporate allies, who saw the war as a way to rationalize their control of a command economy. "Eventually," writes Fleming, "the New Dealers would make the dismaying discovery that Franklin D. Roosevelt was no longer on their side in the war within the war." What had started out as a war against unrestrained capitalism became, in the end, a war for liberal corporativism, or corporate capitalism. This theme, taken up in 1972 by Murray N. Rothbard and Ronald Radosh in their pathbreaking book, A New History of Leviathan, is here illuminated throughout the text, an analysis that ought to evoke considerable understanding and sympathy from both sides of the political spectrum.
The most shameful and inexplicable of FDR's policies during the war was the insistence on the unconditional surrender of Germany. It was a policy fiercely opposed by the British, by the Russians, and by nearly everyone but FDR and his top advisors, who carried it out to the end with disastrous results. The idea that the Germans had to be completely destroyed, rather than merely defeated militarily; that Germany was a special case that had to be treated with special harshness; that German militarism and "Junkerism" were somehow inherent in the German character and had to be burned out of them over a long period of time, had great appeal in the top echelons of FDR's administration, and none more than the President himself. To FDR's everlasting discredit, this policy led to the complete refusal of the Allies to have anything to do with the heroic German resistance to Hitler, which, early on in the war, took root in the German high command. One would think that "Dr. Win-the-War," as FDR liked to be called, would have jumped on this opportunity to shorten the war, save millions of lives, and bring down the German war machine. Unfortunately, one would also be dead wrong. . . .
It is heartbreaking to read how the anti-Hitler faction in the German military, including highranking officers such as General Erwin Rommel, tried to negotiate with the President to no avail. He would have nothing to do with them: indeed, he issued statement after statement actively meant to discourage and demoralize them, and when they were discovered by the Gestapo and horribly murdered, the US and Great Britain could only bring themselves to gloat, declaring that this revolt by the "Junkers" was proof of Germany's doom. Furthermore, the story of the German resistance was subjected to military censorship: the order came from the top that the American people were not to be told the heroic story of these German martyrs who had given their lives in the fight against Hitler. There are no good Germans, was the policy and the point, and Americans would not be allowed to discover otherwise. The policy of unconditional surrender prolonged the war, and took many millions of lives that would otherwise have been spared and this, implies Fleming, is a war crime on a par with that of the Nazis or the Soviet massacre at Katyn Forest. After reading this book, no one can deny it.
Speaking of Katyn Forest, the mass murder committed by the Soviets in which thousands of Polish officers were slaughtered, the reality of this was disbelieved by FDR and, when it became undeniable, even to such a practiced evader as the President, was actively covered-up by him. Not only that, but FDR and his top associates took their instructions from the Kremlin as to whom was to be purged from the State Department: all the enemies of Russian communism were either gotten rid of, at the Soviet Foreign Minister's insistence, or else demoted to the nether reaches of the diplomatic service until the war's end. As Walter Duranty of the New York Times was detailing the glories of living in the "workers paradise" of Soviet Russia (and getting a Pulitzer Prize for it), millions were dying of famine but the New Dealers would not hear a bad word against their Communist allies. While the purge trials were going on, and Stalin's political opponents (and millions of ordinary non-political people) were being sent to the gulag, the attitude of the American ambassador, Joseph C. Davies, is succinctly summed up by Fleming as "see no evil, hear no evil, think no evil about Russia."
We know, today, that many of FDR's inner circle Harry Dexter White, Laughlin Currie, and others were Soviet agents, but even in this context it is hard to explain the consistently pro-Soviet attitude of the President of the United States, especially at his meetings with Stalin at Yalta and Teheran. Here FDR is shown in his absolutely worst light, denigrating Winston Churchill to win Stalin's approval, and sucking up to the Soviets so shamelessly as to be almost beyond belief. In a conversation with Stalin at Teheran, one from which Churchill was deliberately excluded, FDR remarks that what was needed in India was "reform from the bottom, somewhat on the Soviet line." When Stalin averred that India was a "complicated problem," and that such a "reform" would indeed have to mean a revolution, Fleming informs us that "Roosevelt dismissed this observation with a toss of his head, as if to say 'What's a Bolshevik upheaval or two among friends?'"
World War II is herein described as "the New Dealers' war" because they wanted it, they started it, and they profited from it. It was a war that produced, at home, a Welfare-Warfare State that so bloated and transformed the federal government that our old Republic was no longer recognizable: abroad, it resulted in the triumph of Communism in Eastern Europe and China the conquest of practically a third of the earth's surface. It was a war that gave birth to a new world war, a "cold war" that constantly threatened to turn hot, and one that also wiped out the last remnants of resistance to our policy of internationalism, which deemed that the US must from this day hence become an empire. It was the beginning of the American Century, that celebration of global hegemony first enunciated by Time magazine publisher Henry Luce and now celebrated, 60 years later, by the left and the right in pious unison. World War II is called the "Good War" but whom was it "good" for?
It was good for the New Dealers, who wanted to set up their own version of collectivism in America, and dreamed (as Harry Hopkins put it) of a "New Deal for the world." It was good for Joe Stalin, who conquered not only Eastern Europe but China and secured for him a direct line to the US government, with hundreds of agents planted in the top echelons in Washington. It was good for the corporate liberals, and the corporatist businessmen, who profited from the war both materially and politically. It was good for the Democratic party, which smeared its Republican antiwar rivals as agents of Hitler and came very close to establishing a wartime dictatorship in this country. It was good for internationalist Republicans like Wendell Wilkie the John McCain of his time (see p. 348 especially, and marvel at the remarkable parallels) who emasculated the GOP's opposition to the Welfare-Warfare State, and turned Republicans into the party of me-tooers (a legacy that bedevils them to this day).
World War II was, in short, not just a military struggle between the Allies and the Axis powers, but a war within a war a political war of the new managerial America against the old America of the Founding Fathers. But the victory of the former over the latter, while definite, was not definitive: that this book has been written, and published, is proof that the battle continues, not only in the realm of domestic politics and international affairs, but also in the realm of history and of ideas. That is the war being fought today, a battle started by the revisionist historians of the postwar era, such as Harry Elmer Barnes, Charles A. Beard, Charles Callan Tansill, and others, and carried on by Fleming and Stinnett. FDR got away, for the most part, with his schemes to drag us into the European maelstrom and snare us into collectivism but the battle for historical truth is not lost. Far from it, that struggle has just begun and a great victory has been won with the publication of The New Dealers' War, which is truly a high point in the renaissance of World War II historical revisionism. Buy this book, read it, and pass it on to your friends and then get ready for the establishment's hysterical reaction, for it will not be long in coming. . . . .
This is, by my count, the 300th edition of "Behind the Headlines," a milestone for me, and a more appropriate subject for this column the rebirth and revival of World War II revisionism cannot be imagined. For this is really the linchpin of the antiwar, anti-globalist perspective, one whose public expression has been verboten up until now, deemed so politically incorrect that it could not even be discussed by "respectable" historians and pundits. Well, now it is being discussed, FDR's idolaters are on the defensive, and the War Party's monopoly on the history of World War II has been broken. This is truly a cause for celebration, and a wonderful way to mark the 300th edition of this column. Let Doris Kearns Goodwin talk until she is blue in the face, and let the smear artists get down and dirty: it's too late to undo the damage to the myth of the "Good War." With the publication of Day of Deceit, and now The New Dealers' War, the genie is out of the bottle.
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