Annapolis MD Naval Institute Press (Paper), 2004. 723 pp. Index. Original hardcover edition, Harper & Row, 1987.
Eric Larrabee has written a fascinating portrait of President Franklin Roosevelt’s role in overall management of military strategy during World War II and his relationships with the military leaders of that time. Roosevelt today looms larger than life over the major events of the first half of the twentieth century in the United States. For many years he was celebrated primarily for the part he played in creating the "New Deal" that helped bring the United States out of the Great Depression in the 1930s and in creating the social safety net that has been a legacy of those times, even in the early 21st century. Less well known was the importance of Roosevelt as a military manager. As Larrabee says, there is a "misapprehension that he left the conduct of the war largely to the military."FDR was prepared for a political career with military interests. He grew up in the shadow of his cousin Theodore Roosevelt. He shared TR’s interest in the Navy, demonstrated during his eight years of service as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Josephus Daniels, President Woodrow Wilson’s Secretary of the Navy. Assistant Secretary Roosevelt learned a great deal about naval matters as he helped prepare the Navy for its rapid expansion as preparation for operations during World War I. He became personally acquainted with many of the nation’s future military leaders during this tutorial period.This book’s title and organization finds parallels in Douglas Southall Freeman’s classic Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command (1942-1944) and T. Harry Williams’s Lincoln and his Generals (1952). Larrabee has woven together Roosevelt’s dealings with flag officers in high command positions during World War II. Dealt with in sequence are George C. Marshall, Ernest J. King, General Henry H. Arnold, General Archer Vandegrift, General Douglas A. MacArthur, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Joseph W. Stilwell, and Curtis E. Lemay. The most sympathetic sketches are those of Marshall, King, Arnold, Eisenhower, Nimitz, and Stilwell. Toward General MacArthur and staff, Larrabee is scathing in several of his comments, for example, " . . .as a human being he was a shell of tarnished magnificence, a false giant attended by real pygmies." With respect to General Lemay, Larrabee provides no information on any relationship the general had with Roosevelt. It is likely there was none. Lemay was probably included merely as a device of telling how the air war progressed against Axis. Larrabee makes no secret of his disdain for Roosevelt’s shabby treatment of General Stilwell and FDR’s mishandling of China’s Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. What is truly curious is the lack of a sketch of Admiral William D. Leahy, the former Chief of Naval Operations whom Roosevelt chose as his confidant and Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.Among the virtues of this study is Larrabee’s analysis of the overall conduct of the global war, the author’s insights into the Roosevelt personality, and his clever and sometimes devious handling men of conflicting views on the war, including Winston Churchill. The weaknesses of this study are its great length and repetition of details when the author deals with multiple personalities and their overlapping careers. The Naval Institute Press has deserves kudos for republishing Eric Larrabee’s important and well written study of Roosevelt and his commanders in this new paperback edition.[The author] here assembles what, essentially, is a collection of short biographies of four army generals (George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower, Joseph Stilwell); two air force generals ("Hap" Arnold, Curtis LeMay); one marine general (A. A. Vandegrift); and two admirals (Ernest King, Chester Nimitz) all of whom oversaw the execution of Roosevelt's strategic directives during World War II. The emphasis throughout is on the relationships, direct and indirect, these officers had with the president, illustrating the premise that "more than any man FDR ran the war, and ran it well enough to deserve the gratitude of his countrymen then and since, and of those from whom he lifted the yoke of the Axis tyrannies." The book is well researched and superbly written and studded with the author's blunt opinions. Criticizing Roosevelt's China policy ("bad in conception, bad in execution"), Larrabee calls the president's treatment of Stilwell the darkest blot on his record as commander in chief. The chapter on MacArthur and his staff is especially scathing: "A false giant among real pygmies." Illustrations.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Larrabee does for World War II what T. Harry Williams did for the Civil War in his classic Lincoln and His Generals (1952). President Roosevelt was the most active Commander-in-Chief in U.S. history. He planned grand strategy, assumed leadership of the wartime alliance, and provided much of the day-by-day direction of vast armed forces. Larrabee shows how FDR brought the same formidable array of leadership skills to the nation's wartime problems as he did to its social ills detailed scrutiny, deviousness, and remorseless "informal" conferences and letters. Along the way, the author provides beautifully detailed studies of FDR's relationships with Marshall, King, Arnold, Vandegrift, MacArthur, Nimitz, Eisenhower, Stilwell, and LeMay. A delight to read, the book is as fluidly written as it is sophisticated. Recommended for most libraries. Raymond L. Puffer, U.S. Air Force History
Reviewed by William S. Dudley, Ph.D.
Former Director of Naval History