The Washington War

ust lucky they did not have Twitter in those days. We think of Roosevelt time and just after World War II as a golden age of American diplomacy and cooperation, and it really was probably the best time ever, but like most good times, it is a better story today than it was lived.

The “Washington War” covers the rivalries and sometimes the outright hatred among the men we nevertheless cooperated enough to win the greatest war in human history.

I have read dozens of books about this period. Most of them are Roosevelt-centric. It is hard not to be. He is the sun around which all the others orbit. But others also had agency. Roosevelt was the decider, but others set up his choices. This book does an excellent job of talking about the complexities of the relationships.

Another think the author does well is to convey the contingency of history. We won the war and now it seems inevitable. In 1942, however, is sure was not a done deal. Things could have happened to produce a different result.

The thing that struck me most, however, was his discussion of the Morgenthau Plan. Of course, I studied it in history classes, but I thought of it mostly as a plan to partition Germany. I was only vaguely aware of its harsher aspects. It was a fatalistically cruel proposal, that would have resulted in the starvation or forced removal of tens of thousands of civilians. It is good to be reminded of the great hatreds that war engenders.

What saved Germany, and probably Europe was, maybe ironically, the Soviet threat. Decision-makers understood that destroying all German power would essentially invite Stalin into the middle of Europe. Stalin was ostensibly an ally, but most informed people understood already that he was a bloodthirsty tyrant on par with Hitler. It would not do to destroy one horrible totalitarian only to strengthen another.

“The Washington War” complemented the biography of George C Marshall that I finished a couple weeks ago. In fact, I got this book because it was recommended by Amazon as “readers also liked”. It is an interesting time to study.

As I said up top, it is lucky they did not have Twitter. FDR and lots of these great men had lots of hare-brained ideas. Fortunately, they floated them among themselves and they never got into the general circulation. Today’s leaders rarely have an unexpressed thought. Not good.

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