Franklin D. Roosevelt - America in world war ii



Roosevelt had now to decide which front should command greater attention. The British and American decision in early 1941 to concentrate first on defeating Germany came under question after Pearl Harbor. Japan, treacherous perpetrator of the sneak attack on the Pacific Fleet, loomed as much the more hated enemy in the mind of the American public. Moreover, the Japanese followed their murderous strike at Pearl Harbor with overpowering assaults on Hong Kong, Singapore, Java, Burma, and the Philippines. They seemed to be positioning themselves for further attacks on India or Australia, while in Europe Hitler was preoccupied on the Soviet front, reducing the immediate danger to the Western Allies.

Disagreement over strategic choices in Europe complicated the issue. The British, remembering the ghastly war of attrition they had fought in 1914–1918, preferred to weaken the enemy by bombing, blockading, and probing about his periphery. The Americans, reflecting the wisdom conventionally taught at West Point and Annapolis, favored an assault in massive force aimed directly at the enemy's stronghold. These differences came to a head during Churchill's visit to Washington in June 1942. The prime minister advocated delaying a massive invasion of France and undertaking instead a joint landing in North Africa, where British forces defending Egypt and the Suez lifeline to India were under heavy German pressure. The chiefs of staff of the army and navy protested to Roosevelt that the American objective should be "to force the British into acceptance of a concentrated effort against Germany, and if this proves impossible, to turn immediately to the Pacific."

The president flatly overruled his military advisers in a decision with far-reaching consequences. The North African invasion went ahead, with American troops under Dwight D. Eisenhower landing in Morocco and Algeria in November 1942. After subduing the Germans in North Africa, the combined Anglo-American force pushed on to Sicily and the Italian mainland in the summer of 1943, further delaying the invasion of France. The Pacific theater remained distinctly subordinate to the effort in Europe, though Roosevelt from time to time found it useful to discipline his British allies by threatening to renege on his Europe-first commitment.

After spectacular American naval victories over the Japanese in the Coral Sea in early May 1942 and at Midway the following month, the United States launched a counteroffensive in the Solomon Islands with an attack on Guadalcanal in August. That bloody engagement initiated a tortuous campaign of fighting up the Pacific island chains to within striking distance of the Japanese homeland. At the price of some forty-five thousand American lives, this effort was to come to a blinding climax on 6 and 9 August 1945, when American aircraft dropped atomic bombs, developed at Roosevelt's initiative, on two Japanese cities. Japan surrendered on 14 August.

In Europe, the prospective landing in France dominated Roosevelt's agenda in the early period of the war. Russia, at frightful cost, bore almost the entire brunt of Hitler's onslaught. The German invasion ultimately cost some 20 million Soviet lives, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin ardently urged his Anglo-American allies to open a second front in the west. Roosevelt promised to do so virtually from the outset, but it took him more than two years to make good on his word. In the interim, he sought to reassure Stalin about the reliability of his Western partners by declaring at Casablanca in January 1943 that he would accept nothing less than the "unconditional surrender" of the enemy. Stalin, he suggested, need not worry that Churchill and Roosevelt would cut any deals with the Fascist powers—an assurance that lost much of its credibility just a few months later when the Americans and the British entered into negotiations with the Italians over terms of surrender.

By the time Roosevelt and Churchill conferred in Quebec in August 1943, Roosevelt had clearly established himself as the dominant partner in the Anglo-American alliance. That conference, too, confirmed the spring of 1944 as the target date for the invasion of France. With that issue settled at last and with allied victory in sight, however distantly, Roosevelt began to turn his energies toward planning for the postwar era. He had already, in the opening days of American belligerency, secured the agreement of twenty-six nations, including the major allies, to the United Nations Declaration, which affirmed the principles of the Atlantic Charter. In July 1944 he convened the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. There delegates established the International Monetary Fund, to undertake global exchange-rate stabilization, and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to help rebuild the shattered world. The following month Allied representatives, including those from the Soviet Union, gathered at Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington, D.C., to draw up a charter for a permanent international peacekeeping organization.

At meetings with Churchill and Stalin in Teheran in late November 1943 and at Yalta in February 1945, Roosevelt worked to secure Soviet participation in the new organization and to bring the Soviet Union into the war against Japan when the conflict in Europe was settled. His critics later charged that he conceded too much to Stalin to achieve those goals, but he had, in fact, little choice. In Eastern and Central Europe, the Red Army stood supreme and unchallengeable. In Asia, uncertainties about the still untested atomic bomb made it seem imperative that the Soviet Union's weight be added to that of the Western Allies in order to speed Japan's surrender.

The long-awaited invasion of France finally came on D day, 6 June 1944. Within a month a million Allied troops had crossed the English Channel. After breaking out of their Normandy beach-head in August, they raced toward Germany, halted only briefly by a fierce German counterattack in the Ardennes, known as the "Battle of the Bulge," in December. The Allies crossed the Rhine in March.

Roosevelt was victorious at home as well as abroad. He had won reelection in 1944 to a fourth term (though by his smallest margin yet), defeating the youthful Republican Thomas E. Dewey by a margin of 25,606,585 votes to 22,321,018. His electoral count was 432 to 99. The fantastic scale of government spending in the war had finally wiped out the Great Depression. Ending the economic crisis had also extinguished the last sputtering flames of reform. The New Deal spirit was evident in some wartime measures, such as the creation of the Fair Employment Practices Commission, which Roosevelt established to ensure the rights of black workers, and the "G.I. Bill of Rights" of 1944, conferring enormous educational benefits on returning veterans. But the war's effect on reform was best summarized by Roosevelt himself in December 1943 when he declared that the American body politic was no longer to be ministered to by "Dr. New Deal," but by "Dr. Win-the-War." In that spirit, he dropped his exultantly New Dealish vice president, Henry Wallace, from the Democratic ticket in 1944 and replaced him with the supposedly "safer" Harry S. Truman.

On 11 April 1945, while American Marines battled on the beaches of Okinawa and American soldiers sped toward Berlin, Franklin Roosevelt was in Warm Springs, Georgia, working on the draft of a speech for Jefferson Day. His nation's arms were vindicated, his enemies were routed, his principles had everywhere been embraced by men and women of goodwill. This was his triumphal hour; but he was not to enjoy it. The next day, 12 April, he died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He had sustained his people through the bleak years of the depression and led them to victory in a nightmarish war. Even at the end, he looked to the future with characteristic buoyancy. The last words that he dictated on that spring afternoon were a fitting epitaph: "The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith."






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