Books by William L. O'Neill

Released: Nov. 9, 1993

A judicious but generally somewhat lackluster history of ``the People's War.'' Although O'Neill (History/Rutgers; American High, 1986, etc.) derives his material entirely from secondary sources, he gives a nuanced and comprehensive account of the period—and also a somewhat revisionist one, particularly in his approval of FDR's policy toward the Soviet Union. O'Neill argues that no degree of advance planning could have generated terms more favorable to the West than Roosevelt managed to win, and that the President adopted a ``delicate balancing act'' toward Stalin in refusing to discuss postwar aid (with the intent of making that aid dependent on Soviet cooperation) and in keeping the atomic bomb a secret (a decision frustrated by Soviet spies). Moreover, regarding FDR's strategy prior to the entry of the US in the war, O'Neill notes ``the odd dialectic between President and people, in which FDR gave assurance he did not mean, and they pretended to believe him.'' The author believes that, in not understanding the full threat of Germany to American interests, it was ``American democracy that failed the test, not just, or even particularly, the American President.'' On the other hand, O'Neill judges American policy toward Japan harshly, contending that ``bad as America's diplomacy was, its defenses were even worse,'' and that Roosevelt's preoccupation with keeping power and with creating overlapping and confused bureaucracies caused the US to lose a year in preparing for war. But even so, O'Neill argues that FDR's highhanded style of government was crucial to his success, given the American system of government and the intensity of its partisan politics. A worthwhile history, particularly of political and military matters—but flawed somewhat by O'Neill's 1990's sensibility regarding issues of race, sex, etc., which isn't always fully sensitive to the very different mores that prevailed 50 years ago. Read full book review >