Admiring, even romantic chronicle of the Anglo-American leaders’ warm personal relationship before and during WWII.
Newsweek managing editor Meacham (ed., Voices in Our Blood: America’s Best on the Civil Rights Movement, 2000) begins in Yalta, 1945, at a time he much later characterizes as “the true twilight” of the friendship between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The president is not well—distracted, even—and the prime minister is feeling both his and his former empire’s diminished status as the war winds to its end, with Uncle Joe Stalin and the Soviet Union on the rise. The author then goes back to 1918 and the duo’s first meeting (not recalled fondly by FDR) before swiftly, almost breathlessly moving forward to 1939 and the Nazi invasion of Poland. What ensues between the two Greatest Leaders of the Greatest Generation is much like a courtship. Churchill pursued the US’s might (albeit mostly potential at the time), seeing Roosevelt as the reluctant bride-to-be with an enviable dowry of ships, planes, materiel, and men. But FDR, though eight years Winston’s junior, was no naïve ingénue. As Meacham ably shows, he was capable of Clintonesque compartmentalizing, courting Stalin while dissembling artfully to maintain Churchill’s affections. (Assessing Roosevelt’s actual extramarital affairs, Meacham assures us that the president was interested more in romance than in sex.) Roosevelt also managed to disguise the effects of his polio and to win an unprecedented four US presidential elections. Meacham quotes liberally from the two men’s vast correspondence (some 2,000 letters) and from eyewitnesses to the 113 days they spent together. He has clearly mastered his material, though he does not comment on the long-standing controversy over whether either leader knew in advance about Pearl Harbor and concludes with the un-startling statement that the world would be different had Hitler won.
A pleasant walk over very familiar ground. (b&w photos throughout.)