A historian argues that FDR’s fascination and talent with intelligence helped make him an effective commander-in-chief during WWII.
Persico (Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial, 1994, etc.) is a Roosevelt partisan, so his text can be tendentious (FDR’s decisions are invariably correct, his rare personal failures eminently understandable—and, more forgivable, his talents unsurpassed). But Persico fills a void in WWII histories by focusing on the intelligence aspects of most of the war’s major events. He begins, of course, with Pearl Harbor, which he calls “the most stunning failure of intelligence in the country’s history, likely in the history of warfare” (the Trojan Horse excepted?). Persico argues forcefully that neither FDR nor Winston Churchill knew of the raid in advance, despite the chain of evidence that suggests they could have. Persico charts the various rises and falls of J. Edgar Hoover and the OSS’s William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan (whose successes in espionage were scattered among some daffy proposals—e.g., dropping myriad bats over Japan in the hopes that the winged creatures would terrify the populace). Persico reveals that FDR was convinced that Charles Lindbergh was a Nazi and that Churchill did not conceal any knowledge of an imminent Luftwaffe raid on Coventry to prevent the Nazis from concluding that the British had cracked the German Enigma code. He reminds us that the US rounded up and detained about 20,000 German- and Italian-Americans in addition to the 114,000 Japanese-Americans. He tells the stories of the abortive attempts by the Nazis to land spies in the US—and of the more successful USSR penetration of the Manhattan Project, from which the Soviets stole 10,000 pages of information, enough to enable them to construct their own atomic bomb. Persico twice supports FDR’s decision to do nothing dramatic to rescue Jews from the Holocaust: winning the war was the best strategy, he says.
Persico shines some light on the shadowy activities that helped the Allies achieve some of their most significant victories. (16 pages b&w illustrations, not seen)