An intriguing new angle to Franklin Roosevelt’s foreign policy leading up to and during World War II.
The decisive period between the German invasion of Poland and the United States’ entry into the war upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor provides rich fodder for Australian historian Fullilove (World Wide Webs: Diasporas and the International System, 2008, etc.). The author focuses on five trusted envoys sent by Roosevelt to Britain and elsewhere in Europe during this critical juncture. Their missions would help give the president a true idea of what was going on, whether Britain had the wherewithal to stand firm and what difference the U.S. could make. Trust and personal relations were key to FDR; with the death of his favored roving diplomatic envoy Edward M. House in 1938, and his relationship with ambassador to Britain Joseph Kennedy tense and mutually suspicious, FDR needed information about the darkening war in Europe, and he preferred to sidestep the State Department, which he believed to be full of “dead wood.” Under Secretary of State Sumner, Welles, a Groton prep-school crony, was chosen for the first exploration of London and Rome, muddied by Welles’ overweening ambitions but offering FDR a “colorful report” of Europe’s precarious situation. “Wild Bill” Donovan’s trip assured FDR that Britain held defensive capabilities, while Harry Hopkins’ stays in London were enormously fruitful in helping solidify relations between Churchill and Roosevelt and render possible the Lend-Lease Act. Hopkins’ extraordinary visit to Stalin after Operation Barbarossa reversed a defeatist regard about Russia’s ability to withstand the Nazi onslaught. As emissary, FDR’s choice of former GOP presidential opponent Wendell Willkie also proved terrifically astute. Fullilove’s focus is admirable, and he even wonders about the possible outcome had Roosevelt also thought to send a timely envoy to Japan.
Nicely drawn portraits by an authoritative historian.