Five go on a vi­tal mis­sion

Ren­dezvous with Des­tiny: How Franklin D. Roo­sevelt and Five Ex­tra­or­di­nary Men Took Amer­ica into the War and into the World

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ross Fitzger­ald

By Michael Fullilove Vik­ing, 470pp, $29.99

MICHAEL Fullilove’s su­perb ac­count of how Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt and five of his per­sonal en­voys took the US into World War II is one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing works of his­tory I have read in many years.

Fullilove, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Syd­ney­based Lowy In­sti­tute, has com­bined faultless schol­ar­ship and a cap­ti­vat­ing nar­ra­tive style to pro­duce an un­for­get­table book that spans the pe­riod from Ger­many’s in­va­sion of Poland in Septem­ber 1939 to the af­ter­math of the Ja­panese at­tack on Pearl Har­bor on De­cem­ber 7, 1941.

On June 27, 1936, Roo­sevelt, ac­cept­ing his renom­i­na­tion for the pres­i­dency, pre­sciently claimed: ‘‘ To some gen­er­a­tions much is given. Of other gen­er­a­tions much is ex­pected. This gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans has a ren­dezvous with des­tiny.’’

As Fullilove so elo­quently demon­strates, in their dif­fer­ent ways, the five pres­i­dent’s men — flawed, high-born, heavy drink­ing Sum­ner Welles; war hero and later spy­mas­ter Wil­liam ‘‘ Wild Bill’’ Dono­van; FDR’s for­mer Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial ri­val Wen­dell Wil­lkie; the long-serv­ing Averell Har­ri­man; and es­pe­cially Harry Hop­kins, that frail and un­likely con­fi­dant of Win­ston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, all kept their ren­dezvous.

With­out the in­valu­able aid of th­ese highly tal­ented en­voys, FDR ar­guably would not have been able to take a pre­vi­ously iso­la­tion­ist, anti-in­ter­ven­tion­ist and di­vided US into a united and en­er­getic war against Ger­many and Ja­pan.

Fullilove con­vinc­ingly ar­gues that, as a re­sult of its ac­tiv­i­ties and in­ter­ven­tions in World War II, the US was able to achieve a pre­em­i­nent place in world af­fairs.

Shortly be­fore Pearl Har­bor, FDR was still wedged be­tween iso­la­tion­ists and non­in­ter­ven­tion­ists who re­garded him ‘‘ as an ad­ven­turer or a traitor’’, and in­creas­ingly vo­cal in­ter­ven­tion­ists who ‘‘ re­garded him as a lag­gard’’.

All five of Roo­sevelt’s en­voys were to a greater or lesser de­gree in­volved in the events of De­cem­ber 7, 1941 — even more di­rectly than they had been in Septem­ber 1939. Fullilove puts it thus: ‘‘ Once pe­riph­eral, their mis­sions had drawn them in to the cen­tre of power.’’ The pre­vi­ous work of the ‘‘ bold five’’ from 1939 to 1941 made it so much eas­ier for congress, with only one dis­sent­ing vote, to de­clare war on Ja­pan.

With the un­flinch­ing aid of Welles, Dono­van, Har­ri­man, Wil­lkie and Hop­kins, dur­ing the pre­vi­ous two years Roo­sevelt had worn down and con­sid­er­ably marginalised his iso­la­tion­ist op­po­nents. Pearl Har­bor fin­ished them as a vi­able po­lit­i­cal force.

On De­cem­ber 8, 1941, the pres­i­dent signed a dec­la­ra­tion of war at 4.10pm in the Oval Of­fice. Bri­tain also de­clared war on Ja­pan, and its em­pire, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, fol­lowed suit. As Fullilove de­scribes it: ‘‘ Three days later, on 11 De­cem­ber, Ger­many and Italy de­clared war on the United States. The Euro­pean war was now a world war, and Amer­ica was in it. Fi­nally, Franklin Roo­sevelt was a war pres­i­dent.’’

Of all the pres­i­dent’s en­voys, it was his trusted friend Hop­kins who held pride of place. In his three mis­sions over­seas, Hop­kins helped to es­tab­lish what Fullilove use­fully terms ‘‘ the pat­tern of the tri­an­gu­lar re­la­tion­ships be­tween the United States, the United King­dom and the Soviet Union’’. As one canny op­er­a­tor ob­served: ‘‘ In­cred­i­bly, Stalin, Churchill and Roo­sevelt each trusted Hop­kins more than they trusted each other.’’

Hop­kins was the chief in­ter­me­di­ary

bet- ween Roo­sevelt and Churchill and be­tween Roo­sevelt and Stalin, ad­vis­ing them about each other’s think­ing and cur­rent needs and predica­ments while re­tain­ing the con­fi­dence of all three.

Af­ter the war, Churchill wrote that Hop­kins had been ‘‘ the most faith­ful and per­fect chan­nel of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the White House and Down­ing Street. He had also be­come a sym­bol of Amer­i­can aid to a be­sieged Bri­tain.’’

When Churchill pro­posed a toast to Hop­kins at the tri­par­tite Tehran con­fer­ence in 1943, FDR leaned over to him and said, ‘‘ Dear Harry, what would we do with­out you?’’

In mid-1941, when a Bri­tish diplo­mat ob­served Hop­kins was ‘‘ Win­ston Churchill’s white-haired boy’’, Roo­sevelt replied: ‘‘ Yes. Yes. But even more so Joe Stalin’s — we joke

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