FDR Goes to War


A review


For someone who thinks Franklin Roosevelt is the man whose face should be on the dime and who should be honored with a statue on the Mall in Washington, DC, and who is duly anointed by a recent Newsweek special edition as America's best president since 1900, FDR Goes to War: How Expanded Executive Power, Spiraling National Debt, and Restricted Civil Liberties Shaped Wartime America by Henry W. Folsom, Jr. and Anita Folsom might be a good beginning for getting in touch with reality. Unfortunately, they are not the sort of people who are likely to read it. The ones who are are conservatives who are already inclined to dislike FDR. Those readers, surprising as it may seem, will be misled into believing that FDR was a good deal better than he was. One paragraph in the book, on page 244, best makes my point:

The hundreds of Soviet spies in the U.S. government, all working to influence American policy, had a potential setback in 1939 when fellow agent Whittaker Chambers quit spying for the Soviets, changed his allegiance, and told Adolf Berle in detail about some of the communist sympathizers in government. He specifically fingered [Alger] Hiss, [Lauchlin] Currie, [Harry Dexter] White and [Laurence] Duggan. An astonished Berle took notes and gave them to Marvin McIntyre, the White House secretary. Berle also told Dean Acheson. But they apparently dismissed Chambers as a crank, and nothing was done with his revelations during the war.

The characterization of what Chambers revealed and what Berle did with the information is false, and the authors have to know that it is false. Berle knew that Chambers was describing a Soviet spy network, not just "communist sympathizers," because Berle titled the notes he took "Underground Espionage Agent," which Chambers tells us in his book, 
Witness. Witness is one of the two books the authors cite for their passage. The other is Whittaker Chambers, by Sam Tanenhaus. In the latter book we learn that Berle did not keep FDR in the dark about these revelations, as the Folsoms imply. Even columnist and FDR friend and admirer Walter Winchell had been told of the allegations and he personally pressed FDR to do something about it, and FDR blew him off. The Folsoms ignore the best account of all of the Berle-Chambers meeting, though, that is by the man who set the meeting up and was also present at the meeting in Berle's DC residence. I am speaking of the Russian-born anti-Communist journalist, Isaac Don Levine. See Eyewitness to History: Memoirs and Reflections of a Foreign Correspondent for Half a Century and my article ŌFDR Winked at Soviet Espionage.Ķ From Levine we learn that Berle, the only serious anti-Communist among FDR's close advisers, took the allegations by Chambers extremely seriously and naturally took them straight to FDR personally. Berle generally had a great deal more clout with FDR than did the secretary McIntyre and he was much closer to Roosevelt than was the State Department's Acheson. On such matters, there was no one between FDR and Berle. But we learn from Levine that FDR, in effect, told Berle to go to hell and that was the end of it.

Roosevelt was fully briefed on the Soviet spy network. He was personally responsible for nothing being done about it. He also knew that these very credible allegations had been made about Alger Hiss when he took Hiss with him to Yalta to negotiate with Stalin over the future of the world.  See my
review of StalinÕs Secret Agents by M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein for some more about the consequences for policy of RooseveltÕs brushoff of Berle and Chambers, although Evans and Romerstein, like the Folsoms, fail to place the responsibility where it belongs, squarely on FDRÕs shoulders.

We might expect PBS or Newsweek to protect FDR in this way, but we really have to wonder why the Folsoms would do it. They also excuse him for his closeness to Stalin by saying that Stalin was our ally in the war. But he wasn't in 1939. Stalin and Hitler at the time were allies, having just signed their non-aggression pact, which is what precipitated Chambers' attempt to reach Roosevelt with his revelations about the spy network. He was afraid the secrets being stolen would go straight from Stalin to Hitler.

The Folsoms also are extremely easy on Roosevelt for his role in precipitating the attack on Pearl Harbor and for his and Truman's stringing out of the Pacific War needlessly, in so far as our interests are concerned, so the Soviets could get involved and spread Communism in Asia. For the former subject you'd do much better reading 
Pearl Harbor: The Story Of The Secret War by George Morgenstern.  Often denounced but never refuted, that book published in 1947 remains the definitive work on RooseveltÕs treachery on Pearl Harbor.  For the latter, the best sources I have found are The Death of James Forrestal by Cornell Simpson and a June 6, 1950 Look magazine article by Admiral Ellis M. Zacharias entitled "How We Bungled the Japanese Surrender

Finally, they share with the readers none of the very good evidence that FDR's top assistant, Harry Hopkins, was a Soviet spy. That evidence can be found in a book that the Folsoms well know about, because they cite it, 
The Venona Secrets, Exposing Soviet Espionage and America's Traitors. More evidence can be found in my article "Harry Hopkins Hosted Soviet Spy Cell."

For a much better and more honest book that deals with the same subject, see 
The New Dealers' War: FDR And The War Within World War II  by Thomas Fleming and Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World by Patrick Buchanan are better.  On Roosevelt in general, The Roosevelt Myth by John T. Flynn is more insightful.  In that vein I would also recommend Curtis DallÕs FDR: My Exploited Father-in-Law and the other books that are in my article, ŌWas Franklin Roosevelt a Communist?


Finally, if you are to read one recent book on the subject of Roosevelt and the Communists, the one to read is American Betrayal by Diana West.  It shares a shortcoming with FDR Goes to War in its treatment—or in WestÕs case, lack of treatment—of the 1939 Whittaker Chambers revelations, but as one can gather from my review of WestÕs book, it is superior in virtually every other way.


David Martin

May 31, 2016




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