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  • How the West Won
  • Michael C. C. Adams (bio)
Warren F. Kimball. Forged in War: Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Second World War. New York: William Morrow, 1997. 422 pp. Illustrations, appendix, notes, bibliography, and index. $25.00.
John D. Chappell. Before the Bomb: How America Approached the End of the Pacific War. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1997. ix + 246 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, and index. $24.95.

These two volumes both describe aspects of decision making by the Western Allies in World War II. The similarities largely end there. So disparate seem the scenarios depicted by Warren F. Kimball and John D. Chappell that they might be describing separate eras—and perhaps they are. Kimball’s major focus is on the development of an English-speaking partnership that made a crucial contribution to the winning of the war in the West. Chappell, in recreating the period between VE Day and the dropping of the atomic bombs barely mentions the British; they are irrelevant. From being partners with the Americans, albeit junior ones, in Europe, the British become witnesses on the sidelines in the Pacific War. FDR’s vision of the postwar world that included considerable openness and trust between the major Allies seemingly dies with him. Winston Churchill, cut out of America’s inner counsels, piddles around manipulating politics in Greece while the Truman administration sets the stage in the Pacific for the age of the nuclear powers.

Actually, the two eras are perhaps not so disparate as they might appear. Kimball maintains that both Roosevelt and Churchill failed to plan adequately for the postwar world and thus set up the vacuum of leadership in which the atomic bombings and the inauguration of the Cold War could take place. Kimball covers much familiar ground in charting the democratic alliance. His contribution is the common sense of his judgments. The United States and Britain were not perfect allies. Each pursued its own national interests; neither was fully candid. But without their cooperation, the war could not have been won. Kimball correctly defends FDR against the charge of dragging the United States into war through aid to the Allies, especially Britain. Thoughtful Americans knew that they could not stay entirely aloof [End Page 648] from world happenings. But they hoped to avoid a ground war as long as possible by giving Britain the tools of war. Thus FDR, like so many effective American politicians, reflected the best thinking of his people and converted their wishes into reasonable actions. Lend-lease made sense for the British who, contrary to popular myth, were not bankrupt by 1940, but needed military aid to oppose a Germany dominating most of Continental Europe.

Kimball defends the strategic decisions in the European theater made by FDR and Churchill, including military operations in the Mediterranean. Although perhaps not crucial militarily, they achieved two vital aims. They convinced Stalin that he could trust the democracies and therefore did not have to make a pact with Hitler. Second, they stopped the American public demanding a switch of priorities to the Pacific and the much-hated Japanese. All of this assumes, again correctly, that the push by American brass to invade across the English Channel in 1943 was unrealistic.

Finally, Kimball sniffs at the notion of a sell-out to Stalin at Yalta. There was no way to stop the Soviets having a massive sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. FDR simply hoped that through personal influence he could encourage the Soviets to act with the broader interests of humanity in mind. In a refreshing blow to neo-Puritanism, Kimball dismisses the charge that both democratic leaders performed poorly at Yalta because they were in poor health, exacerbated by excessive use of alcohol and tobacco.

Turning to the East, Kimball is rightly hard on FDR for his day of infamy speech regarding Pearl Harbor, which fed hatred to no purpose. Surprise attack is one of the oldest tactics in warfare, much used by the U.S. army on the Indian frontier. In this sense, although he was dead by the time the atomic bombs were dropped, Roosevelt helped to create the climate for their use. He also enunciated the unconditional surrender...

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pp. 648-652
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