Rhetoric & Public Affairs 5.4 (2002) 765-767
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Cautious Crusade: Franklin D. Roosevelt, American Public Opinion, and the War Against Nazi Germany. By Steve Casey. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002; pp xxvi + 302. $35.00.
Despite the multitude of scholarship on Franklin D. Roosevelt, author Casey's meticulously researched book provides a new insight into Roosevelt's public stance vis-à-vis Nazi Germany. Against the backdrop of American public reluctance that initially misunderstood the danger of militaristic Germany, Roosevelt sought to carve an approach that was a step ahead of public opinion but not so far ahead as to appear inconsistent with public sentiments. While Roosevelt was concerned with the Nazi threat prior to 1941, the public was, by and large, isolationist. Even after Pearl Harbor, the public was still ignorant of what Nazism stood for. Only by 1943, when the Allies made significant progress, did Roosevelt present his demand for "unconditional surrender." Even this approach was not without criticism back home.
Initially, Roosevelt's own ambivalence regarding Germany resulted in his inability to articulate the danger of Nazism. After the Munich crisis of 1938, Roosevelt saw no reason to negotiate with Hitler, who violated every treaty he signed. In 1939 Roosevelt told the Senate Military Affairs Committee that he clearly identified Hitler's objective as "world domination." Roosevelt's initial pessimism about fighting Nazi Germany was modified after the British successes in neutralizing the French fleet as well as their ability to fend off the German Luftwaffe. Roosevelt was also confident that the Red Army would defeat the Wehrmacht. Though Roosevelt concluded already in 1938-39 that the United States would soon enter the war, he was less certain of his ability to persuade the American public of his view. Public [End Page 765] opinion, though clearly favoring the Allies' victory over Germany, did not translate hatred of Hitler to hatred of the German people. Faced with such attitudes, as well as the opinion of prominent columnists such as Walter Lippmann, Roosevelt was cautious in his public communication. He understood his job as engaging in a lengthy educational process. Roosevelt was also aware that events on the ground would be more persuasive than any of his public pronouncements.
Thus, Roosevelt maintained a public posture of impartiality while privately he planned for U.S. involvement in the war. And despite the opinions of more ardent anti-Germany White House officials such as Harold Ickes and Henry Morgenthau, in public Roosevelt pursued a cautious crusade. With the election of 1940 behind him, Roosevelt presented more decisive public statements regarding the Third Reich. The sheer increase in the frequency of references to Hitler and the Nazis was evident. In short, Roosevelt began to increase his attacks on the Nazi regime's brutal nature. While Pearl Harbor changed much in the public's understanding of the danger, the public focus shifted to the danger posed by Japan and less so by Germany. This public attitude did not sit well with Roosevelt's "Germany first" approach. Many also feared Bolshevism more than Nazism, thus advocating negotiations with Germany. Yet, while key White House officials advocated an information campaign to teach the public to hate Germany, Roosevelt still pursued a distinction between the German people and the German regime. Nazi atrocities and savagery became the focal point of the information campaign. And indeed, by spring and summer of 1942, the public began to accept the savage image of the enemy as developed by the president, and consequently that a negotiated peace was not the course of action. Now, Roosevelt could announce the start of a second front in Europe.
The book reaches a nice climax with the discussion of the politics of "unconditional surrender." The dramatic and surprising statement at the Casablanca conference of the principle of "unconditional surrender" is intriguing and enlightening. Casey develops the thesis that though several constraints stood in the background for the dramatic public statement, the immediate impetus for the policy statement was the debate over negotiations with Admiral Darlan, commander-in-chief...