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History Corner






David Bercuson and Holger Herwig On FDR


David Bercuson and Holger Herwig, One Christmas In Washington: The Secret Meeting Between Roosevelt and Churchill That Changed the World (New York: The Overlook Press; 2005), p. 49. (American spellings retained.)


‘Like many an American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt believed that he understood foreign relations better than the starched shirts at the new Department of State building at dreary Foggy Bottom.

Like many an American president, he sought to circumvent official diplomatic channels by way of a host of special representatives to London, Berlin, Rome, Moscow, and eventually to Vichy and Madrid.


And like many an American president, Roosevelt felt that he understood and could communicate with foreign leaders better than the Department of State.
In fact, however, FDR’s foreign policy record in the 1930s was less than stellar; some critics have labeled him a closet appeaser.

He was not that, but his efforts to find the perfect balance between isolationists and interventionists often confused more than it revealed.


When British prime minister Neville Chamberlain announced in September 1938 that he would go to Munich to meet Herr Hitler, the “head of the firm,” to reach an agreement on carving up Czechoslovakia surely the high point of appeasement Roosevelt personally crafted a telegram to London with but two words: “Good man.” Such comment made mockery of the president’s bluster to Canada’s governor-general, Lord Tweedsmuir [or John Buchan, author of The Thirty-Nine Steps], that in case of war in Europe, the United States “would be in the next day”; to First Lord of the British Admiralty Duff Cooper, that America would come to the rescue “within three weeks”; and to King George VI, that the United States would be at war the minute the first German bombs fell on London.’