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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Was FDR The Indispensable Man?

For John, BLUFBe careful playing "what if" history.  Nothing to see here; just move along.

In this last Sunday's edition of The New York Times Book Review was a review of two new books: The reviewer is Michael Beschloss.  I realize that Mr Beschloss is someone and I am nobody, but the snarky tone of the review left me cold. For example, he was totally dismissive of Vice President John "Cactus Jack" Garner.  Discussing the February 1933 assassination attempt on President Roosevelt in Miami, Florida, Mr Beschloss says:
Had Roosevelt been killed, the 32nd president of the United States would have been his running mate, Speaker John Nance Garner of Texas, a neophyte in foreign and military affairs, isolationist by instinct and deeply rooted in a Congress determined, notwithstanding the growing threats from Hitler and the imperial Japanese, to keep another president from repeating what a majority of its members considered to be Woodrow Wilson’s catastrophic mistake of needlessly dragging the nation into a distant “foreign war.”
This reminds me of a lecture I heard at the Army War College in late 1982 or early 1983, in which the speaker, a Department of Defense political appointee in the previous administration, dismissed President Reagan as being from the wrong part of the Country to understand foreign affairs.  Apparently the Gipper had spent too much time gazing out over the Pacific.  It also reminds one of the dismissal of Governor Palin, who, instead of having New York and Connecticut for neighbors had Canada and Russia.  What could she possibly know, except maybe who we shipped oil and sea food to.

Vice President Garner was a State Representative in Texas as the situation deteriorated in Mexico in the last days of the Porfirio Diaz Regime and a US Representative when insurgent Mr Francisco Madero was in San Antonio, Texas, and issued his Plan of San Luis Potosí.  And when the fighting swirled around El Paso, Texas, and the attack on Columbus, New Mexico.  There was the Ypiranga incident, wherein US intelligence agents discovered that the German merchant ship Ypiranga was carrying illegal arms to one of the sides and President Wilson ordered troops to the port of Veracruz, where there were skirmishes.  And, of course General Pershing chasing Pancho Villa all over northern Mexico, to no avail.  Not much going on in the Texas area.

But, what if President Roosevelt had died.  Perhaps then Senator Huey P Long (The Kingfish) might not have been shot and killed in 1935 and he would have run against and defeated Cactus Jack Garner and been President when war broke out in Europe and maybe again when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  The Kingfish was a comer.  That is the problem with "what if" history.  You just don't know.  I assume everyone realizes Senator Long was from Louisiana.

And, if Cactus Jack or the Kingfish had been President would there have been a Pearl Harbor in December 1941?  Would either of those men have put the kind of embargo on Japan that President Roosevelt imposed, thus inviting Japan to act when they realized their oil reserves were running out?

But, maybe Japan would have attacked anyway, because the Japanese had already, in June of 1940, declared Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and then Germany would have, as it did, declare war on the United States.  (That was dumb.)  The thing is, once the butterfly flaps its wings, you can't tell how things will unfold.

But, there is a second book, wherein the author attempts to understand what was going on in Japan that lead to the attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor and in the Philippines in 1941.

Again Mr Beschloss gets into personalities.

Suffice it to say that Japan’s people were not lucky enough to be led by a Franklin Roosevelt. Instead the Japanese leadership was a sequestered gaggle of blinkered, hallucinatory, buck-passing incompetents, who finally pushed the vacillating Emperor Hirohito into gambling on war against the United States. Hotta, an Oxford-trained Asia specialist, does an effective job of portraying the almost Keystone Kops-style decision-making in Tokyo; the cumulative effect of her narrative is chilling as we watch it march toward global tragedy despite warning after warning.
I go with the the "March toward global tragedy", but the dismissive approach to the Japanese leadership only lacked the references to bucked teeth and near-sightedness to be akin to wartime propaganda.  While it may be acceptable in New York City, to me it is not acceptable.  As readers of the Book Review we deserve better.

Regards  —  Cliff

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