Sunday, February 5, 2012

Frank Costigliola's "Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances"

Frank Costigliola is professor of history at the University of Connecticut and former president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. He is the author of France and the United States and Awkward Dominion.

Costigliola applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Roosevelt's Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War, and reported the following:
Page 99:
listening to others. Stalin was a master of charm, feint, and argument. Vast distances and busy schedules, however, made meetings difficult. Roosevelt and Stalin hated flying. Along with the readiest traveler, Churchill, they often became ill after the strains of a long trip. A “summit” meeting could prove risky in terms of prestige and effort. Hence the importance of trusted envoys.

In the first eight months of 1941, five personal missions laid the foundation for the Grand Alliance. In January, Harry Hopkins flew to Britain on a six-week journey to assess Churchill as a person and as a leader. Averell Harriman arrived in London in March as Lend-Lease “Expediter” and as FDR’s personal representative to the prime minister. Both Hopkins and Harriman grew close to the Churchill family. Indeed, Harriman, U.S. Ambassador Winant, and famed radio broadcaster (“This is London”) Edward R. Murrow each developed sexual relations with a member of that family. A key figure in this network was Pamela Churchill, the twenty-one-year-old wife of Randolph Churchill, Winston and Clementine’s son. Estranged from her husband within a year of their October 1939 wedding, Pamela Churchill became a central player in an Anglo-American web of friendship, flirtation, sex, and secrets. An analogous Anglo-Soviet or Soviet-American network in Moscow would have been impossible. Instead, the Kremlin-enforced isolation of foreign diplomats and journalists ignited frustration and anger so intense that it would eventually burn through the wartime alliance. Nonetheless, Kremlin culture—and the Georgian predilections of Stalin—mandated lavish hospitality to temporary visitors, such as Roosevelt’s envoy, Hopkins. His was the fourth mission, a July flight to Moscow to foster trust and understanding between his boss and the Kremlin vozhd. The fifth was the first summit of Roosevelt and Churchill, at the Atlantic Conference off the coast of
Perhaps Ford Madox Ford had a premonition about Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances when he made his statement. Page 99, as it happens, lays out some major themes of my book. In exploring the intersections between the personal and the political relationships of top leaders, I bring new insights and perspectives to a story that we thought we knew very well already: how key players put the Grand Alliance of World War II together, how it operated, and why it fell apart. I argue that Franklin D. Roosevelt was the pivotal figure in forging the alliance and in making it work. After his death, Harry Truman and his advisers needlessly allowed the wartime alliance to slip away. Neither FDR’s death in April 1945 nor the subsequent Cold War was inevitable.

My book examines how the family and cultural backgrounds, personalities, and physical limitations of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin influenced how they dealt with vital subordinates as well as with each other. Personal dynamics helped shape the outcomes of the great wartime conference at Tehran and Yalta. Before these summits could take place, however, the personal and cultural foundations of the political/military alliance were put in place by five personal missions that took place in 1941. Page 99 outlines the nature of these meetings, including the role played by sex in building an Anglo-American network of trust, intimacy, and secrets. Quite different were the personal dynamics shaping the political perspectives of George Kennan and other Western diplomats in Moscow.
Learn more about Roosevelt's Lost Alliances at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue