The Introduction to “As He Saw It” by Elliott Roosevelt

By way of background, Elliott Roosevelt is the son of President Franklin Roosevelt (commonly referred to as FDR) who led the United States of America through its most challenging period of the 20th century from the Great Depression through to World War 2, from 1933 to his passing on 12 April 1945 as the war in Europe was ending and before the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan.

Elliott Roosevelt explains why he was the only person who could give an accurate depiction of events, negotiations and deals brokered, and his own father’s viewpoints on these. I think most would agree that a loving son would faithfully seek to have his father’s vision for the world remembered accurately when events transpired which made it clear that promises were broken and that vision was not being enacted.

Introduction quoted in full, with my emphasis in bold, from “As He Saw It” by Elliot Roosevelt, 1946, Publishers Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, Third Printing, 270 pages, pp xiii – xviii.

Introduction

This will be, only incidentally, a book about the war. It is designed, more importantly, to shed some light on the peace.

The events which I propose to describe in this book, the conversations which I remember, the impressions and the incidents which have formed my present convictions, took place – roughly – from the war’s outbreak until shortly after the meeting of the Big Three at Yalta in the Crimea. At the time they took place, let me assure you, I had no intention of writing a book about them. The decision to write this book was taken more recently and impelled by urgent events. Winston Churchill’s speech at Fulton, Missouri, had a hand in this decision; the meetings of the Security Council at Hunter College in New York City and the ideas expressed at those meetings were influential; the growing stockpile of American atom bombs is a compelling factor; all the signs of growing disunity among the leading nations of the world, all the broken promises, all the renascent power politics of greedy and desperate imperialism were my spurs in this undertaking. (my emphasis)

The tempo of our times is such that our opinions are net keyed to history but to headlines. Whether we trust or distrust Russia is not conditioned by that nation’s mighty contribution to our victory in the war, still the greatest single fact of our lifetime; rather is it molded by the scare-print on the front pages of three or four days’ newspapers – newspapers often irresponsible in the past, and therefore surely doubly to be doubted in the tremulous present. Our ideas about the loan to Britain are formed in the long memory of the buzz-bombs that fell on London, nor even in the critical knowledge of continuing British austerity-meals, but in an atmosphere of uncertainty over Britain’s imperial intentions. The unity that won the ward should be, must be, a fact today, if we are to win the peace. This is simplicity itself: any thinking grade-school student can write a moving and persuasive essay on this theme. But more and more, since V-E Day, and since the atom bomb first fell, this unity has disappeared.

It is because I doubt that we have only drifted (his emphasis) away from this unity, it is because I am convinced that we are being shoved away from it, by men who should know better or – in Walter Lippmann’s phrase – “little boys playing with matches,” that I felt it important for me to write this book.

Well – and why me? What have I got to offer? After any great world upheaval like this last war, there is bound to be a great spate of books. Generals, ministers, war correspondents, all fly to the typewriter or the not-very-sharp pencil. Nevertheless, for my book I can stake out a small but still quite definite space which is wholly individual.

My qualifications begin with the biological fact of my being my father’s son. Like every privilege, this relationship had its drawbacks. I remember his telling me once about these drawbacks – it was in Hyde Park, at a time when he was still Governor of New York, a month or so before his nomination to the Presidency. He was keenly alive to the publicity that attends every action of the children of a man in public life – especially when the man has bitter political enemies. There was to be sure, little he could do or wanted to do to control our actions. He took the position that our lives were our own, to do with what we wished and what we could. I imagine that, like any father, he wanted to believe that we would stay out of jail, grow up to be responsible citizens, and be happy, successful people according to our individual lights. But he was careful to give us plenty of rope.

At any rate, taking the rough with the smooth, all the drawbacks of being a President’s son must be weighted in the balance against my second qualification for writing this book, which is that it was given to me to be present at and a witness of some of the most important meetings of the war, indeed of our lifetime. Father wanted and needed someone whom he knew well and trusted, a member of his family, if possible, to be with him whenever he was overseas for a wartime conference. This is not to suggest that he didn’t know official advisers well, or that he didn’t trust them; but with one of his sons he could wholly relax. He could talk as though he were talking out loud to himself – and he did. Of his sons, I was most often in a position to be drafted as his aide. Thus, when he first me Churchill off Newfoundland, I was attached to a reconnaissance squadron at Gander Lake, Newfoundland,; when he came to Casablanca, my outfit was operating out of Algeria; one of our headquarters bases was still in Tunisia when he came to the Near East for the Cairo and Teheran conferences. Only when he went to Yalta was I unable to be at his side.

And of course, in addition to my hours with him at these meetings, there were times during the ward when I came back stateside, once on sick leave, twice on official business, once on leave. Each time I was able to spend some nights at the White House, which meant hours of conversation with him.

As his aide, then, I sat in on most of his appointments, conversations, and conferences – military, political, diplomatic – performing the combined duties of message-taker, errand-runner and note-compiler. In this semi-official capacity I was able to listen to the give-and-take, both formal and informal, of the representatives of all the warring Allies. Churchill, Stalin, Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the Combined Chiefs of Staff, the commanding generals and admirals in every theatre and every branch of the services, Smuts, de Gaulle, Giraud, Hopkins, Robert Murphy, Molotov, the kinds of Egypt, Greece, Yugoslavia, and England, emirs and shahs, sultans and princes, premiers, ambassadors, ministers, caliphs, grand viziers – I met them at the door, ushered them in, sat down while they talked with Father – and then listened to his impressions of them, after they had gone.

And when the long conference days were over, and Father had bid his last caller good night, there was hardly an evening that we didn’t spend some hours, just the two of us, before he turned out his light to sleep, talking about what had happened that day, comparing notes, pooling impressions. Occasionally he’d question me about what I’d been doing as a photographic reconnaissance officer; more often I’d question him about anything that was troubling me, all the way from what was doing with the Second Front to what did he think of Madame Chiang. He had sufficient confidence in me to tell me the results of his bargaining with Stalin before he had told even his chiefs of staff or his Secretaries of State. Our relationship was one of great good companionship; he had come to like me, I believe, as a respected friend as well as a son.

My opportunities to witness these conferences, then, were on two levels; one as an official Presidential aide, the other as a most intimate friend to the man who was primarily responsible for the unity of the United Nations. It was on this second level that I shared his most intimate thoughts and listened to his most cherished aspirations for the world of peace to follow our military victory. I knew what conditions he predicated for the structure of world peace; I knew what conversations led to them; I knew of the bargains and promises.

And I have seen the promises violated, the conditions summarily and cynically disregarded, and the structure of the peace disavowed.

That is why I write this book. For my help I have had the official log of the various conversences, which I have supplemented from notes which I took myself, at the time, and from my memory. I have depended more on my notes than on my memory.

I am writing this, then, to you who agree with me that Franklin Roosevelt was the wartime architect of the unity of the United Nations, who agree with me that Franklin Roosevelt’s ideals and statesmanship would have been sufficient to keep that unity a vital entity during the postwar period, and who agree with me that the path he charted has been most grievously – and deliberately – forsaken.

I am writing this in the hope that it will be some service in getting us back on that path. I believe it is possible. I am fearful of the alternative.

Indeed Elliott Roosevelt was right to be fearful of the alternative, and unfortunately his heart-felt pleas were not met with a response. Perhaps there has not been another Statesman of his father’s calibre since his passing.

The implications of this are contained within my recent essay “The Conundrum Humanity Faces: But Nobody Admits“.

To understand Franklin Roosevelt’s ideals they are brilliantly articulated in his Fourth Inauguration Speech which he delivered less than 3 months before his passing.

To learn my views of on the current state of American politics you can view my prior posts on President Trump and my recent post “The Secret Sauce of American Economic Dynamism was Not Personal Greed“.

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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020

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