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Rendezvous with Destiny

The untold story of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the five extraordinary men he used to pull America into World War II.

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Review by Dennis Showalter

President Franklin Roosevelt had a strong penchant for the personal in his approaches to both domestic and foreign policy. He ignored protocols, sought talent where it was to be found, and enjoyed setting his advisors against each other to test their ideas and keep authority centered on his person. By the spring of 1940 Roosevelt was convinced that America must participate in the developing world war—or at the very least must prepare to defend its vital interests. The official institutions most involved, Congress and the State Department, were conflicted. In Roosevelt’s opinion the State Department was a retirement center for stuffed shirts and bloviators. Public opinion and the media were no more willing to rush into replicating what was still widely regarded as the mistake of 1917. Further complicating the situation was Roosevelt’s determination to seek an unprecedented third term as President.

FDR responded by calling on five men to act as his “investigators, surrogates, and symbols” in Europe. Fullilove, an Australian scholar, is an established authority in the fields of foreign policy and international relations. He combines comprehensive archival research and sophisticated use of published sources in this study of the personal dimension of America’s entry into World War II.

First in the President’s queue was Sumner Welles, who toured the warring capitals in the first months of 1940. Fullilove credits this often-criticized mission with providing a coherent report on the situation—a report informed by direct access to Hitler and Mussolini. This was the foundation for Roosevelt’s successive dispatching of “Wild Bill" Donovan to London and Harry Hopkins to Moscow after, respectively, Dunkirk and Barbarossa. Their reports were critical in Roosevelt’s decisions to aid Britain and the USSR, in both cases against strong domestic opposition. In January-February and again in July 1941, Hopkins acted as a surrogate, initiating stronger personal relationships between Roosevelt on one hand, Churchill and Stalin on the other.

Fourth on Roosevelt’s list of contact men was Wendell Willkie. Titular head of the Republican Party, his presence in London in January-February 1941 helped focus American minds on the war and strengthen Allied morale. W. Averill Harriman covered Africa and the Middle East as well as London in spring and summer 1941, expediting the Lend-Lease program and establishing the basis for his own distinguished diplomatic career.

Fullilove makes the point that these envoys provided firsthand perspectives Roosevelt was not in a position to acquire himself. They played as well a major symbolic function: living evidence of America’s growing commitment to aiding the Allies during one of the war’s darkest periods. With wide briefs from the President, FDR’s envoys brought a flair and an energy to their work that eclipsed the official diplomatic system. But the key to their effectiveness was FDR. The President used his envoys with board-game mastery. Sometimes they influenced his thinking. Other times they expressed his will. But this informal “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” was a catalyst for bringing America into the war—and into the world the war created.

Dennis Showalter has taught history at Colorado College since 1969 and is a former president of the Society for Military History. He also served as distinguished visiting professor at both the United States Military Academy and the United States Air Force Academy. His book Tannenberg won the prestigious Paul Birdsall Prize for best new book of 1992 from the American Historical Association. His other books include The Wars of Frederick the Great and Patton and Rommel, an HBC Editors’ Choice.

  • SKU: 000000000001375957
  • Author: Michael Fullilove
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (Usa)
  • Release date: Jul 3, 2013
  • ISBN: 9781594204357
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Commitment Credit: 1
  • Book Search Plus: No
  • Warnings: No warnings
  • Height: 1.200
  • Length: 9.250
  • Width: 6.125

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