by Elliott Roosevelt, Copyright 1946
I have struggled to write this review, as I finished the book two weeks ago. Not only from the standpoint that it is my first review and I want to establish what I am doing. But also, this book was a captivating read, and I don’t want to give too much away for a reader who might want to pick it up themselves and have a go.
But there is another reason this has taken me two weeks to contemplate. I believe Elliott is recording that his father, Franklin Roosevelt, was just as concerned with Britain’s colonialism as he was with Stalin’s communism. And had he lived, there would have been considerably more pressure on Britain to grant freedom to their colonies. The President repeatedly mentioned the colonies were mere satellite posts which the monarchy was bleeding dry- leaving the people in that satellite destitute. My opinion: Imagine no Declaration of Independence, and by 1860 all profits of the United States going to the Crown. We would all look a lot different.
Churchill, who Elliott is not fond, actually pushed back once and asked the president if it was his intention to break of the “Empire.” Roosevelt responded saying the people under the dominion of Britain deserved, “20th Century Opportunities.”
All Roosevelt’s sons served in the war, but Elliott was part of the Air Corps and flew missions dedicated to photographing upcoming battle zones. This role allowed him flexibility. He was assigned to accompany his father to all the major conferences except the last one at Yalta. Elliott (I will use first names to differentiate between the two) records this was for companionship, but I believe there was another reason: Franklin always relied on a Son to shield his disability in public. Many of the photos you see of him standing, there is another Roosevelt on his arm. At a World Conference, there may have been assumptions that another leader may ask something of Franklin which would have made him very uncomfortable. A Son would be the only person who might be able to speak up and offer an adjusted plan. An aide or Chief of Staff can say the old man is tired and needs a break and everyone will ignore them. A son says it, and people listen.
But that is not to say Franklin put in the hours. My goodness, Franklin Roosevelt put in the hours!
The moments between Elliott and Franklin are sometimes tender, sometimes rather corporate, but all the time fascinating.
Elliott certainly has a bone to pick with this book, believing that the Atlantic Charter and subsequent agreements between the Allies were thrown in the trash at the end of the war. I have read a number of books covering many aspects of Franklin Roosevelt, but would like to read a comprehensive book on his administration of the war to line up certain opinions Elliott had of Franklin’s objectives. There are books like this sitting on my shelf. I will try to keep you posted.
Elliott was often called to Eisenhower’s side as well. I am not sure if this was political or not… perhaps Ike enjoyed his company (if he was a good card player!). It is in these pages that we discover Eisenhower truly fretted over who would lead the D-Day Invasion. (George Marshall was the frontrunner for a long time.) I do not know if mentioning all Ike’s consternation is to silently suggest he helped get him the appointment (Elliott did help get Ike the Legion of Merit award, said to be the only medal Eisenhower ever wanted.)
I would say there are some books that slingshot political careers for their author. (Profiles in Courage by John Kennedy in 1956 and Richard Nixon’s post-defeat memoir Six Crises come to mind). But I don’t know why this book, a bestseller, didn’t propel Elliott into contention for something greater than Congress. (I do know the answer to this, and it is somewhat unsettling. But the Roosevelt children made bad business decisions, and also bad romantic ones. I would hate to count the number of marriages between all of them. But I think there would be over 20 for five children.
Another reason it took me a bit of time to come up with a review (and this really hasn’t been one) was the first line I recorded from the book, which would lead to six pages of hand written quotes and notes:
“The tempo of our times is such that our opinions are not keyed to history but to headlines.”
That remains true, doesn’t it? Today you could replace headlines with Twitter Followers and it will work even better.