lundi 18 août 2014

The Mantle of Command by Nigel Hamilton


Taking a look at a seminal period of time in FDR’s presidency, The Mantle of Command is a masterful account of President Roosevelt’s handling of military command in the early moments of the War. Thanks to archives and interviews, we are given a glimpse into the Oval and into secret meetings with Churchill, his own generals and his secretary of war. Showing how Roosevelt stuck to his guns and was proven right countless times, the book gives a brand new vision of the war years, one in which Roosevelt was forced to fight against his allies and his own advisors in order to keep the war effort on track and away from catastrophic decisions that could have seen the Allies invade France too early, or lost the European arena completely. In a sweeping look at this president, his genius for psychology and military affairs is made clear.

WW2 in general, and FDR in particular, have been covered endlessly over the years, but in The Mantle of Command Nigel Hamilton manages to do the unthinkable: find a new way of looking at crucial period of history. Providing a good overview of the years 1941 to 1942 – as America is dragged into war and then takes its first steps into the Pacific and Atlantic arenas – the book explores a relatively virgin perspective centering on FDR’s leadership of the military aspects of American policy, to an extent rarely seen before in American Commanders-in-Chief. While this is often done at the detriment of others (Winston Churchill especially comes across negatively), Hamilton makes a good argument for his proposal. Through archives and interviews, we see how Roosevelt was forced to battle MacArthur, Marshall, and Secretary of Defence Stimson in order to steer the American war machine away from a Japan First policy and towards a true attempt to turn the tide in French Africa. In doing so, the book provides an interesting spin on certain decisions, notably that decision to invade North Africa, as military choices rather than political ones. Sticking to the example of the invasion of North Africa, Hamilton presents it as providing the American military with experience before an assault on France, rather than as a way for Roosevelt to turn attention away from his own political failings. However, the author’s lionizing of FDR lets the book down a tad, making it difficult to know how much of what is offered as fact is based on the author’s analysis, though he does substantiate most of his claims with quotations from FDR and those around him. All in all, The Mantle of Command is an interesting glimpse of an unsung aspect of the Second World War, one that is done in a fresh and intriguing way thanks to Hamilton’s stellar prose.

I gave The Mantle of Command 4 stars.

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