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Book Review: Churchill, Roosevelt & Company by Lewis E. Lehrman

Major wars often beget the next major war.  This was most obviously true with World War I, where the peace terms virtually guaranteed a second world war.  But it was also true with World War II, which beget the Cold War that lasted from 1947 to 1991.  The three key figures in that transition were U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the Premier of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin.

Lewis E. “Lew” Lehrman is an investment banker who has forged additional notable careers as a conservative politician, economist, and historian.  His new book, Churchill, Roosevelt & Company, is an exhaustive Churchill Roosevelt Stalinexamination of the character of the two leaders of the Allied coalition in World War II, and how this shaped their responses to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.  It is so exhaustive, in fact, that few readers will have the dedication to read it line for line, page by page.  Most, I suspect, will skim it (as I did) for the topics that interest them the most.  And for me that was the interactions of FDR and Churchill with Joe Stalin.  Their responses, particularly FDR’s, guaranteed that the Cold War would follow World War II.

Unlike most conservatives, I am not a fan of Winston Churchill.  But I am thankful that he was there to act as a counterweight and deterrent to FDR.  He wasn’t entirely successful, but thanks to Churchill’s realism about communism, only half of Europe—rather than all of it—was lost to the Soviet Empire. 

FDR’s New Deal is a prime testament to Richard Viguerie’s dictum that “personnel is policy.”  It was riddled with Soviet spies, and Lehrman gives particular attention to the role and influence of Harry Dexter White.  But that was just part of the problem.  FDR’s military and diplomatic advisors on the European war were bumblers at best.  But that also was just part of the problem.  The root problem was FDR himself.  To put it bluntly, as a war leader he was a liar, a charlatan, and an idiot.  Lehrman will never use those words, or he would be stripped of all legitimacy in the halls of the elites.  But the evidence is there, if you have the patience to extract it from the more than 400 pages of barely legible text (in what appears to be 9-point type, certainly not friendly to ancient eyes such as my own).

Consider, at a minimum, these differences between FDR and Churchill, and their respective governments:

( 1 ) Churchill wanted the Allies to move up through Italy to the “soft underbelly” of the Balkans.  Of course, this would have put U.S. and British forces into Eastern Europe rather than ceding that area to Russia.

( 2 ) Instead FDR insisted on opening a “second front” in France (Normandy) to relieve pressure on the Soviets fighting the Nazis on the Eastern front.  Churchill and the Brits remembered how they lost a million men on the Continent, mostly in France, during World War I, but FDR of course had no such historical memory.  The Americans persisted and went so far as to threaten to move their priorities to the Pacific theater if Britain didn’t concede.

( 3 )  Then there was the post-D Day American decision to let Soviet troops march westward without hindrance and take over Prague and most of Berlin and East Germany, losing the core of central Europe to communism.

( 4 ) And if that wasn’t enough, the postwar plan by FDR’s Secretary of  the Treasury Henry Morgenthau was to destroy what remained of Germany’s industry and turn it into a pastoral and agricultural country.  Actually, “Morgenthau’s senior Treasury deputy [and top Soviet spy], Harry Dexter White, had inspired the idea and the plan.”  Churchill realized, in Lehrman’s words, that this would have left “all Europe, unto the English Channel, totally vulnerable to the enormous occupying Russian army so close to the French border.”  (And to England, of course.)  Fortunately, Churchill was able to sway FDR eventually against the plan.

( 5 ) Finally, there was Yalta.  By this time, the U.S.-British alliance was in tatters, and a seriously sick FDR made secret concessions to Stalin that allowed the Soviets to take over China’s province of Manchuria, which then helped Mao’s communists to eventually take over the rest of China.

Some of their policy differences could be attributed to nationalist perspectives and rivalries—by 1943 it was clear that the U.S. was intent on dismantling the British Empire and replacing it with the American Empire.  But Lehrman demonstrates that the differences were more fundamental.  Churchill had a strategic vision, FDR had none, as even his frustrated advisors frequently complained. Churchill had a realistic assessment of communism and Soviet ambitions.  FDR had fuzzy liberal notions, and advisors who were ready to fill in the details of a pro-Soviet policy.

“President Roosevelt did not run a straight course,” notes Lehrman.  Instead “he tacked and trimmed with the political winds.”  America—and the world—were at the mercy of a president with no real knowledge of military strategy or diplomacy, but skillful at domestic political theater; who in addition was vain, mercurial, and susceptible to flattery by bad actors. 

As Lehrman sees it, the war planners around Roosevelt “sought to translate Roosevelt’s vague pro-Russian ideas and dreams for postwar cooperation into concrete military plans.  Anti-British, anti-imperial, and anti-Churchill suspicions were a commonplace in Roosevelt’s Washington.”  And at summits of the leaders “the president would stoop low to ingratiate himself with Stalin—actually ridiculing Churchill in Stalin’s presence, even encouraging Stalin to do so as well.”     

“FDR wanted to be liked,” concludes Lehrman.  “This characteristic surely helped with politicians and voters, but in the end, it would not serve him well in his negotiations with Joseph Stalin.”

Churchill, Roosevelt & Company: Studies in Character and Statecraft, by Lewis E. Lehrman (New York: Stackpole Books, an imprint of Globe Pequot, 2017


A founder of Young Americans for Freedom and signer of the Sharon Statement, David Franke is one of the founders of the modern conservative movement. Franke served on the editorial staffs of Human Events and National Review, and was Senior Editor of Arlington House Publishers and the Conservative Book Club. His articles have appeared in countless conservative publications, including The American Conservative and ConservativeHQ.com.

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