Book Review: Three Days at the Brink: FDR’s Daring Gamble to Win World War II, by Bret Baier with Catherine Whitney
“Like Eisenhower and Reagan, Roosevelt was a leader who transcended his political party to fulfill a higher purpose in the presidency.”
Though it borders on a hagiography, Three Days at the Brink brings modern readers an updated perspective on both our thirty-second president and the high-level decisions that determined the course of the post-World War II world.
“Circumstances required them to engage in the painful exercise of reaching agreement, with Roosevelt serving as the leader who would help them envision and cement a partnership that would win the war.”
“After the war, [Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs] Molotov would acknowledge that the second front clamor was mostly a ploy. The Russians knew as well as anyone that the Allies weren’t ready.”
Baier and most others credit the Tehran talks leading to victory over Hitler. I demur. By the time Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin met at the end of 1943, Nazi Germany was doomed. Of course, neither side knew that yet. They had to proceed as if the war was in doubt. Failure to move as vigorously and wisely as they did might have cost millions more lives.
“There’s a uniquely American perception that as long as we’re talking, we’re making progress. Roosevelt thought so, too. It takes faith and hubris to think you can talk your way out of a global jam, negotiate with someone who shares none of your values, and gain a lasting consensus.”
Modern presidents have this myopia, bordering on arrogance, that if they can just look people in the eye, they can talk them into anything. Perhaps it’s the logical outcome of having been elected. It clearly is not so.
“You must master at the outset a simple but unalterable fact in modern foreign relations. When peace has been broken anywhere, the peace of all countries everywhere is in danger.” FDR
At Tehran and later at Yalta in 1945, Roosevelt gave away the farm. Churchill and Stalin knew it then; Roosevelt didn’t live long enough to know, though he may have suspected it. At those times and places, there was not much else Roosevelt could do: his history, world history, and the pressure of the war impelled him.
“In the end, Tehran had produced the declaration that had paved the way to the war’s end. It might be said that Tehran won the war but Yalta failed to secure the peace.”