BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Thomas Fleming, author of "The New Dealers' War," where'd you get that title?
Mr. THOMAS FLEMING, AUTHOR, "THE NEW DEALERS' WAR": I got that title almo--almost 50 years ago
when I was reading a letter that my boss of that time, Fulton Oursler,
wrote to Upton Sinclair, the novelist. Oursler was a very prominent
writer and editor in--in fact, in the era of the New Deal and
throughout World War II. And when the war began, he tried to get into
the government. He wanted to work in the Office of War Information,
or something like that. But he was a Republican, and he got
absolutely nowhere. And with great disgust, he wrote to Upton
Sinclair--who was trying to get him into the government because they
were very close friends--saying, `It's a New Dealers' war. There's no
place in it for me.'
And that sort of became a lens in my mind, and I never forget it
over--over four decades. And s--it slowly emerged into what I began
to see was the focus of this book.
LAMB: Forty books, it says, you've written.
Mr. FLEMING: Yes. Yes. I try to work on numerous projects at the
same time. I write novels as well as history books. I--I
mo--particularly historical novels. I--I think that makes a historian
more sensitive to the impact of history on individual lives, and it
also gets you into a--a phrase that has sort of become a buzz--or a
word that's be--sort of become a buzz word among the historical
profession right now--that's `contingency.' We--we--historians, more
and more, are beginning to think that history is not inevitable and
not driven by vast forces. An awful lot of it is based on decisions
that could go either way.
And th--I think when you write historical novels and you see people
being hammered by history, that makes you even more aware of that.
And a lot of this contingency feeling, I think, is the in "The New
LAMB: You kick it off with an introduction where you talk about FDR
being important in your New Jersey home years ago.
Mr. FLEMING: How--how he was. My father was a ward leader in Frank
Hague's infamous political machine in Jersey City, where if you didn't
vote Democratic, you were liable to get knocked on the head. But we
head on--in the vestibule of our house, where as I say in the book, a
lot of Ca--Catholics from--Irish Catholics had the Sacred Heart of
Jesus, we had FDR. And we virtually genuflected to him as we went in
and out. He was the god of the Democratic Party and--in New Jersey at
that time, and I grew up admiring him, even worshiping him.
But as you get older, you begin to look back on things, not through a
haze of memory, if you--esp--if you go into the--the business of being
an historian, and you start to think, `Well, what was he really like?
What was--what was the whole thing all about?' Now that it's become so
far back that we're just ge--right now I think we're just getting to
the end of the influence of memory on history, and--and we're getting
into the pure history of World War II. I think this--this book is
a--is a start in that direction.
Michael Kammen--my--my--good friend of mine from Cornell, wrote a
wonderful book called the "Mystic Chords of Memory," in which he
speculates on the impact of memory in history, and he--he s--maintains
that it takes about 100 years for somebody to get--for a--a generation
or a country to get to the pl--point where they can look back on a--a
gigantic experience, like World War II or the Civil War,
LAMB: You say that you spent time with Harry Truman once.
Mr. FLEMING: Yes, I did. This was a very seminal experience in my
life. I was invited--selected, I might even say--by President Truman
a--towards the end of his life to work with his daughter, Margaret, on
a biography. And so I went out to Independence with Margaret and
spent two weeks out there and had lunch and dinner with the president
and his wife every day, and we talked politics, we talked about
President Roosevelt, we talked about President Johnson and Henry
Wallace and so forth.
Now I'm not saying that everything that he said to me is in this book
or that--you know, that it was the decisive influence, but I became
aware of the power of that man's personality, a totally different
personality from Franklin D. Roosevelt's.
LAMB: What do you think he really thought of Franklin Delano
Mr. FLEMING: One night, rather late in the evening, I was sitting
with the president in his little study, and I said to him, `What did
you really think of President Roosevelt?' There was a long pause, and
then he said, `Inside, he was the coldest man I ever met. He didn't
seem to care about you or me or anyone else in the world, but he was a
great president. He brought this country into the 20th century.'
Now when I started working on this book, I realized a very significant
thing. Here was a man, Harry Truman, who, as a senator,
ex--a--investigated the war effort from top to bottom and who knew
more about the inner workings of the US war effort than anyone else in
the country, and he had not one word of praise for Franklin D.
Roosevelt as a leader in World War II. And I felt, and I--I still
feel, that that could be the ultimate comment on the New Dealers' war;
that this was not a perfect performance by a long shot.
LAMB: Before we leave Harry Truman for the moment, what else did you
observe about him up close for two weeks?
Mr. FLEMING: His...
LAMB: And how old were you?
Mr. FLEMING: I was in my 40s, and this--this was 1970. And so--yes,
I--I was 43 at the time. And I--I felt very strongly what you saw was
what you got with Harry Truman. He was straight from the shoulder.
He told you what he thought. He wasn't a devious man, and that, too,
as I began to study Franklin D. Roosevelt, became an enormous
contrast. Franklin D. Roosevelt was anything but straight from the
shoulder. He was incredibly complex and devious. He boasted about
being a trickster, a juggler, who didn't let his left hand know what
his right hand was doing. And, although he never quite said this, he
had no hesitation whatsoever about lying to people right to their
LAMB: Where did you find this?
Mr. FLEMING: This--this tendency to lie, do you mean?
LAMB: To be deceitful. You say he's deceitful. I mean, you...
Mr. FLEMING: Oh, yeah. The--this--well, there's a--there's a whole
book written--titled "The Juggler," in which he's--his--his games he
played, particularly during World War II, is described in quite a bit
of detail. But it's most visible in the diaries of Henry Wallace, in
particular. Wallace was an incredible diarist, and then his "Oral
History," which I s--a good deal of which I read--I think, you know, I
would have--could have taken the rest of my life to read it--Wallace's
"Oral History" is 5,000 pages long. It's in the Columbia University
oral history department.
But in those--in these diaries of Morgenthau, Ickes and other diarists
of the Roosevelt administration, as I said particularly Wallace, who
was really on to Roosevelt--he--he--he seemed to be a follower, but in
his diary, he had a very, very tough and almost caustic attitude
towards him. He--he--he called him a `born waterman.' He could row in
one direction while looking in another.
LAMB: You have a picture in your book of FDR and Henry Wallace. What
do you see in that picture?
Mr. FLEMING: I--I see two men who are both trying to express surface
admiration for each other, but since I do know what's behind those
smiles--We--Roosevelt had a very low opinion of Wallace as a
politician. He said, `He doesn't have "it," unquotes, `the je ne sais
quoi that makes a good politician.' And Wallace, at times during the
course of the war, almost repudiated Roosevelt's leadership.
At one point towards--in--in the middle of the war, in--in late 1943,
Roosevelt announced that `Dr. New Deal was dead. He'd been retired.'
He was--he--he was OK way back in the early '30s when they were trying
to solve the Great Depression, but h--he was--he was an anachronism
now, and Dr. Win The War was in charge of things.' This was a very
startling statement because the New Deal and the Democratic Party had
been very closely identified in the minds of the voters.
Only about a month later, Wallace was the chief speaker at the
Jackson-Jefferson Day Dinner, where the Democratic faithful
re--expressed their allegiance to the ideals of the party. And
Wallace--Roosevelt was not there, I should add. He was ill. And
Wallace said, `If the New Deal is dead, the Democratic Party is dead.'
That's pretty close to telling Roosevelt he didn't know what he was
LAMB: I didn't have the op--I haven't figured out the--the timing on
this. Did--could you have voted for FDR?
Mr. FLEMING: No, I did not. No, my first vote was for Harry Truman,
interestingly. I--I missed voting--I was too young to vote for FDR.
LAMB: If he were on the ballot today, would you vote for him?
Mr. FLEMING: It would depend a great deal on the international
situation, I think. It--I--I'm not sure I would. I'd vote for Truman
again, yes, but Roosevelt I would really want to see, you know,
if--if--how things were going in different areas and so forth because
I--I--I re--I--I really accumulated a great deal of reservations about
Roosevelt as a political leader while I worked on this book.
LAMB: Where do you live today?
Mr. FLEMING: I live in New York.
LAMB: And are you attached to a school? Do you teach?
Mr. FLEMING: No, I don't. No, I'm a full-time writer.
LAMB: And how long have you done that?
Mr. FLEMING: Since 1960. My first book was on the Battle of Bunker
Hill, and by an absolutely miraculous series of events, that became
very successful, and as I like to say, I started educating myself at
the public expense.
LAMB: Have you made a living off of writing books?
Mr. FLEMING: Yes, I have. That and ma--write ma--I write magazine
articles. I write for MHQ, the m--The Quarterly Journal of Military
History, for American Heritage, and I used to write for many other
magazines, such as The New York Times Magazine.
LAMB: What's your best seller of all time?
Mr. FLEMING: My most successful book was "The Officers' Wives," a
novel. It was published in 1981. It's about three West Pointers and
their wives, who marry in 1950. And we take the reader through the
Korean and Vietnam Wars, with no holds barred, I might add. And that
book was a very, very big best seller, both here and abroad.
LAMB: How'd you train yourself to write?
Mr. FLEMING: I think I had a gift, but I got a crash course in how
to write very--from my--my first boss, Fulton Oursler. He would give
me a magazine article that he had just written and--maybe with s--you
know, a lot of corrections in it that I had to retype, and he would
explain why he made every change. He would say--he would emphasize
the importance of a strong opening. He would--he would explain how he
would drop a character in here, knowing that later on that character
was going to play a very powerful role later in the article. And
these--these--these--this kind of advice could be extrapolated to
books, to some extent.
But the best advice I think that Fulton gave me was--I--I was really
wet behind the ears, to put it mildly. I was only a year out of
college, and I had just gone--I had worked for a year on a newspaper.
LAMB: Where'd you go to college, first?
Mr. FLEMING: I went to Fordham College in New York. And I said to
Oursler, `How do you write a book?' I mean, the longest I'd ever
written was a term paper at this point. And he said, `Tom, if you saw
all the food you ate piled up in one place--all the food you ate in
one year piled up in one place, you'd get sick. But you don't see it.
You just eat it day by day, and that's how you write a book. You
write four pages a day, and at the end of a year, you've got a
manuscript of 500 or 600 pages.'
LAMB: Now this is a big book. Go back and see that it's almost
Mr. FLEMING: Yes, right.
LAMB: ...650 pages long. What's the scope of it?
Mr. FLEMING: The--it's--it's the story of what we have forgotten
about World War II and what we never knew. And the key phrase,
however, is that--is in the subtitle. The key idea is in the
subtitle: "F.D.R. and the War Within World War II." It's a
narrative. It's not an attack on Roosevelt or anything like it,
although some critics and some reviewers have seemed to have
interpreted it along that line. It's a narrative of this war within
World War II, which is really the decline and fall of the New Deal.
By the end of the war, the New Deal was kaput.
LAMB: You have this photograph of the headline in the Chicago Daily
Tribune: F.D.R.'s War Plans! What's the point of this?
Mr. FLEMING: That's--that's the story that got me into this book. I
found this headline by sheer accident back in 1986, and I started
investigating this, really, rather incredible story. This is a
Chicago Tribune that we're looking at here, and they're all--The
Washington Times-Herald, a sister paper, they both published this
story, which was the complete verbatim report of Rainbow 5, America's
This was three days before Pearl Harbor this was published, and it
caused a gigantic sensation. People--the Congress went nuts.
The--and the main reason they--they all went nuts was because it
contradicted what Franklin D. Roosevelt had publicly promised to the
American people: `I will never send your boys to fight in foreign
wars.' He said that when he was running for a third term in 1940, and
he had to say it, incidentally, because he was in danger of getting
beaten at that point. And yet here was, in the Rainbow 5, the plan to
send five million Americans into Europe as an expeditionary force in
1943, and it was signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
But three days later, there was this tremendous event, which none of
us have ever forgotten, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and this big leak,
as I call it, was completely forgotten.
LAMB: How far did he go in saying that he'd never send American boys
to fight on foreign soil?
Mr. FLEMING: He--he said it again and again. He--he w--said at...
LAMB: At what time?
Mr. FLEMING: He said it in 1940 at least three times in that
campaign. And--but after he got elected, he began to edge the country
into war with Germany, not with Japan. He wanted the--Germany was
the--was the country that he wanted to get us into war with. But he
had painted himself into a political corner. This is one of the
fascinating things about studying FDR. He was such a completely
cl--almost too clever for his own good, you might say. He--he managed
to persuade the people to go along with all aid, short of war, to the
people whom Adolf Hitler was attacking, England above all. And then
when he attacked Russia, we added them to our list of--of--of
But he had painted himself into a political corner by saying, `That's
all we're going to do.' He--he--that--that promise of all--that--that
we would never send boys to fight in foreign wars was never retracted,
and so people began to accept, `Well, this is how we're going to do
it. We're going to supply all these guys with all the weapons we can
find, and we're going to stay out of it.' And the polls--the really
dramatic thing was for all Roosevelt's powers of persuasion, he could
not budge these polls. Right up to the day before Pearl Harbor, 75
percent to 80 percent of the American people said they did not want to
go to war, unless Japan or Germany attacked us.
LAMB: You write this--you say, `He had seduced America into the war
with clever tricks, one step forward, one step back, double talk, and
the last resort--provocation of Japan.' And then you--later you say,
`Deceit had been at the heart of the process.'
Mr. FLEMING: There's no doubt about it.
LAMB: Now is this, y--you know--there's a lot of talk in the back in
your--people endorse your books talk about `revisionism.'
Mr. FLEMING: Yeah.
LAMB: Are you trying to revise the way people think about FDR?
Mr. FLEMING: To some extent, yes, but I don't think that I'm the
first person to say this. I think I'm the first person to integrate
it into this pattern of the--a president who didn't tell the truth to
the American people, who dodged to the left, dodged to the right and
conducted the war as commander in chief with very, very little
reference to letting the people in on crucial decisions that he made.
LAMB: Wh--where'd you find it? Why is this new? I mean, is it...
Mr. FLEMING: I think that what you--what you do when you write a
book of this extent and this scope, y--you look for a pattern.
You--you--you try to find the--the organizing idea, and the organizing
idea, I think, is in the title, "The New Dealers' War" and "The War
Within World War II." A lot of the things that Roosevelt did, he did
under a very extreme necessity. He could not think of any way to get
us into this war co--with--in a straightforward way. So he embargoed
Japan's oil, which led to a crisis in relations between us and Japan.
LAMB: But why would he want us in a war?
Mr. FLEMING: Because he was convinced that the future history of the
world was swinging in the balance, and if Germany won, the war
be--with Hitler--with--won the war with England and Russia, they would
become so powerful that they would really, truly threaten the ability
of the United States to defend itself. Now a lot of people--and I
quote them in the book--did not agree with this analysis. We felt--a
lot of the--the best thinkers on the military side felt that--that we
had the strength to defend ourselves whether or not we got involved
with Germany and Japan. I think that's a tough thing to say, either
way, at this point.
I focus on the simple fact that Roosevelt thought this way and then
took steps, which I think were not the kind of steps that we think a
president should take, to provoke another power into going to war with
us and ne--and not--I--I quote a--a--an editorial--an editorial writer
from the--from The Washington Post, who, looking back on it, said, `I
wish he'd done it in a straightforward way. I wish he'd come to the
American people and said, "I think the future of the world's hanging
in the balance, and I think we have to go to war with Germany. Japan
we'll just put on the back burner."'
But th--there was no, really, ne--real need for us to go to war with
Japan. After all, the--the Ja--the Japanese never went to war with
Russia. And for a long--for--for several days, Hitler seriously
considered not going to war with Ja--against us. But Roosevelt had
this streak of deviousness. He couldn't--in a way, he couldn't help
himself, but he also had--he--I--in--in the book, I p--I point this
It's very important, I think, to understanding why Roosevelt did this.
He was a wounded president. He was politically wounded. He'd had a
trauma in 1937. After he was elected by the--one of the biggest
landslides in American history for a second term, he a--the first
thing he did was send up to the Capitol Hill a bill to pack the
Supreme Court with seven new justices, which would have enabled him to
get anything he sent up to Congress approved by the Supreme Court.
This was one of the biggest mistakes that any president has ever made.
It wrecked Roosevelt's cr--credibility with the American people.
He--the--the Democratic Party tore itself to shreds. The Republicans
didn't have to do anything. They just sat on the sidelines, and they
watched the Democrats tear each other to shreds over this bill. And,
in the end, Roosevelt lost. He was humiliated. And as a result of
that, he lost confidence in himself as a political leader.
LAMB: But he won it in '32, '36, '40 and '44.
Mr. FLEMING: He could win elections, but as we--as I show in this
book, his power to influence the American people on iss--on--on
particular issues or even to control Congress dwindles steadily, and
it n--it never really came back to the level of the first four years
because of this trauma of the--the defeat over the Supreme Court.
LAMB: Why is it then in every poll, he's at least one, two or three
of all presidents in all the historians' polls?
Mr. FLEMING: He--he--his greatness is based, I think, almost
entirely on the--the masterful way he dealt with the Great Depression.
The inspirational power of his oratory, particularly--he was the first
president to have the advantage of radio, and he did have a wonderful
ability to give a great speech. And he brought th--those speeches
right into the home o--of Americans for the first time. This--this
gave him a power of persuasion which was truly remarkable. But he
lost confidence in that power of persuasion after the Supreme Court
debacle, and he never really got that back.
And then in the course of World War II, he made another political
blunder which really was serious. In 1942, after Pearl Harbor, we had
midterm elections. Roosevelt covertly announced--he--on one--with his
right hand, he said, `Politics are suspended for the rest of the war.'
With his left hand, he was telling everybody he could find, `Anybody
that was against the war before Pearl Harbor should be run out of
Congress. They're the first cousin to a fascist or second cousin to a
And, meanwhile, his vice president, Henry Wallace, was going around
the country saying that the goal of the war was a New Deal for the
world. Now this was a very, very dramatic statement that shocked the
living daylights out of a lot of people, and Roosevelt did not
Those two things produced a political crisis inside the Democratic
Party, and after the 1942 elections, there was scarcely a Democrat
left standing in the Midwest. The Republicans made a gigantic
comeback. They came within nine votes of seizing control of the House
of Representatives. And there were all kinds of Democrats who had no
longer--who no longer loved Franklin D. Roosevelt because of the
brawl over the Supreme Court. And so between the moderate and
conservative Democrats and the Republicans, Roosevelt lost control of
Congress, and that's when the war within World War II began.
I like to say that--I don't like to say it, but I--it is--I--I guess
you can say it, that from that time on, Franklin D. Roosevelt's
political life can be summed up in one word: hell. He was on the
defensive perpetually. I have one chapter in the book which is called
Goddamning Roosevelt and Other Pastimes. He--the Congress just
rampaged a--at him. They overrode his vetoes. They ran the New
Dealers out of all the agencies that they thought they were going to
run, particularly the OWI, the Office of War Information, the one that
my old boss, Fulton Oursler, couldn't get in because he was a
Republican. By that--by the--mid-1943, you couldn't find a New Dealer
left in the OWI.
LAMB: What kind of reviews have you had? You mentioned earlier about
Mr. FLEMING: Yes.
LAMB: Can you criticize FDR today a--without being criticized
Mr. FLEMING: Some people, some reviewers, have found great fault
with me. They are Roosevelt true believers. Still, there's still a
lot of them out there. And they also argue that to criticize anything
that Roosevelt did in order to get us into the war against Hitler is
some kind of--it--moral blindness on my part. In other words, he
could do anything because Hitler was such an evil man. I--I don't buy
that kind of reasoning, put it mildly.
And so I--I--I just--I think that we--we can't say--there's a
wonderful line in the book, which I quote Harry Truman, towards the
end of the book, when we're discussing the atomic bomb. He said--he
said, `The Japanese are--are--fight a war in the cruelest, most
imaginable way, but because they are beasts, should we be beasts,
too?' I don't think we can play off the morality of the enemy a--and
say that the--that we, therefore, are freed from all moral restraints
and all decency in terms of conducting the political affairs of the
LAMB: When you spent those two weeks with Harry Truman, did you write
it all down?
Mr. FLEMING: I wrote some things down. No, I did not write it all
down, but I did--I did take pretty voluminous notes, yes.
LAMB: Why didn't you write it all down?
Mr. FLEMING: Well, some of it, I thought, was privileged material;
that it was pr--Mr. Truman and I were talking just man to man, and so
I--I didn't go p--put some of that. And Mrs. Truman also had some
very strong political opinions that I didn't write down because I
didn't feel that she, in particular, would want me ever to publish
them or anything like that.
LAMB: Have you ever repeated them?
Mr. FLEMING: I did tell some of the things that--that Mr. Truman
said in an article in American Heritage; yes, I did.
LAMB: What were some of the things?
Mr. FLEMING: Let's see. Well, I--I've already told about the
statement about Roosevelt. We discussed the Vietnam War. And he was
very, very upset with Lyndon Johnson. He felt that Lyndon Johnson
should have taken his cue from Lincoln, who was Mr. Truman's--one of
Mr. Truman's heroes, of course. And also, Mr. Truman was so
historically minded. And he felt that Johnson should have run for
president in 1968 and decided--as Lincoln did in 19--in 1864, decided
once and for all whether the public was behind the war or they
weren't. And he felt that Johnson, by chickening out and not running,
had done more harm to the presidency, he thought, than any man since
LAMB: What about Mrs. Truman? Did--what--what was her--what was her
strongest views about?
Mr. FLEMING: She--she took some very strong--said some very strong
things about Franklin Roosevelt. She--she did not admire him.
That--that--that I am perfectly--I am willing to say. I wouldn't want
to quote her. But--but she was a very, very astute politician. She
was intimately connected with so many of Mr. Truman's decisions. And
I think that she--she was on the inside of the that way that Mr.
Tru--Mr. Roosevelt dealt with Mr. Truman.
There's a--there's a famous quote, which is a public quote, in which
she said--when--when Franklin D. Roosevelt died, she--she said, `This
is a terrible--this will be a terrible load on Harry. Roosevelt has
told him nothing.' Now a lot of people back then and even since have
interpreted this as a fear--her fear that Mr. Truman would not be
adequate for the job that he was about to take. Having gotten to know
Mrs. Truman rather well, I think, if anything, that was anything but
the case. That was her expression of her real anger at Franklin D.
Roosevelt for the way he kept Truman at arm's length. He did not want
Harry Truman as his vice president, and he made that very clear by
giving him no responsibilities; only talking to him twice after they
got elected and for--just two little, brief conversations in which he
told him absolutely nothing. I mean, Truman didn't even know that we
had an atomic bomb, for instance, which was one of the best-kept
LAMB: But you suggest that Stalin did.
Mr. FLEMING: Oh, Stalin did know; yes. Because--that--that's
another chapter in the book. I call it Red Star Rising. We now
know--thanks to the release of the Venona transcripts, which are
decrypts of--of--of cables that the KGB exchanged with their agents in
America, we now know that Stalin had 329 agents inside Roosevelt's
administration; a pretty startling nu--number. And we also know that
Roosevelt had been warned about this at least twice, and he dismissed
it completely. He just didn't want to hear about it.
LAMB: Three hundred and twenty-nine?
Mr. FLEMING: Yes. And...
LAMB: What did people that defended--or were critical back in those
days of Whittaker Chambers or McCarthy or all the--what do they say
today about this?
Mr. FLEMING: I think that the only defense that they have left now
is that while we don't really s--they don't really seem to have any
heavy evidence that they gave away, any crucial secret, which is
rather laughable, since they did steal the atomic bomb, but I--I
really haven't--I've avoided arguments with that side of the--of the
literary and political community, I might say.
But I--I think that what I--I'm more interested in this book is how
Roosevelt's politics at home led to international decisions that had
really big impact on the--the conduct of the law. I--I--I--in this
respect, I think that his recognition of Soviet Russia back in 1933,
led him to feel he was locked in. He--he--Roosevelt was a man who
never wanted to admit he'd made a mistake. That's in Henry Wallace's
diary and other diaries. And he felt locked into this connection with
the Soviet Union, and he absolutely just didn't want to admit that
there was anything wrong with anything they did. One of the most
glaring examples of this is the Kaytn massacre. This was a story that
exploded in 1943.
The Germans found in the Kaytn Forest in eastern Poland the bodies of
9,000 Polish officers that had been murdered, they said, by the
Russians. The British cre--created a commission to study this,
because they had the Polish government in exile in London and they had
to do something. And they concluded that the Russians did it, that
they--these men had been murdered by Stalin's order. But they could
not get Roosevelt to read this report. He just simply ignored it. He
just didn't want to hear about it.
And when one of his top intelligence people, a man named George Earl,
who was a Navy--he was a Navy officer. He was stationed in Ankara,
Turkery--Turkey. And he--he was really get all kinds of intelligence
out of the Balkans and Central Europe. He became convinced that the
k--that the Kaytn was a--was a s--was a Stalinist crime. And he came
home and told Roosevelt this toward the end of the war, and Roosevelt
said, `It's German propaganda. I don't want to hear anything about
it.' And when Earl said, `I want to publish an article to alert the
American people to the kind of ally we have,' Roosevelt issued a
written order saying that you are s--in effect saying, `You are still
a member of the US Navy and I forbid you to say one word about this.'
And the next day, Earl was transferred to Samoa for the rest of the
We never did hear anything about the Kaytn massacre, anything worth
mentioning. And--and we--th--every s--there were a few--there were a
few Polish-American radio stations who tried to broadcast information
about it. They were visited by the FBI and told, `If you don't want
to lose your license, you're going to stop saying this.'
LAMB: As you know, you use a lot of the diary of Henry Wallace.
Mr. FLEMING: Yes, I do.
LAMB: Where do you find them?
Mr. FLEMING: Th--Henry Wallace's diaries are--they're--a lot of them
have been published, edited by John Blum and very, very superb book.
And--"The Price of Vision" it's called. And I found that book
absolutely invaluable for writing this book. And so
they're--I--I--I've also, as I say, spent a good deal of time looking
at Wallace's oral history of Columbia.
LAMB: Let me jump into the middle of the book, chapter nine...
Mr. FLEMING: Yes.
LAMB: ...Follow The Prophet...
Mr. FLEMING: Yes.
LAMB: ...only because it just shows--and I'm--I kept--as I was
reading, I kept thinking, `Could this happen today in this--in this
Mr. FLEMING: Yes.
LAMB: People--the names--I mean, Henry Wallace is in there. Jesse
Mr. FLEMING: Yes. He was head of the--secretary of Commerce and
head of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a very powerful and
conservative Democrat who was also an extremely close friend of
LAMB: Milo Perkins.
Mr. FLEMING: Milo Perkins was the man who really ran the--the agency
that Wallace theoretically hea --headed, the BEW.
LAMB: You have a whole scenario here on Milo Perkins. And I just
wonder what would happen if this happened today? And how public was
that, that whole...
Mr. FLEMING: Yeah. Well, it became public because The Washington
Times-Herald, who had--who had supported Roosevelt for
instan--incidentally for a third term--Roosevelt aga--if we could--can
we make a parenthesis here? A very good example of Roosevelt's, I
think, bad political judgment during World War II was the sister of
the woman--excuse me--the--the brother of the woman who ran The
Times-Herald--Cissy Patterson, her name was--was Joe Patterson, who
ran The Daily News, the biggest newspaper in America at the time--The
New York Daily News; two million in circulation. He had opposed
Roosevelt--and he supported Roosevelt for a third term, too, but
opposed his attempt to get us into the war.
When Pearl Hearl--Harbor exploded, Patterson came, rushed to
Washington. He'd been in World War I. And he came into the Oval
Office and he said he wa--he wanted to volunteer for the war effort,
to do something. And Roosevelt wouldn't even speak to him. He kept
signing things for a while, and then finally said, `What can I do for
you, Joe?' They--they knew each other extremely well. And Joe said,
`Mr. President, I want to get into the war.' And Roosevelt said, `You
know what you can do? You can go back and read those editorials that
you wrote for the last six months ca--condemning me as a warmonger,'
and he ranted on for 15 minutes and literally reduced this strong man
Patterson rushed from the Oval Office to the office of The Washington
Times-Herald and he and his sister, Cissy, jointly vowed, as I say in
the book, to make Franklin D. Roosevelt's life miserable for the rest
of his days on Earth, and they did, as much as they could.
LAMB: Now what was their connection to the Chicago Tribune?
Mr. FLEMING: They were cousins of Mr. McCormick, Bernie McCormick,
who ran ran the Chicago Tribune. They were all part of this sort of
l--sort of extended family.
LAMB: And the Tribune had published that original Rainbow 5?
Mr. FLEMING: The pu--the Tribune published the Rainbow 5, yes. Yes.
LAMB: Back to Milo Perkins. He...
Mr. FLEMING: But Milo Perkins is a good example. Go ahead, yeah.
LAMB: I just want to read a headline from The Washington
Mr. FLEMING: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: And what time of the--of the Roosevelt administrations would
this have been?
Mr. FLEMING: This is mid-1943.
LAMB: `Milo, the messiah of mystic Washington.'
Mr. FLEMING: Yeah.
LAMB: `Milo Perkins, high priest of his own mystic cult.'
Mr. FLEMING: Yeah. Milo Perkins was a--a--a--they called them
liberal Catholics in those days. He--he was a New Age type, I guess
you'd say. And he--as I say, he was Wallace's right-hand man, but he
really had this cosmic desire to s--there's even a letter that I quote
in the book that he wrote when he first came into government that his
chief desire was to, quotes, "save the world." And he--it--by--almost
by definition he was an extremist. And he was the man who really
triggered this argument or public quarrel between Henry Wallace and
Jesse Jones about who was going to control the economics of this Board
of Economic Warfare that was buying all kinds of raw materials in
South America and in Africa. And Jones wanted to kee--it was a
Washington turf war basically, you know, familiar to anybody in the
Capitol. But it just got completely out of hand. The two men started
calling each other horrible names in public. And Jones was egging
Wallace on and very often writing a lot of the things that he was
LAMB: And Wallace was vice president.
Mr. FLEMING: And Wallace was vice president, but he also had this,
as I say, very important job, which enabled him to go to South
America, for instance, and make a triumphant tour from one end of
this--of the continent to the other, because he had just spent $600
million buying raw materials down there. And in--in--in part of his
program to push the `new deal' for the world, he insisted on paying
the highest imaginable prices. And it--he--he--and he wanted to put
into the contracts the fact that more money would go to the workers
than ordinarily what the employers paid them. He was really doing a
lot of things that upset the State Department extremely.
So anyway, this--this--this tremendous clash that kept coming and
coming and coming and--and finally Roosevelt issued a order, `No more
arguments. I won't st--I can't stand it.' But Milo Perkins could not
control himself. And he gave a speech at--at the Board of Economic
Warfare, which had 3,000 employees, and he just lost it completely.
LAMB: And he ran that.
Mr. FLEMING: Yeah. He basically ran it for Wallace, who was
spending--you know, Wallace had to preside over the Senate and he was
doing a lot of other things. And so Milo--it was really Milo's
And as I say, he just lost it, and he proceeded to start it all over
again, attacking Jesse Jones as a slimeball and this and that and so
forth. And there was a reporter in the crowd or maybe some member of
the Board of Economic Warfare who didn't like Milo too
much--immediately got to a phone and called The Washington
Times-Herald. And they had, meanwhile, been accumulating all this
dope about Milo being a liberal Catholic who had his own little
private church down in Houston. They used to meet in his attic. And
so they pu--they pu--they put out this cartoon in the--in the--in The
Washington Times-Herald of Milo up in the attic stirring this pot of
mystic brew. And Wallace is standing there looking like a--sort of a
dazed nincompoop staring at this.
But the story was all about how Milo had started the argument all over
again and all the names he called Jesse Jones and so forth, and that
was it. Roosevelt fired Wallace, dissolved the Board of Economic
Warfare and, of course, fired Milo Perkins, too. It was, as I call
it, a public defanistration of the vice president of the United
LAMB: What happened to Jesse Jones?
Mr. FLEMING: Jesse Jones remained in power at the--he lost a little
bit of the control of the money side of his--the Board of Economic
Warfare operations. They merged that into another entity.
But that--that--th--this feud continued. And after Roosevelt was
elected for a fourth term, he tried to pay Wallace off, or re--reward
Wallace for supporting the ticket in 1944. He fired Jones and tried
to give Wallace the job of secretary of Commerce and head of the
Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which controlled billions and
billions of dollars. And this is--this is a president who just won a
fourth term. This I--attempt to do this was rejected by the House of
Representatives by a vote of 400 to one.
Give you an idea of how little power Franklin D. Roosevelt had,
re--real power. He could get elected, but his--his--the--the--the
movement that brought him to power--and I quote a very, very potent
New Dealer in this book, a guy named Ben Cohn. The--the--the
movement, the New Deal, had fallen apart. There's no two ways about
LAMB: There's another couple of people in the administration who
worked side by side, and here's a photograph of the two of them. And
the reason I bring it up is because there's some present-day
connections here. Here is Cordell Hall on the left and Sumner Welles
on the right.
Mr. FLEMING: Right.
LAMB: Cordell Hall's job in the FDR administration?
Mr. FLEMING: He was secretary of State.
Mr. FLEMING: And Sumner Welles was undersecretary of State.
LAMB: Number two then.
Mr. FLEMING: Number two man in the department. They cordially hated
each other. In fact, they hated each other so intensely that the door
between their two offices--they were side by side in the State
Department--was locked. They never spoke. Welles was--was the man
that Roosevelt preferred to do business with.
LAMB: He was number two.
Mr. FLEMING: He was the number two guy, but he--he had been a--an
attendant at Roosevelt's wedding as a very young man, and Roosevelt
had sponsored his career in the foreign service. He was a Groton man,
just like Roosevelt and so forth. And so a--whereas Hall had been
brought into mollify the Southerner--the Southern wing of the
Democratic Party--he was a former senator from Tennessee. So
they--they really intensely disliked each other.
LAMB: What about--the reason I bring it up today is that Cordell
Hall, being from Tennessee, was a friend of Al Gore Sr.
Mr. FLEMING: Yes.
LAMB: And I think he's--is he not respected very much by Al Gore Jr.?
Mr. FLEMING: I think he is. Everybody from Tennessee had immense
respect for Cordell Hall. He was an icon, well, among all the
Southern senators--Southern and border state senators, and
you--you--you could not touch him. And Roosevelt actually made fun of
him behind his back. He--this is the typical Roosevelt touch.
Roosevelt--Hall had a slight lisp, and he was always talking about
free trade. That was his one issue. And Roosevelt used to make fun
of him saying, `Yes, we must have more "fwee twade."'
LAMB: And--and Sumner Welles' son, Ben Welles, wrote for The New York
Mr. FLEMING: Yes.
LAMB: ...he wrote a book about it.
Mr. FLEMING: He wrote a very good book about his father, yes.
LAMB: So what were their politics, though, the two of them? One
conservative, one liberal?
Mr. FLEMING: One was certainly more liberal than the other. There's
no doubt about it. But in--in the chapter that I bring the two of
them together in this book, there was a crisis inside the State
Department. When the Russian ambassador went to Joseph Davies, who
had been a former ambassador to Russia, and told him that the
government of the Soviet Union was losing confidence in the American
government, and there had to be--something had to be done about
it--and he--he blamed it on the State Department officials who are
hostile to the Soviet Union. Now he was talking about the Russian
experts in the State Department--George Kennan, Charles Bolin, Loy
Henderson and several other people--who had been specially trained and
were a cadre of people who really knew what was going on inside the
This Russian ambassador said to Davies, who then immediately rushed to
Harry Hopkins to--to tell him this--Harry Hopkins being Roosevelt's
right-hand man and the ultimate New Dealer, as I call him in the
book--and told him, `We've got to do something.' So, Welles was called
in and told, `You've got to get rid of these guys.' This was an
incredible crisis because Welles really ran the State Department, and
he knew that if he allowed the Soviet ambassador to force him to fire
these men, that his name would be mud with Cordell Hall, much more
than it already was, and it--it--it would expose him to the most awful
counterattack. And he was vulnerable on a very, very sad, but serious
point. He was a bisexual, and he had had several homosexual episodes,
which were semi-public knowledge. But Welles...
LAMB: Back in those times?
Mr. FLEMING: Yes. They were semi-public. They--they were
circulating around Washington.
LAMB: But nobody published them in the newspapers.
Mr. FLEMING: Nobody had a--as yet published them in the newspaper,
but there were numerous people who were threatening to publish them at
LAMB: This is Welles.
Mr. FLEMING: Ab--about Welles, yes. And Hall knew about them. And
when--so Welles made to make, really, the most agonizing decision of
his life. So he--he--he tried to compromise, to some extent, but he
did fire two of these guys and reorgani--Hender--Loy Henderson was
probably the toughest of the--the Russian experts. He was sent to
Iraq. How's that for shipping? He knew absolutely nothing about
Iraq. He was sent to this utter backwater on the say-so of the
This--this tore it as far as Hall was concerned. He felt that Welles
had betrayed the foreign service, and so Welles had to go. And he--so
he went to Roosevelt, and he said, `It's either me or Welles. And
if--if you insist on Welles, I just might leak this to the newspaper
about his homosexuality.' So Roosevelt, with great, great reluctance,
had to allow Welles to resign. And this was the moment...
LAMB: What year?
Mr. FLEMING: This was n--late 1943. And this was the moment when
Roosevelt lost all control of the State Department. Welles was his
guy in there. And this--this--the whole issue of who controlled the
State Department is very, very important in this book.
LAMB: This photograph...
Mr. FLEMING: Yes.
LAMB: ...was taken when?
Mr. FLEMING: That photograph was taken in ni--in--in the fall of
1944. It's a rain-spattered face that you're looking at there.
Franklin D. Roosevelt is riding through New York in a freezing-cold
downpour, a Northeast storm. He's running for a fourth term, and he's
trying to prove to the people that he's not a fatally ill man. He
managed to do this, although it--it's a miracle that he did it.
LAMB: How sick was he?
Mr. FLEMING: His doctors thought he would die. We--we know
now--excuse me? What...
LAMB: How sick was he?
Mr. FLEMING: He was extremely sick. In early 1944, he was examined
by a heart specialist, and they found that he could die--the doctor,
Dr. Harvey Bruenn, found that he could die at any time. And they
restricted him--to keep him alive, Dr. Bruenn restricted him to a
20-hour week. Now the president of the United States, the leader of a
global war, was told he could only work 20 hours a week.
LAMB: How would he do that?
Mr. FLEMING: He s--slept very late and got to the Oval Office only
about 11:00 in the morning, would see a few visitors, then would have
lunch, take a long nap, come back to the Oval Office for another two
hours; in other words, work about four hours a day, five days a week,
and that was supposed to be it.
LAMB: What kind of shape was he in in Tehran, and what was the--the
meeting all about? And then, also, Yalta.
Mr. FLEMING: At Tehran, he was, as far as we know, in still fairly
good shape, although he had a--an episode in Tehran at which, in the
midst of a dinner, he fl--turned green and faltered and--and lost
consciousness in his--in his chair and had to be rushed back to his
room. And his--his...
LAMB: Who was there at the dinner?
Mr. FLEMING: Stalin, Churchill and a whole slew of aides. It was a
very, very uc--upsetting episode. And after that--when he came back
from Tehran, he--he was definitely a very sick man. And tha--that was
when they had this physical examination, which led them to put him on
a 20-hour workweek.
LAMB: That was when? What year?
Mr. FLEMING: This was 1944--early 1944, and that was when Ben Cohn,
the most brilliant of the New Dealers, I think--he was a really
brilliant lawyer, who wrote the Securities and Exchange Act. He was
working in the East Wing of the White House during the war. And he
wrote an eight-page memorandum, which I found in the files of the
Roosevelt Library, in which he begged Roosevelt not to run again.
H--i--he--he told him, as I've already said, the coalition had
collapsed, but he was really saying, too, that he wasn't up to the
LAMB: Did you find that on your own, or had you read about it in
Mr. FLEMING: I--I had heard about it, and I had a very good
researcher who was assisting me at the Roosevelt Library. He found it
for me, yes.
LAMB: What about Yalta? What kind of shape was that--and I think
I've got a--let me make sure I've got the right--yeah, this is a Yalta
Mr. FLEMING: Roosevelt was--he--he mustered all his dwindling energy
for Yalta, and there's no really hard evidence that he was non compos
mentis or anything like that. But you--you can see the impact of--of
this--this tremendous effort that he made there when--on the--on the
ship home, Sam Rosenman, who was his top speechwriter and in--inside
Oval Office aide, he--he spent the entire voyage home trying to get
Roosevelt to talk about the speech that he was going to give to
Congress about Yalta. And Roosevelt just sat there like a zombie
staring into space for the entire voyage.
LAMB: You have a photograph, the last one that was taken of him?
Mr. FLEMING: That's the last picture that was taken of Roosevelt,
yes, down in Warm Springs. It was taken the day he died. And that is
a--a--a very heart-breaking picture to look at.
LAMB: How old is he here?
Mr. FLEMING: He was 63, I believe. I'm not too good on the...
LAMB: You--but you paint a picture in your book that he didn't like,
get along with Winston Churchill.
Mr. FLEMING: He--he--he--he did not get along with him as the--as
the war progressed. They started out as best of friends. But,
really, Roosevelt was very hostile to the idea of continuing the
British empire. And when he got to the--the summit conferences with
Churchill and Stalin, he shifted the balance of his attention
completely to Stalin and left Churchill as definitely a--a weak third
party in the whole discussion. And Churchill, really, never forgave
him for that.
LAMB: Where do you find this kind of information?
Mr. FLEMING: This is--is in many, many records of
these--particularly, one of the best sources I had was Charles Bolin's
memoirs. The--he was one of the enter--one of the Russian experts at
the State Department and was the--wh--what was Roosevelt's interpreter
at Tehran and at Yalta. And he--his memoirs are extremely penetrating
and very critical of Roosevelt.
LAMB: How long did you work on this book?
Mr. FLEMING: I've worked on it off and on since 1986, when I started
working on that article, The Big Leak, which I wrote for American
Heritage as a--was published in American Heritage, and off and on over
the next 15 years I would go back to it, as I found more information
or more insights into it, and then for about two years before
the--the--it went to press, I worked on it full time.
LAMB: When you write, where do you write?
Mr. FLEMING: I write in my own apartment in New York or up in a
little attic room in my Connecticut house, with an air conditioner
buzzing away. And I usually work about four to six hours a day.
LAMB: What time do you start?
Mr. FLEMING: Early. I regard it as a job. You get up at 8:00, and
you should be at work by quarter to nine. There's no doubt about it.
LAMB: And writing, for you, is--on a scale of one to 10, is it 10,
being easy; one, being very hard?
Mr. FLEMING: It varies from book to book a great deal. Some books I
have--I wrote "1776: Year of Illusions," a--also, a sort of an expose
of what was going on in that crucial year. That took me seven years
to write, and that was agony. I had so many--so much heavy research
and so much revisions. This book was not in the final push because I
had accumulated so much material. This book was not such a hard book
to write. I--I felt this was a book--another thing that is always
important to me' cause I'm, I guess a--something of a mystic, like all
writers--I--I felt this was a book I was born to write. This
was--the--the scene in that epi--that--that phrase, "The New Dealers'
War," so early in my writing career and spoken by the man who was
my--might say was my literary mentor, it just gave me a feeling of
momentum that--that drove me through this book and--and made it, I
think, a--a--a--a very strong narrative.
LAMB: So what do you think so far, from what you've seen--the
reaction to the book?
Mr. FLEMING: I--I think that people are, on the whole, startled by
it. I don't think that the complete reaction i--is sinking in as yet.
I--I--I think that this is a book that's going to have to be absorbed
by people who will then talk about it to each other, and--but I think
in the long run, it's--it's going to accepted as a--as I say, a first
step towards looking beyond the memories of World War into the history
of this conflict.
LAMB: Who's been your biggest critic so far?
Mr. FLEMING: Hmm, a reviewer in The Wall Street Journal didn't like
the book at all. He--he s--he--he thought that I was simply
anti-Roosevelt. And he really--I was rather upset by that review. He
distorted what I said.
LAMB: Got this from The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. FLEMING: Yes. Yes, I know. It's rather shocking. If you--if
you can get knocked there, you can get knocked anywhere, I sup--I
guess you'd say, when you're writing a book that's critical of
Franklin D. Roosevelt.
LAMB: What are your politics today?
Mr. FLEMING: My politics? I'm a registered Democrat, a Truman
Democrat I guess you'd say.
LAMB: And what does that mean?
Mr. FLEMING: That means that I--I think I'm a moderate when it comes
to political--to--to voting and--and--and political thinking. But
I--I really don't think that my politics has anything to do with my
writing. I try to keep that completely out of my writing. I feel
that the historian should have no political opinions whatsoever.
LAMB: Do you have another book you're working on already?
Mr. FLEMING: Yes. I'm working on a memoir of my father, the ward
boss from Jersey City, and it's going to be quite--quite a different
look at how American politics takes place, I guess you'd say.
LAMB: What year is that coming out?
Mr. FLEMING: Well, I hope it'll come out in a year or so. It may
be--may be a little bit more.
LAMB: And your son, Richard, had something to do with your book?
Mr. FLEMING: Yes, yes. Oh, he's my favorite researcher. He's
a--he's a Russian specialist. He has an MS in--in Russian history
from the--the--the Russian Department at Columbia and, you know, a
real computer whiz, too. He's been a great help to me.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book. It's called "The New Dealers'
War." And our guest has been Thomas Fleming. Thank you very much for
Mr. FLEMING: Thank you.
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