Finest Hour 110, Spring 2001
By Kirkus Reviews
Roosevelt and Churchill, Men of Secrets, by David Stafford. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 360 pp., illustrated. Published at $32.50, member price $27.
This is a behind-the-scenes analysis of the relationship between a president and a prime minister—”a powerful personal link that bridged the Atlantic and helped win the war.”
Stafford’s previous book, Churchill and Secret Service, begins and ends this engrossing story on a bronze bench on London’s New Bond Street—the lifesize sculpture of Roosevelt and Churchill unveiled in 1995 as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for V-E Day. Much in the same manner, the author attempts to capture this close but often contentious partnership between two leaders, both of whom “played an active and crucial part in waging secret war.”
Stafford argues convincingly that Churchill (who had a “fascination with cloak and dagger”) and Roosevelt (whose prewar background was in naval intelligence) forged through friendship “the most important intelligence alliance in history.” The story moves back and forth between the numerous meetings of the leaders (they spent more than 120 days in each other’s company during the war) and the clandestine field operations organized and executed by such celebrated intelligence agents as William (“Wild Bill”) Donovan of the American OSS and William Stephenson of British Security Coordination.
The author does not retreat from some of the most controversial aspects of the Anglo-American alliance. In his own history of the war, Churchill “laundered completely from the record” any reference to the $ 120 million bribe intended to keep Franco and Spain from supporting Hitler. There is “no convincing evidence” that either FDR or Churchill knew in advance of the attack at Pearl Harbor. MacArthur employed “tireless self-promotion and brilliant publicity” to cover up his failure in the Philippines. FDR’s closest aide, Harry Hopkins, was a “profoundly loyal servant” of American interests, not a Soviet agent. Stafford also deals with recent critics of both leaders, observing that Roosevelt was forced by wartime contingencies to ignore Churchill’s colonialists policies, just as Churchill was angered by FDR’s naive belief that he could handle the Soviets. A swift, well-documented book, Roosevelt and Churchill illustrates the relationship’s “volatile mix of friendship, rivalry and resentment.”