In a lifetime shaped by politics, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proved himself a master manipulator of Congress, the press, and the public. But when war in Europe and Asia threatened America’s shores, FDR found himself in a world turned upside down, where his friends became his foes, his enemies his allies. To help wage democracy’s first “total war,” he turned to one of history’s most remarkable triumvirates.
Henry Stimson, an old-money Republican from Long Island, rallied to FDR’s banner to lead the Army as Secretary of War, and championed innovative weapons that shape our world today. General George C. Marshall argued with Roosevelt over grand strategy, but he built the world’s greatest war machine and willingly sacrificed his dream of leading the invasion of Europe that made his protégé, Dwight Eisenhower, a legend. Admiral Ernest J. King, a hard-drinking, irascible fighter who “destroyed” Pearl Harbor in a prewar naval exercise, understood how to fight Japan, but he also battled the Army, the Air Force, Douglas MacArthur, and his British allies as they moved armies and fleets across the globe.
These commanders threw off sparks whenever they clashed: Generals against politicians, Army versus Navy. But those sparks lit the fire of victory. During four years of bitter warfare, FDR’s lieutenants learned to set aside deep personal, political, and professional differences and pull a nation through the twentieth century's darkest days.
Encircling Roosevelt’s warlords—and sometimes bitterly at odds with them—was a colorful cast of the Second World War’s giants: Winston Churchill, MacArthur, Josef Stalin, Eisenhower, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Charles de Gaulle. These and other larger-than-life figures enrich a sweeping story of an era brimming with steel, fire, and blood.
Drawing upon a wealth of primary sources, American Warlords goes behind closed doors to give readers an intimate, often surprising view of titans who led America from isolation to the summit of global power. Written in a robust, engaging style, author Jonathan W. Jordan offers a vivid portrait of four extraordinary Americans in the eye of war’s hurricane.
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THERE WAS A TIME WHEN A LIBERAL DEMOCRAT, A CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN, a general who served both parties, and an admiral who served none set aside profound differences and led America through history’s greatest bloodletting.
Through nostalgia’s myopic lens, it is easy to see a united nation, its resolve hardened by Pearl Harbor, swept inexorably to victory on the broad shoulders of the GI, the wings of the B-29, and the buoyant spirit that brought the world baseball, Duke Ellington, the Ford Model A and the Lone Ranger. A nation to whom triumph came as naturally as manifest destiny. Yet these images tell only a small part of the story.
The vast mural of World War II—waves of heavy bombers, marines raising Old Glory, snaking lines of deuce-and-a-half trucks—has become part of the American legacy. But that mural was not painted overnight. In 1939 Rosie was a homemaker, not a riveter. Black sailors served as butlers, not gunners, and America reposed its safety in a handful of green, ill-equipped divisions led by untested middle-aged officers.
From May 1940 until the war’s end, the American war machine lurched forward, determined but not sure-footed, ensnared by material shortages and enmeshed in bare-knuckle politics. To break the empires of Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini, liberals compromised with big business and Republicans compromised with Democrats. The Army cut deals with the Navy, and both swallowed trade-offs with unions, farmers, miners and factory owners. American generals and admirals horse-traded with their British cousins, and commanders of all branches courted congressional chairmen, business leaders and, journalists.
In Washington’s marble corridors, the United States entrusted four men with the prosecution of America’s war. General George Catlett Marshall, the Army’s top soldier, won the admiration of Churchill, Stalin and Truman. Admiral Ernest J. King, a Porthos of the sea, saw in the oceans the key to America’s global power. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, an old-line Republican from old-moneyed Long Island, distrusted the rapidly changing world, yet he championed futuristic weapons to prevent future wars.
And over these men hovered Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a liberal Democrat thrown into a war where his friends became enemies, his enemies trusted allies. He had staked his legacy on domestic reform, yet found himself shaping the world alongside Josef Stalin and Winston Churchill. A devious, self-described “juggler,” Roosevelt would shift his political base, draw his nation toward war, weld an alliance with a dictator and an imperialist, and found a global institution dedicated to peace.
• • •
Roosevelt, Marshall, Stimson, and King are now ghostly images of our past, men who speak to us through grainy black-and-white newsreels and scratchy archived recordings. We see them through a glass darkly: Roosevelt, a rakish cigarette holder clenched between broad white teeth, assures the nation the only thing it has to fear is fear itself. Marshall, a constellation of stars on each shoulder, stares inscrutably into the distance as he ponders global strategy. A mustachioed Stimson and a bald, scowling King, giants behind the curtain, stand in the background, barely remembered faces in a faded gray photograph.
But in 1941, these ghosts lived in a world bursting with fire and fear. A world unraveling along two seams, where America could peer over either shoulder and see bubbling lakes of red. A nation unaware that it was on the road to a golden age that would be purchased with rivers of blood, mountains of treasure, and years of suffering.
A road that would begin with a strange sound rippling over a tropical paradise.
IT BEGAN AS A LOW HUM, A SUNDAY MORNING RUMBLE FROM THE ISLAND’S north side. To the islanders, the sound announced another training exercise at Wheeler or Hickam. Or perhaps a flight of bombers winging in from distant California. “Must be those crazy Marines,” one sailor muttered as he took in fresh air through an open porthole.
The wind brushed past the few clouds that had bothered to show up that morning. Oahu’s golfers, sailors, housewives, and soldiers stirred themselves for a day much like the previous Sunday, or the Sunday before that, or any other Sunday they could recall. The Bears would be playing the Cards at Comiskey Park, the Black Cat on Hotel Street was open for the breakfast hangover crowd, and Waikiki theaters would be showing a Ty Powers–Betty Grable film that afternoon. Readers who caught the morning’s New York Times couldn’t miss the page one headline: “Navy is superior to any, says knox.”
But that hum, so commonplace to the islanders, was followed by an odd roll of distant thunder. Which, to the untrained ear, sounded much like practice artillery. Or bombs.
The general stepped onto his porch near Washington’s Potomac River. He had finished his horseback ride on a sorrel named Prepared, and a lanky, thick-headed Dalmatian named Fleet trotted at his heels. He wiped his boots, entered the house, and headed for the shower.
As he was rinsing, his orderly announced an urgent call from the War Department. Colonel Bratton wished to speak to him about a matter he could not discuss over the telephone.
Toweling off and changing into his gray business suit, General George Marshall climbed into the back of his government-issue Plymouth and rode to the Munitions Building, a crowded office complex on Constitution Avenue near Washington’s famed Reflecting Pool. He strode into his sterile second-floor office shortly after eleven a.m. On his desk sat a lengthy typewritten message intercepted from Tokyo.
The 5,000-word cable addressed to Ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura sounded ominous, yet its meaning was unclear. Another intercepted cable, decoded that morning, directed Nomura to deliver the long message to the U.S. government at exactly one o’clock local time on the afternoon of December 7.
There was something about that one o’clock deadline making Bratton jumpy. It made Marshall jumpy, too.
Marshall’s blue eyes sifted the message. Frowning, he picked up his phone and called Admiral Harold Stark, chief of naval operations. They needed to warn the Pacific theater that trouble lay ahead.
“What do you think about sending the information concerning the time of presentation to the Pacific commanders?” he asked Stark.
“We’ve sent them so much already,” Stark replied. “I hesitate to send any more. A new one will be merely confusing.”
Marshall hung up. He thought for a moment, then pulled out a sheet of paper and scratched out a warning to his commanders in the Pacific. A few moments later, he called Stark back and read him the message.
“George,” said Stark, “there might be some peculiar significance in the Japanese ambassador calling on Hull at one p.m. I’ll go along with you in sending that information to the Pacific.”
Black plumes rose from Oahu’s center as the attackers swarmed from the north-west, southwest, and east. Hundreds of them—Zeros, Vals, Kates—descended on their targets. They spit fire at scampering men, skimmed waves and dove on warships slow to realize that Pearl Harbor was under attack.
Explosions rocked the harbor as men in dungarees, khakis, and undershirts, some with helmets, some without, dashed for anything offering cover. As the air filled with inky smoke, the attackers broke into small formations and plunged onto their main victims: the moored giants lining Battleship Row. Antiaircraft guns barked, men screamed, and the tattoo of a hundred Brownings filled the air. But the deep basso sound of torpedoes and bombs dominated the symphony of death.
To the clinking of fork and knife on White House china, Franklin Roosevelt chatted over one of Mrs. Nesbitt’s bland lunches with his gaunt warhorse, Harry Hopkins. The two political veterans, like nearly everyone in Washington, had been watching the diplomatic picture unravel to the brink of war. Roosevelt’s orders to hunt German U-boats in the Atlantic was a gauntlet thrown at Hitler, while in the Far East, conquest by Japan was followed by American economic sanctions. Sanctions spurred new conquests, which begat fresh sanctions. By Thanksgiving, autumn’s circular dance had brought the two partners within a knife’s edge of war.
At twenty minutes of two, an aide interrupted lunch to announce an urgent call from the secretary of the navy. Roosevelt took the black handset and listened as Frank Knox told him of a report the Navy had received from Honolulu. The Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor.
Roosevelt listened, thanked him, and hung up. He turned to Hopkins.
“There must be some mistake,” a wide-eyed Harry said when Roosevelt broke the news.
Roosevelt shook his head. It was just the kind of unexpected thing the Japanese would do, he said. His voice growing cold, he added, “If this report is true, it takes the matter entirely out of my hands.”
The ancient Utah suffered the first mortal blow. As her crew raised the colors over her fantail, a formation of Kates screamed down onto tiny Ford Island. They skimmed the waves and long, cigarlike tubes fell from their bellies and plowed the water’s surface.
The attackers climbed, and a massive explosion shook Utah to her keel. A jagged wound gaped from her hull, and the target ship swallowed salt water and listed hard to port. As the sea poured in, her thick starboard moorings fought to keep her deck above the insistent waves. The moorings lost.
Succeeding bomber groups pointed their noses toward Battleship Row. A torpedo rocked Oklahoma from stem to stern and two more pierced her wounded side. She lurched to port, smoke billowing from her hatches as men leaped into the oily sea. Salt water flooded her iron viscera, and she listed until her starboard propeller rose over the water’s roiling surface. As she slipped below the waterline, four hundred terrified men scrambled belowdecks, clambering through hatches and up ladders, racing the rising water, every man clawing for that priceless path to daylight.
Oklahoma’s sisters fought back, spitting AA shells into the sky as fast as gunners could shove them into smoking breeches. But the Japanese tigers pounced from every direction, strafing, dropping 800-kilogram bombs, skimming the water’s edge as torpedo sights aligned angle and distance.
Above screams of men and machines, a violent blast shook Tennessee. Another jolted West Virginia, whose captain lay dying in her conning tower. With a convulsion that rattled the harbor, Arizona leaped out of the water, her magazine a fuming volcano. In nine minutes, she took eleven hundred men to the bottom.
Smoke obscured vision as scorched shells cooked off, steam boilers exploded, and the harbor was swathed in thick, oily smoke. Men—ants scurrying over steel giants—swarmed in all directions, sprinting to action stations, diving for cover, swimming through blazing water, saving themselves. Sacrificing themselves.
Walking the halls of the Munitions Building, the old lawyer was feeling his age. It had been a week of conferences, memoranda, cabinet meetings, and telephone calls, and the tired statesman with the shock of white hair ached for a rest. If he could shake loose from Washington, get away to his home on Long Island, he thought, he could catch up on some sorely needed sleep.
But he wasn’t about to shake loose from Washington, or get home to Long Island, or catch up on his sleep. Things had gone from bad to worse—much worse—over the last twelve days. The president had rejected Japan’s last offer, and intercepted cables from Tokyo implied the Emperor’s diplomats were about to break off negotiations. The question on everyone’s mind was not whether Japan would fight, but when and where.
So Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Wall Street’s old Republican stalwart, would await his leader’s call.
On the morning of December 7, Stimson’s thoughts turned to a draft message President Roosevelt would deliver to Congress on the crumbling picture in the Far East. The president also wished to discuss Tokyo’s latest intercepted message, which seemed to herald a rupture in diplomatic relations.
Buckling his worn leather briefcase, Secretary Stimson made the six-block walk to the old State, War, and Navy Building next door to the White House. There he and Navy Secretary Frank Knox were ushered into the austere office of Secretary of State Cordell Hull, a colorful old-line liberal from middle Tennessee.
Stimson, Knox, and Hull were convinced that the Japanese were up to something. They mulled over what the president should tell Congress, but given the high stakes and ambiguity of Japan’s position, they reached few solid conclusions. The “War Cabinet,” as Stimson liked to call the group, broke up and went their separate ways. Stimson went home to lunch.
The clock’s hands had swept past the lunch hour when Stimson peered over his reading glasses at an approaching aide. There was phone call from the president, the aide said.
Stimson walked to the phone and picked up the receiver.
“Have you heard the news?” an excited voice asked.
“Well, I have heard the telegrams which have been coming in about the Japanese advances in the Gulf of Siam.”
“Oh, no, I don’t mean that,” said Franklin Roosevelt, his voice rising. “They have attacked Hawaii! They are now bombing Hawaii!”
Excerpted from "American Warlords"
Copyright © 2015 Jonathan W. Jordan.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prologue "There Must Be Some Mistake" 1
Part 1 Bringing The War Home
1 "New Powers of Destruction" 11
2 Three Minutes 20
3 "The Hand that Held the Dagger" 29
4 "Fewer and Better Roosevelts" 35
5 The New Deal War 44
6 "One-Fifty-Eight" 51
7 The Parable of the Garden Hose 61
8 Inching Into War 69
9 Beggars Banquet 79
10 Last Stand of the Old Guard 84
11 Year of the Snake 92
12 Kido Butai 100
Part 2 A New Doctor
13 Kicking Over Anthills 111
14 "Do Your Best to Save Them" 118
15 "O.K. F.D.R." 121
16 "There Are Times When Men Have to Die" 133
17 "Inter Arma Silent Leges" 139
18 Rolling in the Deep 148
19 Sharks and Lions 156
20 "Lights of Perverted Science" 164
21 Midways Glow 168
22 "The Burned Child Dreads Fire" 175
23 Chairman of the Board 190
24 Along the Watchtower 198
25 Girdles, Beer, and Coffee 205
26 The Devil's Bridge 215
27 "Hollywood and The tible" 221
28 "A War of Personalities" 237
29 Blind Spots 250
30 Stickpins 256
31 The First Casualty 266
32 Landings, Luzon, and Lady Lex 271
33 "A Vital Difference of Faith" 276
34 Plains of Abraham 280
35 The Indispensable Man 286
36 "Dirty Baseball" 291
37 Vinegar Joe and Peanuts Wife 296
38 A Russian Uncle 298
39 Reno and Granite 316
40 "Considerable Sob Stuff" 325
41 Sorrows of War 334
42 "Dr. Win-The-War" 342
43 Halcyon Plus Five 356
44 Hatfields and McCoys 368
45 Mr. Catch 373
46 Trampling Out the Vintage 386
47 Old Wounds 397
48 Voltaires Battalions 405
49 Counting Stars 410
50 The Tsarina's Bedroom 415
51 "O Captain" 429
Part 3 Swords, Plowshares, and Atoms
52 Truman 441
53 Downfall 448
54 "Come and See" 454
55 "This is a Peace Warning" 465
Selected Allied Code Names 475
Selected Bibliography 479
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Jonathan W. Jordan’s Brothers Rivals Victors:
“Brothers Rivals Victors is a landmark publication in the history of the Second World War...Jordan has written a real historical tour de force. Highly recommended!”—Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History at Rice University and author of The Boys of Pointe du Hoc
“One of the great stories of the American military…told here by Jonathan Jordan with insight and compassion, relish, and vigor.”—Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco, Making the Corps, and The Gamble
“Anybody who believes that generals are just, rational men, imbued with a soldierly feeling of comradeship toward one another and an ingrained respect for their political superiors, will be shocked by this book.”—Michael Korda, The New York Times Book Review
“Intimate, well-researched, and gracefully written.…Jordan succeeds in bringing Patton, Brad, and Ike to life once again.”—John C. McManus, author of The Dead and Those About to Die