Friday, September 13, 2013

April 12, 1945 - FDR Suffers Minor Stroke

While resting at his private retreat of the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, to renew his energies before the UN Conference on International Organization in San Francisco in the coming weeks, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced, "I have a terrific pain in the back of my head." The president went quiet and his body convulsed. The others in the room hurried to his side and tended to him until doctors arrived. Due to strain from his many years of political work and high cholesterol combined with a predisposition to the same congestive heart failure that ended his father's life, Roosevelt suffered a terrible, but not debilitating, stroke.

The president's health had been troubled for some time. Rumors about illness circulated widely during the 1944 election, but the press seemed to steer clear of the issue, potentially due to orders from the Office of Censorship that had also kept reporters off the battlefields as the war dragged on. His doctor ordered bed-rest, but Roosevelt took it upon himself to exercise more regularly, even though his bout with polio left him confined to a wheelchair and steel braces. This time, he lost much of the use of his left arm, but was fortunate to keep his abilities in speech.

As with his previous illness, Roosevelt soldiered on. News of the stroke was controlled by the White House, simply stating that he still suffered from the affects of fatigue. He managed to be in San Francisco for the organization of the United Nations, a term he had created from the Allies who signed the Atlantic Charter in 1942. While the papers stated he was in attendance, he spent nearly all of his time behind closed doors with only a few select meetings.

Through tenacity, Roosevelt continued to work as president. Upon the collapse of Nazi power in Europe, Roosevelt gave a radio address to Americans pronouncing Victory Day, though others such as Vice-President Harry S Truman became the faces seen in photos and movie reels. Roosevelt saw out the end of the war, skillfully defending the use of atomic weapons to end the war with Japan early, though there were some who said that the declaration of war by the Soviet Union was what had truly brought Japan to surrender unconditionally.

Roosevelt, who had long trusted Stalin, had begun to doubt his trustworthiness as the war began to come to a close and the Soviets’ plans to set up puppet governments began to show. Churchill had long warned Roosevelt about Stalin, seeing him as at-best a necessary evil until Hitler was destroyed, and soon warned of an Iron Curtain behind which Stalin plotted. Britain edged Churchill out of office in 1945, looking to break cleanly from the troubled days of the war. Roosevelt pressed on and, though his widespread popularity, managed to keep the nation voting Democrat while the Republicans cried for change.

Roosevelt promised change and continued to campaign for his Second Bill of Rights, completing the work he felt he had begun with the social measures of the New Deal. Echoing the measures of the first Bill of Rights, Roosevelt argued that the right of “pursuit of happiness” had not yet been fulfilled. Gradually, programs came into play to employment in CCC-style grants and organizations, housing, education, and medical care. With enough Democrats in Congress, he was able to push through legislation blocking the powers of big business and monopolies, reversing many of the anti-labor policies that had been in place due to necessity of production during the war.

Abroad, Roosevelt kept up pressure on Stalin and refused to allow Communism to spread. While many of the soldiers from WWII returned home, much of the materiel and provisions were shifted to the KMT forces of the Republic of China, finally squashing Mao’s armies in 1947. It became painfully clear that the Soviets would not remove themselves as the Americans, British, and French were doing. Roosevelt began to threaten use of atomic weapons, which outmatched anything the Russians had in their arsenal. Stalin tested Roosevelt again and again with false deadlines and empty promises until the tension burst in 1948 in Berlin over Soviet restrictions over passage to Berlin. Through the UN (which Soviets increasingly called a “puppet of the West”), Roosevelt demanded Stalin pull Soviet troops out of all occupied areas by that fall. Stalin refused, so Roosevelt began a bombing campaign targeting the Soviet military.

Republicans noted that the bombing began shortly before the election and accused Roosevelt of starting another war so he could maintain control of the White House as well as flat-out tyranny. Roosevelt replied that he was doing what he felt best and would understand if the American public trusted him. In the narrowest election of his career, Roosevelt won yet another unprecedented fifth term in 1948. As in 1944, much of the campaigning was done vicariously.

War with the Soviets finally drove them back to the borders of Russia in 1949, which was when Stalin announced the USSR had successfully developed its own atomic bomb in Kazakhstan. An uneasy armistice began even though much of Europe had been liberated. Preparations were made for peace talks, but the travel to a neutral summit proved too taxing for FDR, who died before he could meet Stalin face-to-face again. The war was never officially declared over, leaving a huge demilitarized “Iron Curtain” surrounding the Soviet border.

At home, the Democratic Party lost its driving force, and, in 1952, the consolidated conservatives from the Republicans pushed out the moderate Republican choice, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, calling for an end to America’s militarism with a return to isolationism within the UN. Democrat Estes Kefauver of Tennessee was no match for Robert Taft in the polls. As the new conservatives attempted to break down the New Deal in the 1950s, however, public outcry began a new era of reform, including new rights for minorities and women, furthering Roosevelt’s Bill of Rights further than he had ever imagined.


In reality, Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, of a large cerebral hemorrhage after following orders of two hours of rest a day and no lunch meetings. Only a few weeks later on May 8, Germany fell, ending the war in Europe. VP-turned-President Truman pronounced the day in honor of Roosevelt's efforts and wished publicly that "Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day."

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Guest Post: December 16th, 1944 - George Marshall dispels the "Victory Disease"

On this day, General George C. Marshall was appointed to the newly created position of Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers Europe, Middle East And Africa (EMEA) Area.

Twelve months earlier, Dwight D. Eisenhower had been officially designated as the Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). However both Eisenhower and his primary sub-ordinate Omar Bradley had allegedly mishandled operations during the fall. Like the Japanese senior commanders in mid-1942, they had allegedly lapsed into a condition known as "victory disease" mistakenly believing the German Army to be a push over.

Accordingly, President Roosevelt thanked Eisenhower and Bradley for their leadership of the Allied Expeditionary Force, announcing that the fullness of the troop build-up now required a freshening up of the top-level organization. And to support and expand the SHAEF command structure built by Eisenhower and Bradley, the on-the-ground presence of Marshall would be greatly advantageous to the careful navigation of the closing stages of the war.

Within Army circles, the decision was understood for what it was: the Battle of the Bulge had swept away the delusion that the troops would be home for Christmas. To broaden the scope of the changes outside the two personalities in question, Lieutenant General Courtney Hodges was relieved as the commander of the First Army. Prior to Marshall's arrival in Europe, it was alleged that he had continued ill-conceived offense operations that were basic head-on, World War I-style attacks into the teeth of well-planned and well-defended German defensive positions.

On December 18th, Eisenhower was recalled Stateside to be appointed Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army. As the second-highest-ranking officer on active duty in the Department of the Army, he would handle the day-to-day administration of the Army Staff bureaucracy, freeing the Chief of Staff to attend to the inter-service responsibilities of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Grudgingly admired by Douglas MacArthur as "the best clerk I ever had", Ike would keeping the supplies going out to the troops from the manufacturers. This vital responsibility had previously rested with George C. Marshall, however an even more urgent priority had arisen - stopping the alleged wasting of American lives. This human tragedy had resulted from the alleged mishandling of operations during the fall of 1944. The Battle of the Bulge demonstrated that the defeat of Nazi Germany was far from over and Marshall's presence was very much needed on the ground in Europe for the closing phase of the war.
Addendum (by Jeff Provine). With Marshall's meticulous planning, the front gradually pushed toward Germany at minimal cost to American lives following the Battle of the Bulge. General Patton was removed and dispatched to the Pacific, arguably to bury notions that war with the Soviets would follow next. In 1945, the Americans produced the first atomic bombs with one dropped on each of the remaining Axis powers, Germany and Japan. Germany folded with German citizens rebelling while Japan held strong, eventually collapsing after two more atomic strikes and the declaration of war by the USSR in 1946.


This fictional item is based upon a reader's letter in the MHQ Autumn 2013 Edition and re-purposes significant amount of content from that article.

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