in Iraq and Nazi Germany
Marcia Todd, Contributor
FRESNO -- George W. Bush
isn't the first president to consider how to turn a dictatorship
into a democracy. During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt
and Harry Truman worked to make sure Germany would never threaten
That's the subject of the book "The
Conquerors" by Michael Beschloss. His book includes some revelations
about what the U.S. knew about Nazi death camps and when they knew
it. Michael Beschloss reports there has always been suspicions that
FDR knew more than was stated publicly.
FDR knew a lot in 1942. What troubled me
for almost two years, Roosevelt knew a lot about the fact that the
Nazis were trying to murder an entire people, the Jewish people,
and knowing Roosevelt, just as a presidential historian, I would
have expected him to give a speech saying, this is what we Americans
are fighting against, you should know, you Americans, what is going
on inside Nazi Germany.
He did not make that public, and he never
even said in public that the Nazis should worry about if we Allies
win the war, we would penalize the fact they had tried to do this
He once said to one of his cabinet, Henry
Morganfeld, who was a Jewish and a Catholic official, you should
remember, this is a Protestant country, and you Jews and Catholics
are here under sufferance. You have to go along with everything
The most important thing about Roosevelt
always to remember is he is the one who won World War II, led us
into that victory. Had he not done that, we would not be living
in a happy world today. Many of us would not even be living. But,
at the same time, you always have to look at a president in terms
of how he handles the tough calls. One of the biggest events of
the 20th century, if not the largest, was the Holocaust. And on
that, Roosevelt really did not do very well.
One thing that was wonderful about President
Harry Truman was, it was the American dream that anyone can become
president. He became that without much preparation and made great
decisions. But, at the same time, there was an undercurrent. For
instance, when it was revealed finally that the death caps had been
open and you had horrible pictures on the front of newspapers at
Buchenwald and Belsen.
Truman's diaries continue to make petty
anti-Semitic comments, like "The Jews claim they are God's chosen
people. I think God had better judgment." And knowing Truman,
he was a humane man. I couldn't understand how someone with his
values, especially even anti-Semites were saying, look at these
horrible death caps, I've got to re-evaluate my own values, Truman
could have gone on that way.
I think Truman was a complex guy, on the
large things, recognition of Israel, strategy that finally won the
Cold War, Truman was a great president. But what's fascinating about
these guys, is it's never one thing. There is always light and dark.
And much of the dark in Truman's life is even though he became a
president of huge stature, there was this sort of petty undercurrent,
a very sort of small town retro comments and values.
What is it that the current president could
learn from some of these stories, particularly at a time when there
is much debate about whether it makes sense to go to war against
I think George W. Bush, will look back
to the last time America succeeded in doing this. That was Nazi
Germany. That is one lesson for us now with Iraq, and that is if
we are going to do this war, Americans have to be totally behind
it, and not only fight a war to unconditional surrender, topple
Saddam, but be prepared for the fact that if Iraq is going to become
a democracy, we may have to stay there for many years to create
things like schools, and a free press. Our military may have to
be there for a long time.
Based on the polls we've seen, we don't
think the American public is that patient, and that willing to spend
that kind of money. It's a different situation from 1945.
But if we go through the experience of
a war and if President Bush says to Americans, we've now done half
of the job, let's finish it and have a beacon of democracy
in the Middle East, people might change their minds.
Go to PBS for Harry
S. Truman Notes and a biography sketch.]
by The Fresno Republican Newspaper.
All rights reserved.