- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 17, 2002

As interesting as was American combat during World War II is the maneuvering by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to prepare the United States for war and to organize America for the peace that would follow.
David Reynolds' From Munich to Pearl Harbor: Roosevelt's America and the Origins of the Second World War (Ivan R. Dee, $24.95, 209 pages) is a compact, well written, useful account of the Roosevelt administration between the Munich Agreement in 1938 and the Japanese attack on Hawaii in 1941. Mr. Reynolds tells how Roosevelt transformed American politics from isolationism to readiness in that three-year period and also provides the reader with a reliable guide to American political events that foreshadowed the United States' geopolitical role after Germany and Japan surrendered in mid-1945.
Mr. Reynolds highlights the emergence of the "military-industrial complex and the strategy of technowar; the origins of the 'imperial presidency'" (an issue constantly in the media today); "the precedent of the peacetime draft; a durable commitment to the security of Europe and the 'Atlantic Area,'" and a "growing belief in American omnipotence."Mr. Reynolds also argues Roosevelt believed that "only in a world in which American values reigned supreme could the United States feel secure," citing the origins of such themes as the "bipolar ideologies of 'totalitarianism' and Americanism."
The author delineates Roosevelt's mobilization actions taken in the late 1930s, without which the United States could never have become the "arsenal of democracy" during World War II.Mr. Reynolds also demonstrates the success of the president's "lend-lease" program, seeing the wisdom of the Roosevelt logistics approach to victory.
Roosevelt gambled by sending huge shipments of crucial munitions to the Soviet Union (a major risk at the time, given Soviet losses in the first two years of its war with Nazi Germany, but the risk was worth it). The United States supplied Joseph Stalin's forces with 10,000 tanks, more than 5,000 airplanes, several hundred thousand trucks, piles of food, and mountains of raw materials.
Had not Soviet Russia survived to kill and tie down millions of German troops, there would have been no Normandy invasion, and Europe and the world would have been very different today. Roosevelt's geopolitical goals demanded the utter defeat of Nazi Germany, and he saw the Soviet Union as an essential tool for that strategy.


Oddly enough, it was Franklin Roosevelt's helping to arm the Soviet Union (and, therefore, assisting in its survival during the war) that led to the requirement for a "national security state" after 1945. One of the key weapons sent in lend-lease to the Soviets was the P-39 Airacobra, an air-to-ground United States fighter aircraft that the Soviets used both as an air defense system as well as an attack aircraft.
Dmitry Loza's Attack of the Airacobras: Soviet Aces American P-39s & The Air War Against Germany (University Press of Kansas, $34.95, 369 pages, illus.), translated by James F. Gebhardt, highlights the Soviet uses of this airplane. Soviet Russia received almost 5,000 of these Bell Aircraft fighters, about half of all those produced. American fighter pilots were not fond of the plane (its engine was positioned behind the pilot, and its heavy cannon was slow firing). But it was an army support aircraft, and therefore its limited range and slow speed were not major negative factors in the Soviet fight against the Germans.
Very few German aircraft were shot down by P-39s flown by Americans (the P-39 was not used in that role), but in Russia there were many P-39 aces. Guards Capt. Aleksandr Poryshkin was credited with 48 victories in the P-39 (more kills than any American aviator flying any aircraft in any theater).Mr. Loza's book is a complete account of a specific Soviet fighter unit, covering all aspects from maintenance to aerial combat. Von Hardesty, a curator and historian at the National Air and Space Museum, introduces the book with an excellent essay putting the Soviet use of the Airacobras in its World War II context.Mr. Hardesty is America's authority on Soviet air power.


Another book in the same series worthy of note is Reina Pennington's Wings, Women, and War: Soviet Airwomen in World War II Combat (University Press of Kansas,$29.95, 304 pages, illus.). Desperate for warriors during World War II, the Soviet Union turned to female aviators who mastered every specialty from fighter, bomber, and dive-bomber pilot to bombardier. There were three all-women aviation regiments (which flew more than 30,0000 sorties) and also other women pilots who flew with male squadrons. Two women fighter pilots became aces, and the female aviators produced 30 Heroes of the Soviet Union.
The Soviets did not employ women as aviators after the war, and few in any other military capacity. The United States began training females as aviators in the 1980s, for somewhat different reasons. With the all-volunteer force, it became impossible for the Armed Forces to enlist the numbers needed while maintaining the quality to be effective unless the Defense Department turned to recruiting women. Enrolling high-quality women females as capable as males demanded unlocking specialties that opened the possibility of advancement.In the Air Force, Army and Navy, this meant setting physical and mental standards for aviators and letting the most qualified join.


Douglas Kinnard's Eisenhower: Soldier-Statesman of the American Century (Brassey's, $19.95, 112 pages, illus.) is the first volume of Brassey's Military Profiles, a series dedicated to understanding World War II and its aftermath. Mr. Kinnard is known for wasting no words. His book is a compact and exceptionally serviceable biography dealing with many of the themes exposed in Mr. Reynolds' book on Roosevelt.
During World War II, Dwight Eisenhower demonstrated that he was a strategist of the first element. No American president, furthermore, came to that position better prepared to secure and promote United States' national interests on the world stage than Eisenhower. His position as Supreme Commander for Operation Overlord put him at the hinge of Allied operations.
Eisenhower dealt with French and British military and political leaders with consummate skill and commanded Allied forces adeptly. He also had a keen appreciation for economics acquired from his several years as a faculty member of the Army Industrial College (today's Industrial College of the Armed Forces). This tightly organized biography is a useful addition to the bookshelves of those wanting to understand strategy in the European theater and the workings of the national security state.

Alan L. Gropman is Distinguished Professor of National Security Policy at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University.



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