The Last 100 Days: A book review by Bob Morris

The Last 100 Days: FDR at War and at Peace
David Woolner
Basic Books (December 2017)

At long last, a much more complete “intimate view of FDR’s last months”

Consider what was accomplished under Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s leadership during the first 100 days of his first term as president of the United States: fifteen major pieces of major legislation. More specifically, establishment of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Social Security), unemployment insurance, and the right of workers to form unions and engage in collective bargaining. It is important to keep in mind that when FDR took office in 1932, most citizens and their families were experiencing the worst of the Great Depression.

With regard to FDR’s last 100 days, David Woolner explains how — with mixed results — FDR struggled to respond to all manner of challenges after he was elected to a fourth term. He focused on the deliberations of the Yalta conference with Churchill and Stalin, the near completion of the atomic bomb, how best to end the war with Japan, establishing a homeland for the Jews (in Palestine), the increasing importance of Middle East oil, the transition from a wartime to a peacetime economy, concerns about Soviet ambition and aggression in Central and Eastern Europe, and most important of all to him, the establishment of “a new system of international security, which became the United Nations.”

All the while, he also had to “attend to the domestic needs of a public weary of the demands of war and to a battlefront reeling from a surprise counteroffensive that threatened to drive the western alliance into the North Sea.” It is important to keep in mind that FDR was in rapidly failing health at his fourth inauguration in March of 1944 and would be dead 102 days later.

Citing sources only recently available, Woolner also addresses questions such as these that were raised after FDR’s death and shares his own thoughts in response to them:

o “Was he too ill during these last months to properly carry the burdens of office?”
o “Did Stalin dupe him at Yalta because FDR was too weak to resist?”
o “Should he have run for a fourth term?”
o “What role did the members of his family or his closest confidants play — if any — in his ability to lead despite his reduced capacity?”

Woolner: “The portrait that emerges from these final months stands in sharp contrast to the vigorous and youth figure who inspired the nation and the world when he proclaimed in his first inaugural address that ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ The FDR of the last 100 days is a much-diminished man, often near the point of physical exhaustion, yet determined to press on and achieve the goals he se for himself and the world as he led his nation into war. That he was able to accomplish as much as he did, in spite if his physical decline, is itself a remarkable story.”

That is a story that Woolner tells remarkably well. He duly acknowledges that there are several superb biographies already in print but their authors did not have access to the recently constructed day-to-day calendar of FDR’s activities and contacts, as he did. “The FDR Presidential Library has spent years meticulously recording and reconstructing FDR’s schedule from a host of sources, making it possible, for the first time, to get a much better sense of what the president was doing at any given hour on any given day.”

At long last, we now have a much more complete “intimate view of FDR’s last months.”


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