In Rendezvous with Destiny, historian and former Australian prime ministerial adviser Michael Fullilove delivers rare insight into the American emissaries who informally launched the U.S. entrance into World War II and built the pivotal groundwork for the Allies triumph over the Nazis.
By ALEXANDER HEFFNER
Special to The Star
The title of the book traces back to President Franklin D. Roosevelts 1936 Democratic National Convention speech in which he presaged an imminent international clash and defined the enormous stakes of the age: There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.
In the preface to his later 1941 Four Freedoms speech before Congress, FDR accepted his renomination with a roaring embrace of Americas political freedoms, as clouds of suspicion, tides of ill-will and intolerance gather[ed] darkly in many places across the globe.
Fullilove delves into impressive detail about the various fact-finding missions of five particular men charged with preparing the U.S. for war and ensuring the survival of England (thanks to Lend-Leases aid, in the absence of declared American participation in the war). According to the author, FDRs recruitment of these individuals stemmed from his distrust of the State Department and its isolationist whims.
As FDR edged the United States closer to the conflict, five uncommon individuals a well-bred diplomat, a Republican lawyer, a political fixer, a former presidential candidate, and a tycoon were the inspirations and instruments of his policy, Fullilove writes. By name, they were diplomat Sumner Welles, lawyer William Donovan, political adviser Harry Hopkins, presidential aspirant Wendell Willkie and businessman Averell Harriman. About their courtship, Fullilove adds: If personal envoys were an integral element of FDRs domestic political apparatus, they played an even more prominent part in his diplomacy.
One of the authors anecdotes involves FDR confidante and New Deal administrator Hopkins, who had intimate access to Prime Minister Winston Churchill during his visit to England: Like an actor called back to the stage by ovation, Churchill then delivered a majestic monologue on the origins and course of the war to date. When he turned to the future, he described Great Britains postwar goals in a way that seemed calculated to appeal to his liberal visitor, one that rhymed with Roosevelts Four Freedoms speech.
Fullilove cites Churchills own words: We seek no treasure, we seek no territorial gains, we seek only the right of man to be free; we seek his right to worship God, to lead his life in his own way, secure from persecution.
The most unusual member of Roosevelts prewar ghost cabinet was Willkie. After his campaign against FDR as the 1940 GOP presidential nominee, Willkie journeyed to London, where he witnessed the battered cities of Englands industrial heartlands and a generally deteriorating situation. Upon his return to the U.S., Willkies Congressional testimony evangelizing on behalf of Britain was critical to the passage of Lend-Lease. I am doing all I can ... to help preach the doctrine over here of All-Out Aid to Britain, he wrote a comrade overseas.
Fulliloves behind-the-scenes chronicle of American activity prior to the traditional war timetable (for which there is no shortage of historians accounts) is inventive. While certain readers may be disappointed in the narrowness of Fulliloves lens, his unique profiles of diplomacy are a worthwhile historiographical achievement.
In his famous 1936 oratory, FDR told fellow Americans: We do not see faith, hope, and charity as unattainable ideals, but we use them as stout supports of a nation fighting the fight for freedom in a modern civilization. Fullilove offers a fresh narrative history of the diverse men who would bolster the Presidents wartime support system in defense of liberty.
Alexander Heffner is a writer in Providence, R.I.