The Magazine

The Good Soldiers

Two senior officers who guarded the American Century.

Jul 16, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 41 • By ALONZO L. HAMBY
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Marshall and other officers who had witnessed squabbling and lack of coordination between British and French forces in World War I were convinced that an effective alliance required a unified command--which inevitably would be led by the United States. The British agreed, in principle, but throughout the war resisted in practice. Even after the D-Day landings of June 1944, with V-1 and V-2 rockets launched from German bases in northwestern Europe devastating London, British leaders from Churchill down pressed for the diversion of resources to Alexander's Italian campaign. Loss of leadership, one senses, was only slightly less painful for British elites than loss of the war would have been.

Only Roosevelt could resolve the differences. He emerges from this book as a leader of greater strategic vision than either the U.S. or British generals. Seemingly understanding better than Marshall or Eisenhower the serious consequences of British loss of control over the Mediterranean, he dictated the North African campaign of 1942-43. By 1944, realizing that the allies had mustered the power to knock out Germany, he backed a single-minded concentration on the invasion of northern Europe. Perry makes less of this pivotal role than he should.

Churchill gave in to the inevitable. "There's only one thing worse than undertaking a war with allies," he told Eisenhower. "Waging a war without allies."

Perry, writing with an eye to our own times, concludes that Churchill was right. Democracies inherently recoil from warfare, reject protracted conflict, and need alliances. There is much to be said for these judgments; but how do we realize them in an era of faint-hearted friends, shadowy foes, and our own moral irresolution?

Alonzo L. Hamby, distinguished professor of history at Ohio University, is the author, most recently, of For the Survival of Democracy: Franklin Roosevelt and the World Crisis of the 1930s.