Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour, Lynne Olson, author; Arthur Morey, narrator
Early on, the author makes his pro Obama view obvious which tells you the book will have a decided slant to the left. Although the author praises Obama’s efforts and world strategy, it is, perhaps, Obama’s global view of America that has isolated us again and inhibited us from becoming more inclusive, which might have been his original intention. However, since the book was written five years ago, or published then, it was, therefore, written even earlier; the author might have changed his mind about Obama’s decisions to act or not to act by now with the resultant failures of our policies in the Middle East.
This book is very long and can be very tedious but it is eye opening about the politics surrounding WWII. Featuring the personalities of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Averill Harriman, Edward R. Murrow and John Winant, it provides a glimpse into the hardship faced by the British before and after we entered the war, albeit entering kicking and screaming in defiance all the way. The Americans were pretty colorful characters who had the foresight to anticipate Hitler's goals and who lobbied for America to enter the war, unsuccessfully, until Pearl Harbor when it intruded upon its shores.
None of the men were high on scruples as they entered into romantic relationships breaking their own vows of fidelity and encouraging others to do the same. They were, however, high on protecting our Allies and honoring our agreements. The President of the United States, FDR, was not inclined to become involved because the political climate then, like today, was against entrance into any armed conflict. So, FDR paid little attention to the suffering of Europeans and our allies, and instead he supported a policy of isolationism, and paid more attention to the polls, then to the advice of these men. Possibly, as a result of his arrogance, believing war would not come to America’s shores because she was a force to be reckoned with, he did not act in time to prevent the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which then forced him to enter the fray and begin leading the country and the world, albeit similarly to our current President Obama, from behind. America was woefully unprepared for the effort necessary. Our armed forces and equipment were in disarray and the situation then was eerily similar to the atmosphere today under President Obama. He takes the temperature of voting Americans constantly and overthinks his decisions ad nauseum. President Obama does not believe in American exceptionalism, although FDR certainly came around to believing in it near the war’s end. Our current President’s plan is to reduce the superiority of the armed forces to the level it was when we were forced to enter WWII, grossly unprepared. He has marginalized the reputation of America’s strength and exaggerated its weakness. He has not followed through on his positions or promises which may doom us to repeat the same mistakes of the past, as he stands by idly reading polls and following instead of leading.
The book features the rise of John Winant’s influence and career. He was a very liberal republican who pretty much disapproved of his party’s behavior and whose social views were equally disapproved of by his party. He worked for democrats too eagerly to be a true Republican. At one point, the author brought up the question of whether or not the Jews could trust Obama, which now seems to have been prescient with the recent Iranian Nuclear Agreement. He openly insulted Benjamin Netanyahu, had no photo ops with him on some occasions, and created an atmosphere in which some Jews feel threatened if they voice their opinions when they differ from Obama’s.
Often tedious, with facts that read like a diary of the mundane daily tasks of a particular person, the book takes off when America is drawn into the war, when it reveals previously unknown facts about the lives of these American men and their behind the scenes efforts to involve America in the war with little success. The author examines their love affairs, the war preparations, and the competing military plans, complete with sparring officers who sometimes thought little of each other. I learned little known facts about the Polish presence and war effort. They were deeply involved in the war effort as their spy network and polish resistance were well developed. In all of the defeated countries, the resistance movement was key, and in Poland it was very strong. The author shared many insights, personal thoughts and conversations, some which were very surprising. Many involved heads of state and leaders of the military who didn’t like each other or respect each other, and they were guided more often than they should have been by their politics and personal likes and dislikes. They allowed their personal issues and concerns to misguide them in several instances, some of which may have led to a longer war. I had never heard of Tommy Hitchcock, a polo star and war hero who was instrumental in getting the Mustang into the air which saved so many lives and took his, as well, as he tried to discover its fatal flaw. Although the administration and the powers that be were against its rapid development, when it was finally used it was that plane that turned the tide of the war. The fighting effort became more competitive and our air power more superior.
When the war ended, it was obvious that while Europe suffered, America had prospered. In Europe there was little food or clothing, while the fashion world in New York was thriving. There were some scarcities but after the war life returned to “better” than before in America, and as before, the Americans turned a blind eye to their suffering allies, preoccupied with their own greed and achievement which was sometimes over glorified and exaggerated.
Many famous historic personalities were featured in the narrative which made it a bit nostalgic as well as informational. After the war, many of those deeply involved were left adrift. Even such famous personages like Churchill were voted out and cast aside, their achievements and bravery forgotten. Truman, the newly sworn-in President, following the death of FDR, pretty much ignored Winston. The loss of their positions of power led many to flounder. They had no future that could possibly compare to what their past had been. Illness, mental and physical, took the lives of some while others managed to redirect their energy and remain involved, like Averill Harriman.
The most upsetting thing for me, regarding the information in this book, was how similar the mistakes made then, are to the mistakes being made today. When the Democrats are in charge, it seems they are not invested in national security and cannot seem to expend the energy and courage necessary to end a battle or win a war; they worry too much about their legacies and their poll numbers. The craving for power and inability to act in a timely fashion caused the sacrifice of many more innocent lives than necessary throughout history and quite possibly extended WWII. The competition and inability to share important knowledge and technology for fear of not being the top caused failures then and continues to cause inaction today.
The narrator read the book in a clear voice, but it was a dry presentation which often led to a lapse in concentration.