Franklin D. Roosevelt, as President of the United States of America, held the highest leadership position in this country. What set him apart from other leaders is that he held this office during the most trying times our country faced in this century. He was elected president in 1933 during the Great Depression and remained in office for four consecutive terms until his death in 1945, one month before the end of World War II. His leadership through these historical times was controversial. While some saw greatness, others saw deception. In this writing, I will look at how he led the individual military leaders, which were his lieutenants, and the leadership style and personality he demonstrated as Commander in Chief. Roosevelt ran his presidency the way he saw fit. He might of confided in others for their opinion, but made his own decisions when the time came for one to be made.
He felt that he was the best man for every job and his decision was of more value than another's; even if an opposing opinion came from someone more experienced in a matter than he. He displayed uncommon self-confidence in his words and actions. This was not a power game to him, but a reality at its most crucial moments. The first American offensive in WW II against the Germans, which was the decision to invade North Africa, was made by Roosevelt against the wishes of his Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall. "The first test in the great enterprise for which Marshall's army was being schooled, would be conducted not as he wished it, but as Roosevelt wished it."(Pg. 133) Neither man allowed instances as this to interfere with the respect each held for the other. They were both far too professional and dedicated to victory for pettiness derived through differences of opinion. An historical moment where these two great men became formidable allies came to be from a difference of opinion. During the second week that Marshall held the position of Deputy Chief of Staff, which was his first appointment where he interacted directly with the president, Roosevelt held a formal meeting at the White House. Roosevelt gave a proposal that would affect the growth of the military. He barely knew Marshall at that time, but called him by his first name and asked for his agreement on the proposal. Marshall did not agree and proceeded to say what he thought. "He got a startled look from his Commander in Chief and, as they were leaving, expressions of sympathy from the others (the cabinet members) at so quick an ending to so promising a tour of duty in Washington."(Pg. 96) Although, this did not end his career, but caused the president to later pass down 34 names on a list to pick Marshall as the Chief of Staff in 1939. He treated Marshall with respect, but subsequently never called him by his first name again. Roosevelt respected Marshall's ability to speak his truth when he felt it his duty. He saw in him a man he could trust even when they did not agree. "He wanted an inventive government rather than an orderly oneÃ¢ÂÂ¦not a team of reliable work horses, but a miscellany of high spirited and sensitive thoroughbreds."(Pg. 65) He was not interested in men that would only tell him what he wanted to hear, but men that could give him insight to real solutions. In fact, he welcomed rivalries between his subordinates. When two of his top cabinet members, that he purposely tasked together to solve a problem because of their completely opposite views, could not come to a conclusion on an issue, he fired both of them. Roosevelt's reason to match unlikely partners was to generate new ideas. (pg.12) Trust was an important part of how Roosevelt ran his office. As demonstrated in his relationship to Admiral King, Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Fleet, in which through bluntness and excellence in his duty developed a relationship that few subordinates in any situation could equal. He would often have meetings in his private study and King was present for a good deal of them. His influence with him grew to such a level that often King would only have to shake his head very slightly when Roosevelt looked in his direction when discussing issues with another in the room. (Pg. 153-154) The answer that King gave him was often the final answer for Roosevelt. This shows not only his confidence in his advisors, but confidence in his to choose of advisors as well. He did not always let situations or what he might consider insubordination pass without reproach. His cabinet did not feel fear of their job for disagreeing for no reason. Take for example a time in 1940 when General Henry H. Arnold, Commander of the U.S. Airforce gave a congressional committee testimony of which Roosevelt did not approve. He had his top officials gather at the White House where he singled out Arnold and observed that "officers who were unable to 'play ball' might be found unavailable for duty."(Pg. 209) In fact, it was quite a long time before Arnold was invited back to the White House. In private Roosevelt could be more intimate and could allow for men to speak their mind. As told before, he often appreciated it and encouraged it. However, to go against his wishes publicly was an entirely different matter. He saw the grand scheme of his office and it did not allow the American public to have doubts about the choices he made while running the country. Most of the military commanders under Roosevelt had no misgivings when it came to his authority and trust of his judgement. Most men who knew him well became accustomed to him having a larger vision than they did. His way of dealing with military matters was vastly different than how he dealt with civilians. Military matters that he dealt with and the people under him that carried out his orders, operated with the knowledge that there is a duty to carry out the wishes of their Commander in Chief. He created this atmosphere of complete control over all aspects of the military and it's operations. This gave him the ability to exercise all of his power in the military and run the war from Washington. "Roosevelt took his position as head of the armed services more seriously than did any other President but Lincoln, and in practice he intervened more often and to better effect in military affairs than did even his battle-worn contemporaries like Churchill or Stalin."(Pg. 1) During post-war reflection, it has been documented that in fact many of the great battle plans were born of his mind including the battle that is now referred to as "D-Day". His subordinates knew what he was capable of and followed him for this reason. To them he was the "Supreme Leader". So far the leaders I have discussed were held in close confidence with the President. They knew him for who he was and for what he stood. To them he was approachable. However, he did not let it be know exactly how much he was actually involved in military matters and for this reason suffered criticism from officers that he did not confide in. To these men he was unapproachable. General Joseph Warren Stilwell thought of him as a rank amateur in military matters and that he was "vacillating, impulsive, and too easily influenced by the last person to see him, especially if that person was British or, worst of all, Churchill."(Pg. 511) This did not affect him at all, because he found the commanders that he wanted, kept them close and were rarely, if ever, replaced. (Pg. 2) Roosevelt's lieutenants did not get their position from being easy to work with. He placed men that he knew would put a different spin on his planning. The man that most upset the flow of agreeableness was General Douglas Macarthur. Roosevelt once claimed that he was one of the two most dangerous men in America (the other a fellow politician within the same party). (Pg. 305) To Macarthur this is considered a high compliment and was delivered as such. Macarthur held a strong opinion that democracy had gone as far as it could and some of the liberty our nation affords would have to be sacrificed to a strong leadership. The President had his own view on this type of totalitarian thinking, "We must tame these fellows, and make them useful to us." (Pg. 307 & 308) It is obvious here that he was a fearless leader. We can also see that he can not only overcome the will of a country over another, but person over person. He proceeded to win over Macarthur in every way. In 1944 Macarthur was a favorite candidate for the Republican Party, but was persuaded instead to support Roosevelt as the Democrat Party nominee. (Pg. 351) Roosevelt did not always state exactly what he wanted. He would often leave open ends, which he saw as a way out if a decision he made did not go as planned. He was often seen as devious in his methods even when it was unnecessary. "His style of administration required him on more than one occasion to haze over his purposes, Ã¢ÂÂ¦he invigorated men and events as notably by shrewd manipulation as by the overt employment of his powers." (Pg. 2) He was seen by many in this way. Although, he had executed his power in this way for so long that it was the only way he knew to be. An example of how he exercised this power is after the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor when he asked for an enormous amount of military equipment to be produced in a short time. One of his lieutenants replied that this amount was not attainable using the current factories available for building this equipment. He took the figures back to the same men that gave them to him in the first place and asked a different question of them. The question was reworded from "How much do we need?" to "How much should we have?" Of course the same conclusion was reached, and he took the figures back to the same person to get the job done. (Pg. 219) If he were given undesirable statistics, he would often ask that he not be shown them again. (Pg. 219) This is not a shortcoming or a denial to see failure, but an attitude that anything can be done if one does everything possible to make it happen. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is arguably the greatest president of this century and one of the greatest this nation has ever elected. He entered America into the largest war this world has ever known, but firmly wanted to maintain a peaceful America rather than profiting through war, as some might believe. He had a lust for humanity that few will ever posses. He lived as though total victory was the only thing keeping him alive. Only through total victory can a war such as that not be fought again was his belief. Only at the end when victory was inevitable did he allow himself to pass away. He surrounded himself with great men that in fact became great in his presence. What more is a leader except someone that makes others do great things. If he or one of his lieutenants did not rise to the occasion, one must appear to rise. Through reflection of his time, the fact that America came out of the war a great nation cannot be denied. In my estimation, President Roosevelt rose as high as a person can be.
Bibliography Larrabee, Eric Commander in Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and Their War. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1987