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Best leader of WW2

LAURENCE REES: And, from your study of the politics, who would you say was the best leader?

DAVID REYNOLDS: I’m going to pass on those, I’m not sure I have a view on the best or certainly the most overrated.

LAURENCE REES: Do you have a most overrated?

DAVID REYNOLDS: No, not really.

LAURENCE REES: The person who got the best press?

DAVID REYNOLDS: I mean, all the leaders made such horrendous mistakes that..

LAURENCE REES: From what you say it doesn’t sound as though Roosevelt really made any horrendous mistakes?

DAVID REYNOLDS: Well, of course, A.J.P. Taylor said that, what was the line he said?

LAURENCE REES: That Roosevelt led the Americans so that they came out best from the war at relatively little cost....?

DAVID REYNOLDS: Yes I think he came out on top at no particular cost, but I don’t know how much that owes to Roosevelt’s leadership. I think it owes a lot to the way that the war in Europe developed in 1940 and the way that that meant the United States, if it entered the conflict, was going to play a much larger role as arbiter than it did in 1917-18. Of course the consequence of becoming the arsenal of democracy meant that the United States pulled itself out of its depression in such a spectacular way that the war time draft is the biggest of all the new deal work relief programmes. You put all these men out of unemployment and into the armed forces and you generate all this hardware which is the basis for America’s industry in the post-Cold War period. You know it’s the development of California, the whole West Coast, all the military industrial complex stuff out there. Does Roosevelt work all that out? No, not really, I don’t think, but he’s the man who’s, in a sense, was lucky enough to preside over the whole thing.

LAURENCE REES: He’s the beneficiary?

DAVID REYNOLDS: He’s the beneficiary of it. Of course, also what Roosevelt benefits from on the whole is that he dies at the right moment. You know, if Roosevelt had had to deal with Stalin in 1945-47 he would have been in an awful mess because he would not have been able to sit on the fence that much longer, he would have had to have come down one side or the other. He wouldn’t, in the end, have come down on Henry Wallace’s side, he would have had to develop a kind of Cold War strategy which would have cast into question the way he treated Stalin all through the war. As he dies at the moment of victory and there is, therefore, a rupture, and a new President fumbles his way into a Cold War leaving Roosevelt, apart from the inconvenience of the Yalta myths, the leader of victory rather than the man who had somehow bungled America into a Cold War.