Review

The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945

by Michael Beschloss



The title of the new book from Michael Beschloss is completely
accurate, once you understand the meaning of THE CONQUERORS:
Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany,
1941-1945. The key word in that title is not "conquerors"; very
little attention is given to Bradley, Patton and the military
efforts to defeat the Axis Powers. The focus of the book is not on
the disposition of forces, the overall grand strategies, or the use
of air power. Beschloss concentrates not on the destruction of
German military might but on the destruction of the idea of
Hitler's Germany. The conflict in THE CONQUERORS is intellectual
rather than physical. It is not about the battle for Germany but
the battle for the hearts and minds of postwar Germans. The
challenge, as the Allied leaders saw it, was how to prevent another
war and how to ensure that Germany could not and would not trouble
the peace of the world again.

THE CONQUERORS is primarily the story of the Morgenthau Plan, an
ill-starred attempt by Roosevelt's Treasury Secretary, Henry
Morgenthau, to impact American policy in postwar Germany. The plan
involved the wholesale destruction of German manufacturing capacity
and the immediate execution of Nazi leaders; opponents described it
as "Carthaginian." Beschloss describes how Morgenthau, Roosevelt's
closest Jewish friend, was influenced by early reports of the
Holocaust and frustrated by his failure to convince FDR to take
action to stop the grisly machinery of the concentration camps.
Morgenthau is the primary character in the book; his private
letters and papers are the main source of material for Beschloss.
As a result, the focus of THE CONQUERORS is Morgenthau's
experience, which primarily consists of bureaucratic infighting
among the Treasury, State and War Departments, as well as the new
Truman Administration.

The result is a masterful work, yet it is a little dry for the
casual reader. Moreover, Beschloss provides little in the way of
second-guessing, preferring instead to let the story of the
Morgenthau Plan explain itself. This allows the reader to see the
problems of postwar Germany the way that Roosevelt and Truman saw
them --- complete with asides about Roosevelt's boyhood vacations
in Bavaria and Truman's reflexive anti-Semitism. However, aside
from a brief introduction and conclusion, Beschloss provides little
analysis of the mistakes, if any, that were made by Roosevelt,
Truman and Morgenthau. Furthermore, Beschloss provides little or no
detail about the crucial issue of how and why the Morgenthau Plan
was dropped in favor of the more lenient (and ultimately more
successful) Marshall Plan.

THE CONQUERORS is a valuable book, if a little frustrating in
spots. It sheds light on a period only dimly understood by most and
it does a good service by putting Henry Morgenthau in the spotlight
of history once more. While it may not be as meaty as a good rehash
of the war in the European theater, it is still important and
vital.

The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945
by Michael Beschloss

  • Publication Date: October 29, 2002
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 377 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0684810271
  • ISBN-13: 9780684810270