(NewsDay - Book excerpt) "1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History" by Jay Winik

From: Biniam Tekle <biniamt_at_dehai.org_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sun, 27 Sep 2015 21:09:48 -0400

Asmara - one of the places Roosevelt suggested for the Roosevelt,
Churchill, and Stalin meeting


Book excerpt: From '1944' by Jay Winik

Updated September 24, 2015 2:43 PM

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"1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History" by Jay Winik (Simon and
Schuster, 2015) Photo Credit: Simon and Schuster

Franklin Roosevelt had never wanted to travel to Tehran. Throughout
the fall of 1943, the president used his vaunted charm and charisma to
push for the three Allied leaders -- himself, Winston Churchill, and
Joseph Stalin -- to meet almost anywhere else. The conference, their
first ever, had been a year in the making, and now, before it even
commenced, it seemed on the brink of failure over the thorny question
of where it would take place.

Dispatched on a visit to Moscow, Secretary of State Cordell Hull had
proposed the Iraqi port city of Basra, to which Roosevelt could easily
travel by ship. Roosevelt himself suggested Cairo, Baghdad, or Asmara,
Italy's former Eritrean capital on Africa's east coast; all these were
locations, the president pointed out, where he could easily remain in
constant contact with Washington, D.C. as was necessary for his
wartime stewardship. But the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, was
unmoved. He countered that as commander of the Soviet armed forces he
could not be out of contact with his deputies in Moscow. He maintained
that Tehran, at the foot of the Elburz Mountains, had telegraph and
telephone links with Moscow. "My colleagues insist on Teheran," he
bluntly cabled to Roosevelt in reply, adding that he would however
accept a late-November date for the meeting and that he also agreed
with the American and British decision to exclude all members of the


Roosevelt, still hoping to sway the man he referred to as "Uncle Joe,"
cabled again about Basra, saying, "I am begging you to remember that I
also have a great obligation to the American government and to
maintain the full American war effort." The answer from Moscow was
brief and direct: no. Stalin was adamant, and he now hinted that he
might back out of the entire arrangement for a tripartite conference.
Not until Roosevelt was preparing to set sail across the Atlantic en
route to the Mediterranean did Stalin, having gotten his way on
Tehran, finally acquiesce. Roosevelt promptly cabled to Winston
Churchill, "I have just heard that Uncle J will come to Teheran. . . .
I was in some doubt as to whether he would go through with his former
offer . . . but I think that now there is no question that you and I
can meet him."

So it was that at the Cairo West Airport a little past 6:30 a.m. on
Saturday, November 27, Roosevelt boarded the Sacred Cow, a gleaming
silver Douglas C54 Skymaster that could carry forty-nine passengers
and a three-man crew, for the final leg of his momentous journey; in
total, he would travel 17,442 miles, crossing and recrossing nearly
eight time zones. For his part, Joseph Stalin simply had to travel due
south from Moscow; his round-trip would be only 3,000 miles. But all
this seemed forgotten as, for the first time in over four years of
war, the leaders of the three great powers were at last to meet,
face-to-face, to establish policies designed to bring the carnage to a
close. This would be the most important conference of the conflict. As
Churchill later wrote, "The difficulties of the American Constitution,
Roosevelt's health, and Stalin's obduracy . . . were all swept away by
the inexorable need of a triple meeting and the failure of every other
alternative but a flight to Tehran. So we sailed off into the air from
Cairo at the crack of dawn."

It is difficult, in retrospect, to appreciate the magnitude of this
trip, or even how bold it was. The wheelchair-bound president of the
United States was flying across the Middle East in wartime,
unaccompanied by military aircraft and not even in his own plane. The
first official presidential airplane, nicknamed Guess Where II, was
nothing more than a reconfigured B24 bomber, designated a C87A
Liberator; and in any case Roosevelt never used it. After another C87A
crashed and the design was found to have an alarming risk of fire --
which Roosevelt dreaded -- Guess Where II was quietly pulled from the
presidential service. Eleanor Roosevelt took the plane on a goodwill
tour of Latin America, and the senior White House staff flew on it,
but not the president.

Furthermore, Franklin Roosevelt hated to fly. The paraplegic president
preferred almost any mode of travel on solid ground, but even here, he
had qualms: for one thing, he could not bear to ride in a train that
traveled faster than thirty miles an hour. His presidential train made
him feel especially secure: it had a special suspension to support his
lower body, its walls were armored, and the glass was bulletproof. An
accomplished sailor, he also felt comfortable on the water, where he
could master the pitch and swell of the waves. But flying was an
entirely different matter, and one not without considerable personal

Excerpted from "1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History," by Jay
Winik. Copyright © 2015 by Jay Winik. Reprinted by permission of Simon
& Schuster, Inc., New York.
Received on Sun Sep 27 2015 - 21:10:27 EDT

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