Leadership: The Mantle of Command

Eric Lamar
5 min readJan 13, 2024


Nigel Hamilton on FDR: 1942 and WWII

Nigel Hamilton has said that he is the pseudo god son of Bernard Montgomery, one of Britain’s oddest ( and best) WWII generals. He also spent time with Winston Churchill at Chartwell, the prime minister’s home in the British countryside.


He has written biographies of Montgomery and also one on the young JFK, the latter so controversial that it is said that the Kennedy family threatened legal action were he to write another.

Hamilton reexamines the role that Franklin Roosevelt played as a leader during WWII; the results are impressive as he uses short chapters and excellent research to bring the many actors to life.

Franklin Roosevelt

If the thinking is that a writer who rubbed elbows with Winston and Monty would go easy on the Brits — think again.

Hamilton recounts the miserable British combat performance in every theater (Dunkirk, Norway, Singapore) since the beginning of the war and the role played by Churchill on that score.

Before America entered the war, Roosevelt met with Churchill to “buck him up” but also to lay down the marker that his vision for a post-war world was one where every country had the right of full self determination, a position squarely at odds with European allies who wanted to reclaim their overseas possessions from the Axis powers.

The run up to Pearl Harbor is seen as a fiasco where no one, not even General George Marshall, emerges unscathed as U.S. forces not just at Pearl but also in the Philippines, were caught completely unprepared to defend against attack.

General Marshall

Hamilton points out that Douglas MacArthur, American Commander in the Philippines, is especially complicit as he had eight extra hours of warning but still failed to act with his aircraft also being destroyed on the ground.

After Pearl Harbor, American sentiment was decidedly for destroying Japan but it was Roosevelt’s belief that Germany was the greater threat and must be defeated first. His ability to sway both public opinion and the views of his military leaders is an important part of the story suggesting the breadth of his strategic thinking and leadership abilities.

This volume is about 1942 and the emphasis is on America’s entry into the war with ground troops. FDR’s military brass, Marshall, King, MacArthur and Secretary of War Stimson, either favored a Japan first strategy or a cross channel invasion of France in 1942.

Roosevelt believed that both were terrible ideas, thinking as the British did, that Allied forces would be roundly defeated by the Germans on the shores of France and that the fight in the Pacific should be a holding action.

What ensued in early 1942 was truly a knockdown bitter fight where FDR’s military leaders used every argument and action in an attempt to thwart his plan: to attack the Axis forces on the shores of North Africa.

Stimson comes off the worst of the lot, even betting FDR that the North Africa campaign would be a disaster; General Marshal comes in a close second with his failute to obey the intent of FDR’s directives.


How FDR brings the stubborn crew around is an important part of the story, including his inspired decision to draft Admiral William Leahy to be his personal Chief of Staff. Leahy, who also served as FDR’s ambassador to Vichy France, understood and agreed with Roosevelt’s assessment that North Africa was the place to start the fight.

As a senior military officer, Leahy had the credentials to offset the objections of Marshal and others as he presided over the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Admiral Leahy

While the North Africa invasion was a resounding success, months later at the Kasserine Pass, Allied forces, facing Erwin Rommel, were crushed and driven back 50 miles by the superior German forces.


Kasserine proved another aspect of Roosevelt’s assessment — U.S. troops needed to be “blooded” in battle. They were green and inexperienced and not up to fighting fanatical Nazi troops.

The prickly and immensely egotistical Charles de Gaulle, leader of the “Free” French in exile, makes his appearance in Casablanca at the famous meeting between FDR and Churchill where FDR declared victory would be of the “unconditional surrender” variety.

De Gualle

Getting de Gualle to attend showcased another aspect of FDR’s leadership ability. de Gaulle was residing in London and the Brits were footing the bill. He was refusing to attend as he felt he was not being accorded the treatment he deserved.

When Churchill informed Roosevelt of the problem, the normally charming and jovial president, who was on excellent terms with the prime minister, told him to tell the French general to show up or be cut off. He showed up.

Mask of Command unveils Franklin Roosevelt as the consummate leader who used powers of persuasion, steely resolve and charm to alter the course of history.