Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact


SDHF Newsletter No.307 Secret Affairs: Franklin Roosevelt, Cordell Hull, and Sumner Welles Irwin Gellman

Secret Affairs: Franklin Roosevelt, Cordell Hull, and Sumner Welles
Irwin Gellman
The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995
Reviewed by Tadashi Hama

“You know I am a juggler, and I never let my right hand know what my left hand does… I may be entirely inconsistent, and furthermore I am perfectly willing to mislead and tell untruths if it will help win the war.”

– President Franklin Roosevelt to Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, 1942.

Author and independent historian Irwin Gellman’s biography of three key American political leaders before and during World War II reads like a novel. Quotes from the protagonists (President Franklin Roosevelt, Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Undersecretary of State Sumner Wells) as well their allies and detractors fill the entire book. On reflection, the narration may have been a little too “conveniently intertwined”, with key events missing as the need arose.

The lack of attention to crucial details makes the book’s storyline too “convenient”. We are told that Roosevelt had no hand—none at all—in fomenting the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and that Roosevelt was blissfully unaware of Japan’s machinations. Gellman faithfully follows orthodoxy, dismissing any suggestion that Roosevelt knew of an impending Japanese attack on America as “erroneous” and “simplistic”.

So why was Roosevelt initially supportive, then ultimately dismissive, of an initiative to host a summit between himself and Prime Minister Konoye Fumimaro to reconcile differences between the US and Japan in mid-1941; what did Roosevelt mean with his comment, of maneuvering “them [the Japanese] into the position to fire the first shot” at his War Cabinet meeting of November 25, 1941?

If nothing else, after reading the current book, one will need to reflect on the mental stability and moral fortitude of those Americans who held power of life and death during a crucial period in history.


MOTEKI Hiromichi, Acting Chairman
for KASE Hideaki, Chairman
Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact