At a time when our country seems in the process of forgetting who and what we are and how we got here — how we literally saved the world twice in the last century from domination by murderous dictatorships — those efforts are dismissed today by various revisionist academics, or perhaps even worse, not acknowledged at all.
History, once one of the crown jewels of liberal education, is slowly disappearing from many curricula, to be replaced by bogus offerings demonstrating that our history is basically the story of racial, class, gender or economic oppression — basically, the planks that seem to be being used to build the national platform of one of our major political parties today.
That’s one reason books like Bret Baier’s “Three Days at the Brink” are so important. As the universities default on their duties, the contributions from non-academics become increasingly important. And when those contributions come from a highly respected, award-winning journalist, with the writer’s gift of narrative, and the reporter’s attention to factual detail, the result is a well-told, highly readable, and accurate account of the involvement of our nation in one of those crucial moments that determine the course of world history.
Bret Baier, chief political anchor for Fox News Channel and executive editor of “Special Report with Bret Baier,” the No. 1 rated cable news program in its time slot, is the author of two preceding best-selling histories in this series of three: “Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire”; and “Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission.”
The “Three Days at the Brink” refer to the three days of the conference held in November 1943 in Tehran, an ancient Persian city at the edge of the desert, at which the Big Three leaders of the allied powers — Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin met secretly for the first time to plot a united strategy for defeating the Axis powers. The war had reached a possible tipping point, with the Nazi defeat at Stalingrad, the victories in North Africa and the defeat of the Japanese in the Battle of Midway. Also on the agenda was how the victors would divide Germany after the war, and tentative plans for the occupied countries.
To win Stalin’s support, Roosevelt frequently took his side in the deliberations, often isolating Churchill, and at one point actually making fun of him and inviting Stalin to join in, eliciting a laugh from good old “Uncle Joe” or “the old Bolshevik,” as Roosevelt called him, fondly, convinced he’d won him over.
As George Kennan, deputy to W. Averell Harriman, our ambassador to the Soviet Union and later himself ambassador under President Truman, put it, Roosevelt believed Stalin appeared hostile to the West because he hadn’t been treated properly, and that “‘his ideological prejudices would melt away and Russian cooperation with the west could easily be obtained, if only Stalin was exposed to the charm of a personality of FDR’s caliber.’”
But it might frequently have worked the other way. The Russians pretty much got everything they wanted, especially the opening of a second front in Europe. But to be fair, they had done much more than their fair share of fighting. Nor beyond ensuring they would come away with an effective fighting alliance, did they ever intend to observe what Mr. Baier calls the “conference niceties.”
“Discussing the issue of free elections in eastern Europe during the Potsdam Conference , Stalin said what he had obviously believed all along: ‘A freely elected government in any of these countries would be anti-Soviet, and that we cannot allow.’”
But the primary and immediate purpose at Tehran was to forge an agreement among the three major war-fighting nations for winning the war. And as Mr. Baier shows us, the three Allied leaders would leave Tehran with an integrated battle plan for opening a second front in Europe, Operation Overlord, with the D-Day invasion. It was, by any measure, a great achievement. And it was made possible by the leadership of one of our most consequential presidents, who despite his handicap, drove himself to succeed, and did so, often magnificently.
And of Mr. Baier’s own success, David Eisenhower writes this: “Bret Baier, perhaps America’s top newscaster, has become one of our best historians as well . This book will be widely read and discussed, and prove to be must-reading for everyone interested in political biography, World War II, post-war history, and public affairs today.”
• John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).
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THREE DAYS AT THE BRINK: FDR’S DARING GAMBLE TO WIN WORLD WAR II
By Bret Baier, with Catherine Whitney
William Morrow, $28.99, 434 pages
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