Comments on FDR’s Deadly Secret,
“A Speculation on the Sickness and Death of FDR”
Richard J. Garfunkel
March 10, 2010
I just finished reading Dr. Steven Lamozow’s and Eric Fetterman’s book, FDR’s Deadly Secret. The authors speculate, without the access to probably over 90% of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s health records that he suffered from an incurable cancer, and covered up this fact from as early as 1940. They have speculated that FDR’s suffered from a metastasized Melanoma, which had evolved from a lesion over his left eye. They believe that the Melanoma developed into brain and stomach cancer, which affected the sight in his left eye and his digestive system. They build this case by investigating the supposed contradictions regarding testimony by his personal doctor, Rear Admiral Ross T. McIntire, who was recommended to him by Admiral Cary T. Grayson, who had become very close to the new president, and Dr. Howard Bruenn, FDR’s heart specialist. They explore deeply FDR’s available medical history, and they reveal again a great deal of the investigative material developed by Dr. Harry Goldsmith in his book, A Conspiracy of Silence, the Health and Death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Dr. Goldsmith, whom I met at Hyde Park in June of 2008, was a guest on my radio program on August 13, 2008, and that program can be accessed at http://advocates-wvox.com .
I found their book incredibly depressing, one-sided, intrusive, and bordering on revisionist history. As an historical document it regurgitates many facts and opinions that have been have been stated and speculated upon for decades. With regards to President Roosevelt’s health, their conclusions regarding his performance in office were often one-sided and fraught with political hyperbole. In truth, there is no evidence that even with his declining health, any history would have changed. Few other accounts of the time, articles written by friend and critic, books on the FDR’s life and times, and personal observances seem to agree with their evaluation of his conduct in the long period from 1940 until late 1944.
As to FDR’s physical condition, there is no doubt that he was diagnosed and treated for hypertension, he was under unbelievable stress, medical knowledge of lowering blood-pressure was primitive, and both the campaign effort of 1944 and the trip to the Crimean Conference at Yalta were incredibly draining. It is no secret that he was not well, but all the reports of his effort at Yalta or his meeting with Ibn Saud, on the USS Quincy, indicated that he was quite sharp and alert. He certainly understood the reality the Zionists faced regarding the intransigence of the Saudis. When he asked about the Jewish settlers’ amazing progress in “blooming” the desert, Saud indicated that this was irrelevant to him, as he was a simple Bedouin, and the development of agriculture meant little or nothing to his tribal people.
In fact, from the Quebec Conference, in August of 1943, with Winston Churchill, and MacKenzie King, and the Tehran Conference in December of 1943, FDR was completely in charge and every report from the participants, along with the newsreels of those events, reflect his vigor. These facts seem to be quite different then the information provided in the Lamozow-Fetterman book.
In Mostly Morgenthau and Closest Companion, there seems to be little confirmation of the author’s conclusion about FDR’s health impacting his work until Dr. Howard Bruenn’s early 1944 consultation regarding FDR’s hypertension. There is no doubt that FDR had a long history of sinus-related illnesses and there is ample evidence that he was highly susceptible to upper respiratory infections. He did contract infantile paralysis at an advanced age for infection (39 years old) with the polio virus. At the time of his contraction of polio, no others on Campobello Island or the adjacent areas of Maine off the Bay of Fundy contacted the disease. He also was constantly battling influenza. But during that period of history many people succumbed to influenza. Many people, less physically strong than FDR, were debilitated by influenza. This debilitation affected their long-term immune systems, and many died of cardio-vascular disease. Certainly smoking, which FDR did, and alcohol consumption, affected the health profile negatively of millions of Americans.
With regards to FDR’s secrecy about his health, he was not much different from any one else. In fact, he was not much different from every president from Grover Cleveland to George W. Bush. It is interesting that Dwight Eisenhower had a massive heart attack in 1948 that was covered up by his doctors. Obviously the stress from his responsibilities during World War II and his post-war assignments, along with his 5-pack a day cigarette habit contributed to his attack at age 58. If it would have been known that he had a heart condition, he would have never been nominated in 1952, only four years later. As it has been well documented, Eisenhower’s eight year administration was fraught will illness, and he was much sicker that period of time than FDR’s almost 13 years. With all the health problems of his first term; a heart attack, severe depression and bowel obstruction surgery, he decided to run again for election. His second term was a disaster and he suffered from a stroke in 1957 and the start of gall bladder disease. FDR’s 3rd term was much more successful than the 2nd term of any president in American history up until Bill Clinton.
As to whether Admiral McIntire was incompetent or incredibly engaged is also basically irrelevant. Obviously the truth is always somewhere in the middle. Dr, McIntire was an Ear Nose and Throat specialist and he treated FDR, who had a long history of sinus and upper chest infection and illness. Therefore, he fulfilled his basic assignment. When FDR showed signs of circulatory problems and hypertension, he brought in Dr. Howard Bruenn who affectively treated FDR until his untimely death.
As to keeping his health information private, FDR knew who his opponents were and how vicious their tactics and actions could be. There are unlimited examples of their efforts, innuendos, lies, fabrications and character assassination for the sake of political gain. It seems that the authors relied upon the words and files of reporter and columnist Walter Trohan, the Limbaugh, Beck and Hannity of his day. FDR got along quite well with Trohan, even though he worked for the Chicago Tribune, and the author’s admitted that he was probably the source of much disinformation and under-handed criticism of the president. There is no doubt that FDR’s political enemies, not unlike the right-wingnuts of today, would use any edge to bring down his administration. FDR had an obligation to his millions of supporters who supported wholeheartedly his ideas and policies.
With regards to FDR’s mental condition and attention span, there is very little evidence of any real decline until the last few months of his life. With regards to the Russians, it was Churchill’s trip to the Soviet Union, and his meeting with Stalin, which reflected the type of singular diplomacy that FDR wished to avoid right up to the end of his life. He felt that individual action by Britain or the United States, with regards to the Russians, would weaken the Allied cause, and cause long-term misunderstandings. He also wanted Stalin to understand a western solidarity. Churchill’s meeting with Stalin on October 8, 1944, reflected compromises without the President’s consent. It was Churchill who was making concession in Eastern Europe to protect British interests in the Mediterranean and the Balkans. It was Churchill who eventually appeased the Russians with regards to the future of Poland, and the fate of the “London Poles.” Roosevelt refused to be bound by whatever was agreed to between Churchill and Stalin. Therefore, his health never impaired his judgment regarding continued Allied solidarity or Russian territorial hegemony. As to Churchill’s meeting with Stalin, he never told FDR specifically what had occurred. He cabled FDR on the 11th of October, and stated,”We have found an extraordinary atmosphere of good will here.” Those were Churchill’s words not FDR or Alger Hiss speaking creating policy for the United States.
The author’s seem to intimate that FDR was completely worn down by his NYC campaign effort, where he traveled around the city in a cold rain for many hours. Obviously this effort would have worn down any one, especially a man suffering from an enlarged heart, hypertension and arteriosclerosis. But what they conveniently forgot to mention was that FDR spoke that evening to 2000 members of the Foreign Policy Association in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He made a rousing campaign address referring to the differentiation between the sensible Republicans, who had supported his effort to re-arm and prepare the country for war, and the majority of know-nothing Republicans who had opposed all of his efforts. He especially mentioned his Republican secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, who was in the audience. It was a forceful, impressive and successful speech, which puts a lie to the author’s assertion that FDR could not read a page accurately because of a tumor blocking his left side vision.
A few days later he went to Shibe Park in Philadelphia and also drove around the city for over two hours. At Shibe Park, in front of a standing-room crowd, he spoke forcefully about how every battleship in Admiral Halsey’s titanic 3rd Fleet was authorized between 1933 and 1938. He also mentioned that all but 2 of Halsey’s cruisers were also authorized between 1933 and 1940. He added that less than three months before the German attack on Poland, Republican members of Congress voted 144 to 8 in favor of cutting FDR’s appropriation for the Army Air Corps (US Air Force). This so-called sickly, non-attentive, out of touch leader went onto Chicago the next day, and spoke in front of 100,000 partisan supporters at Soldier’s Field.
The relevant facts about Yalta would or could not have been any different, regardless of their speculation on FDR’s health. Even though Churchill’s doctor, Lord Moran, understood and observed FDR’s health profile quite well, there is not one iota of evidence that FDR was not aware of the realities we faced with the Soviet Union. The author’s inference that Alger Hiss (page 168) had something to do with so-called concessions to the Soviet Union is specious. The case of Alger Hiss has never been conclusive and when it came to foreign policy, vis-à-vis the war, there is no evidence that Hiss was leaning towards or aiding the Russians.
Their quote by translator Charles Bohlen, is also ridiculous. FDR was dealing with the reality of the conditions on the ground, and the need for help regarding the Pacific War. American Intelligence agencies estimated (probably incorrectly) that there were 2 million Japanese troops in Manchuria available for defense of the home islands. The Kwantung Army’s numbers were way over-estimated. However, as the war situation began to deteriorate, and without the knowledge of Allied analysts, for the Imperial Japanese Army on all fronts, the huge, well-trained and well-equipped Kwangtung Army, could no longer be held in strategic reserve. Many of its front line units were systematically stripped of their best units and equipment, which were sent south against the forces of the United States in the Pacific Islands or the Philippines. Other units were sent south into China for Operation Ichi-Go. Therefore dependence on the Soviet Union’s intervention in the war with Japan seemed quite necessary from the western perspective. According to the Yalta agreement, 90 days after the conference, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan.
In reality the Soviet Union fulfilled all of its treaty obligations up until the end, and with regards to Yalta, little was gained by the Soviet Union, and they conceded that they failed to get any substantive advantages above what they had already achieved.
Key points of the meeting are as follows:
- There was an agreement that the priority would be the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. After the war, Germany would be split into four occupied zones.
- Stalin agreed that France might have a fourth occupation zone in Germany and Austria but it would have to be formed out of the American and British zones.
- Germany would undergo demilitarization and denazification.
- German reparations were partly to be in the form of forced labor. (see also Forced labor of Germans in the Soviet Union). The forced labor was to be used to repair damage Germany inflicted on its victims.
- Creation of a reparation council which would be located in Russia.
- The status of Poland was discussed. It was agreed to reorganize the communist Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland that had been installed by the Soviet Union “on a broader democratic basis.”
- The Polish eastern border would follow the Curzon Line, and Poland would receive territorial compensation in the West from Germany.
- Churchill alone pushed for free elections in Poland. The British leader pointed out that UK “could never be content with any solution that did not leave Poland a free and independent state“. Stalin pledged to permit free elections in Poland, but eventually never honored his promise.
- Citizens of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia were to be handed over to their respective countries, regardless of their consent.
- Roosevelt obtained a commitment by Stalin to participate in the United Nations.
- Stalin requested that all of the 16 Soviet Socialist Republics would be granted United Nations membership. This was taken into consideration, but 14 republics were denied.
- Stalin agreed to enter the fight against the Empire of Japan within 90 days after the defeat of Germany.
- Nazi war criminals were to be hunted down and brought to justice.
- A “Committee on Dismemberment of Germany” was to be set up. Its purpose was to decide whether Germany was to be divided into six nations. Some examples of partition plans are shown below:
Of course this is not an argument against whether FDR was ailing, whether he knew what his long and short turn prognosis was, or what ultimately caused his death. He certainly had lost weight, he certainly had problems with his circulatory system, and he certainly was suffering from the affects of stress. His active schedule, with his obvious limitations caused by his lower body paralysis, affected his overall health. All of that is undeniable. Could he have suffered over the last few years of his life from various Transcendental Ischemic Attacks, or TIAs, which affected his speech? I am sure no one will ever really know. The knowledge of TIAs and their affect on the brain was still way off in the future. Did FDR and his doctors keep his medical history private, and possibly secret? I am sure he and they did. Did he do it to protect himself from his political enemies? That is certainly possible. One cannot remove from one’s thinking that FDR was a highly secretive man, who trusted few people, and had a long career marked by a high level of discretion. In fact, his White House filing system was divided into three sets of files, and all of his personal documents were divided so that not one secretary or filing clerk could read the whole document. The authors’ seem to want to convince us that FDR was completely in control of his health, that he knew of his fatal condition, that he misled America and his supporters, and that he was unable to perform his job in the last two years of his life. They go from being medical researchers and detectives, to historical critics. I believe their conclusions are unsubstantiated and colored by their pre-conceived political perspective. Up until the very end, there is no doubt that FDR was tired, worn down, and ailing, but any thought that his leadership or mind was affected is, from my perspective, political slander.