Frank Costigliola, “Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances”

Frank Costigliola Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War Introduction
May 31, 2012

On May 31, 2012, Frank Costigliola came to Roosevelt House for a discussion about his new book entitled Roosevelt’s Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War. The landmark study examines how Franklin Roosevelt cultivated a sound Cold War diplomacy through his strong interpersonal skills and intuitive insights into the backgrounds, experiences, and emotions of Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill. This event was part of Roosevelt House’s “Road to November: Exploring America’s Challenges on the Way to Election 2012” series. 

Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, Interim Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to our discussion tonight on Frank Costigliola’s Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War.

We gather in the homes of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt and Franklin’s mother, Sara. Sara built these twin townhouses and gave one to Franklin and Eleanor as a wedding gift in 1908. It was here that Franklin recovered from polio in 1921, perhaps in this place developing the personality traits central to narrative we will be discussing tonight.

The New Deal was shaped in these houses, Cabinet secretaries like Frances Perkins recruited here, commitments made to programs like Social Security. Think of members of FDR’s inner circle and emotional support walking these halls – Louis Howe living in the front bedroom on the 3rd floor.

The houses came to Hunter in 1942 after Sara Roosevelt’s death, made possible by an initial gift from Franklin and Eleanor that enabled Hunter to purchase them from the estate. The houses were an interfaith and student center from then until 1992 when they closed in disrepair.

Thanks to the vision and determination of Hunter President Jennifer Raab, the Roosevelt Houses were renovated two years ago and now host Hunter’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. The Institute offers two undergraduate programs, one in Public Policy and the other in Human Rights and International Justice. And it offers a robust public program of lectures, conferences and discussions of important domestic and international issues.

Tonight, we address an important topic: the origins of the Cold War and how events might have taken a different turn had Franklin Roosevelt lived. And we will reflect on the craft of history. Frank Costigliola reminds us “the Cold War was not inevitable,” a lesson we should apply more generally to the past, present and future. People, personalities and relationships matter, can change the course of history. As Professor Costigliola concludes in his introduction, “Examining the nexus between public and private helps us see the messy way that history really happens.”

Behind me is a picture of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin at Yalta.  Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances paints a sensitive portrait of Roosevelt and Stalin’s relationship. Concluding Roosevelt “wielded a razor-sharp emotional intelligence. Masterful in reading personality and in negotiating subtle transactions of pride and respect he could charm almost anyone. He deployed these skills with surprising success in establishing a bond with Stalin.” So much so that Stalin reportedly said as Yalta concluded “Let’s hope nothing happens to Roosevelt . We shall never do business again with anyone like him.”

I think Eleanor and Franklin would be pleased that we are having this conversation tonight in their home. They believed that leadership and personal relationships could shape and change the course of history.

I want to extend a special welcome to Professor Costigliola. He attended Hamilton College and received his PhD from Cornell University. He is a distinguished scholar who has written widely on the Cold War and foreign policy. His books Awkward Dominion: American Political, Economic, and Cultural Relations with Europe, 1919-1933 (1984) and France and the United States: The Cold Alliance Since World War II (1992) examine the geopolitical, cultural, psychological, and intellectual underpinnings of American diplomacy with Europe in the twentieth century. Since 1998, Professor Costigliola has taught at the University of Connecticut and, in 2009, he served as President of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. Currently, he is editing George Kennan’s diary entries, which cover an 80 year time period.

It is also my pleasure to introduce tonight’s moderator, Professor Jonathan Rosenberg. He is a true renaissance man. After earning a degree from Juilliard and performing professionally as a classical trumpeter, he received his PhD in History from Harvard. He now teaches twentieth century United States history at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center. His research focuses on both the domestic and international ramifications of America’s engagement with the world. Professor Rosenberg has edited and published several important books on the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War, including Kennedy, Johnson, and the Quest for Justice: The Civil Rights Tapes, which was based on secret Oval Office recordings made by JFK and LBJ.  And, more recently, How Far the Promised Land: World Affairs and the Civil Rights Movement from the First World War to Vietnam. Currently, he is writing a book that investigates how classical musicians, composers, and performing organizations in the United States understood and responded to international developments from the First World War to the Cold War, no doubt a fitting research topic for a talented musician.

Jonathan…

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