FDR Unmasked: 73 Years of Medical Cover-ups That Rewrote History

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FDR Unmasked chronicles Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s life from a physician’s perspective. It tells a harrowing story of heroic achievement by a great leader determined to impart his vision of freedom and democracy to the world while under constant siege by serious medical problems.

Steven Lomazow the “A Life in Biography” podcast by Carl Rollyson


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Fatal Consequences
Chapter 1: A Star Is Born
Chapter 2: A Privileged Young Man
Chapter 3: Finding His Way
Chapter 4: Going to Washington
Chapter 5: Disaster
Chapter 6: Fighting Back
Chapter 7: Old Doctor Roosevelt
Chapter 8: Back in the Game
Chapter 9: The Nourmahal Gang
Chapter 10: The Road to the White House
Chapter 11: President-Elect
Chapter 12: Fear Itself
Chapter 13: Building a New Deal
Chapter 14: “Our Little Alabama Doctor”
Chapter 15: Settling In
Chapter 16: Camouflage
Chapter 17: To Run or Not to Run
Chapter 18: “Pa Had Really Been Quite Ill”
Chapter 19: Dr. Win the War
Chapter 20: Never-Ending Exhaustion
Chapter 21: The Last Campaign
Chapter 22: A Rapidly Failing Candidate
Chapter 23: “He’ll Come Out of It. He Always Does.”
Chapter 24: Race Against Death
Chapter 25: The Sick Man at Yalta
Chapter 26: “Pardon Me”
Chapter 27: The End
Chapter 28: Going Home
Chapter 29: Burnishing an Image
Chapter 30: Manufacturing a Lie
Chapter 31: Restoring the Truth

What are the consequences of the disability of the leader of a great nation at peace or even more dangerously at war? I have been in on any number of death watches throughout my career: Tito in Yugoslavia; Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko in the Soviet Union. Beyond the death watches—simply the question of the health of the leader, his (or her) ability to carry on the demanding, daily business of running a major nation—or even a small one. Recall, most immediately, when Donald Trump was rushed to Walter Reed Medical Center with COVID-19 as that pandemic was reaching its peak.

None of these episodes were pretty. Each of them sapped the vitality of the nation and the people they led. Merely the energy alone that went into the act of keeping secret the true nature of this disability consumed vast resources and diverted the attention of officials whose talents would have been so fruitfully employed in the betterment of their own nation and securing their place in the world.

In the case of Yugoslavia, maintaining in power Tito, the only glue that held together this disparate nation of republics fused in the crucible of the peace that ended World War I, was a gargantuan effort. A tribute to this futility was the speed in which each of these nationstates used the centrifugal forces unleashed by Tito’s death to declare their independence and join respectively the United Nations, in most cases the European Union, and for some, NATO. From Tito’s unitary empire sprang the nations of Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and eventually Kosovo. Most are fully functioning, western-styled democracies, some with admirable prosperity, all with a determination to pursue an independent course—with the absence at their collective head of a leader who was little more than xvi a feudal warlord. Tito had effectively been placed and maintained there by democracies that thought only of their individual self-interests and the need to return a semblance of peace to this disparate, occasionally violent kaleidoscope of nationalities that clung to the southeastern fringes of Europe.

As for the Soviet leaders, they successively had a single goal—to maintain themselves and their colleagues in charge of perhaps the world’s largest and longest-running kleptocracy. And each of them succeeded until the entire structure came suddenly crashing down around them.

Imagine, however, a nation and a leader who may have had the capacity to put a brake on that process or at the very least minimize its impact. But that leader, wracked with pain and illness, was unable either to recognize or react appropriately to the toxic sleight of hand that was being perpetrated by the Soviet leader of that time. And this leader—Franklin Delano Roosevelt—had been elected in an honorable fashion by perhaps the longest-running and most functional democracy. The problem faced by those who were closest to him was little different from the one faced by a succession of trusted advisers to generations of Soviet leaders through the twentieth century. America’s leader was desperately, it turned out fatally ill. But he was unwilling to publicly acknowledge this pressing reality.

At their peak, of course, the leaders of the Allied nations battling Hitler were unparalleled in their ability to set a direction and goals that, while in some cases deeply malevolent, were achievable by the force and agility of their will.

By the end of World War II, as the victorious allies sought to shape and define the world that would emerge from its ashes, none of the Allied leaders was so endowed with unchallenged or unchallengeable power than Joseph Stalin. The problem was that the one individual in any position to restrain his ambitions was an American leader in profound pain and decline. Moreover, enormous efforts were being expended to make certain that no one would have any sense of the depths and dysfunction of this leader’s capacities.

Franklin Roosevelt had been leading an entire civilization, the free world’s pinnacle of democracy in an existential clash. Yet by the time we begin to draw toward the conclusion of this conflict, FDR was approaching the end of his rope. It is this drama that Steven Lomazow so admirably unpacks in this riveting volume. In this case, it would be worth examining the price we are paying today.

The price especially revolves around the Yalta Conference. Winston Churchill was at the peak of his powers. Joseph Stalin insisted that the conference be held at the Black Sea resort where he had for years maintained a retreat. His doctors held that he was too ill to travel, but in fact this was more likely attributable to Stalin’s fear of flying. As for Roosevelt, he would die just two months later, though at the time he attempted to portray himself in full command of his facilities and his nation. As Dr. Lomazow details, that was far from the truth. Roosevelt was deeply ill, “encumbered by metabolic encephalopathy—‘brain fog’—due to continuous pain, severe hypertension, multiple organ failure, and the side effects and interactions of the cocktail of drugs being used to treat those ailments.” Roosevelt was incapable of standing up to Stalin and his most fundamental demands. “Encephalopathy diminishes the ability to maintain attention and multitask—a significant impairment for a man who prided himself as the hub of the wheel in every important matter of policy,” Dr. Lomazow writes. Above all, Roosevelt was in the very midst of the complex negotiations with a Soviet dictator utterly in command of his material and his views of where he wanted to take the world. Roosevelt’s failure to restrain Stalin’s demands would change the course of the twentieth century and lay the basis for conflicts that have marked the twenty-first century as well.

Stalin came to Yalta with a sweeping collection of demands that would, he secretly believed, secure the position of Russia in post-World War II Europe and enable it to restore the powers that had been drained from it by years of an all-out war of survival. Since Roosevelt was focused on the need to lure the Soviet Union into turning to Japan and the defeat of the third Axis power once Germany and Italy had been crushed, the American president was incapable of fending off Stalin’s leading demands—simply too ill to challenge the Soviet leader. Above all, he failed utterly to appreciate the consequences of giving in to Stalin, nor did his advisers xviii appreciate how ill Roosevelt was—and the need to insulate him from the decision- making process at Yalta.

The particular demands of Stalin that Roosevelt failed to contest, indeed appeared to embrace simply and passively, stand out for their future impact on global affairs in particularly toxic fashion. Especially so were Stalin’s demand for a Soviet veto in the United Nations Security Council and that all “democratic peoples” be the determinants of the future of East European governments—effectively a Soviet sphere of influence across the continent. Both had a major influence on the future course of history in Europe and far beyond—especially cementing the Soviet Union as one of the two superpowers for nearly a half century of communist power, throughout what would become the Cold War.

The Soviet Bloc

Stalin insisted that Poland, the avenue through which the Soviet Union and earlier the Russian Empire had been invaded on multiple occasions, needed a special status. While Allied forces were still battering Germany from the West, Soviet troops had already swept through and effectively seized control of Poland, installing a procommunist provisional government. So, with the long-standing Russian philosophy that in the end it was boots-on-the-ground that established undeniable authority—a concept that even in the twenty-first century Vladimir Putin embraced in a host of his adventures from Georgia to Crimea and onward to Ukraine—Stalin insisted Russia’s interests in that nation be paramount. Roosevelt and especially Churchill believed that the noncommunist Polish government-in-exile that had spent the war based in London was most representative of the Polish people. In the end, Poland was sold out—the Yalta agreement simply declaring that a “more broadly based” government should be established in Poland pending free elections at some indeterminate future that never arrived. Any number of American officials were persuaded, with considerable reason, that this condemned Poland to a communist future.

But that was only the beginning for half of Europe that would be forced at gunpoint to bow to the will of Stalin and his Kremlin successors. xix Roosevelt had agreed that future governments of all nations bordering the Soviet Union would need to be “friendly” to Moscow. Indeed, it was at Yalta that Roosevelt’s failure to draw a red line across Stalin’s aspirations led at least nine nations into a half century of communist enslavement. Roosevelt and Churchill believed, retrospectively demonstrating unparalleled naivete, that by accepting Stalin’s “pledge” to allow representatives into Warsaw’s provisional government in preparation for free elections, they had done all that was possible to guarantee a democratic future for this nation. Poland had become Hitler’s first victim after Britain’s Neville Chamberlain sold them out at Munich for a scrap of paper he proclaimed represented “peace in our time.” Now, at Yalta, Poland would be sold out one more time.

Poland was joined by at least five other European nations who had been conquered by Hitler, which at Yalta would wind up being enslaved yet again. Bowing to Stalin’s demands and banking on his “promise” to allow free elections in all of Eastern Europe liberated from Nazi occupation, including Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed that all future governments bordering the Soviet Union should be “friendly” to the Kremlin. Stalin wanted a buffer zone of his “near abroad” that would pledge fealty to him and his successors—a loyalty that would at least twice in the next quarter century be guaranteed by Soviet armor and military might. As the Allies gathered at Yalta, Soviet troops were on the ground in Poland and advancing rapidly through the rest of Nazi-controlled eastern and central Europe. Moreover, with Roosevelt clearly marshaling his limited strength for other battles, the American leader had little choice but to agree to Stalin’s demands. The consequences of such an agreement that effectively embraced, as well, Stalin’s philosophy of governance and dominance became increasingly clear as the Cold War developed and as NATO faced off with the Warsaw Pact. Twice—in 1956 in Hungary and again in 1968 in Czechoslovakia—Soviet-bloc forces intervened to put a halt to movements that threatened to weaken the iron control the Kremlin exerted in each of its “satellite” nations. Even after communism was itself dismantled in the last years of the twentieth century, this same DNA of Stalinism would continue to define the nature of Russian behavior into the twenty-first century as well.

The United Nations and Stalin’s Veto

A veto was the final nail in the coffin of Roosevelt’s dream of a United Nations that Stalin saw instead as simply another tool in the Kremlin’s toolbox. As it turns out, it may have been the most potent, certainly the most lasting—enduring well past the Communist experiment itself. It was the one outcome of Yalta that would have implications ranging far beyond the structure of Europe east and west. Indeed, it would prove indispensable to generations of tyrants and demagogues of all stripes. At Yalta, Stalin was prepared to entertain a United Nations, even a Security Council, along the lines that Roosevelt was advocating. What he did not want was a Security Council that was in a position to launch military activities against any Soviet actions where he felt his desires were justified or appropriate. Accordingly, Stalin demanded and got a veto as one of five “permanent members” of the Security Council. And that made all the difference in any number of toxic moments where the Soviet Union had any stakes that countered the interests or desires of the rest of the (free) world. It would prove useful, equally, to a succession of Chinese leaders and their sympathizers whose rise could hardly have been anticipated at the time by either Roosevelt or Churchill. Roosevelt, in his rare clear moments, might have anticipated the implications of this veto for America and the West, but he clearly did not foresee the vast abuses the veto could spawn. Or perhaps he was simply in no position to counter Stalin’s demand.

The extent of the abuse of the veto power, especially by Russia, is truly stunning. Since February 16, 1946, when the Soviet Union cast the first veto on a draft resolution regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Lebanon and Syria, the veto has been invoked 293 times. The imbalance is especially striking. Russia and the Soviet Union have cast a total of 120 vetoes, nearly half of all. The United States did not cast the first of its 82 vetoes until March 17, 1970. Britain and France have not cast a single veto since December 1989. Since the end of the Cold War and in recent years, the pace of the veto’s use has only quickened. Since 2011 through December 2020, Russia cast 19 vetoes, 14 of which dealt with Syria. Eight of the nine Chinese vetoes in this period were over Syria and one dealt with Venezuela. Still, the threat of the veto alone has prevented any number of questions from even being brought before the Security Council. Today, most such measures that do reach a vote—and a veto—are made purely for symbolic purposes, to demonstrate graphically the stakes of the permanent members of the Council in an issue.

The Aftermath

It did not take long for the West to recognize how much had been lost at Yalta. Roosevelt himself, of course, lived to see none of these consequences. As Dr. Lomazow documents, he died barely two months after returning from Yalta. By March 1945, it was quite clear that Stalin had no intention of respecting his vague promises of political freedom in Poland or indeed any other of his near-abroad neighbors. Soviet troops quickly crushed a pro-western provisional government in Lublin, Poland, in preparations for sham elections in 1945 that would set a pattern throughout the Cold War and indeed through to Crimea, the Donbas and southern Ukraine in the twenty-first century. Harry Truman, Roosevelt’s successor, would prove more skeptical of Stalin and his pledges, but by the time these leaders met at Potsdam in July 1945 to cement the final terms for the armistice, Stalin’s forces had already occupied virtually the entire eastern half of the continent.

There remains, of course, the open question of whether Stalin could ever have been thwarted in his demands short of dispensing with the Soviet Union refusing to enter the war against Japan (which the Soviets did only at the very last moment, nearly four months after Roosevelt’s death, and with little change to the ultimate direction of hostilities). At the same time, there was also the risking of an all-out conflict in Europe with weakened but hardly neutralized Soviet forces that the American people had little or no appetite to engage with at that moment.

By March 1946, barely a year after Yalta, Stalin’s gains were so clearly defined that Churchill hardly hesitated to proclaim in his memorable address at Westminster College: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an Iron Curtain has descended across the continent.”
In so many respects, this was Churchill’s and FDR’s most lasting global legacy.

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Weight 800 g
Dimensions 21 × 14,8 cm

Steven Lomazow





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Book. Softbound. A5