Every time I walked through the vestibule of my family home in Jersey City in the 1940s, I saw Franklin D. Roosevelt's face on the wall, where many devout Irish-Catholic families hung a portrait of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. FDR was the hero of my youth, the almost mythical figure on whom the political fortunes of my father, leader of the gritty working-class Sixth Ward, a vital cog in the city's powerful political machine, depended. The name Roosevelt had a magical aura, inducing total admiration of him and equally total loyalty to the Democratic Party.
But memories, hero-worship, the loyalties of youth, are the stuff of novels, not history. This book owes its existence to my painfully acquired belief that the historian's chief task is to separate history from memory. In our understanding of the cataclysm that historians call World War II, we are in the final stage of celebrating the riches of memory. We are saluting the generation that won the titanic global conflict. There is nothing wrong with this impulse. These men and women deserve the literary and cinematic cheers we are giving them.
But memory is not history. It is too clotted with sentiment, with the kind of retrospective distortion that we all inflict on the past. History gives us, not the past seen through the eyes of the present, but the past in the eyes, the voices, the hearts and minds of