Rethinking Franklin D. Roosevelt: Getting Past the Gospel According to Bruenn


Steven Lomazow is the co-author (with Eric Fettmann) of FDR's Deadly Secret (PublicAffairs, January 2010).

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of Roosevelt’s death, in 1970, cardiologist Howard Gerald Bruenn presented a paper in the highly respected medical journal, Annals of Internal Medicine, allegedly presenting for the first time a candid chronicle of the facts of FDR’s health in the last year of his life. Since this time, beginning with the 1970 work of James Macgregor Burns, who collaborated with the family and Bruenn, all subsequent biographers have accepted Bruenn’s account essentially without question.

The problem here is upon further research and the presentation of new material, most notably the diary of Roosevelt’s intimate companion Margaret Lynch Suckley and a memorandum of surgeon Frank H. Lahey, “the gospel according to Bruenn” can be exposed for what is was: a carefully orchestrated scenario designed to protect Roosevelt from criticism and deflect the true nature and consequences of his illnesses.

Indeed, Roosevelt suffered from severe cardiovascular disease in the last year of his life, covered up at the time through the voice of presidential physician Ross T. McIntire, who consistently, blatantly and repeatedly misinformed the press and public about the seriousness of Roosevelt’s health problems until his death in 1959. It is now quite clear that after this time, the responsibility for perpetrating the deception fell upon Bruenn, who by necessity had to modify the story, and doggedly stood by his own version of it until his own death in 1995. By now, historians have seen through Mcintire, but none have questioned Bruenn.

Bruenn’s 1970 paper created an entirely new mythology, never before seen or even suggested previously:

1) Roosevelt was indifferent to his health
2) Bruenn’s first professional contact with Roosevelt was on March 28th 1944
3) Until the late spring of 1944, there was no suspicion of cardiovascular disease at which time severe problems were first diagnosed
4) Roosevelt’s severe medical problems were exclusively of a cardiovascular nature

The nature of Roosevelt’s controlling personality and penchant for deception is well known to scholars. His monumental efforts with respect to recovering from and hiding the extent of his disability from polio speaks loudly against any notion that he was not in absolute control of any and all decisions about his other health problems. Nowhere in the literature is this even considered until Howard Bruenn said it was the case. This was not even suggested by McIntire, who stated matter-of-factly in a 1951 interview that Roosevelt was always in charge.

There is ample evidence to controvert Bruenn’s notion that he “first saw the president professionally in March 1944.” Letters back and forth in 1946 between Bruenn and Mcintire as well as Mcintire’s own 1946 book put the time of Bruenn’s involvement as about two years, from the time the thirty-nine year old eminent Columbia cardiologist was “mysteriously” transferred from a boot camp to be chief of cardiology at The National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda. Bruenn consulted on and examined Eleanor Roosevelt in May 1943.

According to Harry Hopkins, there was concern for Roosevelt’s cardiac problems as early as the Casablanca conference in January 1943, when an altitude ceiling was imposed on the presidential airplane. There is much additional evidence to support this.

Likewise, there is an immense body of evidence, the basis for our upcoming book, FDR’s Deadly Secret, that Roosevelt suffered a dazzling spectrum of health problems other than from his heart. These include diseases in the disciplines of neurology, ENT, urology, oncology, dermatology and gastroenterology, to mention only a few. According to Bruenn (and McIntire) FDR’s marked weight loss in 1944 was attributable to the fact that “despite the best efforts of the cook, liberalization of calories and much persuasion, he obstinately kept himself on his restricted diet.” At the very same time “Daisy” Suckley writes “the P. was weighed today & has gone down to 174 ¾ - He wants to go up a lb. or two, to not be less than 175, & not more than 180. He feels better thin, however, and walked much more easily in the water than a month ago.” This is only the tip of a very large iceberg of evidence to both explode the credibilty of and expose the motives of Howard Bruenn.

So what is the importance of unmasking Bruenn’s deception? Present day scholars accept the fact that Roosevelt was far sicker than Mcintire or Roosevelt himself ever admitted. In fact, the degree of the poor state of his health and his ability to perform as the most important and powerful person on the face of the earth in a critical period of American history is, until now, yet to be appreciated or properly analyzed, all due to the acceptance of a set of facts created a quarter of a century after his death.

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Richard J. Garfunkel - 1/2/2010

He was invited by Stalin! For better or worse, FDR was trusted by Stalin. For sure, Stalin certainly trusted very few, not including Churchill. The idea of who Stalin was in that day is much different than how we perceive leaders, or his record, today. This is not a rationalization of his conduct, or a cover-up regarding what the insiders knew then. The reality of freedom and the conduct of governments were much different. Most of the world, in those days, was ruled by force. Therefore, one had to determine how to deal with that force. My statement was that FDR intended to travel to Russia, his trip would have been extensively covered, and if he would have been healthy his charm and sincerity may have changed world events or created cracks in the Soviet facade. The Russians suffered greatly from two world wars, and from the First World War, out of the deprivation incurred on them by the Tsars and their system, it is no wonder that men like Lenin and Stalin emerged from the chaos. In truth, most Americans familiar with that world were happier with the autocratic rule of the Soviets over the abuse of centuries by the Tsars. Were they correct? From their travel and frame of reference they were. As Lincoln Steffens said when he went to the Soviet Union, "I have seen the future..." Again, in retrospect, many of these well-meaning folks were deceived or unrealistic. But for most the Romanovs were like the Bourbons of Louis the XVI. The revolution that followed did not make the royals any better.

Richard J. Garfunkel
Host of The Advocates

John J. McLaughlin - 12/21/2009

I had the rare privilege of reading Dr. Lomazow's book before its publication due this comming January. I was also present at one of the lectures he gave on the subject to a group of his peers. There were at least 20 qualified neurologists in the audience who would have detected any medical errors. He was able to thoroughly and convincingly answer all question that were raised by these trained medical specialists.

This is a remarkable book by a true scholar who has done a thorough and painstaking job of research. Indeed, after the book was completed he traveled to the Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch Iowa. He called me on the telephone while there and I asked him why he was still doing research since his book was already completed. He responded that he heard there might be some material there of interest, and he was only "interested in the truth!"

Dr Lomazow has written a book that raises profound medical-legal-historical questions relating to the conflict between the doctor patient confidientiality relationship when it conflicts with national interests, and what, if anything should be done about it.

When one reads Lomazow's account of FDR's impaired condition at the most important Yalta conference February 4-11 1945, the conclusion can easily be drawn that impaired leaders must not be allowed to make decisions that vitally affect our national interests. Would a healthy President have made better choices? Would the Cold War have been avoided? Would we have been able to prevent the Soviet land grabs? These are just a few of the questions that Dr. Lomazow's fascinating book raises.

S/Dr. John J. McLaughlin
Short Hills, New Jersey

Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 12/20/2009

"He expected to travel to London and Moscow after the war, and if he had traveled to Russia his charm and respect and love from the Russian people may have served to undercut Stalin's megalomania." --

I can readily agree Roosevelt may have thought that was so, but how anyone else could believe it is utterly stupifying.

The assumption that Roosevert would be allowed by Stalin to flash his vaunted charm before "the Russian people" is also asking for a very long stretch of credulity.

Richard J. Garfunkel - 12/20/2009

I had the pleasure of talking to Doctor Lomazow a few weeks ago with regards to his book. I have been reading, writing and lecturing about FDR for many years, and I also host a public policy radio show on WVOX Radio in New York. I had on my show Dr. Harry Goldsmith on August 13, 2008, who has also written about FDR's health. The show can be found on my website at http://advocates-wvox.com. There is no doubt that Dr. Lomazow brings up serious questions about Dr, McIntire's competence and veracity. As to Doctor Bruenn, I will await reading his conclusions when his book is published. According to Dr. Lomazow, he states that Margaret Suckley, was concerned about FDR's weight. But also in her letters and diary she doesn't mention a word about FDR having doubts about his health, mortality or the the fact that he won't be alive and well after the war. He also talked about retiring to live at his retreat Top Cottage. It is true, that FDR was very secretive, but his "Magnificent Deception" as written about by Hugh Gregory, was not to deceive the people about his affliction, but to assure people that he the strength and vigor to be president. He certainly showed that! Every one knew that he had been a victim of polio. With regards to Bruenn's claim that FDR never asked about his diagnosis, it is possible that FDR had an idea that he was quite ill, but wanted it on the record that he had not been told of that reality. Is that Bruenn's fault? FDR could have manipulated Bruenn also, but maybe not! Lomazow must explain why Bruenn would want to historically sustain a lie that possibly could have been exposed. One certainly could believe that McIntire disposed of FDR's records to shield him from the claim regarding his own incompetence. I am waiting to see if Dr. Lomazow is able to draw a more believable conclusion about the causes of his death than Dr. Goldsmith. Certainly it seemed that FDR may have suffered from a series of TIA's, which I do not believe were medically understood at that time.

FDR loved mysteries to read, loved secret negotiations, and trusted few people outside his inner circle. But I believe that FDR felt that he could trust no one to see the war to a successful conclusion without breaking up the Allied cause and rupturing the eventual peace. I believe that he was right. If he had lived, and been well, our whole relationship with the Soviets may have been a lot more successful. He expected to travel to London and Moscow after the war, and if he had traveled to Russia his charm and respect and love from the Russian people may have served to undercut Stalin's megalomania. But, all of that is mere speculation. I look forward to the book, and I am sure that whatever conclusion is drawn, the discussions and debates regarding FDR and his health will still go on and on.

Richard J. Garfunkel
Host of The Advocates
wvox radio 1460 am