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

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.