Book Review: FDR Goes To War

FDR Goes To War:  How Expanded Executive Power, Spiraling National Debt, And Restricted Civil Liberties Shaped Wartime America, by Burton W. Folsom, Jr & Anita Folsom

The more I read in this book, the less I appreciated FDR as a leader and the more I saw him as a malign influence on the history of the presidency after him.  I suspect this was part of the book’s purpose as a member of generally revisionist works on the leaders of The Allies of World War II [1].  What struck me in reading this book was how much FDR was to blame for many of the problems we face in our contemporary political culture, with the divide between pro-Communist fellow travelers of the Democratic party and their more conservative or libertarian opponents, the way that FDR sought to squelch the power of the press and engaged in promiscuous wiretapping that would have made Nixton jealous.  We see in the FDR portrayed in this book a shadow that shows the worse sides of executive power that we have seen in the presidents since then and in the ways that the power of government was abused in order to support narrowly partisan goals as well as to create dependency that would lead to reliable Democratic majorities.  It is clear that the authors do not view this prospect any more favorably than I do, moreover.

In about 300 pages or so the authors tackle a series of questions about the relationship between World War II and the political history of the United States in fourteen chapters.  A prologue begins with FDR announcing the lend lease program and trying to prepare Americans for eventual war before looking at how this shift in foreign policy marked an end to the demonizing of those business involved in the creation of war materials (1).  A discussion of Roosevelt’s 1940 election campaign (2) as well as the early difficulties in the Battle of the Atlantic (3) is discussed before the authors excoriate American failures to be prepared for Pearl Harbor (4) or respond to it effectively.  A few chapters follow on the early course of the war overseas in 1942 (5) as well as the shortages on the home front (6) and the turn of the side thanks to successes in 1943 (7).  Following this there is a look at the role of entrepreneurs like Kaiser and Higgins in providing for the arsenal of democracy that allowed for victory in World War II (8) as well as an argument over taxes and their role in providing or eliminating the incentives of people to work and advance (9).  A harshly critical look at FDR’s actions regarding social liberties, including regarding the internment of Japanese-Americans that the administration knew to be loyal (10), as well as a look at FDR’s idiocy in courting Stalin and sacrificing a great deal to appease this wicked leader (11), demonstrate the author’s harsh look at FDR in action.  As the book winds to its conclusion we see a look at the 1944 election and how it progressed (12) as well as a glance at the end of the war on the USS Missouri after FDR’s death (13) and a negative answer to the question of whether World War II ended the Great Depression (14).

Throughout this book we see the authors’ critical comments on FDR as a culture warrior engaged in the politics of demonization and division as well as someone who was not concerned about the rights or well-beings of others whom he exploited selfishly for his own political gain.  Likewise, it is clear that the authors view the presidency of FDR and its failings as immensely relevant for contemporary politics and the scourge and curse of progressives that our nation currently has to deal with.  Whatever our thoughts of FDR as a politician and as a leader, it is clear that he was a person who lacked a great deal of personal loyalty, integrity in either his public or private life, or a lot of sense or an appreciation of those who spoke unpleasant truths to him.  Likewise, his encouragement of the politics of hostility towards those who succeed or create wealth and his love of political corruption are clearly relevant to our own culture today.  It is pretty safe to say that my own list of presidents will not include FDR even among its top ten–at best he can be said to be someone on the level of Madison or Nixon who succeeded at getting elected but clearly left the United States unprepared for the problems it faced in war as well as peace.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Book Review: FDR Goes To War

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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