The Arsenal Of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, And An Epic Quest To Arm An America At War, by A.J. Baime
For a book written by someone who worships the military-industrial complex and is a propagandist for FDR, this book reads well at least. It’s hard not to review a book like this without feeling as if one is damning it with faint praise. The book’s virtues are in the style and in the angle of approach that the author takes to the material, writing about the logistics and politics of American military production in World War II, focusing on the business and family politics of the Ford family and their eponymous company, which produced the B-24 Liberator during World War II, an effort this book pays a lot of attention to. One can read this book quickly and smile as one is doing so, and there is a lot of drama involving the relationship of the Ford Motor Company and Nazi Germany as well as Ford’s senility and anti-Semitism and the way he was a brutally unpleasant father to Edsel, whose decline due to stomach cancer is especially poignant. Yet the book has a great many flaws as well that need to be pointed out.
This book of about 300 pages takes a generally chronological look at the history of Ford’s efforts to build the B-24 Liberator through World War II and the industrial and political and family drama that was connected to this effort in 30 chapters. After an introduction and prologue, the author spends seven chapters looking at the Motor City and providing the context of the Ford Motor Company and especially the tension between Henry and his son Edsel. After that the book contains seven chapters that look at the initial efforts to build in Willow Run a plant that would be able to construct the B-24 liberator. There are then six chapters about the struggles to get the plant running at the beginning of the war and the frustrations that were felt about the difficulties of conversion from civilian to military production. There are four chapters on the logistics of American production that showed Ford’s efforts being more successful and then the book concludes with six chapters that show the success of Ford’s efforts at building that allowed for the success at D-Day while Edsel’s eldest son and Ford’s loathsome security chief fought for control of the Ford Company after Edsel’s death.
In the end, it is hard to be just to a book like this one. This is not a book I would exactly recommend on its historical merits, but as a highly partisan and pro-FDR account, it is certainly a pleasant read apart from its perspective and worldview. For those who are less sanguine about FDR’s fundamentally dishonest approach to governance, though, the book’s attempts to provide a hagiographic view of FDR and Truman and to demonize Ford come off as particularly unpleasant and even nauseating at times. So long as you don’t take the author’s interpretation as valid and so long as one can enjoy the prose style of this book without thinking too hard about it there is much to enjoy, but thinking about this book tends to make it a more unpleasant read, as it includes corrupt dealings with the Detroit underworld, a violent and abusive relationship between a famous and wealthy and dysfunctional father and son struggling over rule of a family company, and a look at the corruption of FDR’s own administration when it came to crony capitalism and the darker undertones of Dr. Win-The-War’s efforts at encouraging big businesses to produce for the war effort that he had demonized for years before the beginning of the war.