FDR Goes To War: How Expanded Executive Power, Spiraling National Debt, And Restricted Civil Liberties Shaped Wartime America by Burton W. Folsom Jr. and Anita Folsom
January 5, 2012 by Bob Livingston
But the stark truth is FDR prolonged the Depression, his policies left the United States woefully unprepared for a war he was itching to join and he centralized government and assumed unConstitutional — even dictatorial — executive powers more than any other previous President.
Burton W. Folsom Jr. and Anita Folsom begin their narrative of the Roosevelt Presidency in January 1933 by describing a meeting between President-elect Roosevelt and two of his advisers: Professors Rexford Tugwell and Raymond Moley. Tugwell and Moley couldn’t believe what they were hearing. After joining Roosevelt’s “brain trust” with expectations of changing American society by using government programs rather than free enterprise to plan the economy of the future, the two men were hearing a different side of FDR. He said he favored “war with Japan now rather than later.”
Why? Roosevelt’s grandfather Delano had made money in China in the opium trade, and Roosevelt felt an affinity for the Chinese people. Japan had invaded Manchuria two years earlier, and Secretary of State Henry Stimson wanted to embargo Japan to cut off their oil and steel supplies and end the atrocities in China. FDR agreed.
But with World War I still a raw sore, most Americans had become isolationist and U.S. unemployment was at 20 percent, so now-President Roosevelt publicly focused on the economy rather than foreign policy. He began pushing his New Deal policies that turned the economic downturn into the Great Depression, and he slashed defense spending while secretly pursuing an aggressive foreign policy.
During the next seven years, FDR attacked businesses at every turn and created big government programs that rewarded friends and built constituency groups. For instance, he figured that every Works Progress Administration-created job resulted in three Democrat votes. So in the run up to his re-election campaigns he increased WPA rolls. Those workers were grateful to have work and were expected to campaign on behalf of Democrats. Once the elections were over, WPA workers were laid off.
He rewarded then-Senator Lyndon Johnson with a plum naval base for Corpus Christi, Texas; and Johnson’s favored contractor, Brown & Root, received a cost plus fixed-fee contract. In turn, the company’s George Brown promised Johnson 100 percent support in the form of cash, which Johnson used to influence dozens of Democrat elections.
As war spread through Europe, Roosevelt worked behind the scenes to circumvent America’s neutrality laws and built a relationship with Winston Churchill. In secret, Roosevelt negotiated a deal with Great Britain to trade 50 destroyers for British military bases that stretched from the Caribbean to Newfoundland, even though his attorney general told him the transaction was illegal — and Constitutional scholars later agreed.
In 1941, Roosevelt began sending American armaments to Europe and Russia through the lend-lease (he had actually been skirting U.S. neutrality laws and sending some materiel for years) program while ignoring warnings from staff that Japan was becoming ever more belligerent. Roosevelt believed that if Japan attacked, it could be defeated in weeks.
In response, Germany began sinking allied ships suspected of transporting U.S. material to Europe.
When war finally came to the U.S. doorstep with the attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt turned to the same businesses he had spent years demonizing to get them to convert from producing consumer goods to producing weapons, tanks, war planes and the other things needed to prosecute a war. They responded magnificently, but were later rewarded by having a 95 percent tax placed on their profits.
Roosevelt also allowed communists to infiltrate the U.S. government. They then influenced his dealings with Joseph Stalin. Among them were Lauchlin Currie, senior administrative assistant to the President and a former Treasury official, and Harry Dexter White, who became the No. 2 man at Treasury.
KGB cables showed that Currie told Russia that Roosevelt was willing to concede half of Poland to Stalin and would encourage the Polish government-in-exile to cooperate with the Russians. The Russian army would later — with Roosevelt’s blessings — encourage the Polish underground to battle their German occupiers from inside Poland with the promise that Russian troops would attack from outside. Russian troops then stood aside as the Poles were wiped out, then marched in to battle the wounded German army.
Roosevelt also secretly negotiated with Stalin to cede much of Europe to Russia once the war was over, which resulted in many years of suffering by Eastern Europeans under totalitarian communist regimes. It also produced the Cold War.
In 1944, with his health failing, Roosevelt sought a fourth term. A compliant media covered up Roosevelt’s deteriorating condition, just as they had covered up the fact that he had polio and couldn’t walk on his own. Most who saw him early that year thought Roosevelt would never survive his third term, much less a fourth.
But survive he did, and he defeated Thomas Dewey with 53 percent of the popular vote and a 432-99 Electoral College advantage. When he died on April 12, 1945, Roosevelt left behind a legacy of evasive and self-serving politics and of using the power of government to hurt enemies and reward friends that will be difficult to match.
The Burtons cover all of this and more in a well-researched and well-documented manner. This book is essential reading to understand how the power of government was misused by Roosevelt and how it continues to be misused, and it gives an eerie parallel to the Barack Obama Presidency (and also explains what Obama means when he compares himself to FDR).