Friday, December 18, 2015

"A Call To Arms"

Right now I'm reading A Call To Arms: Mobilizing America For World War Two by Maury Klein.

I am personally of the opinion that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an asshole. I think he was inordinately self-centred and an incurable elitist and imperialist. I also think he was less racist than the average person (especially from his social set). But I also think he was brilliant and the perfect man for the time.  His "New Deal" in the 1930's actually watered-down or circumvented more radical possibilities, but given the fact that the powerful reactionary capitalists were actively organizing a coup against even his moderate (and necessary) reforms, and the system itself conspired to frustrate him, I don't think anything other than what Roosevelt did would have been possible.

The thing is, for the Great Depression, only a supremely confidant patrician, long familiar to wealth and power, could have dared to have tried what he tried. And only such a man who saw fit to give the outstanding Eleanor Roosevelt the freedom to champion the cause of workers, Blacks, women,  all of the poor, would have even tried.

And, when it came to the War, ... well, I've said time and time again, that as bad as they were, the pseudo-democratic, imperialist and racist capitalist allies and even horrid Stalin's Soviet Union, were better for the world than the virulently racist and militarist Nazis, and the less virulently racist, but equally militarist Nipponese. (I suppose some readers of revisionist histories could give me a run for my money on this assertion, but I don't think they could ever convince me that I'm wrong.) The right side won the Second World War. And, with that having been said, it was Roosevelt who played his hand perfectly.

He backed the Allies, and later, the British alone (with their Empire) as far as he could against the isolationists (a group I have some sympathies for, their pro-fascist element withstanding). He then pushed his belligerent neutrality as far as it would go. I believe he actually wanted to achieve his ends without America going to war. In the end, war was declared ON the United States, not BY the United States.

And then the USA's participation in the war dramatically altered itself and the whole world. Klein's book talks about this. Read the review linked to above. It says things better than I'm capable of. But Klein's book is important because:
The story of how America became the “great arsenal of democracy” is the subject of “A Call to Arms,” and I can’t imagine it being told more thoroughly, authoritatively or definitively. Maury Klein, professor emeritus of history at the University of Rhode Island and the author of numerous books on the history of business and industry, crowns his long career with this massive examination of one of the most important aspects of 20th-century American history and one of the least documented or understood. We know a great deal about the battles that were fought in Europe, Africa and Asia, but we know far less about the incredible mobilization of American industry that — together with the appalling sacrifices made by Russian soldiers and civilians — made it possible to win the war.
I've posted about two other books on this subject. The Arsenal of Democracy by A. J. Bairne , and Freedom's Forge, by Arthur Herman. Bairne's book was decent. It spent too much time trying to exonerate Henry Ford from the charge of being an anti-Semite, Nazi sympathizer, but it also had good descriptions of the living conditions of Detroit war industry workers and the impact of the war on ordinary US-Americans. Herman's book was too annoyingly pro-business. It was reaching the level of childishness. And some of the reviewers point out some glaring errors that detract from its credibility overall. But one part I remembered, he talked about how Alcoa Aluminium offered to build a smelter for the rearmament program, but those stupid New Dealers insisted that someone else build it, to try to break-up Alcoa's monopoly, and that this caused precious months of production to be lost.  According to Klein's more authoritative work, Alcoa was a monopolist that did everything in its power to buy-out or smother competition and that the only reason it had offered to build that smelter was because a rival capitalist had a new process that he wanted to try out. Alcoa's offer was yet another attempt to circumvent a possible rival. One that failed because of those "stupid" New Dealers.

The story of how the USA became a super-power is surprisingly under-told. Klein's work, I'd say, is the best one for now, and will be for many years to come.


Dana said...

As long as Bernadette sings for me now and then everything is fine.

thwap said...

I forgot all about that part of her. I just remember her on Carol Burnett and in "The Jerk.")