Thursday, July 11, 2013

My Amazon Review of Susan Dunn's, "1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler-the Election Amid the Storm"

Susan Dunn has written a wonderful follow-up to her "Roosevelt's Purge." We move from Roosevelt's intra-party fight of 1937-38 to his his preparations for war in 1940 and 1941. Her title, although flashy, is much more about Roosevelt than Willkie, Lindbergh and Hitler and the story extends beyond the election of 1940. Roosevelt and the internationalist Hamiltonian Republicans are the clear heroes and clear villains are Lindbergh and the isolationist majority in the Republican Party. Roosevelt dominates the action with his masterly setting up the politics for his unprecedented third term and his great speeches pushing the country towards war. However, Dunn gives too much credit to his speeches but fails to note the lack of immediate action thereafter. For example not much happened after his state of emergency speech in May 1941. In many respects Roosevelt feared that he was getting too far ahead of public opinion, when in fact, he very likely was lagging behind the popular will, at least in 1941.

Dunn's portrait of Willkie shows him clear eyed in the face of the Nazi menace and way ahead of his time with respect to civil rights. Unlike Roosevelt, who was too dependent on the racist southern Democrats, Willkie was a full thoated supporter of Negro rights in the early 1940s. It is here where I have my main quibble with Dunn's book. In order to keep her plot-line going she all but ignores the critical support given to Roosevelt's foreign policy by the very Jacksonian and very racist southern Democrats. Without internationalists like Georgia Senater Walter George, a target of the failed 1938 purge, Roosevelt's whole enterprise of aiding Britain in its time of desperation would have floundered on the rocks. For a full discussion of the South's role in the foreign policy of the period I would recommend Ira Katznelson's, "Fear Itself...."

I also have two other quibbles. She ignored the role of future Secretary of State Dean Acheson's legal opinion in support of the destroyer for bases deal of 1940 and while she mentions the role of German intelligence in aiding the isolationist forces, she completely ignored the the role Britain's agent, William Stephenson in pushing America into the war.

All told Susan Dunn has written a fine book which vividly captures an era where politics really mattered and the American people really cared.

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