The second installment of my critically acclaimed (or heavily criticized) series glossing over and misrepresenting the records of great Democrat presidents of the twentieth century focuses on Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR, as he is commonly known, is practically a saint in American history. There is probably more information about him and his presidency that any other US president. Distorting his record in a convincing way will be a challenge.
FDR is the only US president to be elected to 4 terms and he will be the only president elected to more that two terms due to the restrictions of the twenty-second amendment. He was president during some of the most trying times in American history. Major events of his presidency include the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and the Second World War. Just one of these evens is more that almost any president has ever had to deal with and FDR got them all. For the most part, his record is exemplary but there are things that are possible to critic if not our-right criticize.
It is indisputable that during the Great Depression strong leadership from the president was required. The government could not sit idly by and wait for the economy to recover on its own. The question is were the actions taken by FDR the correct actions for the speediest recovery? Economists are still arguing the value of the New Deal. Most actions did need to be taken, particularly taking the US currency off the gold standard. One fact that is undeniable is that FDR created the largest governmental bureaucracies in American history. He added twelve new major government agencies:
Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
Civilian Conservation Corps. (CCC)
Public Works Administration (WPA)
Social Security Administration
Federal Housing Authority (FHA)
National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA)
Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA)
Civil Works Administration (CWA)
Glass-Steagall Act (FDIC)
Wagner Act (NLRB)
I am sure that there many more small organization founded as part of the New Deal government expansion. Many of these major agencies have become critical to American society and I could hardly imagine life without them. Without a doubt, these agencies did many projects for the greater good of the nation and they provided hope for millions of people across the nation - the question remains - was this the best way to approach economic recovery? In the end, this is a purely academic exercise - it truly is “all’s well that end well.”
By the early 1940s, even before US entry into the Second World War, the US economy was back at almost full swing. Military orders for lend-lease and the revamping of the US military put millions of factory workers to work. This recovery would have continued and possible been even stronger without the U.S. entering the war. This leads us to FDR’s record in World War II. If there is depute about Roosevelt’s domestic policies during he Great Depression, his record during the war has plenty of things to criticize.
Revisionist historians have long speculated whether or not Roosevelt had advance warning of the Pearl Harbor attack. The idea is that Roosevelt needed an excuse to enter the war and when it was learned that the Japanese had plans to attack the U.S. Roosevelt, somehow, allowed this to happen. These theories are, of course, complete crap. There is no credible evidence to suggest that anyone in a position of power was privy to Japanese attack plans concerning Pearl Harbor. There is plenty of evidence that the president and the military leaders in Washington did not take the threat of war with Japan seriously enough in 1941. There is also ample evidence of ineptitude on the part of U.S. military commanders in the Pacific. It was this lax attitude that allowed the attack on Pearl Harbor to be such a massive Japanese victory.
The day after the Pearl Harbor attack Germany declared war on the U.S. in support of their Japanese allies. At this point the president was faced with a choice - join Great Britain and commit the United States to a war against Germany or immediately enter into negotiations with the Germans. Did Roosevelt have good enough reason to fight the Germans? Germany’s declaration on war against the US was largely symbolic - the Germans posed little or no threat to the US in 1941 and were not likely to ever pose a serious threat. In fact, Hitler would have been open to a negotiated settlement without ever fighting the Americans. As we have learned from the Iraq war, liberating oppressed peoples and stopping mass murder are not sufficient justification for going to war or invading countries. You must be directly attacked, or in imminent threat of being attacked, in order to justify going to war. Roosevelt did not have these justifications - clearly war with Germany was wrong. Certainly, Roosevelt’s policies cost America needless lives.
Once the president decided to got to war he must pick the best course of action in prosecuting the war. Roosevelt quickly gave in to British pressure to make the war in Europe the primary focus of US military action. The US would commit 80% of its military might against the Germans - in an attempt to correct British and French failures - and only committed 20% against the Japanese - a nation that attacked the United States. Roosevelt was also very naive in dealing with Stalin; failing to get real concessions from the Russians about the status of Eastern European countries after the war. Without a forceful stand from the United States the Soviets had a free hand in the east. In the end, the US only succeeded in replacing one genocidal maniac for another genocidal maniac.
The reality of the Second World War that U.S. and British peoples do not want to face is the fact that their contribution to the war in Europe was negligible. Japan should have had our full attention and Germany and the Soviet Union should have been allowed to destroy each other without interference from the United States. The US committed 80% of it military might to fight Germany and the British committed nearly 100% and at no time did the Western Allies face more than 25% of the German war machine. If it had not been for the Soviet Union’s mind-numbing sacrifice Germans would not have been defeated. The policies adopted by the Western Allies do not meet today’s standards of war-time behavior. Britain and the U.S. directly targeted civilians and Roosevelt fully backed these policies. U.S and British bombing policies caused massive death and destruction among civilians - clearly a war crime.
On the home front the president didn’t run things much better during the war years. Everyone is familiar with the internment of Japanese-Americans and Japanese citizens but how many are aware of the treatment of Germans and Italians during this time. The fact is thousands of Germans and Italians were interned during the war. In addition, FDR was a staunch supporter of segregation in society and in the military - clearly he was a racist.
To sum up, FDR was a man faced with amazing challenges during his extremely long presidency. He made the hard choices in an effort to lead the country through difficult times but history has been far too kind to these choices. Had George W. Bush faced the same challenges and made the same decision his public crucifixion would be assured.