FDR Goes to War: How Expanded Executive Power, Spiraling National Debt, and Restricted Civil Liberties Shaped Wartime America

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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 Threshold Editions * 2011 * 382 pages * $27.00

Reviewed by Robert Higgs

With the passage of time Franklin Delano Roosevelt's historical shrine has eroded somewhat, and here and there its foundations have been undermined by researchers who reject the idolatry that long marked historical scholarship about the 32nd president. Hillsdale College history professor Burton W. Folsom, Jr., made an important contribution to such historical revisionism with his book New Deal or Raw Deal? (2008). Now, in collaboration with his wife Anita, Folsom has written a sequel, FDR Goes to War, which traces FDR's actions during the 1940s, as the preceding book did for the 1930s.

Once Roosevelt had decided that he would, by hook or by crook, lead the country into the great European war that had burst into flames in 1939 after 21 years of smoldering, he made a major change in the political course he had followed since 1935. He caged the dogs he had loosed to torment business people and investors. The Folsoms write: "Roosevelt had to have their cooperation. He could not win the war without them. Thus, he was finally ready for a truce with businessmen." This truce brought many businessmen into positions of great authority in the wartime command economy, smoothed the enmity between business people and the government that had helped to prolong the Depression, and set the scene for the successful functioning of the civilian economy after the war.

The Folsoms trace the Roosevelt administration's major diplomatic and related maneuvers before the war, including its policy of turning away Jews seeking refuge from the impending catastrophe in Europe. They remark: "Roosevelt could quietly exclude Jews and cite national security over and over again, whether or not the international crisis really warranted such a response." Many of the people Roosevelt excluded later perished in the death camps during the war.

FDR's pose as a peace-seeker before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor has long been recognized as a thin disguise for his actual aims. Even as he promised voters shortly before the election of 1940 that he was not going to send their boys "into any foreign wars," he was fully committed to U.S. engagement in the war. "Behind the scenes he was working with Churchill . . . to prepare for war," the authors write.

Major diplomatic and military developments during the war receive workmanlike attention from the Folsoms, but the details of their account are in the main already known to scholars and serious lay readers. …