FDR’s Problem with Industry

“A second factor, easily overlooked, is the extent to which the American experience in World War I loomed over nearly every aspect of mobilization.”

Maury Klein
A Call to Arms: Mobilizing America for World War II

Klein makes a critical point here: the mobilization of the nation for the Second World War was heavily informed by the experiences – and the massive mistakes – made in the previous conflict. The result was often an overabundance of caution, especially among business leaders worried about shifting everything to wartime production, only to face a tsunami of order cancellations when the conflict ended.

Scores of businesses had been wiped out in the demobilization after World War I. Executives and investors had no cause to expect the Roosevelt administration to behave any differently from the Wilson White House. On the contrary: given how Roosevelt had spent the previous decade alternately wooing, excoriating, and emasculating the captains of American industry, they could not be faulted for seeing mobilization as the next step in the creep of government into a position of control over American business.

All of which underscores two key drivers of this blog:

  1. We cannot study World War II, as we do too often, in isolation from American politics at the time.
  2. We cannot study World War II in isolation from World War I. Indeed, it could be argued that the roots of the conflict stretch back at least to 1905.

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