[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]
those books that at first glance looks like it is going to be one of those dry, difficult to read history books that is nothing more than a litany of dates and facts. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is an interesting and compelling account of the events in America during the 18 months prior to American entry into WWII. Oddly, this period is mentioned in every history of the war but the actual events in the US are glossed over such that American entry into the war is painted as inevitable. David Kaiser’s work puts that notion to rest as he details the methods and means whereby FDR led the country into war.
The review copy I received is 343 pages of text with 40 pages of notes and an index. It is divided into 9 chronological chapters that cover the period from May, 1940 to December, 1941 and America’s entry into World War II.
The text is engaging and very well written. What struck me most about the period was the amount of foresight by FDR in setting up and guiding the apparatus to get America ready for fighting a global war. The strategic changes between planning for hemispheric defense and projecting American power into Europe and the pacific are dealt with extremely well. He also makes clear the extent to which FDR had to overcome resistance from within the government and military to entry into the war while at the same time trying to hold back the more hawkish members of his Cabinet.
One of the episodes that he deals with is the development of what came to be known as the Victory Plan. I found it refreshing that he puts to rest the myth of Major Albert C. Wedemeyer putting the Victory Plan together by himself. He correctly identifies that the Victory Plan was a collaborative effort between the military, industry, and civilian planners. This point is also not belabored. Wedemeyer made his name post-war on the claims that he developed the Victory Plan almost single handedly and subsequent research has exposed that for the myth that it is.
Another thing covered very well in the book is the extent to which government had to both control and cajole industry and labor to get them behind the effort of switching from civilian to war production. This is something that is presented as a matter of course in most histories and this book exposes that for the hard effort that it was.
Most of all, the role of FDR is highlighted as the guiding force behind American preparedness for war. The period prior to America’s entry into World War II is very interesting because it was never a done deal that America would enter the war despite the feeling among most policy makers that war was inevitable. All the preparation and planning would not have made a whit of difference if the American people had not committed themselves to war. That commitment came in the wake of Pearl Harbor, but it was the planning done by FDR and the military in the months prior to Pearl Harbor that meant America was ready, or nearly ready when war did come.
I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in World War II, but especially to people who think they are familiar with America’s role in that war. An outstanding book.