1940 FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler--the election amid the storm

Susan Dunn, 1945-

Book - 2013

"In 1940, against the explosive backdrop of the Nazi onslaught in Europe, two farsighted candidates for the U.S. presidency--Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, running for an unprecedented third term, and talented Republican businessman Wendell Willkie--found themselves on the defensive against American isolationists and their charismatic spokesman Charles Lindbergh, who called for surrender to Hitler's demands. In this dramatic account of that turbulent and consequential election, historian Susan Dunn brings to life the debates, the high-powered players, and the dawning awareness of the Nazi threat as the presidential candidates engaged in their own battle for supremacy. 1940 not only explores the contest between FDR and Willkie but... also examines the key preparations for war that went forward, even in the midst of that divisive election season. The book tells an inspiring story of the triumph of American democracy in a world reeling from fascist barbarism, and it offers a compelling alternative scenario to today's hyperpartisan political arena, where common ground seems unattainable"--

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New Haven [Conn.] : Yale University Press 2013.
Main Author
Susan Dunn, 1945- (-)
Physical Description
viii, 418 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Chapter 1. Mystery in the White House
  • Chapter 2. George Washington and Franklin Roosevelt: Duty or Ambition?
  • Chapter 3. Walking on Eggs
  • Chapter 4. Lindbergh and the Shrimps
  • Chapter 5. Isolationists: The War Within
  • Chapter 6. Dark Horse
  • Chapter 7. Home Run for the White House
  • Chapter 8. The Republicans in Philadelphia
  • Chapter 9. Roosevelt's Game
  • Chapter 10. The Democrats in Chicago
  • Chapter 11. Willkie Runs Alone
  • Chapter 12. An Army of Citizen Soldiers
  • Chapter 13. Campaigning 101
  • Chapter 14. Enter Robert Sherwood
  • Chapter 15. Franklin and Joe
  • Chapter 16. The Fifth Column
  • Chapter 17. Final Days, Final Words
  • Chapter 18. Safe at Third
  • Chapter 19. Roosevelt and Willkie: Almost a Team
  • Chapter 20. Roosevelt and Willkie vs. Lindbergh
  • Chapter 21. Epilogue: One Nation Indivisible
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index
Review by Choice Review

Dunn (Williams College) has written an outstanding contribution to the burgeoning literature of US entry into WW II, centering on the 1940 presidential election. She concentrates on the respective nominees of the Republican and Democratic Parties, challenger Wendell Willkie and incumbent president Franklin D. Roosevelt. Dunn makes significant inroads into US politics by showing the discord preceding the GOP convention, where Willkie emerged dark-horse winner after many ballots, contrasted with FDR's secret plan to be drafted by acclamation at the Democratic convention. The campaign, as shown here, was civil between the participants: the war was within the GOP circles, especially among isolationists and America Firsters, most prominently, Charles Lindbergh. Dunn concentrates more thoroughly than do fellow historians Lynne Olson (Those Angry Days, 2013) and William Manchester (The Last Lion: Winston Churchill, vols. 1-3, CH, Dec'83; CH, Apr'89, 26-4632; CH, May'13, 50-5225) on the difficulties FDR had to get destroyers to Britain and Lend-Lease passed, the Neutrality Act altered and disbanded. After the election, Willkie worked with FDR before and after Pearl Harbor for a democratic united front. He differs significantly from Lindbergh, who hated FDR and acted to block his and Willkie's efforts during the war. Extensive notes and index. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Scholars and students of WW II, all levels. A. M. Mayer College of Staten Island

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by New York Times Review

In July 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt met with senators from both political parties at the White House in a final effort to persuade them to amend the Neutrality Act preventing America from aiding other countries. After drinks were poured, Roosevelt and his secretary of state, Cordell Hull, argued that the world was approaching a catastrophic war. The 74-year-old Republican senator William Borah, who had led the fight against Woodrow Wilson and American entry into the League of Nations in 1919, shook his head in disgust. "There is not going to be any war in Europe this year," he said. "All this hysteria is manufactured and artificial." Two months later Hitler invaded Poland, and England and France declared war on Germany. Now that it has become the good war fought by the greatest generation, the ferocity of the disputes over entering World War II has largely been forgotten. But the story of America's anti-interventionist lobby is not only historically fascinating, it also echoes in debates today over whether America should engage abroad or hold back. The historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. - whose memoir, Philip Roth said, inspired his novel "The Plot Against America," about an alternative reality where the isolationists, led by Charles Lindbergh, defeat Roosevelt for the presidency - recalled the dispute as the "most savage political debate in my lifetime," eclipsing those over McCarthyism and Vietnam in its intensity. The debate was largely rooted in disappointment over the outcome of World War I, when Wilson's promised crusade for democracy ended with the punitive Treaty of Versailles. Leading liberal historians like Harry Elmer Barnes and Charles Beard, both of whom had noisily championed Wilson's decision to intervene, now denounced iL The Harvard Crimson declared in an editorial, "We refuse to fight another balance-of-power war." And after Joseph Stalin signed a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany in 1939, American Communists obediently heeded Moscow and denounced Roosevelt as a warmonger. At the same time, senators like Gerald P. Nye, who had headed an investigation into the munitions manufacturers of World War I ("merchants of death"), attacked the idea of bailing out "British plutocrats." What's more, appeasers like Henry Ford, Joseph P. Kennedy and Lindbergh called for cooperation with the poor misunderstood Nazis, while The Wall Street Journal pleaded for "realism" in a June 1940 editorial, arguing that Hitler had "already determined the broad lines of our national life for at least another generation." Just as American Communists hailed the progress represented by the Soviet Union, so appeasers on the right saw Hitler's fascism as the inevitable wave of the future, even as they denounced Roosevelt's New Deal totalitarianism. "Those Angry Days," by Lynne Olson, a former White House correspondent for The Baltimore Sun and the author of several books on England and World War II, and "1940," by Susan Dunn, a professor of humanities at Williams College, powerfully recreate this tenebrous era. Olson captures in spellbinding detail the key figures in the battle between the Roosevelt administration and the isolationist movement. She maintains that the president was too timorous in challenging Congress, but the fervor and depth of isolationist sentiment suggest a more sympathetic verdict. Far from shirking the conflict, Roosevelt played his cards well, seizing upon events to nudge the country toward war and patiently waiting, as he told Winston Churchill, for the big crisis that would settle the debate. Dunn superbly depicts the 1940 election between Roosevelt, who was seeking an unprecedented third term, and his internationalist Republican opponent, Wendell Willkie. It was Willkie, more than any other Republican politician, who ended up challenging the party's embrace of isolationism, but this did not really occur until after the election, when he traveled to Britain with Roosevelt's approval and was promptly denounced as a "Republican Quisling" by Col. Robert McCormick, the rabidly isolationist publisher of The Chicago Tribune. To the consternation of mossback Republicans, Willkie had captured the nomination by riding a groundswell of enthusiasm for an outsider. As a candidate, however, he began to hedge on interventionism. So, Dunn shows, did Roosevelt. OLSON argues persuasively that Roosevelt drew a lesson from his failed Supreme Court packing scheme in 1937 (the opposition to it was spearheaded by Senator Burton K. Wheeler, the Montana Democrat) and his inability to defeat Republicans in the 1938 Congressional elections: he could never get ahead of public opinion. Olson also reports that numerous high-ranking officers in the Army, Navy and Army Air Corps sought to sabotage Roosevelt and that "just before Pearl Harbor, Hap Arnold, the Air Corps chief of staff, was implicated in the leak of one of the administration's most closely guarded military secrets - a contingency plan for all-out war against Germany." In the Senate it was none other than Wheeler who denounced Roosevelt's modest attempts to keep Britain afloat as it single-handedly battled Germany. When Roosevelt backed a bill for conscription in 1940, Wheeler was apoplectic: "If this bill passes, it will slit the throat of the last great democracy still living - it will accord to Hitler his greatest and cheapest victory." Members of right-wing groups like the Congress of American Mothers traveled to Washington dressed in black to scream and spit at recalcitrant legislators and hang an effigy of Senator Claude Pepper wearing a sash inscribed with the words CLAUDE "BENEDICT ARNOLD" PEPPER. Olson shows that the campaign against the isolationists was successfully waged by several prominent citizens' groups, including members of New York's Century Association, who called themselves "Centurions." These establishment worthies, led by the lawyer Grenville Clark, enjoyed close contacts in the Roosevelt administration. Clark persuaded the Republican statesman and interventionist Henry Stimson to join Roosevelt's cabinet in June 1940 as secretary of war. In addition, Frank Knox, a Republican and the publisher of The Chicago Daily News, joined as secretary of the Navy. Both were drummed out of the Republican Party at its national convention. The most nettlesome antagonist Roosevelt faced was Lindbergh. He presented himself as a cool and dispassionate realist, assuring his American audiences that England was doomed and that there was no choice but to cozy up to the Third Reich. But he tipped his hand at an America First rally in September 1940 in Des Moines, when he announced that the real enemy was internal and Jewish - "their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government." After World War II, the right continued to search for internal subversion. Having previously flayed Roosevelt for trying to stop Nazism, conservatives now complained that he had been too soft on Communist traitors. But as Schlesinger showed in a 1952 article in The Atlantic titled "The New Isolationism," figures like Senators Robert Taft and Joseph McCarthy were really trying to camouflage their lack of enthusiasm for military intervention abroad by endorsing witch hunts at home. Probably no historical account can match the skill with which Philip Roth evokes this isolationist witches' brew in "The Plot Against America." But as Olson and Dunn valuably remind us, Roosevelt got it right. Had he wavered, events could have turned out very differently. No less than Churchill, Roosevelt saved Western civilization from the greatest menace it has ever known. Now that it is 'the good war,' the ferocity of the disputes over entering World War II has largely been forgotten. Jacob Heilbrunn, a regular contributor to the Book Review, is editor of The National Interest.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [July 25, 2013]
Review by Library Journal Review

The intense battle between isolationists and interventionists and breaking the two-term tradition were the key issues in the 1940 presidential election. Dunn (arts & humanities, Williams Coll.; Roosevelt's Purge) portrays Franklin D. Roosevelt as a master politician whose Machiavellian plan was to keep his competitors in the dark regarding his intentions while giving them ample room to fall on their egos. By contrast, the Republican Party was hopelessly divided: former president Hoover was hoping to be called on again, Robert Taft thought he was entitled to be the challenger, and Thomas Dewey, the New York upstart, sought the nomination, too. Republicans were also divided over isolationism vs. inter-vention. There was also isolationist Charles Lindbergh to cope with, the boy wonder who proved to be a false hero, while newspaper moguls favoring intervention were able to push the politically untested Wendell Willkie to GOP nomination. FDR captured the Democratic nomination and a third term by showing that he knew more about American democracy than any of the others. VERDICT Though the general story of the 1940 election is known, Dunn updates it with the latest historical data while writing a gripping narrative that both scholars and presidential history buffs will enjoy. They may also like Lynne Olson's Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941.-William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A warmly characterized study of Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie as they battled for the presidency of 1940 within a yawning national chasm over the war. Dunn (Humanities/Williams Coll.; Roosevelt's Purge: How FDR Fought to Change the Democratic Party, 2010, etc.) explores an array of wildly colorful newsmakers who helped sway the historical tide, from the GOP's Willkie, Thomas Dewey and Robert Taft to Joseph Kennedy and Roosevelt's speechwriter Robert Sherwood. The year would be dominated by the president's decision to run or not to run for re-election to an unprecedented third term, and the country's mood largely depended on whether the Nazi assault would resolve the public to stick with the experienced leader they already knew or risk a change that might, as Alexander Hamilton warned about term limits decades prior in Federalist No. 72, "unhinge and set afloat the already settled train of the administration." Dunn paints a lively portrait of the many currents during the year, which culminated in Roosevelt's victory in November. She looks at the alarming rogue statements of Charles Lindbergh and Joe Kennedy; the GOP's odd choice of Willkie, who was as much of an interventionist as Roosevelt; and Roosevelt's brilliant political maneuvering in choosing the two prominent Republicans Henry Stimson and Frank Knox to his Cabinet and the Broadway playwright Sherwood as his scribe for his patriotic stump speeches. Essentially, all Roosevelt had to do was sit back while the isolationists and pro-German elements like Lindbergh imploded. "In the end," writes Dunn, "Roosevelt and Willkie, the two former antagonists, were almost a team." A sympathetic, entertaining portrayal of two presidential opponents and ultimate colleagues--a nice complement to Lynne Olson's more comprehensive, sweeping Those Angry Days (2013).]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.