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The Arsenal of Democracy — to win World War II

7 July 2014

The Arsenal of Democracy — to win World War II

The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit , and the epic quest to arm an America at war, A.J. Baime, 2014, ISBN 0547719280, 384 pp.

The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit , and the epic quest to arm an America at war by A.J. Baime

The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit , and the epic quest to arm an America at war by A.J. Baime

This book is not only for the historians among us, it is also for those of us who know historical events are most often the results of personalities and their judgements. Baime (pronounced Bay-me) so thoroughly understands his subject that he explains with uncomplicated yet insightful writing.

The title comes from the famous speech made by FDR as the United States came inexorably closer to entering World War II.

As is the publishing business custom the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, provided a copy of this book for an objective review. The Ford Motor Company (FMC) stepped up to answer FDR’s calling for the United States to become the arsenal of democracy (i.e., change her industrial might from a consumer based manufacturing to military armaments manufacturing) to build the largest factory in the world to produce the Consolidated B-24 Liberator in unbelievable numbers (the goal was a bomber a day). Indeed, the new factory would be built in nine months and without windows so that work could continue unabated by blackout conditions. Baime describes the U.S. industrial might prior to World War II accurately, and incredulous that capacity was, but his description of the factory is one of awe. It leaves no question as to why the Axis powers did not want U.S. entry into their war.

Baime also brings readers into the world of the Ford family as well as the rift-to-become-chasm between Henry Ford and his formerly beloved son Edsel. Although Henry seemed to be more than fair to his fellow citizens during the growth of the FMC (paradigm breaking with the paying well above standard and the hiring non whites as well as handicapped people) he departed from that path with age. Yet, Edsel, saw the future and wanted the FMC to lead into it setting the stage for the sad family drama to ensue. There is more, so much more which is pertinent that usually goes untold, which does not escape Baime. He describes the strategy and impact of Henry’s machinations — especially the hiring of Harry Bennett who established a private police force that Bennett used for strike breaking as well as his aspirations for power. Henry Ford also hired Henry Sorenson as well as John Bugas, who were both salient in Edsel’s work to keep the FMC on the right path. Baime well describes this momentous internal Ford-Ford-Bennett-Sorenson-Bugas battle within the FMC which resulted in dire consequences for most of these men.

Also detailed well by Baime is the hypocritical aspects of America at war for the world’s freedom. The U.S. was a segregated nation then and  Baime describes these dark time so the African-American diaspora from the poverty struck South to wealth offering factory jobs in Detroit can best be understood. Made tragic by Bennett’s thuggery-like use of African-Americans while all the while men and women for fighting and suffering for democracy.

Baime’s telling of the success of the FMC’s effort to build the B-24 Liberator in a scale unheard of is reason enough readers will enjoy this book — but it is also his research and understanding regarding the effects on the social culture within the United States which elevates this book to its superior level.


As is the publication custom, a copy of this book was provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for an objective and unsupervised review.


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