No End Save Victory
How FDR Led the Nation into War
Basic Books, New York, 2014, 408 pages
Book Review published on: March 10, 2017
No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War by David Kaiser is an authoritative and perceptive history of the Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) leadership team in the period immediately preceding the United States entry into World War II. The book briefly presents enough context to understand the domestic and international environment to appreciate the inherent challenges of the time. Kaiser focuses on the political skill and style of the president during the critical years of 1940 and 1941. Confident in his abilities, FDR carefully orchestrated his team of political advisors, military leaders, and business executives managing the nation’s transition from the Great Depression toward the monumental effort required by the spreading global conflict.
Elected president in 1932, FDR had to immediately deal with the dire conditions of the Great Depression. Promoting a progressive New Deal backed by a majority of the American people, he drove conservative Republicans to distraction as programs were put in place that established a social net for the disadvantaged while citizens were put back to work by aggressive public spending on government projects. Not always successful, FDR made full use of his political acumen with party leaders on both sides of the aisle while conducting the greatest strategic communication campaign the nation had ever experienced to earn the backing of the populace for the important third term covering the period addressed in the book.
Kaiser’s significant contribution rests on his ability to reveal the artful nature by which FDR persuaded or coopted many people of influence to serve the national greater good. Using examples such as FDR’s complicated relationship with his wife Eleanor, Kaiser explores the human relationships between people of prominence where compromise could and did occur. Eleanor was an extremely able politician in her own right, at times more empathetic and idealistic than her husband. She served as a highly effective ambassador to civil rights groups for her husband in order to advance their cause but at a pace and distance FDR needed that would not sever his ties with Southern Democrats in Congress vital to his governing coalition.
FDR had very astutely brought together influential Republicans and Democrats, isolationists and interventionists, into positions of authority to make common cause within his administration. Kaiser shows how FDR permitted his team members to speak fully and passionately as trial balloons for programs to draw fire or accolades but shield the president from failures so he might still be seen by opponents of his initiatives as a calm and restraining influence on his team. Senior officials actually felt they brought FDR along to their point of view at times. Nowhere was this skill used to greater good than in the central story of the book as to how FDR was able to persuade or mask intent so federal legislators would authorize and fund the growth of the American armed forces and gather the war resources vital to the Allies. These efforts accelerated America’s conversion into the arsenal of democracy during the critical period prior to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.
If there is a weakness in this book, it is Kaiser’s too frequent use of rhetorical asides to relate his tale to current political circumstances within our government and the voting electorate. Prescient in wanting to avoid the current political impasse, these would be better served as part of Kaiser’s epilogue. This issue aside, Kaiser makes a significant contribution to a better understanding of national civil-military relationships, leadership, and command. No End Save Victory is an authoritative case study of presidential leadership during a period of crisis. The book could serve as a welcome guide and adroit example of Washington politics for officers and officials working with Congress, the executive branch, and the American public.
Book Review written by: Lindsay H. Gudridge, Fort Gordon, Georgia