While there has yet to be a female president, first ladies have been important in shaping many presidencies and their policies. Following her article on Abigail Adams (here), Kate Murphy Schaefer considers the role of Eleanor Roosevelt in World War II. Specifically she looks at Eleanor’s opposition to the internment of Japanese-Americans following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

A White House painting of Eleanor Roosevelt.

A White House painting of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Tammy Wynette said “sometimes it’s hard to be a woman,” but it can be especially hard to be a woman married to a man in the public eye.[i] While history generally paints First Ladies as ornamental, many played important roles in guiding presidencies. Like Abigail Adams, a first lady can be her husband’s sounding board, confidante, and greatest supporter, but what if a first lady takes issue with her husband’s decisions and policies?

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s reassurance there was “nothing to fear but fear itself” seemed hollow.[ii] As the nation went to war with the Empire of Japan, distrust and fear spread to anyone of Japanese descent. On Valentine’s Day 1942, General John DeWitt warned the president of the threat posed by Japanese Americans, saying, “racial affinities are not severed by migration. The Japanese race is an enemy race.”[iii] The absence of evidence supporting DeWitt’s claims of a fifth column of Japanese-Americans actively plotting against the government did not discredit them. Instead supporters like California Attorney General Earl Warren argued DeWitt’s claim was proof attacks were imminent and “(o)ur day of reckoning is bound to come.”[iv] Five days later, FDR signed Executive Order 9066, creating “military areas” in which thousands of Japanese-American men, women, and children would be interned for the duration of the war. Forcibly removed from their homes, their belongings, livelihoods, and civil liberties were forfeited because local military officials believed their presence near military bases and installations posed a threat to national security. Fear and suspicion trumped the protection of constitutionally-guaranteed civil liberties, and Order 9066 gave Americans a legally-sanctioned domestic scapegoat on which to heap their outrage over the Pearl Harbor attack.

 

“You’ll have bad times and he’ll have good times, Doin’ things you don’t understand”

Eleanor Roosevelt was horrified. Taken under the wing of a progressive boarding school headmistress as a teen, she was dedicated to social justice. While many of her peers viewed education as preparation for an MRS, not a BA or MA, Roosevelt used it as a springboard for what would be a lifelong calling to serve others. She used her platform as first lady and her syndicated newspaper column to highlight civil rights issues.

Eleanor recognized the threat to Japanese-Americans early on, even meeting with the editor for Japanese-American newspaper Rafu Shimpo. In an October 1941 press conference, she said “the Issei (first-generation Japanese immigrants to the United States) may be aliens technically, but in reality they are Americans and America has a place for all loyal persons regardless of race or citizenship.”[v] Less than two weeks before her husband signed the Executive Order, she gave another address, vowing “no law-abiding citizens of any nationality would be discriminated against by the government.”[vi] The executive order rendered both promises moot.

Others also recognized the threat Order 9066 posed to American democracy, especially as the press shifted from reporting the news to outright fearmongering. Archibald McLeish, FDR speechwriter and (ironically) the Director of the Office of Facts and Figures, tried to convince news editors to provide more balanced media coverage instead of giving in to sensationalism. McLeish also spoke with Eleanor Roosevelt on the situation, believing she was could counsel her husband. FDR refused to speak with his wife on the subject. In all fairness, though, he refused to speak to anyone about the issue. With the domestic “threat” contained, he focused on the war in Europe.

In March 1943, Congressman John Tolan briefed Eleanor Roosevelt on the status of the internment camps and updated her on the investigations, telling her the government never found evidence of sabotage or espionage committed by Japanese-Americans. DeWitt’s “fifth column” had never materialized. The American government had taken away the civil rights of thousands of legal citizens with no real justification. Eleanor went to her husband immediately with this news, requesting permission to visit one of the internment camps herself. She also asked if they could invite an interned Japanese-American family to live in the White House as an expression of goodwill to the Japanese-American community. Her second request was denied.

 

“But if you love him you’ll forgive him, Even though he’s hard to understand”

In a draft speech summarizing her visit to the Gila River internment camp, Roosevelt did not criticize her husband’s policy or the camps it created. Instead she perpetuated the more comfortable and conscience-soothing argument that the camps were as much for the Japanese-American community’s safety as for other Americans’ safety from the Japanese-American community and praised the internees’ “ingenuity” in living in such difficult circumstances. She navigated a more precarious political tight rope than McLeish: she had to perpetuate the lie that internment was justified while also arguing for its end. “To undo a mistake is always harder than not to create one originally but we seldom have the foresight,” she said.[vii]

She found her true balance by striking at the heart of racism, and American racism in particular. The fears exacerbated by the attack on Pearl Harbor were “aggravated by the old economic fear on the West Coast and the unreasoning racial feeling which certain people, through ignorance, have always had wherever they came in contact with people who are different than themselves.”[viii] Calling out the Americans who profited from Japanese-American misfortune, she also implied any non-white, non-natural born ethnic group could share the same fate. “We have no common race in this country, she said, “but we have an ideal to which all of us are loyal: we cannot progress if we look down upon any group of people amongst us because of race or religion…We retain the right to lead our individual lives as we please, but we can only do so if we grant others the freedoms that we wish for ourselves.”[ix] Roosevelt also skillfully reminded Americans of the thousands of immigrants serving in the American armed forces. The military had depended on immigrants to fill its ranks in WWI, and the trend continued in WWII. They needed soldiers and did not care what color they were or language they spoke.

Internment ended in 1945 through the Supreme Court’s ruling on Endo v. United States. Though the court reached a decision in December 1944, it graciously allowed FDR the ability to save face by delaying its verdict announcement until he could announce he was closing the camps. The president died the following April, and Harry S. Truman took over the nation and war he left behind. Truman ensured Eleanor maintained a public role after her husband’s death, appointing her as delegate to the United Nations. She was later elected president of the committee tasked with writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1946. Referencing her tireless work to protect human dignity and rights, Truman referred to her as the “first lady of the world.”[x]

 

“Stand by your man, and show the world you love him”

Eleanor Roosevelt’s most lasting post-war role, however, was keeping and shaping her husband’s legacy. Whatever their differences during life, Roosevelt focused on her presidential husband’s strengths and accomplishments in her writings and in interviews given after his death. She never mentioned his role in internment, and especially not her objections to that policy. She “stood by her man,” and so did the American people. Americans tried hard to forget the internment of citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, leading many historians to fear it could—and will—happen again. America’s tendency to consolidate national unity through common hate, our “propensity to react against ‘foreigners’…during times of external crisis, especially when those ‘foreigners’ have dark skins is a recurring pattern in times of crisis.”[xi] The pattern persists, the only change is the ethnic group, race, or religious tradition targeted. Though the “military necessity” of internment was never proven and the Supreme Court ruled it was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership,” the legal precedent stands.[xii]

Internment recently made the news as some politicians floated the idea of revisiting the policy for use in containing what they perceived to be the domestic “threat” posed by Muslim-Americans. If we refuse to learn from the mistakes of the past, perhaps we can learn from historical figures. Though most likely not as forceful as she would have liked to be, Eleanor Roosevelt was a voice of dissent in a difficult time. She tried to lend her voice to those silenced by racism and prejudice. Who will decide to be the voices of dissent in ours?

 

What do you think of Eleanor Roosevelt? Let us know below.

 

[i] Tammy Wynette, “Stand By Your Man (1968),” lyrics available on Song Facts, http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?lyrics=6668.

[ii] “Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself: FDR’s First Inaugural Address,” History Matters, accessed December 6, 2016, http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5057/.

[iii] John DeWitt quoted in Richard Reeves, Infamy: The Shocking Story of Japanese American Internment in World War II (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2015), 41.

[iv] Earl Warren quoted in Roger Daniels, Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II (Hill and Wang Critical Issues) (New York: Hill and Wang, rev. ed. 2004), 37.

[v] Togo Tanaka, ‘Mrs. Roosevelt Talks to Local Representatives,” Rafu Shimpo, November 1, 1941, 1.

[vi] Greg Robinson, By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 71.

[vii] Eleanor Roosevelt, “To Undo a Mistake is Always Harder Than Not To Create One Originally,” in Jeffery F Burton, Mary M. Farrell, Florence B. Lord, and Richard W. Lord, Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese-American Relocation Sites. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002), 24.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] “Voices for Human Rights: Champion of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962),” Human Rights.com, accessed May 24, 2018, http://www.humanrights.com/voices-for-human-rights/eleanor-roosevelt.html.

[xi] Roger Daniels, Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II (Hill and Wang Critical Issues) (New York: Hill and Wang, rev. ed. 2004), 113.

[xii] Deju Oluwu, “Civil liberties versus military necessity: lessons from the jurisprudence emanating from the classification and internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II,” The Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa 43, no. 2 (July 2010): 190-212, accessed December 5, 2016, www.jstor.org/stable/23253161, 207.

 

The Brain Trust was a small group who came together in 1932 to help Franklin D Roosevelt find ways out of the Great Depression. The group’s legacy was significant as they were closely involved with the New Deal as well as a very famous speech. Ted Harvey explains all.

Unemployed men outside a Chicago Depression-era soup kitchen.

Unemployed men outside a Chicago Depression-era soup kitchen.

They were mocked by some in the media, but the three men who were known as the “Brain Trust” were influential in helping Franklin Delano Roosevelt craft the policies that would become the New Deal. Technically it was a short-lived group, existing primarily during FDR’s run for the White House in 1932. While other advisors became lumped in with the “Brain Trust”, there were originally three who made up the group: Raymond Moley, Rexford Tugwell, and Adolf Berle. All were professors at Columbia University, Moley and Berle in law and Tugwell in economics.

The idea for the Trust was suggested by Samuel Rosenman, speechwriter and legal counsel of Roosevelt, whom he knew through his time on the New York State Assembly and as a Justice on the New York Supreme Court. Rosenman thought it would be beneficial for the candidate to have an academic team of advisers. The idea was supposedly based on the Woodrow Wilson’s “The Inquiry”, a large group of academics who advised President Wilson on peace negotiations following World War I. “The Inquiry” would eventually become the Council on Foreign Relations.

 

The Forgotten Man

The “Brain Trust” came together in 1932 led by Raymond Moley, a strong supporter and close ally of then Governor Roosevelt. The country remained trapped in the Great Depression with no obvious end in sight. Moley brought the Brain Trust together to help Roosevelt craft his message, focusing on how his administration would pull the country out of the worst economic depression the country had or would ever face. In some sense the “Brain Trust” was for show, allowing voters to see Roosevelt had a plan to get out of the Depression, and that he wouldn’t stand idly by to let the country work itself out of the depression.

The group’s influence was evident in Roosevelt’s first major campaign speech, now generally known as the “Forgotten Man” speech. In it Roosevelt laid out his plans for his initial 100 days and how he meant to address the continued Depression. The speech focused on the poor, the “forgotten men” who were not receiving the help they needed. It was Raymond Moley who helped write this speech and include the now-famous “forgotten man.” Moley also wrote much of Roosevelt’s first inaugural address. It is also thought that Moley came up with the term “New Deal,” which remains influential to this day. Adolf Berle was also heavily involved with Roosevelt’s speechwriting, helping to write the Commonwealth Club speech, focusing on the importance of government involvement in the economy.

Following the election, the original “Brain Trust” gave way to a more permanent group of advisors. These new Brain-Trusters, people like Frances Perkins, Harry Hopkins, and Harold Ickes, as advisors and Cabinet Secretaries, continued to push New Deal policies forward. As far as the original three, they each pursued a different path. Adolf Berle left the administration soon after Roosevelt’s inauguration, although he continued to be an informal advisor of the President. Later, from 1938 to 1944 Berle returned to work for the White House as Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs. Raymond Moley became disenchanted with the New Deal policies and with President Roosevelt. He continued writing speeches for the president until 1936, after which he left the White House becoming an ardent critic of the New Deal and liberalism, at least the kind promoted by FDR. Nothing exemplifies Moley’s shift in position than his awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1970 by President Richard Nixon.

Of the three, only Tugwell transitioned directly from the “Brain Trust” to a role in the administration, becoming Undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture. Tugwell would have continued influence as Roosevelt implemented the programs of the New Deal, including the Agricultural Adjustment Agency, the Soil Conservation Service, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and the Resettlement Administration. He left the administration in 1936 and became vice president of the American Molasses Company. Later he became the first Director of the New York City Planning Commission, where he frequently ran up against the (in)famous Robert Moses. He returned to the Roosevelt administration in 1941 as the last appointed Governor of Puerto Rico.

 

In perspective

Although the “Brain Trust” was a short-lived loose affiliation, the influence the small group had on Roosevelt and New Deal policies was enormous. While the members of the “Brain Trust” were dismissed by many as advocates of big government and elites, they approached the economic problems of their day through the lens of Progressivism. For example, their goal was not to rely solely on the government or to break-up the large corporations when it came to economic policy, but to have the government regulate businesses. These ideas, supported by President Roosevelt and his Brain Trust, became the backbone of the New Deal economic policies and in many regards remain in place today.

 

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References

http://www.epluribusmedia.org/features/2006/200609_FDR_pt3.html

https://www2.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/glossary/brains-trust.cfm

https://www.armstrongeconomics.com/research/economic-thought/economics/roosevelts-brains-trust/

Kennedy, David. Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Brands, H.W. Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt . New York: Anchor Books, 2008.

Posted
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones

The US midterm elections are taking place on November 4, and they are expected to produce some important changes. However, the midterm elections have a long and varied history. Here, Rebecca Fachner tells us about some of the more interesting midterms from the past.

 

Midterm elections are coming up in the United States on Tuesday November 4, 2014 and the pundits and political gurus are predicting a record low voter turn out. Midterm elections traditionally have a much lower voter turn out than presidential elections; often only 25 to 30 percent of the electorate turns out to vote, much lower than presidential cycles, which recently have usually been in the 55 to 60 percent range. What is remarkable about this is that midterms can be just as important politically. Historically, midterm elections have had quite a bit of political significance and it will be interesting to see what 2014 brings. In anticipation of the elections, and hopefully to encourage interest in the process, we will look back at what midterm elections have meant historically.  Here is a brief, non-partisan, non-political history of midterm elections in America.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidential portrait. Roosevelt has a very much unwanted midterm record.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidential portrait. Roosevelt has a very much unwanted midterm record.

DEFINITIONS

First, a definition. The term itself is confusing, because why would the US have an election in the middle of a term. Whose term are these elections in the middle of? The president’s term, as it turns out. As everyone knows, presidential elections are every 4 years, but in the middle of each president’s term, he is faced with an election, not for himself, but for the 435 members of the House of Representatives, and 33 senators. Each Congressperson has to get himself or herself reelected every 2 years. Senators have 6-year terms, but the 100 senators have staggered elections, so the country isn’t faced with electing 100 senators all at once. The 100 Senators are broken into 3 equal classes, so that one third of the Senate is up for election every 2 years. In addition, many states elect their governors during the midterm elections; 36 governors face election in 2014.

Midterm elections are generally seen as a referendum on the president, even though he isn’t the one on the ballot. Especially in a president’s first term in office, the midterms are a way of gauging public support for the president’s policies. If the electorate disapproves of the way the president has governed for 2 years, they will ‘punish’ him at the polls by electing Congressmen from the opposite party. If the president’s policies are favorable to the population, they will elect more members of his own party. For most first term presidents, however, midterm elections are a decisive swing away from his party. Almost every president in the modern era has seen his own party lose seats in his first midterm elections. 

The only modern presidents to actually gain ground in their first midterms were George W. Bush and Franklin Roosevelt. Both of their second midterms more than made up for it, however, FDR’s Democrats lost a record 71 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate, and Bush lost 30 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate. FDR even holds second place on the number of seats lost in the midterms: in his third midterms in 1942, the Democrats lost 55 seats in the House and 9 in the Senate. In more recent times, the record for the most dramatic loss goes to President Clinton, whose Democratic party lost 52 seats in his first midterms in 1994, and 8 seats in the Senate. The strangest outcome in modern times might be in 1962, when Kennedy’s Democrats lost 4 seats in the House but gained 3 in the Senate.

 

EARLY MIDTERMS

Although midterms have been happening since the beginning of the republic, the first one that has retained any significance was in 1858, the last midterms before the Civil War. The 1858 midterms were a decisive vote against President James Buchanan and his Democratic Party’s endorsement of slavery. The Democrats split bitterly over slavery, allowing the nascent Republican Party to gain significant ground. The Republican Party was formed in large part to get rid of slavery, and their overwhelming election to Congress fueled talk among Southerners of seceding from a country that clearly did not share their way of life. The election further underscored the dangerous divisions across the country and was a prelude to 1860 when the next election helped to spur secession.

The Republican Party remained in control of Congress through the Civil War and Reconstruction, into the 1870s. After Ulysses S. Grant had been reelected, his second midterm elections in 1874 became a referendum on Reconstruction and the Economic Panic of 1873. Voters decided they were tired of Reconstruction, tired of spending money on it and ended the Republican majority in Congress, ushering in a Democratic majority that would unceremoniously end Reconstruction.

The midterms in 1910 helped to cause such a split in the Republican Party that it fractured in half. Theodore Roosevelt declined to run for a third term in 1908, but, unwilling to give up control completely, handpicked his successor, William Howard Taft. Taft was ostensibly a progressive, like Roosevelt, but in 2 years managed to alienate the progressive wing of the Republican Party to such an extent that the progressives revolted in the 1910 midterms. Roosevelt was so horrified that his successor was abandoning his progressive principles that he hurried back from his travels abroad and decided to run for a third term as an independent in 1912. Roosevelt essentially started his own progressive third party, the Bull Moose Party, and became the first credible third party candidate for President in American history. Unfortunately, he wasn’t credible enough, and votes split between him and Taft, allowing Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the White House in 1912.

 

THE 1966 MIDTERMS

Midterm elections are always seen as if they are a national reaction to the previous political turmoil, and nowhere is that more true than in 1966. This was Lyndon Johnson’s first (and only) midterm election, and it was in the midst of an incredibly turbulent moment in American history. Johnson had become president just under 3 years prior, in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination, an event that deeply shocked the nation. Johnson had won the presidency outright in 1964, bringing with him a liberal onslaught that quickly went to work, passing some of the most important and divisive legislation in modern times, Medicare and Civil Rights.  The midterms in 1966 combined a conservative backlash, as well as dissatisfaction over the escalation of the Vietnam War to put an end to Johnson’s liberal tidal wave. The backlash was so severe that it set the scene for 1968 when Richard Nixon was elected to the White House.

The most memorable midterms of the last several decades were in 1994. 1994 was such a huge shift toward the Republican Party and such a massive repudiation of Bill Clinton and his liberal policies that it was called the Death of Liberalism. Clinton spent his first 2 years in office trying to reform health care among other liberal causes, and Republicans made him pay in 1994. The election was described variously as a bloodbath or a Republican revolution, and brought in a huge Republican majority in Congress. It is not entirely clear whether the Republicans were the winners in the long term, however, as his huge loss in the midterms forced Clinton to become more moderate, something that paved the way for his reelection in 1996.

The midterms in 2014 will do several crucial things; for starters they will determine the lay of the land in advance of the 2016 presidential elections. Similar to Bush’s second midterms in 2006, the President is expected to lose significant support. In 2006 Democrats won a landslide, which underscored how unpopular Bush had become. The election will also make President Obama virtually a lame duck for 2 years. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the midterms of 2014 will begin the 2016 presidential campaign. In the last few decades, particularly since the beginning of 24-hour news cycles, the midterms have come to represent the unofficial opening of the next presidential campaign. It is considered improper to begin to campaign for the next election before this one has been held, so midterms have come to mark the unofficial beginning of the next presidential cycle. Prospective presidential candidates will begin jockeying for position before the votes have even been counted. In retrospect, this may be the reason that voter turn out for midterm elections is so low and drops lower with every midterm; perhaps voters are just exhausted by the process and reluctant to begin the presidential cycle all over again.

 

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Steve Strathmann considers what the three presidents most closely associated with World War II did during  that other great war of the twentieth century – World War I.

 

In 1917, Woodrow Wilson led the United States as it entered the First World War. In his speech to Congress asking for a declaration of war, Wilson presented Germany’s submarine warfare as the primary reason to go to war, but he also stated a greater goal:

The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.

 

The two men who held the office before him supported the nation’s entry into the war. Theodore Roosevelt, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, asked to personally raise a division of troops to be sent to Europe. Wilson met with Roosevelt and politely declined the offer, explaining that the ranks would be instead filled through a draft. Another strike against Roosevelt going to Europe was his poor overall health; he would barely outlive the conflict, passing away on January 6, 1919.

William Howard Taft spoke publicly in support of the war. On June 13, 1917, he repeated Wilson’s “war for democracy” theme, declaring “...Now we have stepped to the forefront of nations, and they look to us.” Taft would be tapped by President Wilson to chair the National War Labor Board, a panel set up to handle labor/management disputes during the war.

While other future presidents would make contributions to the war effort (especially Herbert Hoover, whose work during and after the war would make him internationally famous), what did the three presidents most identified with the Second World War do in 1917? As we shall see, these three men all served their nation’s military in different ways.

 

The Assistant Secretary

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   FDR, with Secretary Daniels and the Prince of Wales, in Annapolis, 1919   
  
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FDR, with Secretary Daniels and the Prince of Wales, in Annapolis, 1919.

While the war raged overseas, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Theodore’s cousin) was a member of the Wilson administration serving as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. At the start of war, Roosevelt publicly called for an increase in the size of the US Navy by 18,000 men. This got him into trouble with Wilson and Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels, who were trying to maintain a state of neutrality. Roosevelt had to recant his statement, and learned not to step on his superiors’ toes.

By July of 1915, the administration was coming into line with Roosevelt’s beliefs on naval expansion. Increased action in the Atlantic Ocean, including the sinking of the Lusitania, convinced Wilson that the military needed to be updated and enlarged to improve the nation’s defenses. Daniels and FDR presented a plan calling for the construction of 176 new ships, including ten battleships. This was approved by the president and Congress.

Even with these preparations, the US Navy was relatively small when war was declared. This had changed by the end of the war, when the force had expanded to almost a million sailors on over 2,000 vessels. Roosevelt had a hand in this, proving to be so good at gathering military supplies that he had to be asked to share the navy’s material gains with the army.

According to biographer Jean Edward Smith, FDR’s greatest wartime work was the creation of a North Sea antisubmarine chain of mines. While the initial plan was not Roosevelt’s, his promotion of the idea and the technology to accomplish it was what led to it being implemented. The chain wasn’t installed until the summer of 1918 and it was never fully tested, but estimates of German U-boats destroyed by the mines range from four to as many as twenty-three.

Above all, Franklin Roosevelt wanted to serve in the military during the war. He knew how his cousin’s military exploits helped with his political career and wanted to follow in his footsteps. Theodore Roosevelt even encouraged Franklin to enlist. Unfortunately for FDR, his talents working for the administration meant that Wilson and Daniels would never let him leave his post.

Roosevelt did eventually make it to the Western Front, but not as a soldier. In the summer of 1918, he was sent as part of a Senate committee to inspect the situation in Europe. He insisted on going to the French battlefields, including Verdun and Belleau Wood, and came within one mile of the German front lines. Little did he know, his future vice president was serving in an artillery unit not too far away.

 

Captain Harry

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   Harry S. Truman in France, 1918   
  
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Harry S. Truman in France, 1918.

Harry S. Truman volunteered when war was declared, and the former Missouri Guard member was elected an officer in the artillery formations being organized in the Kansas City/Independence region. After training in Oklahoma, the units sailed for France, arriving on April 13, 1918.

On July 11, Truman took over command of Battery D. The battery had had issues with their previous commanders, but Truman soon earned their respect. Indeed, according to author Robert Ferrell, these soldiers would in the future be Truman’s political base, willing to do anything to support the man they called “Captain Harry.”

Truman’s battery saw action in the Vosges Mountains, Meuse-Argonnes and Verdun. Before Meuse-Argonnes, the captain marched his battery for twenty-two nights to reach their destination. During the two weeks there, Truman’s men sometimes fired their guns so often that, according to the battery’s chief mechanic, “...they’d pour a bucket of water down the muzzle and it’d come out of the breach just a-steaming, you know.”

Verdun was a particularly grizzly posting. The area where the unit was stationed was part of the 1916 battlefield, so every shell that landed around the battery would churn up graves from the previous action. Truman would describe waking up in the morning and finding skulls lying nearby. The battery would serve at Verdun until the end of the war.

While Truman was learning to become a leader of men under fire, one of his future generals was fresh out of West Point, desperate to join in the action, but continually thwarted in his attempts.

 

Ike

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   Dwight D. Eisenhower, with tank, in Fort Meade   
  
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 .

Dwight D. Eisenhower, with tank, in Fort Meade.

Dwight D. Eisenhower graduated from West Point in 1915, sixty-first in a class of 164. Despite his wishes to be posted in the Philippines, he ended up in Texas. When the United States entered the war, Eisenhower was appointed regimental supply officer of the new 57th Regiment.

Unfortunately for the ambitious Ike, he proved to be an excellent training officer and was turned down every time he requested a transfer to Europe. Like Roosevelt, he was too valuable to let go. He was soon transferred to Fort Meade to help organize the 301st Tank Battalion, one of the United States’ first tank units. He was supposed to leave for France with the 301st as its commander, but at the last minute was told that he would remain behind (once again) to set up a training base, Camp Colt, to be located on the old Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania.

Eisenhower did a fantastic job setting up Camp Colt, which soon held more than 10,000 men training on the site of Pickett’s Charge. Due to a lack of tanks, they would use guns mounted on flatbed trucks to practice firing at targets while in motion. Finally all was going well and Eisenhower was scheduled to leave for Europe with the next group of recruits, but the war ended just as they were preparing to leave.

 

War to End All Wars?

As the war ended, these three men probably thought what most others did: this war was the last of its kind to be fought. Eisenhower would remain in the army. Truman would return to Missouri and try his hand in business. Roosevelt would continue in politics, running for vice president on the unsuccessful 1920 Democratic ticket. Little did these three men know that they were destined to meet in just over a couple of decades, fighting the next world war.

 

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References

Aboukhadijeh, Feross. "U.S. Entry into WWI" StudyNotes.org. StudyNotes, Inc., Published November 17, 2012. Accessed May 16, 2014.

Duffy, Michael, ed. “Primary Documents- U.S. Declaration of War with Germany, 2 April 1917.” FirstWorldWar.com. Published August 22, 2009. Accessed May 16, 2014.

Duffy, Michael, ed. “Primary Documents- William Howard Taft on America’s Decision to go to War, 13 June 1917.” FirstWorldWar.com. Published August 22, 2009. Accessed May 16, 2014.

Ferrell, Robert H. Harry S. Truman: a life. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1994.

Korda, Michael. Ike: An American Hero. New York: Harper, 2007.

Smith, Jean Edward. FDR. New York: Random House, 2007.

 

Photos

http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/npc2007000705/resource/ (FDR, with Secretary Daniels and the Prince of Wales, in Annapolis, 1919)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Harry_S._Truman_WW_I.jpg (Harry S. Truman in France, 1918)

http://www.ftmeade.army.mil/museum/Eisenhower_with_Tank.jpg (Dwight D. Eisenhower, with tank, in Fort Meade)