Roosevelt Myth - John T. Flynn

A Boondoggler's Dream

This country went formally into the war on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor. The President could not, without Congress, launch an attack. He knew that if he asked Congress for a declaration of war he would not get it. The week before Pearl Harbor, the polls still showed 75 percent of the people against going into the war. But the President was committed to war. And he had been carrying on an undeclared war for many months. The events leading to Pearl Harbor have been extensively investigated, though there is yet much to be obtained. This much has been established completely and that is that the President and his war cabinet knew an attack was coming, though they did not know it was coming at Pearl Harbor.

Whether or not they should have known is a point we cannot enter into here. The President had told the Japanese that if they made any further move in the Pacific the United States would have to act. The move expected was against the Kra Peninsula or perhaps Singapore itself, the Dutch East Indies or the Philippines. On November 27, just ten days before the attack, the President told Secretary Stimson, who wrote it in his diary, that our course was to maneuver the Japanese into attacking us. This would put us into the war and solve his problem. The attack did put us into the war. It did solve Roosevelt's problem. It was a costly solution. But it got him out of a difficult hole and into the one he maneuvered to get into—the war.

Of course, after the attack the nation was united behind the government. The conduct of the war covered a number of separate areas. There was the war at sea and the war on land. The whole story of how this was managed cannot be told in detail yet and when all the official data is available the task will be an immense one and wholly outside the competence of this writer. I shall not, therefore, deal with any portion of it.

Another sector included the direction of the great task of producing the arms and all the auxiliary material needed by our own forces and our allies. This is another subject which remains only partially told. Adequate material to tell it authentically will not be available until the records of the government are opened on a far more complete basis. I do not feel the time has yet come for this task.

There are, however, two other sectors of the war which can be told with reasonable fullness. One has to do with the management of the civilian population and certain other economic factors not directly connected with the fighting or the production line. The other has to do with the settlements that came out of the war so far as our allies and the peace of the world are concerned. These are subjects which fell under the hand of the civilian managers and were influenced more directly by the President. The first of these to claim our attention came under the supervision of the Vice-President of the United States, Mr. Henry Wallace.

The problem of raw materials was a grave one. We had to conserve those we had here and we had to be sure to get our share and more of those from other parts of the world where Germany and Japan were also competing for them. The Board of Economic Warfare was created to control the export of all materials seeking private export and to look after the procurement of all materials essential to the war effort, except arms and munitions. Vice-President Wallace was named chairman of the Board of Economic Warfare (BEW). Several cabinet members were also members, but Mr. Wallace ran it with little interference from them.

There was an element of "cloak-and-dagger" in this institution. It was at war with Hitler and Hirohito in the markets of the world. It bought things we needed. But it also bought, where necessary, things we did not need in order to preclude the enemy getting them. This was called "preclusive" buying. It issued thousands of export licenses every day. It was quite a bureau and it bulged with bureaucrats. At the top, next to Wallace, was a somewhat cheaper edition of Wallace—an authentic New Deal bureaucrat, if there ever was one. He was Milo Perkins, executive director.

Perkins was born in the West but went to Houston, Texas when his father inherited a ranch there and failed to make a go of it. Young Milo skipped college and became a burlap bag salesman. Bags were a scarce article in World War I and Milo made $100 a day selling them. After the war he established his own burlap bag business with a partner. It nearly foundered during the depression but pulled through and Perkins claimed he was making $20,000 a year when Wallace became Secretary of Agriculture. Perkins was a man with a soul—one of those souls that keeps making a lot of noise inside his body. He went in for art and music and finally Theosophy. The New Republic said of him that "for nine years at nine every Sunday morning, he donned his priestly robes, took along his sons as acolytes and preached to a congregation of fifty people." Of course he was a vegetarian, abjured alcohol and hated tobacco.

In 1934 he broke into print in the Nation, He uttered a clarion cry: "Grab the Torch! Men of Means, Grab the Torch!" He wanted them to grab a plan for a 30-hour week and 25 percent wage boost. Then he wrote to Wallace. He told Wallace that "from childhood I have wanted to live in a world I could lift." As Wallace was always in the market for planetary jugglers this was his man and in very short order he found himself in Wallace's department lifting $5600 a year salary—not much, however, for a $20,000-a-year bag salesman—and before long he got a $3,000,000 loan for one of Tugwell's whacky Resettlement homesteads to build a hosiery mill where the tenants could work in the Factories of the Lord, "splitting the profits from the mills between the people and the management." Only they never got around to splitting anything. He moved into various Wallacian activities and finally into the BEW carrying on "the war behind the war" where, according to the New Republic, he would find "the elbow room he needed to put his ideas into practice." Little things like "full-blast production" and "abundance for everybody" and "jobs for all" were simple matters to Perkins. The New Republic quotes him as saying:

"Some people ask how are you going to do all this?" But, says Perkins: "Actually only the timid ask the question. The only problem is Which method to use?" Perkins knew a lot of ways of doing it. He said: "The 'How' people are afraid of the future. The 'Which' people welcome it."

Perkins was a real 'Which' man.

By 1943 the BEW had 200 economic commandoes in the field fighting Hitler in the market places of the world and around 3,000 in Washington directing their weird operations. "Which" men or "Which" doctors like Perkins, as he says, have a choice of many ways of producing abundance, but they do their best work with billions. Much of the BEW's work was in South America and a lot of its purchases there were made to provide those countries with abundance and thus keep them from deserting us and going over to the Axis.

Although this outfit spent $1,200,000,000, no law ever authorized it, and the Senate never confirmed the appointment of Wallace or Perkins. The President "grabbed the torch" and created it by edict. The President told the RFC to give the BEW whatever funds it asked for. Jesse Jones testified that if either Wallace or Perkins asked for money he had no choice but to give it, and they asked for and got a billion and a quarter.

Of course, a great legion of economic soldiers had to have a chief economist. How they picked him I do not know. But these two great geo-political warriors—Wallace and Perkins—came up with a gentleman named Dr. Maurice Parmalee, born in Constantinople. He had spent many years drinking deep of the "new learning" in Europe and wrote a book called "Farewell to Poverty." Wallace and Perkins and Parmalee made a marvelous trio of musketeers as they figuratively strutted over this hemisphere arm-in-arm singing "Hello Plenty! Here We Come!" Parmalee wrote another book labeled "Bolshevism, Fascism and the Liberal Democratic State." In this he said:

"The high technological development in the United States renders it feasible to introduce a planned social economy much more rapidly than has been the case in the U.S.S.R. . . . The superficial 'paraphernalia of capitalism' can he dispensed with more quickly than in the Soviet Union."

But the doctor had strayed into much lighter fields of literature. He had also written a book called "Nudism in Modern Life" which is secluded in the obscene section of the Library of Congress. In it the doctor revealed his interest in a science called Gymnosophy, a cult of the old gymnosophists who it seems were ancient Hindu hermit philosophers who went around with little or no clothing. Dr. Parmalee felt that nudism ought not to be limited to hermits. He urged its widespread use "wherever feasible in office, workshop or factory." He wrote:

"Convent and monastery, harem and military barrack, clubs and schools exclusively for each sex will disappear and the sexes will live a more normal and happier life."

There is certainly something of a practical nature in the amalgamation of the harem and the barracks in a happy, carefree nudist life as a substitute for conscription in keeping the army up to quota.

The doctor, who seems to have gone in for what might be called G-string economics, was not too hopeful of results in our capitalist civilization. He perhaps saw pressure groups like Sidney Hillman's Amalgamated Clothing Workers, for all its pink idealism, insisting on its products. He felt that while gymnosophists are not necessarily Communists:

". . . these gymnosophist nudist colonies furnish excellent opportunities for experiments along socialist lines . . . Customary nudity is impossible under existing undemocratic, social and economic and political organization."

There was actually outside Washington a delightful club—the Washington Outdoor Club—composed of a number of bureaucrats and others which had a lovely sylvan hideaway in an isolated glen where the savants, weary of their fatiguing billions, could toss away their undies and play tennis, volley ball and leap frog. These facts were brought to Wallace's attention by Martin Dies, Mr. Wallace suggested that it would be better for what he called the "morale" of his department if Mr. Dies were on Hitler's payroll. Nevertheless, Dr. Parmalee was eased out of BEW—but into another bureau.

A new chief economist was brought in—Dr. John Bovingdon. Bovingdon was no fool. He went to Harvard and graduated with honors, which is more than Mr. Roosevelt did. But he, too, was one of those free spirits of the wandering winds who had managed to live for a while in the Orient, three years in Europe and England, two years in Russia and for smaller terms in 22 other countries. His Harvard class reunion book said he "engaged in art activities, painting on fabrics, poetry, dancing, acting, consultant on the Moscow Art Theater, one-man commercial monodrama programs, weaving, sandal-making" and so on. In 1931 the police in Los Angeles raided a Red pageant for a Lenin Memorial which Bovingdon was staging. The experience shook Mr. Bovingdon terribly and he went to Russia. He got a job in Moscow as a director of the International Theatre. He worked as a journalist in the world of free Russian speech, wrote radio scripts and plays. He decided to return to the United States to make us understand Russia. The Western Worker, a Communist organ, wrote February 7, 1935:

"John Bovingdon, former director of the International Theatre in Moscow and well-known as a dancer, having recently returned from the Soviet Union, will give a lecture and dance program in Jenny Lind Hall . . . The affair is being arranged by the Friends of Soviet Russia under whose auspices Bovingdon is touring this country." In January, 1938, he appeared in Long Beach, California, at the town's first "Communist Party celebration of the 14th anniversary of Lenin's death."

He made an application for a government job in 1943, omitting the items noted here, of course. The only thing which seemed to qualify this adagio economist for work in that specialty was his employment 23 years before by the American Woolen Corporation, long before he felt the mystic spirit of bolshy economics stirring in his tootsies. By what curious movement of the stars did these weird ideological brothers turn up in posts of the greatest importance in the councils of the New Deal? As fast as one was pushed out another moved in. It could not be by chance, since this happened in practically every important bureau. What aid could Bovingdon give to Mr. Perkins and Mr. Wallace, struggling with some baffling problem of world boondoggling? A clap of Mr. Wallace's hands and in before the two great "Which" men, amidst a crash of Hans Eisler music, comes Mr. Bovingdon in a series of leaps and whirls, kicks and postures. How else could he solve their problems? These two strange birds were not isolated cases. The Un-American Activities Committee gave Wallace a list of 35 Communists in the BEW. That information was merely brushed aside with some insulting smear against the Committee.

By the fall of 1943 the squabbles between Roosevelt's bureau chiefs became so general as to amount to a scandal. The President issued a decree to them to refrain from airing their differences in public. During the next ten months, behind the scenes, there was a continual row between Vice-President Wallace and RFC head Jesse Jones. On June 29, 1944, Wallace issued a public statement accusing Jones of "obstructing the war effort." It made a week's dogfight in the newspapers. In the end Roosevelt publicly scolded both men but issued a directive ending the life of the BEW and creating a wholly new agency with a different set of letters, and with Leo T. Crowley as its head. One of the first things Crowley noticed was the data respecting Bovingdon. Crowley asked for his resignation, which he refused, whereupon he was fired.

Thereafter the country had to depend on the management of a mere business man to handle an obviously business problem—getting strategically scarce materials for our factories.

It mattered not what the New Dealer touched, it became a torch to be grabbed, it became an instrument for use in his adventures in social engineering, and after June, 1941, when Hitler turned on his partner Stalin, these bureaus became roosting places for droves of Communist termites who utilized their positions as far as they dared to advance the interests of Soviet Russia and to help "dispense with the superficial paraphernalia of capitalism" in this country under cover of the war.