Roosevelt Myth - John T. Flynn

Toward the Precipice

I. Federal Agencies

As the year 1941 dawned, the experiments of Roosevelt had been under observation for eight years. There can be no dispute as to the commission he held from the people. He was not elected to substitute a new system of government and economy, to set up a socialist or fascist or communist system or any form of state-planned capitalism. His promise was to restore conditions under which the American system of free representative government and the free system o£ private enterprise could function at its highest efficiency.

The word "business" is well understood by our people. It refers to that collection of great and small enterprises which produce goods and services for the population. It does two things. It produces our food, our clothes, our luxuries and necessities; it provides, also, the jobs by which the people earn the income with which they can purchase these things. As Roosevelt came into power one might have supposed that business was some gigantic criminal conspiracy against the welfare of the nation. He began with a sweeping attack upon business and he kept it up until the war. Even during the war, in such moments as he could give to the subject, he was making plans for further assaults upon business.

What the nation needed when he took office was more jobs—jobs at machines, in shops, in mines and stores creating and distributing goods that were needed and providing wages and profits with which these goods could be purchased. If there are to be jobs for all they must be jobs producing something—materials or services.

The clear call of duty to him was to lend the powers of government by all means to improving conditions favorable to business. Those familiar with the subject of the economic organism at that time understood what everyone seems to understand now, that business cannot function at full measure unless there is a steady flow of savings into new investment. New investment means the flow of money into the establishment of new industries and the expansion of old ones. It means putting up houses and buildings, producing and installing new machines and tools. It means organizing new companies or partnerships, subscribing to new corporate shares and for this purpose borrowing funds from investors or from investing institutions like banks and trust companies. All this had slowed up around 1929, causing the depression. It was a typical capitalist-system depression, but one which was deepened (1) by the existence of so many shaky banks whose failure contributed to the general fear, (2) the incidence of depression all over Europe which cut deeply into our foreign trade. Another factor arose out of a situation where President Hoover in 1930 was confronted by a Democratic House that was more interested in discrediting him than in cooperating with him to end the depression.

As we have seen, Roosevelt instead of aiding in checking the great banking crisis was determined to see it roll on to the lowest point with all the banks closed. We have seen that after that he took no interest in any sort of banking reform and that whatever was done was done without his aid or against his opposition. It was essential that he do everything in his power to reestablish confidence in our economic system. Instead he carried on a ceaseless bombardment of it, continued to browbeat it, to denounce it, to warn people against it, and to subject it to a dozen crack-brained, semi-revolutionary schemes, including deficit financing, inflation, Utopian panaceas and the everlasting preachment that profit was evil, investors parasites and business men scoundrels.

The simple truth is that private business never did recover—and that must be the supreme test. Public spending and rising public debt kept the frightened and harried business machine going at a halting gait. But it never went back into full production and by 1938, despite all the spending, faltered again and sank back into a full depression. Roosevelt had launched a dozen theatrical projects like the NRA, the AAA, the CCC, the PWA, the WPA and other gaudy and giddy adventures in boondoggling without ever touching the real trouble and in the end, by 1938, he was back almost from where he started, plus a federal debt that had doubled.

Through all this, however, one pattern ran, because it fell in perfectly with the natural bent of the President's mind. This consisted in persistent pressure for changing the structure of the government by enlarging the powers of the President. It consisted in the gradual use of one technique after another to increase the powers of the federal government at the expense of the states and, in the federal government itself, of enlarging the powers of the presidency at the expense of the Congress and the courts.

The first of these devices was the use of blank-check appropriations and blank-check legislation. Under our system, Congress holds the purse strings. If the President wanted to spend money he had to ask Congress for it specifically. If a congressman or senator wanted something for his district or state he had to introduce a bill to authorize it and appropriate the money to pay the bills. But early in Roosevelt's first term the NRA Act provided an appropriation of $3,300,000,000 which the President was given to be spent for relief and recovery at his own discretion. He now had in his hands a sum of money equal to as much as the government had spent in ten years outside the ordinary expenses of government. He decided how it should be spent and where.

If a congressman or senator wanted an appropriation for his district, instead of introducing a bill in Congress, he went up to the White House with his hat in his hands and asked the President for it. All over the country, states, cities, counties, business organizations, institutions of all sorts wanted projects of all kinds. Instead of going to Congress they went to the President. After that congressmen had to play along with the President or they got very little or nothing for their districts. This was the secret of the President's power, but it was also a tremendous blow at a very fundamental principle of our government which is designed to preserve the independence of the Congress from the Executive.

In the same way, blank-check legislation led to the subservience of Congress and the rise of the bureaucracy. Under our traditional system, Congress alone could pass laws. The executive bureau merely enforced the law. But now Congress began to pass laws that created large bureaus and empowered those bureaus to make "regulations" or "directives" within a wide area of authority. Under a law like that the bureau became a quasi-legislative body authorized by Congress to make regulations which had the effect of law. This practice grew until Washington was filled with a vast array of bureaus that were making laws, enforcing them and actually interpreting them through courts set up within the bureaus, literally abolishing on a large scale within that area the distinction between executive, legislative and judicial processes.

As the war effort got under way these bureaus grew in number until they sprawled all over Washington and into adjacent cities. Washington could not hold the bureaus or house the bureaucrats.

The following is a partial list of New Deal bureaus compiled by Mr. E. M. Biggers of Houston, Texas:

FWA Federal Works Agency
NRA National Recovery Administration
USMC United States Maritime Commission
HOLC Home Owners Loan Corporation
AAA Agricultural Adjustment Administration
CCC Civilian Conservation Corps
NYA National Youth Administration
SSB Social Security Board
BWC Board of War Communications
FDIC Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
FSA Federal Securities Administration
NLRB National Labor Relations Board
NHPC National Historical Publications Commission
NMB National Mediation Board
USHA United States Housing Authority
USES United States Employment Service
FIC Federal Insurance Corporation
CWA Civil Works Administration
RA Resettlement Administration
FPHA Federal Public Housing Authority
FHA Federal Housing Administration
CCC Commodity Credit Corporation
FCIC Federal Crop Insurance Corporation
FSA Farm Security Administration
SCS Soil Conservation Service
AMA Agricultural Marketing Administration
FREB Federal Real Estate Board
CES Committee on Economic Security
WPA Works Progress Administration
FCC Federal Communications Commission
OBCCC Office of Bituminous Coal Consumers Council
RRB Railroad Retirement Board
SEC Securities and Exchange Commission
TVA Tennessee Valley Authority
BIR-T Board of Investigation and Research-Transportation
CAA Civil Aeronautics Authority
NIC National Investors Council
DPC Defense Plant Corporation
RRC Rubber Reserve Company
MRC Metals Reserve Company
DSC Defense Supplies Corporation
WDC War Damage Corporation
DLC Disaster Loan Corporation
FNMA Federal National Mortgage Association
RACC Regional Agricultural Credit Corporation
CFB Combined Food Board
UNRRA United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration
CEA Commodity Exchange Administration
SMA Surplus Marketing Administration
FSCC Federal Surplus Commodity Corporation
FFC Foreign Funds Control
PRP Production Requirements Plan
CRMB Combined Raw Materials Board
CMB Combined Munitions Board
CSAB Combined Shipping Adjustment Board
CPRB Combined Production and Resources Board
CCS Combined Chiefs of Staff
PWA Public Works Administration
AOA Administration of Operation Activities
EIBW Export-Import Bank of Washington
EHFA Electric Home and Farm Authority
CPA Council of Personnel Administration
PRA Public Roads Administration
EPCA Emergency Price Control
FPA Food Production Administration
OES Office of Economic Stabilization
PAW Petroleum Administration for War
SWPC Small War Plants Corporation
PIWC Petroleum Industry War Council
NRPB National Resources Planning Board
LOPM Liaison Office for Personnel Management
OEM Office of Emergency Management
SSS Selective Service System
NWLB National War Labor Board
OCD Office of Civilian Defense
OCIAA Office of Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs
ODHWS Office of Defense and Health Welfare Services
ODT Office of Defense Transportation
OLLA Office of Lend-Lease Administration
OSRD Office of Scientific Research and Development
OWI Office of War Information
WMC War Manpower Commission
WPB War Production Board
WRA War Relocation Authority
WSA War Shipping Administration
OPA Office of Price Administration
BEW Board of Economic Warfare
NHA National Housing Authority
FCA Farm Credit Administration
REA Rural Electrification Administration
SA Sugar Agency
PCD Petroleum Conservation Division
OPCW Office of Petroleum Coordinator for War
WEPL War Emergency Pipe Lines, Inc.
BCD Bituminous Coal Division
PRRA Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration
BPA Bonneville Power Administration
NPPC National Power Policy Committee
OC Office of Censorship
FRC Facilities Review Committee
PWRCB President's War Relief Control Board

Many of these bureaus were never even authorized by Congress. Even the Comptroller-General of the United States, who audits the government's accounts, declared he had never heard of some of them. They were created by a new method which Roosevelt exploited. Instead of asking Congress to pass a law, set up a bureau and appropriate money, the President merely named a group of men who were authorized by him to organize a corporation under the laws of the states. This done, there was a government corporation instead of a bureau and a group of corporation directors instead of commissioners. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation was given a blanket appropriation by Congress and authority to borrow money.

It borrowed twenty or more billions. The RFC would buy the stock of a new corporation and lend it money—ten, fifty or a hundred million, billions in some cases. Thus the President bypassed Congress and the Constitution and engaged in activities as completely unconstitutional as the imagination can conceive, such as operating business enterprises in Mexico and Canada. By means of the blank-check appropriations, the blank-check legislation and the government corporation, there is no power forbidden to the government by the Constitution which it cannot successfully seize. And if these techniques are permitted to continue the Constitution will be destroyed and our system of government changed utterly without a vote of the people or any amendment to the Constitution. Roosevelt, by his various hit or miss experiments all designed to get power into his hands, prepared a perfect blueprint for some future dictator of the modern school to usurp without very much difficulty all the powers he needs to operate a first-class despotism in America.

However, the crash of war in Europe changed the President's whole outlook. As he confronted his own depression in 1938 he had but one weapon to use against it—to increase the volume of public spending. But as he confessed, the great problem was to find projects upon which the federal government could spend. Hitler's attack on Czechoslovakia provided the President with an easy means of spending with general consent—national defense. And the attack on Poland in September, 1939 and the blazing up of a full-scale European war between Hitler and Russia on one side and all western Europe on the other put in the President's hands all the objects of spending he needed.

But the war did more than this. It took possession of his mind and his imagination. He who had set up as the indispensable savior of America, now saw before him a new and greater role. In spite of his tragic failure in America he now took upon himself the role of savior of the world. Gone were the woes of America and her problems. War spending would take care of that. Out of his mind flew all those mean and petty problems of the farm and the shop and of taxes and debt. Before him opened the glorious vista of war. Here was not merely escape, but glorious, magnificent escape from all the insoluble problems of America and he strode forward not like a man running away from the falling fragments of his shattered temple but as one going to a festival.

2. Lend-Lease

Should America have embroiled herself in the European war? There were many men eminent in public life who believed that the United States should go swiftly to the aid of the allied nations, even at the risk of being drawn into the war. There were others who felt we should aid the allies but very definitely "short of war." There were others who opposed aiding the allies "short of war" because they believed that would lead us into the war. These, generally, were the three great groupings of the population when Germany struck at Poland. Into this problem I will not enter here. I will assume that all the groups were moved by perfectly honest motives and sentiments. And I shall not undertake to say which group was right. That in itself becomes a question of enormous proportions and cannot be dealt with here.

But the behavior of Roosevelt in this crisis and the manner in which he dealt with the American people is a proper subject. It is a fact that in September, 1939, the nation was overwhelmingly for staying out of the war. Here was the situation that Roosevelt had described in his speech at Chautauqua in 1936. He had talked about the Americans who "seeking immediate riches, fool's gold" would attempt to break down our neutrality. He warned it would be hard for Americans to look beyond "to the inevitable day of penalties." And he warned that peace would depend on the day-to-day decisions of the President and the Secretary of State. "We can keep out of war," he said, "if those who watch and desire have a sufficiently detailed understanding of international affairs to make certain that the small decisions of today do not lead toward war."

The President knew the people did not wish to go into the war. He therefore took his position as the leader of those who wanted to stay out of the war—and the Gallup Poll showed 83 percent felt that way. But as the leader of those who wished to stay out, he asked Congress "to break down the Neutrality Act" by authorizing arms traffic with Britain and France. The President told the people if they would follow his lead we would stay out of war. Early in 1940 he made the next decision—to give to Britain over a million rifles from the supplies of the American army. Then he spoke of aid "short of war." The third step was conscription. The army asked for 500,000 men. The President insisted on 1,500,000. Army authorities said the only use for an army of that size was for overseas operations.

Next the President began to give out statements from the White House about submarines being found off our coasts. In a speech he told how German bombers could fly to Greenland and from there bomb Omaha. He declared that if Hitler defeated England we would lose our independence and our liberties. He declared that "we were next on Hitler's list."

Having changed the Neutrality Act, given a million army rifles to England and increased the army to 1,500,000, the President took the next step—he handed over to Britain 50 destroyers belonging to the American navy without authority of Congress. Those men and women who formed the various committees to induce this country to go into the war approved these moves. They were honest about it and logical, because they were saying openly we should give every aid, even at the risk of war. But the President was saying he was opposed to going to war and that he was doing these things to stay out of war. I do not here criticize his doing these things. I criticize the reason he gave, which was the very opposite of the truth. At the time he did these things, 83 percent of the people month after month were registering their opposition to getting in the war.

After the 1940 election, in fact early in 1941, the President's next decision was the Lend-Lease proposal. Senator Burton K. Wheeler declared that this was a measure to enable the President to fight an undeclared war on Germany. The President angrily denied that. After the bill passed, Mr. Herbert Agar, one of the leaders of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, made a speech at Boston. Mr. Agar was then very close to the President. But he did not like the line the President was taking before the American people. He said:

"There has been too much lying by the supporters of the Lend-Lease bill in the United States Senate and the press. As one who has taken a leading part in supporting the bill I prefer Senator Wheeler's analysis of it." Senator Wheeler had denounced the measure as one not to keep America out of the war but "a bill to enable the President to fight an undeclared war on Germany." "That," said Mr. Agar, "is precisely what it is . . . Our side kept saying that this is a bill to keep America out of war. That's bunk."

The question arose during the debate: How will we get the arms to Britain? Critics of the President said the next step would have to be convoys to see the arms delivered safely. The President denounced this and said he was opposed to convoys. "Convoys," he had declared, "mean shooting and shooting means war." Yet at that very moment, almost while these words were on his lips, he began convoying.

The truth is that the President had made up his mind to go into the war as early as October, 1940. To believe differently is to write him, our naval chiefs of staff and all our high military and naval officers down as fools. In the First World War it took a gigantic effort to defeat Germany. Then Britain had a million men in France. France had three million in arms. Italy and Russia were our allies. So was Japan. Italy had a million men against Germany, and Russia had four million. Yet with all this Germany was never driven out of France. She surrendered while in possession of most of what she had conquered. Does anyone believe that Roosevelt or General Marshall or any other high military leader thought that England fighting alone could drive Hitler's armies out of France?

England did not have a soldier in France. France was prostrate. Her arms factories were in Hitler's possession. Italy was against us rather than for us. So was Japan. The President knew that to drive Hitler out of France it would be necessary to send American armies to France and to send the American navy full blast into the war. And he knew this in October, 1940.

The first evidence that he intended to go into the war came on October 10, when Secretary Knox sent for Admiral J. O. Richardson, commander-in-chief of the American Fleet in the Pacific. Knox told Richardson that the President wanted him to establish a patrol of the Pacific—a wall of American naval vessels stretched across the western Pacific in such a way as to make it impossible for Japan to reach any of her sources of supply; a blockade of Japan to prevent by force her use of any part of the Pacific Ocean. Richardson protested vigorously. He said that would be an act of war and besides we would lose our navy. Of course Roosevelt had to abandon it. The President wanted that done as early as October 10, though of course the public knew nothing of this. Yet three weeks later he said in a speech at Boston: "I say to you fathers and mothers and I will say it again and again and again. Your boys will not be sent into foreign wars."

As soon as the Lend-Lease bill was passed he began, without admitting it, to convoy British and American ships loaded with arms to England. And as he had said "Convoys mean shooting and shooting means war." the shooting began and we were to all intents and purposes at war, American vessels actually going with British vessels in pursuit of German submarines.

In January, 1941, while the Lend-Lease bill was being debated, a commission of high American and British army and naval officers representing the respective chiefs of staffs were secretly in session in Washington preparing a document which declared its purpose to be: "To determine the best methods by which the armed forces of the United States and the British Commonwealth with their allies could defeat Germany and her allies, should the United States be compelled to resort to war." Then followed the whole plan of war. This was signed March 29, 1941. Immediately a similar group of American and British naval and army officers met at Singapore to fill in the details of the joint war in the Pacific. The object of this plan is stated on the document "To defeat Germany and her ally Japan in the Far East." The part for the navy in this war plan was set out in full and was called the Rainbow Plan. This is the plan which Admiral Kimmel was ordered to put into effect in the event war started. All this was from a year to eight months before Pearl Harbor.

The whole point I am trying to make clear here is not a criticism of those who believed this country should go into the war. They affirmed this openly and frankly. The President, however, declared he was for those who wanted to stay out of the war while he secretly decided to go into the war, and his public avowals were the precise opposite of his secret intentions. He did not tell the truth to the American people and from the beginning to the end pursued a course of deliberate deception of them about his plans.

When these criticisms of him were made at the time, those who made them were denounced as fascists and Hitler-lovers. But now a new kind of apology appears. Professor Thomas A. Bailey, in his recent book "The Man in the Street," writes:

"Roosevelt repeatedly deceived the American people during the period before Pearl Harbor . . . He was faced with a terrible dilemma. If he let the people slumber in a fog of isolation, they might well fall prey to Hitler. If he came out unequivocally for intervention, he would be defeated in 1940."

This is written not by a critic of Mr. Roosevelt but by a defender. And Mr. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., professor of history at Harvard, a most industrious champion of Mr. Roosevelt, approves this statement and adds as a comment that: "If he (Roosevelt) was going to induce the people to move at all, Professor Bailey concludes, he (Roosevelt) had no choice but to trick them into acting for what he conceived to be their best interests."

I am sure that Machiavelli could do no better than this. It is this teaching of the Florentine philosopher that caught the fancy of Mussolini and brought him to the feet of Machiavelli as an altar. At least this leaves no further question about Roosevelt's settled policy of mendacity. Whoever wishes now to say, as Herbert Agar said, that Roosevelt lied to the people about the maneuvers he was employing to lead them into war may do so without contradiction. The answer must be that Roosevelt lied to the people for their own good. And if Roosevelt had the right to do this, to whom is the right denied? At what point are we to cease to demand that our leaders deal honestly and truthfully with us?

If there be anything to this view it is high time someone set about reducing to form what might be called the moral basis of political lying. If we are to believe the memoirs of some of Mr. Roosevelt's colleagues, he did not feel limited in the use of this "moral" lie merely when dealing with the people. He felt justified in employing this useful weapon in dealing with his cabinet officers, as well as with his own Democratic organization. Upon other occasions he turned to this same new ethical device when seeking to extract $200,000 out of John Hartford for his son Elliott and later in getting back from him for a mere $4000 the stock on which he had loaned $200,000. There must be a thorough philosophical inquiry into the limits within which this convenient discursive weapon can be used. It has been generally supposed that our diplomats are free to lie to foreign diplomats, also that in war and on the way into war we are free to lie ad libitum to the enemy. The right of the President—and maybe certain lesser dignitaries—to lie to our own people and, perhaps, in certain defined situations, to each other ought to be explored and settled. Thus it may be used impartially by the representatives of all parties. It does not seem fair to limit the right of lying only to good and truthful men.