Freedom From Fear Chapter 5

Chapter 4: The Hundred Days

In this chapter David M, Kennedy discusses the first 100 days of the Roosevelt administration. This time, marked by a special session of Congress, was the kick start of much of the New Deal. There are a couple of surprising things in this chapter for me.

The hallmark of the New Deal, the National Recovery Act, which gave us the Civilian Conservation Corp and the Public Works Administration was more than anything a response to a bill that Congress was going to pass: the 30 hour work week. The idea of Congress was to limit the workweek to 30 hours so that the available amount of work would go around. Roosevelt saw this as not workable, for many reasons, including the fact that it just wouldn’t work for farm work where the schedule is set by the cows needing milking.

The second surprising idea was that the America’s policy in response to the Great Depression was a major contributing factor to World War II. We’ve already seen in earlier chapters that the war reparations on Germany was crushing their economy and giving fertile soil for Hitler’s brand of nationalism. At the same time, the New Deal  policies were intrinsically  inflationary; this inflationary pressure was incompatible with a balanced budget, a  balanced foreign trade, and the gold standard. England had gone off the gold standard and the United States by this time had given notice we would suspend the gold standard with every indication we would go back on it.  After the end of the first 100 days of the Roosevelt administration there was an international economic conference for nations to agree how to get back to being on the gold standard. At the meeting FDR dropped a bombshell by saying America’s domestic woes trumped international trade balances and we would follow our own interest, which included staying off the gold standard.

This statement was fuel to the fire for Germany. They figured at this point it was every country for itself; if America was going to focus solely on domestic priorities at the expense of international relations, they would follow suit. As a result the Nazi party continued its rise to power by following a strict nationalistic agenda.

WOW. This really blew my mind.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5 out of 5 stars.

3 thoughts on “Freedom From Fear Chapter 5

  1. It has always seemed pretty clear to me from reading Hitler's “Mien Kampf” and William Shirere's “Third Reich” (among others) where Hitler was heading from at least the early 30's. I am skeptical that Roosevelt's political response to the domestic necessities of the Great Depression (which, remember, included the devastation wrought by the contemporaneous Dust Bowl years in the mid-west and Oklahoma Territory ) can be said to be a true cause of WWII. If anything, Roosevelt's delay in committing to a united front with Churchill and England against Nazi Germany merely prolonged the war (albeit by perhaps as much as two years, which is not insignificant its own right). Or not. What am I missing, oh wise one?

  2. Well, yeah; not the cause for sure; but a contributing factor, maybe? Hitler definitely was going where he was going regardless of the US. But if England, France and America had cooperated in forgiving the war reparations in the first place, Hitler wouldn't have gotten the traction in the first place and got into 2nd gear with the nationalistic fever spreading.

    And yeah; the delayed entry into the war prolonged it all; prolonged because of the isolationist tendencies as a result of both the first world war and trying to deal with the depression.

    And perhaps we never would have escaped the depression if it hadn't been for the war.

    But I”m just an English major trying to understand history; you are the one with the bona fides!

    Love the discussion.

  3. You are certainly correct about our shortsightedness in the manner in which we dealt with a defeated and impoverished Germany following WWI, and that this both enabled the rise of Hitler (if not Hitler, it would have been someone else), and was the beginning of an unbroken causal chain leading to the outbreak of WWII.

    Keep me posted. Hi to Carla.

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