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Congress and the New Deal legacy

Why We Fight: Congress and the Politics of World War II - Nancy Beck Young

Most accounts of governments in wartime concentrate on the executive as the figure at the heart of vital decision making. While such a focus is valid, it has the effect of downplaying or overshadowing the legislative legacy that a war might leave. In this respect, Nancy Beck Young’s book offers a useful study of the role of the United States Congress in World War II. For while Franklin Roosevelt may have made the decisions that led the United States to victory against the Japanese and Germans, Young demonstrates that Congress was passing laws that would decisively shape the country for decades to come.


Yet as Young reveals, this was not done in a vacuum. Overshadowing Congress’s efforts was the still-fresh transformation that the New Deal had wrought in the country. Many conservatives sought to use the exigencies of war to roll back many of the New Deal programs. Here they were aided by the pent-up frustration many members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, felt towards what they viewed as the high-handed treatment of Congress by Roosevelt, and the desire to reassert some independence – an effort that was more viable in domestic policy than in matters related to the war. Young sees the moderates in Congress as the key to the success of these efforts, with liberals forced to curtail domestic reforms as the price for preserving the New Deal legacy.


Young recounts all of this in a text that draws upon a wealth of archival documentation, contemporary publications, and secondary-source literature to support her analysis. With it, she illuminates the personalities that often drove policy, showing how individual ideologies and attitudes could be critical to determining events. All together it makes for a valuable study of the wartime Congress, one that is useful reading both for students of the period and for anyone interested in American politics and the shape of our nation today.