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No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation Into War

By David Kaiser. 416 pages. Basic Books, 2014. $27.99

In this extraordinary book David Kaiser, professor emeritus of strategy at the Naval War College, traces President Franklin Roosevelt’s role in pushing a reluctant American people toward participation in the Second World War. Innumerable scholars have examined this topic, but great historians like Kaiser bring new insights to the documentary trail left by statesmen and military leaders. Kaiser uniquely examines in depth Roosevelt’s ability to predict strategic future moves the United States would need to make. And given that no president in American history has proven cleverer than FDR in obscuring his intentions from his advisers, the press, and the public, Kaiser had his work cut out for him.

Roosevelt understood the severe limitations imposed on his freedom to maneuver by the prevailing isolationist attitudes. Adding to his difficulties, he was confronting his third presidential election in November 1940. Yet he was able to strike a balance between what needed to be done and what the American people and their Congress would allow him to do.

Initially, the United States had done precious little to prepare its air and ground forces for global war, though it did undertake a vigorous naval buildup. The Fall of France shattered the illusions of many Americans, and the rush was on to create a respectable military force. At the same time, after Dunkirk there was a desperate need to supply Britain with arms to resist a German invasion. Roosevelt’s advisers, including Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, believed that Britain would not be able to hold on and that anything shipped to Britain would be lost. Roosevelt felt otherwise, and in the midst of the bitter campaign for his third term, he overruled his military, and arms were shipped to Britain in the spring of 1940.

Despite the raucous opposition of isolationists, Roosevelt moved forward, aiding not only Britain but the Soviet Union after Adolf Hitler invaded Russia in June 1940. The House of Representatives—still not convinced of the dangers—renewed the first peacetime draft in American history by a single vote. But thanks to Roosevelt’s persistence and foresight, when war did come, the U.S. military had its road to mobilization laid out, a fact that places Roosevelt among the greatest of American presidents.

Professor Kaiser appraises Roosevelt’s strategy within its complex dynamic of threat, military reality and lack of preparedness, and isolationist public opinion. For those interested in American strategy during the run-up to World War II, this is a must read.


Williamson Murray has taught military and diplomatic history at Yale, Ohio State, all three U.S. military war colleges, West Point, and Annapolis. He is the author of numerous books on war and strategy, including Successful Strategies: Triumphing in War and Peace from Antiquity to the Present (May 2014).

Originally published in the October 2014 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here.