Louis Johnson and the Arming of America, the Roosevelt and Truman Years.
Authors Keith McFarland, president of Texas A&M University-Commerce, and David Roll, antitrust partner with Washington law firm Steptoe and Johnson, have produced a well-researched analytical biography of Louis Johnson. As a political insider, Johnson earned his place in history as assistant secretary of war for FDR and secretary of defense for Truman, shaping first military preparedness and national security before World War II, then economizing and scaling back the armed services after the war, and finally arming for the Korean conflict. He was equally adept at both expansion and contraction of America's weapons arsenal. The authors make a valuable contribution to the study of the presidency by examining how a loyal subordinate like Johnson implements presidential policy.
Johnson's family was from Bedford County and he grew up in Roanoke, Virginia. He worked in his family's grocery store, learning the intricacies of logistics and supply that he would later apply in preparedness campaigns, and graduated from the University of Virginia Law School. He formed a law partnership, first with John Strode Rixey and later with Philip Pendleton Steptoe, that by 1914 became known as Steptoe and Johnson. An army supply officer in World War I, Johnson after 1918 served as a state legislator. Charismatic, Johnson also became commander of the American Legion, working with FDR to settle the bonus issue during the depression, negotiating less drastic cuts for veterans than previously planned under the Economy Act of 1933. As head of the Veterans' Committee of the Democratic party, he campaigned for FDR's reelection in 1936.
Johnson desired to be appointed secretary of war in 1936, but FDR named Harry Woodring instead, with Johnson appointed assistant secretary. In spite of this disappointment, Johnson proved himself to be indispensable to FDR in carrying out the president's preparedness defense plans. The two shared views of the security threats from Germany and Japan and wished to build up U.S. armed forces with larger air defenses throughout 1937. Johnson exercised powers granted under the National Defense Act of 1920 that gave the assistant secretary of war authority and responsibility for procuring all military supplies, both during peace and war, and for providing the means to mobilize American industries to produce war materials and coordinate supplies. Johnson was a vital, skilled administrator, coordinating all military preparedness efforts as he appointed General George Marshall deputy chief of staff, expanded the air corps, implemented the Industrial Mobilization Plan and the Strategic War Materials Act of 1939, streamlined the supply and procurement processes, and issued allocation and educational orders to test essential industries' abilities to produce strategic weapons long before they were needed in the field. He ordered stockpiling of manganese, tin, chrome, tungsten, and rubber and coordinated the military efforts of all branches of the armed services, strategic industries, shipyards, labor organizations, Congress, and the War Department. He reported directly to FDR, who encouraged Johnson's building additional planes and supplying U.S. aircraft to European allies, constructing the Alcan Highway, managing confiscated alien property, expanding capacity to produce electrical power with a national transmission power grid, and standardizing turbine production. After the Munich crisis, Johnson acted as America's preparedness dynamo, striving to give FDR additional diplomatic clout. U.S. aircraft production was boosted to twenty thousand planes per year in October 1938 as FDR vowed to negotiate from strength. Johnson was the man who delivered the needed weaponry as FDR organized the Joint Army and Navy Munitions Board. Johnson delivered cash-and-carry weapons to the allies and allowed British and French pilots to test secret U.S. aircraft before purchase. Johnson managed production quotas, meeting both domestic and allied needs for the most technologically updated planes while retaining for the United States the strategic advantage of the most advanced bombsights. Johnson stepped up production of the B-17 Flying Fortress needed in hemispheric defense and long-range operations.
Johnson resigned in July 1940, believing he had been duped by FDR when Henry Wallace was selected as the vice presidential candidate. Even so, Louis Johnson had prepared the United States for war. From the sidelines, Johnson worked as the president's personal representative to India to seek support for Britain's war efforts and to strengthen ties in Southeast Asia against the Japanese. Johnson acted as facilitator between the Cripps Mission and the Indian Congress, and the nuances of diplomacy revealed by authors McFarland and Roll are impressive and insightful.
Johnson reentered politics, aiding Truman's 1948 campaign, acting as the Democratic National Committee's finance chairman, and rallying veterans. His effort was rewarded with the position of secretary of defense, where Johnson oversaw the unification of the three branches of the armed services in August 1949 and carried forward economization plans to downsize American armed forces. The subtleties of political infighting, such as the "revolt of the admirals" episode over the cancellation of a super carrier, are intriguingly told, and Johnson ultimately was able to save $750 million during the first year. The secretary's plans for austerity in defense were checked by the development of the H-bomb, NATO, the Military Assistance Program, the Marshall Plan, and the Korean War. McFarland and Roll skillfully explain Johnson's support for the Chiang regime on Formosa and his vision for Asia. Also useful is their examination of how U.S. policy on the defense of Syngman Rhee and South Korea formed through free-wielding discussions with Truman at the Blair House that included officials from Defense, State, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Johnson joined with the JCS and General Douglas MacArthur to develop a unified UN command and to work out operational details for smaller nations such as Australia and New Zealand to be integrated into the war effort. In September 1950, just two days before the Inchon Landing, Truman asked Johnson to resign after disagreements surfaced over aid to Chiang and MacArthur and because of a public feud between Johnson and Secretary of State Dean Acheson. The president wished to neutralize Formosa and end political rivalry, and Johnson's defense policies seemed too aggressive and his own presidential ambitions too obvious.
Congress and the public blamed Johnson for Korean War reverses, but MacArthur's success at Inchon would prove Johnson's policies sound. A robust administrator and wily diplomat, Louis Johnson was replaced by George Marshall. Johnson returned to his law practice and would be well remembered following his death in 1966 for his astute preparedness campaigns under FDR and economizing/arming efforts under Truman that had kept the United States a strong world leader in precarious times.
--Barbara Bennett Peterson
University of Hawaii
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|Author:||Peterson, Barbara Bennett|
|Publication:||Presidential Studies Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2006|
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