Divided Arsenal

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Daniel Kryder. Divided Arsenal: Race and the American State During World War II. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. xiv, 301 pp. $22.99, ISBN 0-521-00458-6.

Summary

In Divided Arsenal, Daniel Kryder argues that Franklin Roosevelt’s race reform policies of World War II were guided by two imperatives—production and reelection—as opposed to social and civil betterment or simply racism. Through analysis of industry, agriculture, and the Army, Kryder shows the ways race and labor reform were used to increase production and mobilization to achieve victory abroad. As a result, the “Roosevelt regime invented policies of race management that appeared ‘progressive’ on the surface, overarching imperatives associated with the full mobilization of industrial production, as well as political considerations that underpinned that Roosevelt coalition, clearly outweighed the goals of inter-racial reform (24).

As part of his reelection strategy, Roosevelt established the Black Cabinet that attempted to integrate the African American community by providing intelligence on the black community, addressing complaints of discrimination, and serving as representatives of the administration. Kryder argues that in many ways the Cabinet had more of a symbolic value, especially after the 1940 election, and was part of a newly developed public relations campaign addressed at key constituents. As a result, the Cabinet wielded little power and faced criticism for failing to produce viable advances for black Americans, particularly not securing equal employment in the growing defense economy. In response to threats of unrest in the factories and the March on Washington, the President issued the Executive Order 8802 of 1941 that created the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). This measure prohibited discrimination in the federal government and by federal defense contractors, with the FEPC serving as a clearinghouse for all complaints of discrimination. As a result of these measures, Kryder argues that the threat of violence on the job and in the city streets of Washington were a success for black activists that revealed “the incompatibility of inherited race management techniques within the new war mobilization context” (66).

In practice, however, the FEPC served the President’s wartime goal of improved mobilization and as part of the party politics process. The White House employed the factory labor reforms for African Americans with three tactics in mind: “removing the FEPC as far as possible from political debates so to insulate the executive from potentially debilitating social pressures; reforming the committee to favor adjustment over confrontation; and publicizing the positive accomplishments of the bureau instead of the unjust practices of employers” (97-98). Since the majority of defense factories were in northern and West Coast cities, the white male labor force was exhausted quickly, making the mobilization effort dependant on continued black migration from the South. As a result, rural wartime production became a key issue surrounded by discriminatory practices where longstanding white control lessened the potential for violent protest, but created a separate set of mobilization-minded reforms. Unlike in the factories where reform maintained a façade of social equality, labor reform in the South was aimed exclusively at better production providing “substantial relief to whites by ceding control of the farm labor program to local farm agents and draft boards, who were more sympathetic to landowners’ manpower needs” (213) and inclined to impose strict migration limitations.

The African American experience in the Army offered a hybrid of the rural and industrial experience. Major Army bases, themselves massive centers of labor and production similar to a factory, were located primarily in the Deep South, combining the racial dimension of the American South with the concentration of labor of the North or West. As an institution the Army was insulated from the press and partisan scrutiny of the factories or farms that, as Kryder argues, was “largely untouched by the New Deal, [and] began the war with a more retrograde race management policy…[and] harsh, institutionalized racial bias [that] in effect provoked black soldier resistance, fueling violence that in turn accelerated policy reform” (134). In the example of the Camp Stewart uprising, where the Army learned that battle could occur inside an Army facility between military units at the instigation of black soldier dissatisfaction, it became clear that “although the War Department’s repertoire of responses to resistance grew more complex over the course of the war—to include public relations efforts, indoctrination, and occasional ameliorating reforms—the principal institutional responses to unrest remained policing and repression” (87). Camp Stewart further showed that the effects of the federal government’s response to disruption challenged the administration’s overarching goals. Not only did the uprising weaken Presidential alliances with constituents, including the black press and racial advancement groups, but caused a reduction in mobilization power through discord and low production (206).

Commentary

Amy Lechner, Fall 2007

The main purpose of Divided Arsenal—“to explain how the war crisis, and federal administrators’ efficiency and electoral concerns that followed from it, created attitudes toward reform that were not simply reducible to white racism or white egalitarianism” (xiii)—brings a different interpretation to Roosevelt’s race policies. By rearranging the goals of reform from social to economic and defense, Kryder offers a useful analysis of wartime state policy building. By tracing the roots of Roosevelt’s policy initiatives to New Deal liberalism built on coalition building to address race and labor issues, Kryder’s dismissal of Roosevelt’s reforms as anything other than purely pragmatic for a nation at war is plausible.

In other questions of race during World War II, however, Divided Arsenal is not the source to consult. While reading Kryder’s book, it is easy to forget that there is actually a war going on abroad that is creating significant social change, and in some ways upheaval, at home, especially in matters of race, class, and gender. Class as a major aspect of labor and race is missing from Kryder’s analysis. Instead, we see a system of policy change acting on a flat plan of black workers who are removed from other aspects of their position in society.

Further, in terms of execution, Kryder’s style is dense and relies heavily on political theory. The reader will find highly complex sentence structure, statistics with (possibly excessive) use of graphs and charts, and an overall inaccessible book. In this way, Divided Arsenal is far more of a specialized tool for an historian.

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