Why We Fight: Congress and the Politics of World War II. By Nancy Beck Young. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2013. 376 pp.
Nancy Beck Young departs from her previous works as a biographer to pen this in-depth examination of Congress and how it operated during the Second World
War--although, to be fair, the book discusses pre-1939 legislative issues, as well. Unlike the majority of the books reviewed in this journal, the author chooses to focus on the legislative branch, noting that too many books focus on the efforts of the imperial presidency and miss what is happening on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. Young argues that the "Good War" provided the opportunity for congressional conservatives to wage a different kind of war on the New Deal. With so much of the Democratic Party's leadership made up of southern conservatives, it was only moderates of both parties who managed to protect and institutionalize the New Deal's economic agenda, as its statism fit well with winning the war. Attempts at pluralism or social justice legislation along the same lines as the New Deal, however, were lost, as moderates sided with conservatives over fears that such laws would hamper the war effort or split the unity of the nation in time of war. Congressional liberals were not helped in the fight for social justice when "Dr. New Deal" became "Dr. Win-the-War", as President Franklin Roosevelt ignored almost all social justice questions before the legislators. This coalition of the moderates meant that welfare state liberalism turned into warfare state liberalism. Young explains in her epilogue that moderates of both parties have disappeared since 1975; this has left twenty-first century Americans with massive congressional gridlock and hyperpartisan battles fought by screaming pundits and politicians alike.
The author divides the book into two main sections: the economics of war and pluralism/social justice. The former includes fights on taxation, wage and price controls, extension of some of the New Deal's "alphabet soup" agencies, and labor legislation. The latter section includes issues such as Jewish refugees, racial equality, and the creation and later reauthorization of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). All of these chapters are solidly researched, with amazing quotes from Time magazine reporter Frank McNaughton detailing extraordinary behind the scenes...