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Posted on Jun 4, 2023 in Armchair Reading, Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. Henry Stimson and FDR: Uniting America for Victory – Book Review

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. Henry Stimson and FDR: Uniting America for Victory – Book Review

Ray Garbee

Uniting America: How FDR and Henry Stimson Brought Democrats and Republicans Together to Win World War II. Author: Peter Shinkle. Publisher: St. Martin’s Press. Price $ 32.50

Students of World War II history, both professional and casual, are familiar with the grand sweep of the military scope of the war. That familiarity ranges from an understanding of the tactical decisions within a single battle to the grand strategy discussions at Casablanca and Yalta. The common theme is the focus on history through the lens of the war effort. National governments are mostly depicted as monolithic institutions subordinate to the direction of their senior leaders – Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt. Like the Tamarian tale of Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, the Second World War was a conflict that brought unlikely partners together to unite against a common foe.


Author Peter Shinkle changes that focus in his book Uniting America: How FDR and Henry Stimson Brought Democrats and Republicans Together to Win World War II. Shinkle explores the fascinating partnership between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Henry Stimson. FDR and Stimson worked together across party lines to first navigate the political rocks and shoals of America’s isolationist stance and then steer a course to victory through the turbulent waters of American domestic politics. The book makes the case for the key role that Stimson – a Republican – played within the Roosevelt administration in both supporting national strategy as well as marshalling Republican support for Roosevelt’s policies on the domestic and international fronts.

Uniting America gives a broad overview of events spanning the Roosevelt administration and through the end of the war under Harry Truman’s direction. An epilogue puts the FDR-Stimson partnership in the context of the following 70 years and shows how the events these men put in place influenced subsequent changes to the political and global landscape. Shinkle also turns the spotlight on how the example of Roosevelt and Stimson stand in contrast to more recent views of bipartisanship.

Uniting America in an engaging narrative. While highlighting the many successes that FDR and Stimson achieved during their partnership, Peter Shinkle does not shy away from the challenges and disappointments on the domestic political front. While their partnership was an outstanding achievement at aligning the country behind the major goal of defeating the Axis powers, the book shines in discussing the efforts of FDR and Stimson to tackle challenges with both their major international partners the United Kingdom and Soviet Union as well as the myriad domestic issues that arose during the Roosevelt administration.

It’s fascinating to see how many of the domestic challenges from the early 1940’s resonate in the modern era. Worker’s rights, racial equity and desegregation, voting rights and Federal spending were all important political issues that continue to be forged in the crucible of political discourse. Shinkle shines a light on a major realignment that FDR had as a long-term goal – the realignment of the political parties. In the 1940’s, both the Democrat and Republican parties were much less homogenous with each having regional power blocks as well as conservative and liberal wings.

Serving as Secretary of War under Roosevelt, Stimson played a broad role in arming and mobilizing the United States against German and Japanese aggression. United America details that broad purview ranging from the draft and recruitment issues, procurement and military production to overseeing the Manhattan Project developing the atomic bomb.

World War II might have been the pinnacle of what George Washington conceived as the concept of placing country over party. Uniting America shows that this successful integration of Republicans like Stimson, Knox and Bush into a Democratic administration allowed a political partnership that furthered American strategy. Though imperfect, it stood in contrast the fractious post-war trends of racist division and anti-communist witch hunts.

Shinkle’s narrative shows how success involved the participation of far more than just the front-line troops. African-Americans and woman played key roles in bringing the bullets and beans to the soldiers. Shinkle shows the challenges here as FDR’s push for greater equity was countered by the casual resistance to status quo and the radical resistance of racist groups across the country. The book touches on Issues such as the internment of Japanese-American citizens, integrating the workforces of factories engaged in defense work and efforts to expand the roles for Africa-Americans and woman in the Armed Forces. While we can envision any one of these as being a taxing issue for any administration, that they faced all of them while engaged in an existential global war speaks volumes for how critical this partnership was in achieving victory.

At the same time, Shinkle covers how FDR pursued political goals mean to benefit the Democratic party, while Stimson worked at securing advantages for the Republican party. In the long term, culminating with Nixon’s ‘southern strategy’ these goals led to the inversion of southern political alignments and modern ideological alignment between the modern political parties.

Uniting America captures Stimson’s key role in leading America to victory in World War II. It’s fascinating to see how Stimson in his role as Secretary of War was instrumental in topics ranging from D-Day planning, labor issues in defense plants, voting rights for overseas military personnel to overseeing the Manhattan Project. Today it feels like achieving any one of these would be a worthy goal, but Stimson was involved in all these and more.

It’s a fascinating biographical sketch of both an engaging historical personage and an insight into an era of bipartisanship that no longer seems fashionable.  

One of the motifs that emerges is Stimson’s skill at political negotiation. Time an again his personal intervention helped lead to the compromises that pushes grand strategy down the path to success, be it facilitating Congressional approval or obtaining agreement from reluctant allies.

Uniting America is an engaging book. It’s grand sweep of history showing how the generation that survived the First World War could recognize the needs of the country when facing a second global conflict and work towards a victory that preserved the country and arguably set the stage for the contest between democratic economic-political values and communist theory. Peter Skinkle has crafted a narrative that is a timely historical tale worthy of contemplation and reflection.