cover image Louis Johnson and the Arming of America: The Roosevelt and Truman Years

Louis Johnson and the Arming of America: The Roosevelt and Truman Years

Keith D. McFarland, David L. Roll, . . Indiana Univ., $35 (452pp) ISBN 978-0-253-34626-1

This scholarly biography of Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson (1891–1966) will be an important resource for the study of American defense policy. After serving in WWI, Johnson was active in veterans' affairs until he was appointed assistant secretary of war in 1937. Under FDR, he did valuable work in preparing for wartime procurement and mobilization; later, in 1948, his work as a Democratic fund-raiser brought him to the Pentagon as secretary of defense. Talented as he was, however, Johnson was a difficult personality who did not get along well with Secretary of War Harry Woodring or the navy. His budget cutting was extreme and involved canceling the supercarrier United States , which provoked the notorious 1949 "Revolt of the Admirals." Further disagreements with Secretary of State Dean Acheson and with President Truman culminated in Johnson's dismissal in the early stages of the Korean War. Though the authors may go too far in their denigration of Truman's leadership—two egos the size of Acheson's and Johnson's are hard to handle in one cabinet—they are right to point out that many of Johnson's problems derived from his position as an early internationalist and advocate of preparedness. He may have lacked tact but not insight or ability. The authors give Johnson credit for his many very real achievements, and at least partly rescue his reputation from historians loyal to Truman and the U.S. Navy. (Oct.)