How Henry Morgenthau Jr. (1891-1967) “led the Treasury to finance the dismantling of the Nazi juggernaut, and how his final gambit led to his inglorious political downfall.”
Moreira’s (Hemingway on the China Front: His WWII Spy Mission with Martha Gellhorn, 2006, etc.) text, scant on biography and based largely on the voluminous Morgenthau records from the FDR Library, is a case study of wartime governance. His reporting on the bureaucratic business aspect of the mobilization takes the tone of bookkeeping, replete with accounts of budgets, allocations, inventories and production schedules. The war was waged, after all, with superior American economic weaponry, and that superiority was Morgenthau’s forte. Not especially articulate or learned, he excelled beyond his perceived abilities as the nation’s CFO. He maintained an ardent personal friendship with Franklin Roosevelt, but despite his devotion, he was not always the president’s yes man. Morgenthau frequently expanded his secretarial job description, dealing with allies, deliberating with fellow Cabinet members and managing the procurement of the tools of war. He implemented the Lend Lease program, which sent destroyers to Britain, supplied friendly nations with cash and facilitated the transition to pay-as-you-go income taxes. Under his management, vast sums of war bonds were sold at modest interest rates. The most prominent Jew in the administration, he battled bitterly with a State Department that, reluctant to save Jews from Hitler’s wrath, was even actively obstructing rescue efforts. Morgenthau was a proud man, and the politicking was tiring and ongoing. Sometimes he cleared up the inevitable complexities; sometimes he added to them. His ill-conceived eponymous plan to completely deindustrialize postwar Germany failed utterly, and in his later years, he became largely forgotten as a public servant.
In a book that will appeal to policy wonks and historians of the era, Moreira reminds us of the work of the principal financial planner of World War II.