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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .


Divided Arsenal: Race and the American State during World War II
Daniel Kryder

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000
301pp. Index. Hb.: 19.95; ISBN 0-521-59338-7.



Daniel Kryder's Divided Arsenal : Race and the American State During World War II is a careful examination of race policies during WWII. While substantial attention has been given to race relations during the periods of "Reconstruction" and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s in the United States, scant attention has been given to race relations during WWII. This book explains how the crisis of World War II, and federal administrators' efficiency and electoral concerns resulting from this crisis, created attitudes toward reform that were not simply reducible to white racism or white egalitarianism. Kryder systematically analyzes the strict policies of racial segregation in the armed forces that aggravated racial tensions, the black migration from the south, the racial climate on southern farms, and the development of the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). Moreover, while interpreting the motivations of the "central state," he integrates a thorough and refreshing analysis of war time race relations into a discussion about presidential politics.

According to Kryder, the war's immediate effect was political and economic rather than ideological. A reelection imperative motivated President Franklin D. Roosevelt to confront the race problem. In addition, he was inspired to initiate race reforms to stop blacks from spontaneously disrupting production, hence undermining the efficiency of the war mobilization efforts. Kryder details how Roosevelt's "conflict-adjustment" measures were largely symbolic and not substantive.

In Chapter One, Kryder offers the reader an insightful critique of Gunnar Myrdal's 1944 classic book on race relations, An American Dilemma. Myrdal predicted the multiple forces of WWII would lead to black liberation and equality. Contrary to this hypothesis, Kryder states that Myrdal underestimated the "chameleonlike" adaptability of racist attitudes in the U.S.

Throughout the book, the author outlines how Roosevelt was consistently forced into initiating race reforms. He was forced to sign Executive Order 8802, which outlawed discrimination in the federal civil service and in defense contracting, by A. Phillip Randolph's proposed March on Washington. He was pressured by black leaders to create the FEPC.

The author's meticulous effort in supporting his discussion with numerous primary references represents sound scholarship. Throughout the book, Kryder supports his hypotheses. His narrative is insightful and informative. He clearly adds something seminal and substantive to the literature on race relations. This effort departs from many works on the subject because of the author's analytic research methods. In fact, the reader gains a substantial amount of knowledge on the issue by reading the author's reference notes. The content of this book is clear, engaging, and comprehensive.


Renford Reese



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