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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, October 16, 1975. Interview G-0023-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Clifford prepares the nation for the war effort

Foreseeing the coming conflict, Clifford had worked with the Roosevelt administration to ready the nation's industrial factories for transitioning to armament manufacturing. Virginia remembered this as being one of her husband's most important contributions to the nation.

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Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, October 16, 1975. Interview G-0023-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Cliff, you see, was working day and night on this defense plant thing, trying to get the country ready for war. And he had thought of this idea of the government you know building the plant-it was his idea that they got through Congress-the government would build the plants and then lease them to MacDonald Aircraft or Lockhead, or whatever, who would make the airplanes at a certain percentage. The title stayed in the government hands. They would build the great big aluminum plant, say, for or for Reynolds. Hundreds of millions of dollars. And Reynolds would come in . . . They had a tremendous need for aluminum you see because the airplanes had to be built of aluminum, and malibdinum. They would come in and run them and they would be paid a certain percentage, a fixed fee, and then afterthe war was over, the government owned these plants. Well after the war was over, Truman came in you see, and Eisenhower. They all just gave the plants to whoever was running them. The government had paid for them, maybe they paid a few cents on the dollar, but they just turned them over because they didn't believe in any kind of government ownership at all you see. So all those great plants you see were just turned over to the people who were operating them, although they hadn't paid for them at all. Well the thing was, Roosevelt, Ickes, Cliff, Abe Fortas, Tex Goldschmidt, all these people . . .You've got to remember that Jesse Jones even thought you could do business with Hitler. There was a very strong isolationist sentiment in the country, you know. I told you about Wheeler, Burten K. Wheeler from Montana. And then there was the Liberty League you know. There were all kinds of these isolationist organizations. And there were all kind of German organizations, Bund and so on. And then there was the Catholic Church. It was extremely powerful against going to war. So Cliff thought up this idea. And the industrialists you see were afraid to invest all these hundreds of millions of dollars in the plant to build airplanes and to make aluminum and to make synthetic rubber because maybe we wouldn't have a war. There was such a going back and forth, so much argument going on. So they just were scared to invest their money to get the country ready for war when we might not have a war and then all that would be just wasted money. So to get them over being so scared, -and they didn't even want the money lent to them, they were just literally frightened to. This way the government took the risk out of it. They build the plant and they ran the plant, but they didn't have to put their own money into the plant. This is the famous defense plan that the young boy from Harvard wants to write about. The one that Abe Fortas made the speech about up at Cliff's memorial, you know, about how he thought this really saved the free world because we did get the airplanes built and we did get the industries geared. And so when the war finally hit we had tanks and airplanes and all the stuff we could send to the Allies. There's a man out in California named Gerald White that's writing a book on it. It's what they're going in England now in a way. When capitalism is scared of investing its own money, the government invests the money, the tax money, and then the industries run them, because they've got the know-how. And they also get the profits. It's a kind of inverse socialism, if you know what I mean. Anyway Cliff was as busy as he could be. Then you see in 1939 Russia finally invaded . . . They had the phony war, you know, England and France were at war with Germany, but nothing much went on for a long time. And then they marched into Poland, and hell broke loose. The great second world war started. And I must say that I do think that Abe and Cliff and Tex and Ickes and Roosevelt were right, because when the war started, the United States was geared up you see, to produce all these things for the war.