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The Common Cause (1939-1944) 

WWII starts in Europe. FDR prepares the country for war and aids Churchill. Isolationists fight him at every step - until Pearl Harbor. FDR's unprecedented third term. Eleanor tackles racism and poverty. New jobs bring more diversity.


Ken Burns




Episode credited cast:
Peter Coyote ... Narrator (voice)
Meryl Streep ... Eleanor Roosevelt (voice)
Patricia Clarkson ... Daisy Suckley (voice)
Edward Herrmann ... Franklin Roosevelt (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
H.W. Brands ... Himself - Biographer
Winston Churchill ... Himself (archive footage)
Kevin Conway ... (voice)
Blanche Wiesen Cook Blanche Wiesen Cook ... Herself - Biographer
Paul Giamatti ... Theodore Roosevelt
Doris Kearns Goodwin ... Herself - Historian
William F. Halsey ... Himself (archive footage)
Dorothy Height Dorothy Height ... Herself - Civil Rights Activist
Hirohito ... Himself (archive footage)
Adolf Hitler ... Himself (archive footage)
Harry Hopkins Harry Hopkins ... Himself (archive footage)


After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 Franklin Roosevelt assured the nation that the USA would remain neutral. The public generally agreed. He did ask Congress to authorize additional funding for the military, which was small and poorly armed, and for industry to build 50,000 airplanes which was 10 times their current annual capacity. The main political question remained whether FDR would run for a third term in office. He advised the Democratic convention that he would not run but they nominated him anyway and he agreed. He defeated Wendell Wilkie in the election and appointed two Republicans to key posts: Henry Stimson as Secretary of War and Frank Knox as Secretary of the Navy. The first peacetime draft was instituted, something opposed by the newly created America First committee, whose membership included such luminaries as Charles Lindbergh. In a deft political move, he introduced lend lease as a way of helping the British. Eleanor for her part could see on the ... Written by garykmcd

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Release Date:

19 September 2014 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Florentine Films See more »
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Technical Specs


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Did You Know?


A voice-over of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt has her saying she answered the phone early on September 2, 1939, and her husband informed her that Germany had invaded Poland. That invasion had taken place early on September 1, some 24 hours earlier. See more »

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User Reviews

WWII begins...
21 December 2015 | by MartinHaferSee all my reviews

This episode begins with the outbreak of WWII. While the US was officially neutral, Franklin Roosevelt was clearly pulling for the Brits. However, there was a limit to what he could do as the Americans were sick and tired of war. So, as Hitler's forces take country after country, FDR can do little other than to send Mr. Hitler a nastygram. This also coincides with the end of FDR's second term--and he is reticent to run for a third. However, he is persuaded and his policies really aren't that different from his opponent's, Wendell Wilkie. Both are in favor of the draft and gearing up for war. And, when the Japanese attack in December, 1941, FDR no longer needed to fight Congress--we were in it all the way. As for Eleanor, she wasn't happy as her husband allowed most of his New Deal reforms to disappear and Franklin wasn't overly concerned about the rights of Japanese- Americans and blacks. Towards the end of the show, FDR is dying.

Overall, this is another well made episode of Ken Burns' series-- engaging, very interesting and well worth seeing.

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