US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt customarily delivered his famous Fireside Chats from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House where he is seen (above) seated at a table before seven microphones and newsreel cameras to his front. Roosevelt began broadcasting Fireside Chats during his presidency on March 12, 1933. They initially served as a means for him to inform the public of what the government was doing to resolve the Great Depression. The December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat is famously known as the “Arsenal of Democracy Speech,” for it is recognized as being the moment Roosevelt declared the US “must be the great arsenal of democracy” for countries already fending off the Axis Powers–Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan. The story provides a fitting historical example of the trials and tribulations that can beset a President who must lead his country to war. As a bridge to our days, the situation for countries fighting the Axis Powers in 1940 mirrored that of Ukraine in 2022. The Ukrainians, desiring peace, were torn from it by the aggressive actions of the Russian Federation. Under US leadership, an array of support from Europe and worldwide in response to the pleas of Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky for help. It would be interesting not only to look at what Roosevelt sought to communicate in his address, but discern deeper meaning in what he said. Presented is greatcharlie’s interpretation of what his inner thoughts might have been.
On December 29, 1940, Fireside Chat, the sixteenth in a series of presidential radio broadcasts in the US, as well as Europe and Japan, 32nd President of the US, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, informed the people of their government’s plans to keep the country safe and secure. This particular Fireside Chat is famously known as the “Arsenal of Democracy Speech,” for it is recognized as being the moment Roosevelt declared the US “must be the great arsenal of democracy” for countries already fending off efforts.by the Axis Powers–Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan–to conquer them. This vital part of Roosevelt’s story provides a fitting historical example of the trials and tribulations that can beset a President caused to lead his country to war, a task made more difficult when the priority of the people is maintaining the peace and avoiding overseas conflicts at almost all costs. New priorities had come to fore and had to be accepted. Dark days were ahead. Terrible challenges would need to be endured by the people. Their strength and fortitude would be tested. As a bridge to our days, the situation in 1940 mirrored that of Ukraine in 2022, mutatis mutandis. The Ukrainians, desiring peace, were torn from it by the aggressive actions of its neighbor, the Russian Federation. Under US leadership, an array of support from Europe and worldwide in response to the pleas of Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky for help. In Roosevelt’s case in 1940, he was relying principally on the United Kingdom to hold the line against the Axis Powers across its vast Empire and the Commonwealth. There was no country that the US to fall back on for support. The US was the final protective line of freedom, democracy, and civilization, itself.
Certainly, the December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat has been well trodden by historians and Roosevelt scholars for more than eight decades since its original broadcast. Still, greatcharlie thought it would be interesting not only to look at what Roosevelt sought to communicate in his address but what he, then age 57, pondered at the time when he was alone with his thoughts in an attempt to discern deeper meaning in what he said. In presenting its interpretation of what some of Roosevelt’s inner thoughts might have been, greatcharlie has stayed true to actual facts. Each consideration is informed by what was known to be the situation at the time in the US and rest of the world, particularly the United Kingdom. While sharing its impressions regarding Roosevelt’s complexity. greatcharlie has remained grounded in what was possible. Insights that historians and Roosevelt scholars have already presented are not regurgitated, yet support for its Inferences are drawn from historical examples provided in their works. Notions that have generally been discounted or dismissed in the context of the address are not included. Nothing is made too complex and greatcharlie does not pretend to have all of the answers.
The text of the December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat is drawn from a transcript provided by The American Presidency Project of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Comparisons were made with the online typescript of the address published by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum to confirm its accuracy. Here, the text is divided into 10 segments with headings to facilitate its examination.
Roosevelt’s December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat,
Roosevelt began broadcasting Fireside Chats during his presidency on March 12, 1933. The broadcasts initially served as a means for him to inform the public of what the government was doing to resolve the Great Depression. While Governor of New York State, Roosevelt had some success using Fireside Chats to inform state residents of the latest developments and steps being taken to provide some relief from the devastating effects of the crisis upon them. The first one he made as governor was on April 3, 1929. During the New Deal, Roosevelt gave a radio address around twice a year, informing the public one or two weeks beforehand with the hope of garnering a large audience. Typically, he would include in the address: aspects of government programs; criticisms of them and his responses; and, expressions of optimism and encouragement. Roosevelt usually delivered his address from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House. Reportedly, he would arrive 15 minutes before air time to greet members of the newsmedia, including radio and newsreel correspondents.
Despite the severe nature of the threat posed by the Axis Powers, in his December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat, Roosevelt remained a paragon of sangfroid and equanimity in the face of it all. He was a gentleman at all times publicly. One would expect by reputation that he would be on his game on that day, and show well of his presidency, his country, and his own scruple. While offering answers to the dangers he highlighted, he spoke in an informal and relaxed style, his aim being to create a tone of familiarity and sense of forthrightness among listeners. That evening, Roosevelt was speaking to everyone in the US, including officials with whom he worked and conversed daily. At 9:30PM, Roosevelt began his address. It lasted 36 minutes and 53 seconds.
1. Sentences 1 through 11: The Country Faces a New Crisis Unlike the One Discussed in the 1933 Fireside Chat: It Is a Matter of National Security
Peior est bello timor ipse belli. (Worse than war is the very fear of war.) A primary purpose of the December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat naturally was to assuage apprehensions on the rise within the US public concerning ongoing violent events in the world. Equally naturally, more than just explaining that everything would be alright, Roosevelt sought to provide hard facts on what was exactly happening in the world and what his administration was doing in response. To the good fortune of the US, at a time of such great crisis, there was an intrepid president in office of great creativity particularly on matters concerning defense and the armed forces. Indeed, he was correct in every particular. Roosevelt did not exaggerate one jot.
The Roosevelt administration’s isolationist policy, then in effect, assured a considerable degree of non-entanglement in international politics, particularly non-involvement in ongoing and burgeoning conflicts in Europe and Asia. The US took measures to avoid political and military conflicts across the oceans, it continued to quietly manage economic interests in China and Southeast Asia and actually expanded its economic interests in Latin America.
Through the isolationist policy, US citizens who were still suffering the effects of the Great Depression, could sense it was okay to focus onward on family sustainability, employment, and community in some cases. Roosevelt’s administration worked feverishly to resolve the situation. The people needed a bit more time to heal from the Depression’s ills and the isolationist policy allowed them the psychic space to do that.
Many isolationists among political and business leaders, scholars, national and grassroots non-interventionist organizations in the US in1940 surely wanted their country to stand fast, dignified and proud, in the face of provocations by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan. Aggressive external parties had a great say in how the US would act. The US could not just stand by as some impressive paragon, placid and imperturbable, while Hitler plotted its utter destruction and the enslavement of its people. Time was of the essence. By the end of 1940, for all intents and purposes, a war with the Axis Powers, for all intents and purposes, had essentially become unavoidable for the US. In 1940, that would have been a hard saying. It Is very likely that for the US, everything would have been lost if the US had failed to act as Roosevelt prescribed.
Roosevelt had to bring the people and many in the government, too, to understand not his truth but “the truth” about the situation the US was in. He had to do so realizing how difficult it was for people to unlearn what they have held true for a long time about their country being able to stay out of war abroad.
Sentences 1 through 11 of the Fireside Chat
This is not a fireside chat on war. It is a talk on national security; because the nub of the whole purpose of your President is to keep you, now, and your children later, and your grandchildren much later, out of a last-ditch war for the preservation of American independence and all the things that American independence means to you and to me and to ours.
Tonight, in the presence of a world crisis, my mind goes back eight years to a night in the midst of a domestic crisis. It was a time when the wheels of American industry were grinding to a full stop, when the whole banking system of our country had ceased to function.
I well remember that while I sat in my study in the White House, preparing to talk with the people of the United States, I had before my eyes the picture of all those Americans with whom I was talking. I saw the workmen in the mills, the mines, the factories; the girl behind the counter; the small shopkeeper; the farmer doing his spring plowing; the widows and the old men wondering about their life’s savings.
I tried to convey to the great mass of American people what the banking crisis meant to them in their daily lives.
Tonight, I want to do the same thing, with the same people, in this new crisis which faces America. We met the issue of 1933 with courage and realism.
We face this new crisis–this new threat to the security of our nation–with the same courage and realism.”
2. Sentences 11 through 21: The Threat
Nazi Germany would serve as the best example to illustrate the clear and present danger the US faced. It was a danger that could not be ignored or avoided. Nazi Germany was on the rampage in the world abroad the most in the US knew or were from. It would need to be confronted. It would not be enough to dissuade or deter the Nazis. Nazi German Reichskanzler (Reich Chancellor) Adolf Hitler’s ability to make war had to be destroyed. There was no other option. No amount of coercive diplomacy would convince Hitler to dismantle his war machine. The time that idea might have had any validity as a suggestion had long since passed. France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, all under the control of the Nazis had to be freed. Hitler could not be allowed to feed off their respective resources and manpower of those countries to further build Nazi Germany’s strength and military prowess. The United Kingdom had to be protected. Surely, Roosevelt considered every possibility.
However, the situation in Europe was positively fluid. Just the year before the United Kingdom, France seemed to have answers to blocking Hitler’s plan to conquer the Continent. In the Low Countries–Netherlands, Belgium and even Luxembourg–had no intention of being open doors for a westward drive by Nazi Germany and took defensive measures. Norway was under threat but still free. By December 1940, the United Kingdom was standing alone. It had already fended off Nazi Germany in its skies, and knowing conquest was foremost on Hitler’s mind, it girded itself for an invasion that nearly everyone expected to come. All of that and more was going on at home while its armed forces were fighting furiously against the Axis Powers.
On May 22, 1932, Roosevelt, then New York Governor of New York State, received a Doctor of Laws honorary degree from Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia during a commencement ceremony. He gave a powerful address on the state of the country and the place of the youth in its future, the precepts of which founded his New Deal plan as US President. Roosevelt’s address also provides insight into his courageous approach to seemingly insurmountable problems. He explained: “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something . . .We need enthusiasm, imagination and the ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely. . . .”
How the US could best take on the fight to defeat the respective Axis Powers while remaining neutral was the big question. In developing a concept for doing that Roosevelt seemed to find wisdom in the aphorism “an ounce of prevention would be worth a pound of cure.” Creating more time to prepare by keeping the aforementioned friendly countries, with which the US had not yet become formally allied, was the most appropriate course of action at that point. He would provide encouragement to countries fighting the Axis Powers to hold the line at all points in which the Axis Powers were active, but Roosevelt did not intend to stand by and wait to see how things would turn out. Rather than wait for what came next, he sought to influence what was transpiring to create favorable outcomes on those frontlines.
To the extent it could, the US responded to requests for weapons and resupply of equipment from “belligerents” at war with the Axis Powers. Time was of the essence. Action had to be swift. The window of opportunity to act as supportive as possible on multiple fronts while standing off from the fighting would remain open for only so long. Despite the assistance provided, many being assisted could still fall. That was the case with France.
Regarding the situation of United Kingdom specifically, in 1939, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in cooperation with his French Premier Edouard Daladier fell for a rather prosaic scheme organized by Hitler and his Nazi government, with Italian leader Benito Mussolini in tow, that evinced a frightfully transparent motive. The leaders negotiated to permit Hitler to take control of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. The government in Prague had no role in the talks. Hitler recognized how the Western powers were willing to surrender the peace and territory of others to protect their own peace and well-being. Chamberlain appeared truly naive to those within his own political party in Parliament, the Conservative Party, byname Tories, and within the loyal opposition, the Labour Party. Labour forced a vote of no confidence which ended Chamberlain’s days as Prime Minister.
Sentences 11 through 21 of the Fireside Chat
“Never before since Jamestown and Plymouth Rock has our American civilization been in such danger as now.
For, on September 27, 1940, this year, by an agreement signed in Berlin, three powerful nations, two in Europe and one in Asia, joined themselves together in the threat that if the United States of America interfered with or blocked the expansion program of these three nations–a program aimed at world control—they would unite in ultimate action against the United States.
The Nazi masters of Germany have made it clear that they intend not only to dominate all life and thought in their own country, but also to enslave the whole of Europe, and then to use the resources of Europe to dominate the rest of the world.
It was only three weeks ago that their leader stated this: “There are two worlds that stand opposed to each other.” And then in defiant reply to his opponents, he said this: “Others are correct when they say: With this world we cannot ever reconcile ourselves. . . . I can beat any other power in the world.” So said the leader of the Nazis.
In other words, the Axis not merely admits, but the Axis proclaims that there can be no ultimate peace between their philosophy, their philosophy of government and our philosophy of government.
In view of the nature of this undeniable threat, it can be asserted, properly and categorically, that the United States has no right or reason to encourage talk of peace, until the day shall come when there is a clear intention on the part of the aggressor nations to abandon all thought of dominating or conquering the world.
At this moment, the forces of the states that are leagued against all peoples who live in freedom, are being held away from our shores. The Germans and the Italians are being blocked on the other side of the Atlantic by the British, and by the Greeks, and by thousands of soldiers and sailors who were able to escape from subjugated countries. In Asia, the Japanese are being engaged by the Chinese nation in another great defense. In the Pacific Ocean is our fleet.”
United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill at his seat in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street, London, circa 1940.
3. Sentences 22 through 40: Hitler and the Axis Powers: What They Represent
United Kingdom Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was installed May 10, 1940. As Roosevelt correctly saw the United Kingdom as essentially the aegis of the US, he appeared to depend particularly upon Churchill to hold the line against Hitler as promised. In Churchill’s first speech before the House of Commons, three days after being installed on May 10, 1940 as Prime Minister, he powerfully stated regarding the war: “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”
Roosevelt learned that holding the line would not be a mean feat for the United Kingdom. In a May 15, 1940 cable, Churchill revealed the truth of the dire straits his country found itself in to Roosevelt. He wrote: “The scene has darkened swiftly. The enemy have a marked preponderance in the air, and their new technique is making a deep impression upon the French. I think myself the battle on land has only just begun . . . The small countries are simply smashed up, one by one, like matchwood. We must expect, though it is not yet certain, that Mussolini will hurry in to share the loot of civilization. We expect to be attacked here ourselves, both from the air and by parachute and air borne troops in the near future, and are getting ready from them. If necessary, we shall continue the war alone and we are not afraid of that. But I trust you realize, Mr. President, that the voice and force of the United States may count for nothing if they are withheld too long. You may have completely subjugated, Nazified Europe established with astonishing swiftness, and the weight may be more than we can bear.”
By providing weapons to the United Kingdom, the capabilities of its armed forces would be enhanced and the chances of it holding out would be increased. However, Churchill had to be depended upon to hold the line at home, too. Churchill determined that the United Kingdom would fight on, but there were Members in his War Cabinet willing to sign a peace agreement with Hitler.
With the hope that three parties would work together with the common aim of defeating Nazi Germany, Churchill created a War Cabinet in which two out of five members were Labour politicians, one was National and two were Conservatives. Yet, despite the crisis, domestic political fighting was not restrained. In the Parliament, a series of crucial, often heated, discussions and debates took place in late May 1940. If anything had suddenly happened to Churchill, politically or physically, there was the danger that those willing to strike a deal with Hitler would follow through with their wrongheaded ideas. As well as bolster the United Kingdom’s ability to fight, US military assistance would prove to Churchill and those shaky Members of Parliament that the US was standing fast with them. By working together, Roosevelt and Churchill forged a sort of entente cordiale.
Sentences 22 through 40 of the Fireside Chat
“Some of our people like to believe that wars in Europe and in Asia are of no concern to us. But it is a matter of most vital concern to us that European and Asiatic war-makers should not gain control of the oceans which lead to this hemisphere.
One hundred and seventeen years ago the Monroe Doctrine was conceived by our Government as a measure of defense in the face of a threat against this hemisphere by an alliance in Continental Europe. Thereafter, we stood guard in the Atlantic, with the British as neighbors. There was no treaty. There was no “unwritten agreement.”
And yet, there was the feeling, proven correct by history, that we as neighbors could settle any disputes in a peaceful fashion. The fact is that during the whole of this time the Western Hemisphere has remained free from aggression from Europe or from Asia.
Does anyone seriously believe that we need to fear attack anywhere in the Americas while a free Britain remains our most powerful naval neighbor in the Atlantic? Does anyone seriously believe, on the other hand, that we could rest easy if the Axis powers were our neighbors there?
If Great Britain goes down, the Axis powers will control the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia, and the high seas–and they will be in a position to bring enormous military and naval resources against this hemisphere. It is no exaggeration to say that all of us, in all the Americas, would be living at the point of a gun—a gun loaded with explosive bullets, economic as well as military. [The source of the transcript of the Fireside Chat utilized here notes that although the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum online typescript of the address includes “Australia” and not “Australasia,” a close review of an authentic recording has confirmed Australasia is correct. Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit. (Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.)]
We should enter upon a new and terrible era in which the whole world, our hemisphere included, would be run by threats of brute force. To survive in such a world, we would have to convert ourselves permanently into a militaristic power on the basis of war economy.
Some of us like to believe that even if Britain falls, we are still safe, because of the broad expanse of the Atlantic and of the Pacific.
But the width of those oceans is not what it was in the days of clipper ships. At one point between Africa and Brazil the distance is less from Washington that it is from Washington to Denver, Colorado–five hours for the latest type of bomber. And at the North end of the Pacific Ocean, America and Asia almost touch each other.
Why, even today we have planes that could fly from the British Isles to New England and back again without refueling. And remember that the range of the modern bomber is ever being increased.”
4. Sentences 42 through 71: What the Axis Powers Are Capable of and Plan To Do; How They Think; Areas They Threaten; The US Plan of Action
Every step of the way, Roosevelt had to be thorough in his analysis of matters, very calculating in his choices, and very measured in his actions. Surely, he often had to show restraint, perhaps knowing that certain bold advances would likely be most helpful, yet prohibiting himself to limited moves that would be most effective. No one was allowed to get in the way of those efforts. In greatcharlie’s humble view. the following words of the renowned Irish novelist, short-story writer and poet in “Chapter 9: Scylla and Charybdis” of Ulysses (1922) are apposite to Roosevelt: “His own image to a man with that queer thing genius is the standard of all experience, material and moral.”
Roosevelt was well aware that everyone in Washington had an opinion on how to proceed with regard to Europe and Asia. Roosevelt however, had his own opinions and did not need to pollinate them with theirs. What he wanted most from others were good, solid suggestions for lines of action.
Officials in the government, business, academia, his own political party as well as the ever-present pestiferous critics who were hardly acquainted with the actual facts must have appeared truly counterintuitive to Roosevelt for believing that Hitler would somehow choose to work diplomatically with the US or ignore it on his path to world conquest. He appears to have concluded that given technological advances, the Atlantic could be easily overcome by the massive Nazi war machine whereas others still had not.
As an objective of Roosevelt’s Fireside Chat was not arouse fears within the country but rather put its people on an even keel in a time of trouble, he could hardly explain that the Axis Powers would not forever tolerate robust actions from the US to undermine their respective plans for conquest, even though he likely believed Hitler would strike with some bold violent move soon enough.
For the War Department, the US was the only priority. There, calculations were assuredly being done all the time in 1940, focusing particularly on depleted supplies, weapons and ammunition due to cash-and-carry, which in the department was seen as a virtually unlimited stream of military assistance flowing out of US arsenals and military production plants into the United Kingdom. Cash-and-Carry was a creative program implemented by Roosevelt. Under the program the US could sell countries such as the United Kingdom and France as long as they paid cash and carried the war materials on their own cargo ships. Roosevelt managed to persuade the US Congress to allow the US the flexibility to take such a step just before the passage of the Neutrality Act on August 15, 1935 which imposed strict limitations on US interactions with “belligerent” countries.
Imagining that military commanders and war planners in Roosevelt’s War Department had occasionally turned their focus to classified “map maneuvers and “chart maneuvers” concerning the situation in Europe from the position of the Nazi German Armed Forces, they may have judged that Nazi Germany would easily recognize the United Kingdom, the British Empire and its Commonwealth, stood in the way of their line of march. Churchill actually presented that position as a statement of fact in his June 4, 1940 speech before the House of Commons, saying: “The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war.” They may have concluded in the War Department that soon enough Hitler would want to mitigate that problem. Cutting the United Kingdom off from the US using U-Boats would very likely be Hitler’s solution.
Roosevelt was already keenly aware U-Boats could cause something close to insurmountable damage to merchant fleets operating in the Atlantic. Churchill once wrote that, “The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.” As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt observed how they successfully performed before the US entry into World War I. He would surely find that conclusion logical. Given what had been demonstrated by Hitler to that point, Roosevelt most likely presumed the dictator would eventually seize the opportunity before him. The question left was exactly how much longer Hitler would tolerate the resupply and support from the US that kept the United Kingdom in the fight.
Undoubtedly concerned with the timing of such a possibility, Roosevelt appeared compelled to increase the tempo of action and do the most possible while conditions were moderately favorable on the Atlantic. As it so happened, by 1940, German U-Boats had already achieved considerable success in sinking merchant ships on the way to the United Kingdom. However, Nazi Germany had not vastly increased their U-Boat arsenal and formed a fleet in such a way to deliver a decisive blow. It is now known that Konteradmiral (Rear Admiral) Karl Dōnitz, who at the start of World War II, served as the Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote (Commander of the Submarines), pushed for a German fleet that consisted almost entirely of U-boats. He fully believed that depriving Germany’s enemies vital supplies such as food and oil would be more effective than sinking enemy ships with the risk of combat. He claimed that given 300 of the Type VII U-boats, he could defeat the entire Royal Navy utilizing tactics that would later be named “wolfpacks”.
Luckily, Hitler was not so clever. He gave the jobs of both Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine (Commander-in-Chief of the Navy) and Großadmiral, Oberkommando der Marine (the Naval High Command) Erich Raeder. Raeder was uninterested in Dönitz’s theories. Raeder was a traditionalist whose focus was surface warfare. Raeder also judged that Germany could not contest the Royal Navy for control of the sea. Even more, Raeder believed submarine warfare was cowardly. By 1941, although relatively small in number, U-boats under then Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral) Dőnitz were threatening Allied shipping as far as the US east coast. However, the U-Boats were never used at a level to knock the United Kingdom out of the war despite having the genuine capability to do so.
Sentences 42 through 71 of the Fireside Chat
“During the past week many people in all parts of the nation have told me what they wanted me to say tonight. Almost all of them expressed a courageous desire to hear the plain truth about the gravity of the situation. One telegram, however, expressed the attitude of the small minority who want to see no evil and hear no evil, even though they know in their hearts that evil exists. That telegram begged me not to tell again of the ease with which our American cities could be bombed by any hostile power which had gained bases in this Western Hemisphere. The gist of that telegram was: “Please, Mr. President, don’t frighten us by telling us the facts.”
Frankly and definitely there is danger ahead—danger against which we must prepare. But we well know that we cannot escape danger, or the fear of danger, by crawling into bed and pulling the covers over our heads.
Some nations of Europe were bound by solemn non-intervention pacts with Germany. Other nations were assured by Germany that they need never fear invasion. Non-intervention pact or not, the fact remains that they were attacked, overrun; thrown into modern slavery at an hour’s notice, or even without any notice at all. As an exiled leader of one of these nations said to me the other day—”The notice was a minus quantity. It was given to my Government two hours after German troops had poured into my country in a hundred places.”
The fate of these nations tells us what it means to live at the point of a Nazi gun.
The Nazis have justified such actions by various pious frauds. One of these frauds is the claim that they are occupying a nation for the purpose of “restoring order.” Another is that they are occupying or controlling a nation on the excuse that they are “protecting it” against the aggression of somebody else.
For example, Germany has said that she was occupying Belgium to save the Belgians from the British. Would she then hesitate to say to any South American country, “We are occupying you to protect you from aggression by the United States”?
Belgium today is being used as an invasion base against Britain, now fighting for its life. And any South American country, in Nazi hands, would always constitute a jumping-off place for German attack on any one of the other Republics of this hemisphere.
Analyze for yourselves the future of two other places even nearer to Germany if the Nazis won. Could Ireland hold out? Would Irish freedom be permitted as an amazing pet exception in an unfree world? Or the Islands of the Azores which still fly the flag of Portugal after five centuries? You and I think of Hawaii as an outpost of defense in the Pacific. And yet, the Azores are closer to our shores in the Atlantic than Hawaii is on the other side.
There are those who say that the Axis powers would never have any desire to attack the Western Hemisphere. That is the same dangerous form of wishful thinking which has destroyed the powers of resistance of so many conquered peoples. The plain facts are that the Nazis have proclaimed, time and again, that all other races are their inferiors and therefore subject to their orders. And most important of all, the vast resources and wealth of this American Hemisphere constitute the most tempting loot in all the round world.”
US M3 Grant tank being loaded onboard a cargo ship bound for a war zone overseas.
5. Sentences 72 through 108: Plans of Axis Powers to Overcome the US and Explaining Why Opponents to US Assistance Are Wrong; A Struggle for Human Liberty and Freedom Is Underway
In Napoléon: Ses Opinions et Jugemens sur les Hommes et sur les Choses (1838) by Jean-Joseph-Stanislas-Albert Damas-Hinard, an entry under courage is Correspondance de Napoléon avec le Ministre de la Marine, Lettre du 25 Mai 1805 states: “Rien ne donne plus de courage et n’éclaircit plus les idées que de bien connaître la position de son ennemi.” (Nothing gives more courage or better clarifies ideas than knowing accurately the position of one’s enemy.) In the prewar years as well as during the war, Roosevelt seemed to have a reliable intuition which he appeared to use to its fullest. Concerning Hitler’s very likely determination to invade the US, Roosevelt did not need to read about that in an intelligence report, or rely upon his intuition. If one could forgive greatcharlie’s frankness, as Roosevelt was an experienced politician from New York State and a learned man, he understood just how monstrous and vile the thinking of individuals as Hitler could be.
Yet, Roosevelt knew the value of intelligence and surely wanted to get a leg up on the Axis Powers however he could. He wanted to know what they were doing abroad, particularly throughout the northern and southern continents, and especially in the US. Rather than wait for the veils to lift, he charged the somewhat meager intelligence resources the US had at the time to break through them.
It is uncertain whether what sufficed for foreign intelligence services for the US at that time–the Special Intelligence Service of the Federal Bureau, of Investigation (FBI), the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the Military Intelligence Division—would have been aware in 1940 of any high-tech research and development planned or underway in Germany such as long-range rocket and ballistic missile programs and jet-powered aircraft. The FBI had developed ties with the United Kingdom’s MI6 foreign intelligence service and MI5 internal security organization and learned much from them in order to work more effectively on common causes.
An Interdepartmental Information Conference in 1939 brought all elements of the burgeoning US intelligence community together for the first time, to discuss creating a structure to handle the espionage threat to the US. Rather than fight like a sack of wildcats, new linkages were created between the FBI and the US military, and partnerships were established with foreign services such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as well as Mexican and British intelligence officials. The FBI’s General Intelligence Division was established to manage foreign counterintelligence and other intelligence investigations. In 1940, US President Franklin Roosevelt signed a Presidential order allowing FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, to begin wiretapping embassies and consulates. Sizable failures, new initiatives, and the FBI’s education in managing the intricate details of counterespionage matters resulted in the surprise arrest of 33 German agents in 1941, effectively breaking the back of Abwehr (German military intelligence) in the US. To that extent, Roosevelt was made aware of Nazi Germany’s espionage activities in the US, and within certain parameters he could inform the US public of those efforts which were aimed at laying the groundwork for the conquest of their country.
Much as Churchill, Roosevelt seemed gripped by a strange fear about Hitler. He truly believed that it would be impossible to discuss anything with him. In Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943 (St. Augustine’s Press, 2013), reviewed in greatcharlie’s March 2, 2015 post, George Rutler explains that Roosevelt believed Hitler could very well have been the Devil Incarnate. Related to this Churchill recalled during a subsequent radio interview that before his discussion with Roosevelt began aboard the battleship HMS Prince of Wales at Placentia Bay off the coast of Newfoundland on Sunday, August 10, 1941, the two leaders attended a church service on the warship’s fantail. Churchill commented regarding the church service: “I felt that this was no vain presumption, but that we had the right to feel that we are serving a cause for the sake of which a trumpet has sounded from on high.”
Sentences 72 through 108 of the Fireside Chat
“Let us no longer blind ourselves to the undeniable fact that the evil forces which have crushed and undermined and corrupted so many others are already within our own gates. Your Government knows much about them and every day is ferreting them out.
Their secret emissaries are active in our own and in neighboring countries. They seek to stir up suspicion and dissension to cause internal strife. They try to turn capital against labor, and vice versa. They try to reawaken long slumbering racial and religious enmities which should have no place in this country. They are active in every group that promotes intolerance. They exploit for their own ends our own natural abhorrence of war. These trouble-breeders have but one purpose. It is to divide our people; to divide them into hostile groups and to destroy our unity and shatter our will to defend ourselves.
There are also American citizens, many of them in high places, who, unwittingly in most cases, are aiding and abetting the work of these agents. I do not charge these American citizens with being foreign agents. But I do charge them with doing exactly the kind of work that the dictators want done in the United States.
These people not only believe that we can save our own skins by shutting our eyes to the fate of other nations. Some of them go much further than that. They say that we can and should become the friends and even the partners of the Axis powers. Some of them even suggest that we should imitate the methods of the dictatorships. But Americans never can and never will do that.
The experience of the past two years has proven beyond doubt that no nation can appease the Nazis. No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it. There can be no appeasement with ruthlessness. There can be no reasoning with an incendiary bomb. We know now that a nation can have peace with the Nazis only at the price of total surrender.
Even the people of Italy have been forced to become accomplices of the Nazis; but at this moment they do not know how soon they will be embraced to death by their allies.
The American appeasers ignore the warning to be found in the fate of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and France. They tell you that the Axis powers are going to win anyway; that all of this bloodshed in the world could be saved; that the United States might just as well throw its influence into the scale of a dictated peace, and get the best out of it that we can.
They call it a “negotiated peace.” Nonsense! Is it a negotiated peace if a gang of outlaws surrounds your community and on threat of extermination makes you pay tribute to save your own skins?
Such a dictated peace would be no peace at all. It would be only another armistice, leading to the most gigantic armament race and the most devastating trade wars in all history. And in these contests the Americas would offer the only real resistance to the Axis powers.
With all their vaunted efficiency, with all their parade of pious purpose in this war, there are still in their background the concentration camp and the servants of God in chains.
The history of recent years proves that the shootings and the chains and the concentration camps are not simply the transient tools but the very altars of modern dictatorships. They may talk of a “new order” in the world, but what they have in mind is only a revival of the oldest and the worst tyranny. In that there is no liberty, no religion, no hope.
The proposed “new order” is the very opposite of a United States of Europe or a United States of Asia. It is not a Government based upon the consent of the governed. It is not a union of ordinary, self-respecting men and women to protect themselves and their freedom and their dignity from oppression. It is an unholy alliance of power and pelf to dominate and enslave the human race.”
Attendees of the August 22, 1940 Destroyer Conference at the White House. From left to right, US Attorney General Robert Jackson, US Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Acting US Secretary of State Sumner Welles and US Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox.
6. Sentences 109 through 123: The US Must Act; What the Failure to Support the United Kingdom Would Mean; Time Is of the Essence
Given his objective of doing the most possible while conditions were moderately favorable on the Atlantic, Roosevelt likely reached the logical conclusion that many weapons still sitting in US arsenals, beyond what had already been sent abroad, would be put to far better use in the hands of the combat experienced fighting forces of countries already engaged in the struggle with the Axis Powers. He may have assessed that any additional weapons supplied to the United Kingdom and France while it was still in the fight, would have, what would decades later be dubbed, a “multiplier effect” on both the morale, capabilities, and possibilities of those forces. He clearly wanted the United Kingdom to have every chance of success.
In implementing his policy of assisting the United Kingdom with as much as the US could within safe parameters, Roosevelt had to cope with incessant virtual debates–virtual, as there was no room for a debating directly with the president on foreign and national security policy that he set in place and wanted action on–with top military officers and top bureaucrats in the War Department who believed they were presenting what could be characterized as “America First” arguments.
The US Armed Forces opposed the diversion of its military supplies to the United Kingdom. At the nub of that position was the pessimistic belief of the Chief of Staff of the US Army General George Marshall that the United Kingdom would not be able to fend off Nazi Germany. (That assessment was frightfully off the mark.) As was the case when France fell, Marshall anticipated that when the United Kingdom surrendered, all of the US war materials that were being rushed there would fall into Nazi German hands. Marshall and others argued that the US national defense would not be served by clearing out its arsenals for others’ lost causes, but rather by retaining military supplies for the protection of the Western Hemisphere.
Yet as alluded to earlier, Roosevelt understood that moment, such thinking was too pessimistic, very limited, even defeatist. It has often been the case that only after a crisis has crossed its tipping point that the great value of a creative approach is recognized. However, in this case, if Roosevelt had waited for anyone to have some epiphany, the chance to have a positive impact would likely have been lost forever. If the US failed to try all options with real potential still available, it would tragically have little say in the final outcome which likely would have been dark. To that extent, Roosevelt, the Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces, insisted top military and naval officers and senior bureaucrats in the War Department fix themselves to the task of finding ways to immediately implement his plans, rather than wait to simply hope they would see things his way.
While administering the Navy and working somewhat closely with the Army as Assistant Secretary of Navy during World War I, Roosevelt may have detected a parochialism among senior military and naval officers that colored thinking in planning. He may have also detected that among top commanders and planners, there was a certain piquancy in knowing all the right boxes were ticked and everything that was planned was accepted as being done in the correct way. Roosevelt understood what a liability such thinking would be in the country’s circumstances in 1940. For Roosevelt, the usual practices and perfunctory work had no place.
As noted earlier, Roosevelt would not respond to his advisers in toxic, hostile ways. He remained well-beyond that. Still, at times, senior leaders in the War Department, appearing uncertain, even distrustful of Roosevelt’s thinking, in their own way put extra pressure on him. If he reacted at all, his words would be more sardonic than cutting. In an intriguing December 29, 2015 article in Politico written on the 75th Anniversary of the Fireside Chat discussed here, historian Josh Zeitz wrote, unfortunately without citations, that Roosevelt would often brace and threaten to expel those who were hesitant to comply with his orders. This behavior was most apparent when on June 1, 1940, weeks before France fell to Nazi Germany, Roosevelt unilaterally declared enormous caches of military equipment “surplus” and ordered that they be shipped immediately to the United Kingdom. When the US Secretary of War Harry Woodring, an ardent isolationist, fired off a strong memo to the President voicing concern about the legality of the order, Roosevelt ordered him to comply or resign. (Roosevelt eventually had to demand his resignation when refused to release B-17 “Flying Fortresses” to the United Kingdom. He replaced him with a Republican from the administration of US President Howard Taft, Henry Stimson.) General Henry Arnold, Chief of the US Army Air Corps repeatedly expressed concerns that the order would have a deleterious effect upon the country’s readiness for war, Roosevelt reportedly told an aide: “If Arnold won’t comply, maybe we’ll have to move him out of town.” When the US Navy’s Judge Advocate General balked at sanctioning the transfer, Roosevelt instructed the US Secretary of the Navy, Charles Edison, to send the “sea lawyer” on a protracted vacation. Zeitz explains Edison refused, to which Roosevelt replied: “Forget it and do what I told you to do.”
A national leader must have a well-considered idea of what the objectives of a country’s military action will be and how that action should be prosecuted. Those choices are political, established in the country’s foreign and national security policy long before any choices are made, but often in history the need to fight has been existential. Top military commanders must remain obedient to the concept and intent expressed by the national leader. To that extent, war becomes a continuation of politics with other means much as the 19th military theorist, Prussian General Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz, suggested in his renowned book Vom Kriege (On War) published posthumously in 1832: “Der Krieg ist eine bloße Fortsetzung der Politik mit anderen Mitteln.”
As a highly developed individual, Roosevelt seemingly was able to keep perspective on almost everything. He did not appear to truly despair or fault those in the foreign and national security bureaucracies for furnishing patent answers they were long trained to provide and patriotically as well as emotionally compelled to make. Yet, he was also likely aware, well-ahead of most, that the circumstances of war with the Axis Powers would demand that many unlearn lessons from the past and open their minds up to new thinking on a global scale, transcending anything they might have considered or dared to imagine before. Nothing said ever caused Roosevelt to halt or even slow down the export of US military resources. In truth, more often, Roosevelt would receive answers and rapid responses from advisers much as he desired.
When Churchill asked Roosevelt for the loan of “forty or fifty of your older destroyers,” and warned that without them the United Kingdom would be unable to fight the “Battle of the Atlantic” against Nazi Germany and Italy, what followed was three-and-a-half months of negotiations. There were significant issues to sort out. Roosevelt’s first response disappointed Churchill. Roosevelt truthfully responded, “a step of that kind could not be taken except with the specific authorization of Congress and I am not certain that it would be wise for that suggestion to be made to the Congress at this moment.” Still, Churchill continued to do his part with regard to holding the line. On July 3, 1940, the Royal Navy was dispatched to bomb the French Navy at its base in northwestern Algeria with the purpose of at best destroying or at least disabling the French fleet to prevent it from being used by Nazi Germany. If the United Kingdom had even largely fallen to Nazi Germany, the naval assets of the French fleet, aggregated with Germany’s Kriegsmarine and the Italian Regia Marina (Royal Navy), the US would be left to fight an enormous armada of naval and air power. By August, talks between the US and the United Kingdom shifted from a loan or sale of the surplus destroyers to an exchange of the surplus destroyers for bases on British Territories in the North Atlantic and the Caribbean. Though he was reportedly not open to thoughts from some advisers on what should be accomplished, he was presumably open to thoughts on the best way to accomplish the “Destroyer-Bases Exchange.”
First, Roosevelt met with US Attorney General Robert Jackson to discuss the legal situation regarding his authority to provide surplus US Navy destroyers on that basis with the United Kingdom without further authorization from Congress.
Second, on August 13, 1940, US Secretary of State Henry Stimson, US Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, US Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles and US Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, met with Roosevelt to outline the essential points of an agreement. Third, on August 15, 1940, Jackson advised Roosevelt that the Department of Justice definitely believed he did have authority to act without the consent of Congress as the destroyers to be transferred fell in the classification of obsolescent materials. All he needed was certification from naval and military authorities that the warships were not needful for the defense of the US. On September 2, 1940, President Roosevelt signed the Destroyers for Bases Agreement.
Sentences 109 through 123 of the Fireside Chat
“The British people and their allies today are conducting an active war against this unholy alliance. Our own future security is greatly dependent on the outcome of that fight. Our ability to “keep out of war” is going to be affected by that outcome.
Thinking in terms of today and tomorrow, I make the direct statement to the American people that there is far less chance of the United States getting into war, if we do all we can now to support the nations defending themselves against attack by the Axis than if we acquiesce in their defeat, submit tamely to an Axis victory, and wait our turn to be the object of attack in another war later on.
If we are to be completely honest with ourselves, we must admit that there is risk in any course we may take. But I deeply believe that the great majority of our people agree that the course that I advocate involves the least risk now and the greatest hope for world peace in the future.
The people of Europe who are defending themselves do not ask us to do their fighting. They ask us for the implements of war, the planes, the tanks, the guns, the freighters which will enable them to fight for their liberty and for our security. Emphatically we must get these weapons to them; get them to them in sufficient volume and quickly enough, so that we and our children will be saved the agony and suffering of war which others have had to endure.
Let not the defeatists tell us that it is too late. It will never be earlier. Tomorrow will be later than today. Certain facts are self-evident.
In a military sense Great Britain and the British Empire are today the spearhead of resistance to world conquest. And they are putting up a fight which will live forever in the story of human gallantry.”
Chief of Staff of the US Army General George Catlett Marshall (seated center) with members of his general staff in November 1941.
7. Sentences 124 through 130: A No US Boots on the Ground Pledge; Addressing Naysayers; Integrating the War Needs of US and the United Kingdom
In July 1940, the Democratic Party nominated Roosevelt for an unprecedented third term in office. His opponent, Republican nominee Wendell Willkie, agreed with Roosevelt that the US should lend active assistance to the United Kingdom. Yet, as the election drew closer, Willkie began to give speeches warning that a vote for Roosevelt was a vote for entering the war. As polls narrowed, Roosevelt sought to assure voters, stating: “We will not participate in foreign wars and we will not send our army, naval or air forces to fight in foreign lands outside of the Americas except in case of attack.” Ultimately, Roosevelt won reelection, and with that behind him, he perhaps believed he had more flexibility to make more decisive moves to support countries fighting the Axis Powers and prepare the US for war
On September 16, 1940. the US Congress approved the Selective Service and Training Act. The majority of Members of Congress, despite resistance from isolationists in the body, could see the writing on the wall with regard to the Axis Powers and war. The act, which instituted the first peacetime military draft in US history, required men between the ages of 21 and 36 to register for the draft. The number of selected draftees was capped at 900,000 men, who would be enlisted for one year of training and service, and could only serve in the Western Hemisphere or in US territories. Though there were anti-draft protests on college campuses nationwide, in December 1940, 78% of US citizens polled favored the military draft. Once the Selective Service and Training Act went into effect, the requirements for more weapons and supplies in the US would sharply increase. With conscripts starting to arrive for training in the armed forces, the War Department became concerned that those conscripts would be fully equipped.
While the situation in Europe worsened, Marshall would repeatedly convey the concerns of the uniformed services in the War Department over his foreign military assistance efforts in his meetings with Roosevelt. Surely, Marshall may have felt he was doing his job with fidelity, speaking truth to power. He, too, was part of the aforementioned “cabal” that questioned the legality and Roosevelt’s decision to declare swathes of war materials surplus and ship them off post haste to the United Kingdom. Expressing caution based on the best ways one knows how to handle a situation was logical, and somewhat understandable. The War Department did have war plans that were dependent on those military resources. Marshall’s intent was to stockpile resources for a coming fight. This certainly would have been the position of top military leaders generally as it is what they had been trained to do. Moreover, it would become nearly impossible to make adjustments and firm up war plans and strategies without knowing what would be available, or better, what would be left, after weapons, surplus and new, from US arsenals were shipped around the world.
Marshall’s reaction to the near non-stop movement of such high levels of military resources to the United Kingdom might have been expected by Roosevelt. According to an anecdote drawn from Forrest Pogue’s George C. Marshall, Vol. 2: Ordeal and Hope, 1939-1942 (Viking, 1966), in the fall of 1938, when the threat of war loomed in Europe, Roosevelt called a White House meeting with key members of his administration in order to discuss his proposed defense plan, which primarily consisted of a rapid and dramatic expansion of US airpower. Marshall had been the Deputy Chief of Staff of the US Army for less than one month. As a new brigadier–one-star–general, he was one of the lowest ranking attendees of the meeting. During the course of the discussion, Roosevelt asked each attendee if they agreed with his proposal. All voiced agreement except Marshall who tactfully disagreed with Roosevelt’s concept. The other attendees noted that Marshall’s disagreement visibly startled Roosevelt. After the meeting adjourned, many of those present made it clear that they believed Marshall had effectively ended his career. Five months later, in a move that stunned most of Washington, Roosevelt asked Marshall to serve as the next Chief of Staff of the US Army.
In another instance, during a meeting at the White House with Roosevelt, Marshall presented a chart that reflected the arrangement for dividing planes coming off the assembly line, particularly the US Army’s prized B-17 “Flying Fortress”, mentioned earlier, with the United Kingdom, particularly exhibiting the wide difference between orders and deliveries. Marshall reportedly asked pointedly whether the United Kingdom’s consignment should be computed as half of the planes scheduled for delivery or as half of those actually delivered. Roosevelt’s response to Marshall allegedly was: “Don’t let me see that chart again.” As the leader of the US Army, certainly, Marshall was aware of the indications and implications of that statement for him personally.
Perhaps it is bitter this but Roosevelt likely understood Marshall could hardly provide him with a forecast of what the situation would be in another year that would hold any degree of certitude. In other words, Marshall could not be certain how the world for which his planners had organized military strategic objectives, military plans, and military resources would Iook in a year. Roosevelt knew that the time to act was now. In a calibrated way, he could supply the United Kingdom and many others who were fighting the Axis Powers what they needed when they needed it the most. The US would be the one through such efforts to aggregate all of the power available for the fight immediately.
It is possible that in Roosevelt’s eyes, perhaps even for fleeting moments, he might have been irked. Roosevelt, after all, was only human.. In those imagined moments, he might have felt the attitudes and behaviors that Marshall and other senior officials in the War Department as well as other foreign and national security bureaucracies was more akin to the type of rural or urban shopkeeper who was more focused with the fullness of the stockroom, orderly shelves, and keeping his or her portion of the sidewalk swept than selling inventory, making profits, and best serving his or her community: the recipe for ruin.
When Marshall argued against efforts to elevate the United Kingdom’s military capabilities at the expense of those of the US, perhaps he may have actually managed to create some degree of doubt, no matter how small, that the general was not the best strategic thinker and would not, as Chief of Staff of the US Army, be able to make the whole challenging and unfortunate trek he saw the country on. The general’s attempts to tactfully lobby Roosevelt perhaps would lead many today to think that every so often an afflatus would strike him. To be more frank, Marshall acted as if he viewed his president’s choices as something closer to whims than thoughtful, strategically sound decisions. Roosevelt may have held in mind, perhaps even had nightmares over the fact, that Marshall’s line of thinking somewhat resembled that of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France, British Army General Lord Gort. He used his troops to construct the “Gort Line,” a 45 mile defensive line comprised of bunkers, pillboxes, and anti-tank traps along the France-Belgium border rather than build up mobility assets, firepower, and air power, and train his commanders and their units to integrate combined arms warfare with air power, and to use deception, speed, maneuver, and concentrate power. That approach, seemingly not too advanced for 1940, would have been more compatible with the British Army’s offensively-minded Dyle Plan, established as a response to a possible Nazi German invasion. When the invasion of France began in the Spring of 1940, Gort was unable to act decisively. While Churchill praised Gort in his June 4, 1940 speech before the House of Commons, his remarks about the disaster in France seemed to reveal that he felt Gort’s handling of the British Expeditionary Force may have hurt its chances of achieving greater success.
Still, Roosevelt seemed to retain enough confidence and faith in Marshall and may have believed the general would come around to looking at things with a broader view that would parallel his own. To the extent that is accurate, it would mean Marshall was an exception. Roosevelt sympathies were always with members of the armed forces knowing how indispensable and difficult their work so often was yet very distant in the thoughts of most of those they defended. Marshall would serve as Chief of Staff of the US Army throughout World War II. Gloriosum est iniurias oblivisci. (It is glorious to forget the injustice.)
Sentences 124 through 130 of the Fireside Chat
“There is no demand for sending an American Expeditionary Force outside our own borders. There is no intention by any member of your Government to send such a force. You can, therefore, nail, nail any talk about sending armies to Europe as deliberate untruth.
Our national policy is not directed toward war. Its sole purpose is to keep war away from our country and away from our people. Democracy’s fight against world conquest is being greatly aided, and must be more greatly aided, by the rearmament of the United States and by sending every ounce and every ton of munitions and supplies that we can possibly spare to help the defenders who are in the front lines. And it is no more unneutral for us to do that than it is for Sweden, Russia and other nations near Germany, to send steel and ore and oil and other war materials into Germany every day in the week.”
US Navy and Royal Navy sailors inspect depth charges aboard Wickes-class destroyers in 1940. In the background are USS Buchanan (DD-131) and USS Crownshield (DD-134). Both surplus warships were transferred to the Royal Navy on September 9, 1940.
8. Sentences 131 through 144: Replenishing US Arsenals; Building Greater Weapons for Defense; Taking Workers into Consideration; Expectations of Industry Leaders
Looking back, one might suggest that rather than burden the president with his concern over stockpiles, Marshall should have developed for Roosevelt plans that would allow for the replenishment of what was old with new weapon systems with the latest capabilities and identified how that replenishment could have been performed rapidly with the existing US industrial base and a recommended expanded one.
When Roosevelt spoke of counsel from the military experts, he concealed the fact that he, himself, was such an expert. Roosevelt had acquired considerable experience maintaining the readiness of the US Armed Forces and preparing them for war long before becoming US President.
As only touched upon earlier, on March 12, 1913, Roosevelt, then a two-term state New York State Senator at age 31, received the nomination to become the US Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the administration of US President Woodrow Wilson. Confirmed unanimously by the US Senate, Roosevelt was the youngest Assistant Secretary of the Navy until that date. US President Theodore Roosevelt, his fifth cousin, had held the same post. It was more than fate that caused another Roosevelt to be selected for the same position. Roosevelt’s superior, US Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels focused on policy and Congressional matters, leaving him to handle personnel matters, operations, and contracting. Although new to naval affairs, Reportedly, Roosevelt had the energy Daniels required to get things done. Fortuitously for Roosevelt, Daniels was willing to serve as a mentor, which allowed him to learn valuable lessons in politics that would be useful to him for years to come.
Even before World War I began, Roosevelt worked to prepare the US Navy for his country’s entry into it. Then, much as in his future, many in government lacked his perspective. Some officials even dismissed the idea that the US would enter the war. Wilson’s doctrine of neutrality would actually thwart many of Roosevelt’s efforts to ready the Navy. Nevertheless, observing events in Europe Roosevelt kept pushing for the Navy’s preparation. Lessons learned on navigating through the administration, particularly with Daniels and Wilson, enabled him to eventually create some movement in the right direction. In late 1915, the US invested in a $600 million program to upgrade and expand the Navy. In the meantime, German U-boats began sinking hundreds of Allied ships. When they began unrestricted warfare on the oceans, Wilson went to Congress for a declaration of war. Congress obliged on April 6, 1917. In the meantime, during the war, Roosevelt placed great focus on mitigating the U-boat threat. He advocated for a plan to lay vast anti-submarine minefields in the North Sea. The mine project was an early sign of Roosevelt’s appreciation for creative solutions. Reportedly, by February 1918, 100,000 mines were prepared for deployment, but the war ended before the system could be fully tested, but the minefield is believed to have destroyed at least four U-boats
It was surely Roosevelt’s unequivocal concept and intent in 1940 to ensure commanders and planners in the US armed forces had as many advantages as possible and enhance the chance for victory, he wanted them to have a preponderance of weapons. It was a mistake for others to think anything otherwise. The war’s outcome bears that out. With an unrivaled wealth of newly minted military resources, their capabilities would be considerable and the possibilities for action would become nearly unlimited. How well US commanders and planners would use them remained to be seen.
Sentences 131 through 144 of the Fireside Chat
“We are planning our own defense with the utmost urgency; and in its vast scale we must integrate the war needs of Britain and the other free nations which are resisting aggression.
This is not a matter of sentiment or of controversial personal opinion. It is a matter of realistic, practical military policy, based on the advice of our military experts who are in close touch with existing warfare. These military and naval experts and the members of the Congress and the Administration have a single-minded purpose—the defense of the United States.
This nation is making a great effort to produce everything that is necessary in this emergency—and with all possible speed. And, this great effort requires great sacrifice.
I would ask no one to defend a democracy which in turn would not defend everyone in the nation against want and privation. The strength of this nation shall not be diluted by the failure of the Government to protect the economic well-being of its citizens.
If our capacity to produce is limited by machines, it must ever be remembered that these machines are operated by the skill and the stamina of the workers. As the Government is determined to protect the rights of the workers, so the nation has a right to expect that the men who man the machines will discharge their full responsibilities to the urgent needs of defense.
The worker possesses the same human dignity and is entitled to the same security of position as the engineer or the manager or the owner. For the workers provide the human power that turns out the destroyers, and the planes and the tanks.
The nation expects our defense industries to continue operation without interruption by strikes or lock-outs. It expects and insists that management and workers will reconcile their differences by voluntary or legal means, to continue to produce the supplies that are so sorely needed.”
9. Sentences 145 through 168: Refitting Manufacturing To Meet Growing Needs Now and Imagining the Future
Roosevelt’s interest and emphasis on workers was well-established when he implemented the New Deal. In his addresses and public and private writings, he expressed a fondness for workers in his tone. He surely was glad his efforts had many back on their feet, but likely ambivalent over the fact that a further increase in employment would be the result of preparations for war. Roosevelt’s discussion of workers here, however, may have also been a manifestation of a concern over having sufficient manpower in the armed forces while also having enough manpower available for greatly increased industrial base. Meeting manpower requirements, based on War Department plans led to the aforementioned Selective Service and Training Act.
Considerations along those lines would likely require examining the degree to which isolationist zeal would cause many able workers to refrain from working in war plants. A sort of counterbalance might be the reality that hypothetical war plant jobs would draw those more concerned about steady work and providing for their families and themselves. Perchance when Roosevelt, not having foreknowledge of Pearl Harbor and its impact on the US psyche, contemplated the possibility of being forced by circumstance to declare war on Nazi Germany or Japan, he may have felt unsure of the public response to some degree. With some many US soldiers dying in 1918 alone and the deaths of troops due to influenza–Roosevelt, himself, caught influenza while returning to the US after a visit to the front lines–it is unclear how many able men would be willing to subject themselves possibly to the same for the sake of the Europeans or the Asians.
Surely Roosevelt wanted to duplicate, at a far greater capacity, the military production underway with urgency in the United Kingdom as Churchill described in his June 4, 1940 speech in the House of Commons. Churchill indicated that in such an emergency, industry and labor can find common ground. Churchill explained: “An effort the like of which has never been seen in our records is now being made. Work is proceeding everywhere, night and day, Sundays and week days. Capital and Labor have cast aside their interests, rights, and customs and put them into the common stock.” To that extent Roosevelt would mention that there was cooperation between the government, industry, and labor. He extolled industry and labor for their dedication to the effort to build up the “Arsenal of Democracy.” However, it was hardly close to the levels he understood would be needed to defeat the Axis Powers.
Sentences 145 through 168 of the Fireside Chat
“And on the economic side of our great defense program, we are, as you know, bending every effort to maintain stability of prices and with that the stability of the cost of living.
Nine days ago I announced the setting up of a more effective organization to direct our gigantic efforts to increase the production of munitions. The appropriation of vast sums of money and a well coordinated executive direction of our defense efforts are not in themselves enough. Guns, planes, ships and many other things have to be built in the factories and the arsenals of America. They have to be produced by workers and managers and engineers with the aid of machines which in turn have to be built by hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the land.
In this great work there has been splendid cooperation between the Government and industry and labor; and I am very thankful.
American industrial genius, unmatched throughout all the world in the solution of production problems, has been called upon to bring its resources and its talents into action. Manufacturers of watches, of farm implements, of linotypes and cash registers, of automobiles and sewing machines and lawn mowers and locomotives are now making fuses, and bomb packing crates, and telescope mounts, and shells, and pistols and tanks.
But all our present efforts are not enough. We must have more ships, more guns, more planes—more of everything. And this can be accomplished only if we discard the notion of “business as usual.” This job cannot be done merely by superimposing on the existing productive facilities the added requirements of the nation for defense.
Our defense efforts must not be blocked by those who fear the future consequences of surplus plant capacity. The possible consequences of failure of our defense efforts now are much more to be feared.
And after the present needs of our defenses are past, a proper handling of the country’s peace-time needs will require all of the new productive capacity—if not still more.
No pessimistic policy about the future of America shall delay the immediate expansion of those industries essential to defense. We need them.
I want to make it clear that it is the purpose of the nation to build now with all possible speed every machine, every arsenal, every factory that we need to manufacture our defense material. We have the men- the skill- the wealth- and above all, the will.
I am confident that if and when production of consumer or luxury goods in certain industries requires the use of machines and raw materials that are essential for defense purposes, then such production must yield, and will gladly yield, to our primary and compelling purpose.
So, I appeal to the owners of plants—to the managers—to the workers—to our own Government employees—to put every ounce of effort into producing these munitions swiftly and without stint. With this appeal I give you the pledge that all of us who are officers of your Government will devote ourselves to the same whole-hearted extent to the great task that lies ahead.
As planes and ships and guns and shells are produced, your Government, with its defense experts, can then determine how best to use them to defend this hemisphere. The decision as to how much shall be sent abroad and how much shall remain at home must be made on the basis of our over-all military necessities.”
10. Sentences 169 through 187: The Government Has the Matter Covered; It Is Taking Steps; and More Will Be Done
Roosevelt committed the US in June 1940 to assisting belligerents in the fight against the Axis Powers with war material, he did so with the insistence, as required under US law, that recipients pay for purchases with cash. As aforementioned, in the summer of 1940, Churchill warned that his country would not be unable to continue paying cash for purchases. By December 1940, the worst had come to pass, and Churchill informed Roosevelt that the United Kingdom was no longer able to pay it for military supplies. Apparently prepared for such news, Roosevelt had ready a proposal for a new initiative that would be known as Lend-Lease. Under it, the US would provide or “lend” the United Kingdom with the war materials and other supplies it needed to fight Nazi Germany, and payments would be deferred. When payments were eventually made, the emphasis would not be on payment in dollars. Payments would primarily take the form of a “consideration” granted by the United Kingdom to the US.
Roosevelt reportedly garnered support for the lend-lease concept through use of the analogy of lending a neighbor your garden hose if his house was on fire and thereby keeping the fire from spreading to your own house. At a press conference held at the White House on December 17, 1940, at which he announced Lend-Lease, Roosevelt explained: “Suppose my neighbor’s home catches fire, and I have a length of garden hose four or five hundred feet away. If he can take my garden hose and connect it up with his hydrant, I may help him to put out his fire . . . I don’t say to him before that operation, ‘Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it’ . . . I don’t want $15–I want my garden hose back after the fire is over. . . .”
On January 10, 1941, Roosevelt would introduce the lend-lease program to Congress. It would formally allow the US, via Congressional approval, to lend or lease war supplies to any nation deemed “vital to the defense” while keeping the country only indirectly involved in World War II. The Lend-Lease Act was passed on March 11, 1941. Roosevelt had more than sufficiently proved the concept and value of such an approach throughout 1940.
Sentences 169 through 187 of the Fireside Chat
“We must be the great arsenal of democracy. For us this is an emergency as serious as war itself. We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice as we would show were we at war.
We have furnished the British great material support and we will furnish far more in the future.
There will be no “bottlenecks” in our determination to aid Great Britain. No dictator, no combination of dictators, will weaken that determination by threats of how they will construe that determination.
The British have received invaluable military support from the heroic Greek army, and from the forces of all the governments in exile. Their strength is growing. It is the strength of men and women who value their freedom more highly than they value their lives.
I believe that the Axis powers are not going to win this war. I base that belief on the latest and best of information.
We have no excuse for defeatism. We have every good reason for hope—hope for peace, yes, and hope for the defense of our civilization and for the building of a better civilization in the future.
I have the profound conviction that the American people are now determined to put forth a mightier effort than they have ever yet made to increase our production of all the implements of defense, to meet the threat to our democratic faith.
As President of the United States I call for that national effort. I call for it in the name of this nation which we love and honor and which we are privileged and proud to serve. I call upon our people with absolute confidence that our common cause will greatly succeed.”
Roosevelt and Churchill meet face-to-face for the first time for a secret meeting aboard the battleship USS Augusta at Placentia Bay off the coast of Newfoundland August 9, 1941.
A Job Well Done
In 1940, Roosevelt and Churchill, although not having as yet met in-person, forged a personal bond, an entente cordiale, and more importantly, a bond between their countries that would further develop through the challenges of World War II into what would be called the special relationship. Such a union would have been deemed improbable 154 years before when the Founding Fathers of the US declared their country’s independence from the “United Kingdom of Great Britain”. While all things related to monarchy were surely anathema to Roosevelt given his firm adherence to the precepts of democracy and the US Constitution, yet it would seem the lyrics of George Frederick Handel’s coronation anthem “Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened” (1727) might have been quite an apropos felicitation for him as he led the US, the United Kingdom, and world forward against tyranny: “Let thy hand be strengthened and thy right hand be exalted. / Let justice and judgment be the preparation of thy seat! / Let mercy and truth go before thy face. / Let justice, judgment, mercy and truth go before thy face. / Allelujah.”
Roosevelt was a genius for his practicability, a talented leader superbly harnessed, and self-controlled. Still, taking all aspects of the crisis in daily, as he did, he must have occasionally felt a sense of vulnerability. Even if such intrusive thoughts were infrequent, they would likely have had some degree of influence on his work and his spirit. Alone in his thoughts, Roosevelt apparently was left to dig down deep and draw strength from within. He imparted that strength to the audience of his address in the US.
Roosevelt had an almost mystical, crystal clear perspective of what was happening in the world and what to do despite the atypical and overly generous appearance of his action. Too many advisors did not and seemingly could not gain that same perspective, and placed additional pressures on a President who had already been strained beyond the capacity of most around him. Fulfilling the work that he swore to do during two inaugurations, Roosevelt was faithfully executing the Office of President of the US, and will to the best of his ability, acting with the goal of preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution of the US in the face of threat from the Axis Powers. The even harder work of leading a country engaged in what would be an horrendous and very costly war worldwide had yet to begin.
Roosevelt died during his fourth term in office on April 12,1945 and thereby did not see the results of his incredible efforts. The most important result was the unconditional surrender of the Axis Powers and total victory that back in 1940 Roosevelt said would come if war came. The Roman historian Titus Livius (59 B.C.-A.D. 17), known as Livy, provided in Greek, a history of Rome that begins with the earliest legends of Rome before the traditional founding in 753 B.C. through the reign of Emperor Caesar Augustus during his own lifetime. In the Preface of Book I of that history Ad Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City) (c. 28 B.C.), Livy states about the study of history: “Hoc illud est praecipue in cognitione rerum salubre ac frugiferum, omnis te exempli documenta in inlustri posita monumento intueri; inde tibi tuaeque rei publicae quod imitere capias, inde foedum inceptu, foedum exitu, quod vites.” (What chiefly makes the study of history wholesome and profitable is this, that you behold the lessons of every kind of experience set forth as on a conspicuous monument; from these you may choose for yourself and for your own state what to imitate, from these mark for avoidance what is shameful in the conception and shameful in the result.)