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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,936
September 27, 2018
The Soul of America - Part 3 of 3
By Mike McManus

Jon Meacham's new book, The Soul of America, should be read by Americans who are concerned about the nation's drift, its contentious loud voices and its loss of hope. He looks back at critical times of our history when hope overcame division and fear.

The administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt was such a time. In 1933 when he was sworn in as President, America's unemployment rate was 25% - the worst ever. The Great Depression "was consuming the United States, creating public anxiety and eroding trust in the most basic of institutions," Meacham wrote.

In February, 1933, before he was sworn in as President, FDR was nearly killed by an assailant who shot a pistol from about 10 yards away. An advisor said "Roosevelt was simply himself - easy, confident, poised, to all appearances, unmoved."

At the Democratic National Convention in 1932 he declared, "I pledge you, I pledge myself to a New Deal for the American people." Roosevelt was an unlikely revolutionary who was born into privilege, educated at home, Harvard and Columbia Law School. His cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, was his hero and role model. He married TR's favorite niece, Eleanor, served in the NY State Senate, and as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a post TR once held.

Then in August, 1921, Roosevelt was stricken with infantile paralysis at age 39. He'd never walk again unaided. Churchill said of FDR's paralysis, "Not one man in ten millions, stricken and crippled as he was, would have attempted to plunge into a life of physical and mental exertion and of hard ceaseless political controversy...not one in a generation would have becoming indisputable master of the scene."

In his first Inaugural Address, FDR declared "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
He asserted the people of the U.S. "have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action."

His first two years in office were focused on rescuing the American system including banks and basic economic confidence. He persuaded Congress to pass the Social Security Act, the Wagner Act (guaranteeing collective bargaining) and programs like the WPA that put millions to work building roads. By 1940 the jobless rate was down to 15%. In 1934 journalist Martha Gellhorn wrote that she found pictures of Roosevelt "in house after house."

In 1939 Hitler invaded Poland. The U.S. was strongly isolationist, fearful of entanglement. Charles Lindbergh argued for leaving the Old World to its own future. However, Winston Churchill pled with Roosevelt for "munitions of all kinds." Early in 1941 the President responded with the Lend Lease Act to supply the Allies with assistance - without becoming more involved in the war.

In his January 1941 State of the Union Address, Roosevelt asserted: "Every realist knows that the democratic way of life is at this moment being directly assailed in every part of the world...As men do not live by bread alone, they do not fight by armaments alone."

He called for a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. "The first is freedom of speech and expression - everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way...The third is freedom from want...a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear...a worldwide reduction of armaments."

The attack at Pearl Harbor pushed America into full-scale war against the Japanese in the Pacific and the Nazis in Europe. At home, however, Roosevelt made one great "concession to fear, the internment of Japanese Americans" which Meacham charged was "arguably his greatest failure as president." About 117,000 Americans of Japanese descent were sent to concentration camps for the duration of the war.

Some also question whether FDR did enough to save Jewish lives from Nazi holocaust where 6 million were killed. Dwight Eisenhower wrote of his tour of a death camp: "The things I saw beggar description. The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me sick."

When hundreds of thousands of Americans landed in France for the Allied assault on Hitler's fortress, Roosevelt prayed on radio to 100 million Americans these moving words: "Almighty God, Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion and our civilization and to set free a suffering humanity.

"Lead them straight and true, give strength to their arms, stoutness to this hearts, steadfastness in their faith."

The Lord answered that prayer.


Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.

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