Posted Saturday night, February 17, 2018.
How a grown-up President talks to the nation…
President Franklin Roosevelt delivering a fireside chat in September of 1941. The black armband is for his mother who had died a few days before. Via Wikipedia.
Of course Winston Churchill was desperate for America to join England in waging war against Germany, but it’s not clear that Churchill ever really understood Roosevelt’s political situation in the year leading up to the United States’ entry into World War II. Even in the face of increasing German aggression, FDR had to deal with considerable isolationist opposition in Congress and among the majority of voters to his inching the country towards war. He was running for an unprecedented third term and his winning re-election was no sure thing. Then there was that little matter of the Constitution giving the power to declare war to Congress. In a fireside chat in the fall of ‘41, he sought to warn Hitler the United States was prepared to go to war, warn the American people they had to prepare to go to war, and warn Churchill that the time was coming but at the moment the U.S. still wasn’t prepared to go war.
In the Atlantic, there had been a skirmish between a German U-Boat and the Greer, an American destroyer. Could this be, Churchill wondered, the precipitating incident to bring Roosevelt into war? Churchill hoped so, taking comfort from the president’s promise made before Roosevelt was summoned to Hyde Park to watch his mother die, that “For your private and very confidential information I am planning to make a radio address Monday night relative to the attack on our destroyer and to make perfectly clear the action we intend to take in the Atlantic.”
The fireside chat had been postponed until September 11, 1941, when Roosevelt put Hitler on notice. “We have sought no shooting war with Hitler,” he told the nation. “We do not seek it now…But when you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until he has struck before you crush him…from now on, if German or Italian vessels of war enter the water, the protection of which is necessary for American defense, they do so at their own peril. I have illusions about the gravity of this step. I have not taken it hurriedly or lightly. If its the result of months and months of constant thought and anxiety and prayer.” ---from Franklin and Winston by Jon Meacham.
This is how a grown-up President talks. It’s FDR’s version of threatening “fire and fury” and calling Hitler “Little Rocket Man.” And when he said he had given the matter months and months of constant thought, the American people believed him because they knew that’s how grown-up presidents went about the business of being grown-up presidents and that this president was a grown-up. They also believed he had prayed, because they knew he was a truly religious man. Just saying…