Then and Now: When Presidents Fear


Franklin Roosevelt is remembered for “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” the ringing words by which he inspired courage and hope in a nation devastated by the Great Depression.  Eight years later, in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, this same president signed Executive Order 9066, which removed over 110,000 Japanese Americans from their homes on the West Coast and confined them to internment camps during World War II.

If Franklin Roosevelt, champion of the Four Freedoms, fell prey to xenophobia in 1942, with lasting injury to our democracy, what damage is being done today by the Trump presidency, which targets Muslims, Mexicans, Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Africans.

Greg Robinson’s historical paper was originally presented at our conference When Presidents Fear on March 4, 2017.   We post it now in remembrance of the 76th anniversary of Executive Order 9066.

 

FDR’s Decision to sign Executive Order 9066: Lessons From History

Greg Robinson, Professor of History at l’Université du Québec À Montréal.

 

 

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D Roosevelt singed Executive Order 9066. As a result of the President’s order, over 110,000 Japanese Americans were ordered from their homes without trial and sent to camps under military guard. Some 70,000 of these people were U.S. citizens of an average age of approximately 18, and the rest were long-resident aliens who were predominantly middle-aged. They were allowed to take only what they could carry, and were thus forced to sell or dispose of homes, businesses, cars and all other personal property. The Japanese Americans were first herded into a network of “Assembly Centers,” which were generally disused fairgrounds and race tracks. There the inmates were housed in stables and animal pens. After several weeks or months, the Japanese Americans were sent on under guard to a network of “relocation centers,” camps operated by a new government agency, the War Relocation Authority. These American-style concentration camps were located in remote desert and swamp areas and were surrounded by barbed wire and armed sentries. The inmates were housed in hastily-built tar paper shacks, with one room per family. Health and sanitary facilities were primitive, especially at the outset, and food was limited and poor quality. Although all adults were expected to work, their maximum salary was set at $19 per month. The stark conditions of the camps and the stigma of arbitrary imprisonment led to trauma and conflict among the inmates, and sparked several strikes and riots in the camps. In the end, most Japanese Americans remained in the camps throughout the war years.

How could this have happened in a nation fighting a war to preserve freedom against fascism? In particular how could it have happened during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt, a President justly renowned for his humanitarianism and support for democracy? This is the question with which I began my inquiry. Still, it is possible to identify several important factors that shaped the President’s actions. As Milton Eisenhower, who became the first director of the WRA, the civilian government agency that ran the camps, later stated, “The President’s final decision was influenced by a variety of factors, by events over which he had little control, by inaccurate or incomplete information, by bad counsel, by strong political pressures, and by his own training, background and personality.”

In my book By Order of the President (Harvard University Press, 2001), I discuss at length how all these factors influenced the actions of President Roosevelt, first in his decision to approve the mass removal of West Coast Japanese Americans, and subsequently in his actions in support of the policy. Although sporadic, these decisions were essential in determining the duration of the incarceration and the consequences to its victims. What I would like to explore is to look at the role played in the President’s decision by the last of the factors cited by Eisenhower, namely the President’s training, background, and personality. From this point of view, the President’s past attitudes towards Japanese Americans must be considered as a significant factor in his decision to approve Executive Order 9066. Franklin Roosevelt had a long history of viewing Japanese Americans in undifferentiated racial terms as essentially Japanese, and of expressing hostility to them on that basis.

In order to understand this history, it is necessary to look back at the turn of the century American society in which the young Franklin Roosevelt grew up and came of age, and how he was shaped by dominant ideas. At the time, the nation’s intellectual climate was dominated by Darwinian or biological thinking. According to the ideas of Charles Darwin on animal evolution, which were adapted to human society by such thinkers as Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner, humanity was divided into different groups, or races. Just as the various species of animals adapted in order to survive more easily in a given environment, each race developed particular characteristics that gave them an advantage. Thus, the various races developed not only different physical characteristics—height, skin color, body shape, skull shape, and so forth—in response to their particular surroundings, but also particular personality traits.

How did these ideas affect the young FDR? He deplored visceral prejudice, and he expressed interest in Japanese culture and became friendly with a number of Japanese. Nevertheless, he regarded the Japanese as a danger. In 1913, shortly after Roosevelt was named Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the government of Woodrow Wilson, the protests of California whites against Japanese immigrant farmers led to the Alien Land Act, as I mentioned, which forbade these immigrants property rights. The passage of the law set off vigorous protests within Japan, and when an extreme nationalist called for a blockade of America in return, Roosevelt had drawn up a plan for naval war between Japan and the United States and recommended the massing of the Pacific fleet in preparation for such a war. Although the immediate crisis abated following some careful diplomacy, in the years that followed, even as the United States moved closer to involvement in World War I, he continued to call for the arming of the Pacific fleet for war against Japan, which he considered the most dangerous foreign threat. The greatest lesson he took from the incident was that Japanese Americans were a source of trouble—friction with their neighbors and aggression by Japan.

 Even when FDR’s attitude towards Japan began to change, following the end of the First World War, his opinions about Japanese Americans remained constant. In 1922-1923 FDR was invited by his old friend George Marvin to write an article for Asia magazine about Japanese-American relations. It was a time of international tension, following the Washington Naval Conference. Roosevelt feared that a resurgence of militarism would set off a futile and costly war between Japan and the United State, and he decided to write in opposition. By March 1923 he had produced the first draft of a text called “The Japs – A Habit of Mind.”  After Marvin made some minor stylistic changes and inserted some additional factual material, the piece appeared under the title “Shall We Trust Japan?”  in the July 1923 issue of Asia.

“Shall We Trust Japan?” was designed as a plea for a “pacific attitude” in the Pacific and for an end to the instinctive hostility most Americans felt for Japan. Roosevelt’s principal argument was that, even assuming that it had been “natural” in the past for Japan and the United States to consider each other as “the most probable enemy” and to plan for war against the other, the new era crystallized by the Washington Naval Conference made such thought obsolete. FDR expressed confidence that, once the “yellow peril” fears of Japan were eliminated, the two countries could resolve peacefully the underlying causes of Japanese American friction.

Roosevelt confessed that the principal cause of such friction, which had to be eliminated, was the presence of Japanese immigrants and their children in the United States. FDR brought up this vital question with reluctance, because, as he said, it was so difficult to discuss without sparking “unreasoning passions on one side or both.” Nevertheless, while he conceded that the Japanese, as well as other groups such as the Chinese, Filipinos, and Indians, were “ a race…of acknowledged dignity and integrity,” they nonetheless had to be excluded on racial grounds from the United States

So far as Americans are concerned, it must be admitted that, as a whole, they honestly believe—and in this belief they are at one with the people of Canada and Australasia—that the mingling of white with oriental blood on an extensive scale is harmful to our future citizenship…As a corollary of this conviction, Americans object to the holding of large amounts of real property, of land, by aliens or those descended from mixed marriages. Frankly, they do not want non-assimilable immigrants as citizens, nor do they desire any extensive proprietorship of land without citizenship.

The assertion that Americans (whom Roosevelt clearly assumed were white) “honestly” believed that they had to combat mixed marriages through discriminatory legislation and that people of “oriental blood” were inherently and ipso facto unassimilable, constituted an undeniable rationalization of white prejudice both towards Japanese immigrants and towards their native-born children in the United States. Roosevelt continued that immigration restriction, whether by laws or by the Gentleman’s Agreement, was morally justified because it was reciprocal :

The reverse of the position thus taken holds equally true. In other words, I do not believe that the Americans people now or in the future will insist on the right or privilege of entry into an oriental country to such an extent as to threaten racial purity or to jeopardize the land-owning privileges of citizenship. I think I may sincerely claim for American public opinion an adherence to the Golden Rule.

Even ignoring the fact that white Americans never in fact obeyed the “golden rule”—the United States held colonies in Asia and American investors enjoyed extensive property rights and extraterritoriality in Asia—Japan was not a nation of immigrants, and there never were any large groups of Americans who wished to emigrate there. Although Japan limited immigration, it never singled out Americans or whites for exclusion on a racial basis.

In any case, Roosevelt’s assertion that discriminatory laws had been passed in order to preserve “racial purity” was illogical. White-Asian intermarriage was statistically insignificant on the West Coast, where such laws existed, and in any case laws banning the practice had existed long before passage of the Alien Land Act, so it could not have been passed to prevent the threat of mass intermarriage. Instead, as Roosevelt well knew, such laws were passed to reduce economic competition Japanese immigrant farmers and landowners and to stigmatize them as undesirable. 

Roosevelt nevertheless continued to believe that the Japanese would not object to race-based exclusion. In 1925, while on his first visit to the Georgia resort of Warm Springs, to take treatments for his wasted legs, he began a short-lived substitute newspaper column in the nearby Macon Telegraph. One of his columns, dated April 30, 1925, explored the “Japanese question.” It was written during a minor diplomatic crisis between the United States and Japan prompted by the announcement that the US Navy would be undertaking naval maneuvers in Hawaii designed to guard against an eventual Japanese attack. Roosevelt agreed that the Americans had a perfect right to defend their coasts, in which the Hawaiian bases played a vital role, but he deplored the announcement as needlessly provocative. FDR declared that the announcement paralleled the campaign by “troublemakers” on both sides of the Pacific that had led to the Japanese exclusion law. He contended that the United States, instead of using economic arguments, should instead justify its policy on racial grounds. He saw no contradiction between American-Japanese friendship, on the one hand, and the exclusion of Japanese immigrants as a racial danger:

It is undoubtedly true that in the past many thousands of Japanese have legally or otherwise got into the United States, settled here and raised children who become American citizens. Californians have properly objected on the sound basic ground that Japanese immigrants are not capable of assimilation into the American population. If this had throughout the discussion been made the sole ground for the American attitude all would have been well, and the people of Japan would today understand and accept our decision.

Roosevelt was sure that if the United States defended exclusion on a purely racial basis, the Japanese would not protest and relations between the two countries would remain harmonious. After all, he said, the Japanese were known to have strong taboos against interracial marriage, and would not want to have their national culture polluted by such inter-mixtures:

Anyone who has traveled in the Far East knows that the mingling of Asiatic blood with European or American blood produces, in nine cases out of ten, the most unfortunate results…The argument works both ways. I know a great many cultivated, highly educated, and delightful Japanese. They have all told me that they would feel the same repugnance and objection to have thousands of Americans settle in Japan and intermarry with the Japanese as I would feel in having large numbers of Japanese come over here and intermarry with the American population. In this question then of Japanese exclusion from the United States, it is necessary only to advance the true reason—the undesirability of mixing the blood of the two peoples.  

These words and action point to Roosevelt’s continued acceptance, in the months after Pearl Harbor, of the idea that Japanese Americans, whether citizens or longtime residents, were essentially Japanese and unable to transform themselves into true Americans. Therefore, in a time of conflict between the United States and Japan, they could be presumed to be supportive of their Japanese brethren. This presumption was not absolute—Roosevelt could well imagine that there existed loyal Japanese Americans. But in the absence (and sometimes in the presence) of significant evidence testifying to their loyalty, the presumption remained and controlled Roosevelt’s actions in regard to the Japanese American community generally. Roosevelt’s ideas about the Japanese left him prepared—even overprepared—to believe the worst of Japanese, and to accept without challenge in the wake of Pearl Harbor the military’s false accusations regarding the disloyal activities of a Japanese American fifth column, even if he had solid proof to the contrary. He therefore gave the Army much too free a hand in dealing with West Coast Japanese Americans.

Roosevelt’s basic attitude towards Japanese Americans may have also shaped his response to the moral and constitutional questions involved in mass evacuation. FDR’s refusal to admit the discriminatory purpose behind race-based exclusion of Japanese immigrants during the 1920s and his contention that Californians rightly objected to the Japanese presence in their midst also serves as a model for his voluntary blindness to the essential role of racial hostility and economic jealousy in motivating calls for mass removal of Japanese Americans by Californians with a long history of nativist bias. Moreover, during his 1920s articles, Roosevelt defended the denial of property rights to Japanese immigrants as a way to ensure racial purity. This attitude could well have contributed to Roosevelt’s unwillingness to stake steps to protect the property of the evacuees such the appointment of a strong Alien Property Custodian, with the result that the interned Japanese Americans were forced to sell off their property at ridiculously low prices or were stripped of it by the white “friends” to whom they entrusted it, or were forced to place it in unguarded warehouses which were looted and vandalized.

Perhaps the most important part that Roosevelt’s anti-Japanese prejudices played in shaping his decision to approve mass removal and his subsequent actions in support of the policy was in nourishing an indifference to the condition of the Japanese Americans involved. As extraordinary as it may seem, Roosevelt was ready to approve mass removal without hesitation precisely because the matter was unimportant to him. In the end, it is this indifference, which marks not only Roosevelt’s decision to sign Executive Order 9066, but his involvement in the policy that followed. In that sense, the sin that pervaded the President’s actions, if we can use such a loaded term, was not hostility but indifference.

 

 

GREG ROBINSON is Professor of History at l’Université du Québec À Montréal. A specialist in North American Ethnic Studies and U.S. Political History, he has written several notable books, including By Order of the President: (Harvard UP, 2001) which uncovers President Franklin Roosevelt’s central involvement in the wartime confinement of 120,000 Japanese Americans, and A Tragedy of Democracy: (Columbia UP, 2009), winner of the 2009 AAAS History book prize, which studies Japanese American and Japanese Canadian confinement in transnational context. His book After Camp: (UC Press, 2012), winner of the Caroline Bancroft History Prize, centers on post war resettlement. His most recent book is The Great Unknown: Japanese American Sketches  (UP Colorado 2016) an alternative history of Japanese Americans through portraits of unusual figures.


Making Democracies Resilient to Modern Threats


Democratic societies, institutions, and individual citizens are facing entirely new challenges in the modern era. Today’s threats can include network-based intrusions, misinformation and ‘fake news,’ influence campaigns, and many more. These threats have the potential to disrupt economic activity and development, threaten the national security of like-minded nations, jeopardize individual privacy, and sow mistrust among citizens towards their national and collective democratic institutions.

The seminar will seek to highlight a wide range of threats that democracies face today and may face tomorrow as well as provide strategies for institutions and individuals to understand and deal with these threats. General themes presented will touch upon how to recognize disinformation and influence campaigns, media literacy and the role of media organizations and individual journalists, security in digital spaces, and positive examples of how democracies are currently countering these threats.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018, at 13:00-17:00
Location: Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Grand Festive Hall, Bulevardi 31, Helsinki

http://www.fulbright.fi/en/making-democracies-resilient


American Diplomacy in the Trump Era 3/7



What Finland Can Teach the West About Countering Russia’s Hybrid Threats


by Mackenzie Weinger in World Politics Review, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018 

These Finnish efforts have even had some success. “The Finns know that they’re reasonably good at this,” says Jed Willard, director of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Center for Global Engagement [sic] at Harvard University. “Because they have a long border and long history with Russia, they know instinctively how to deal with any sort of interference coming from the east. Because of that confidence, they were on board with tackling this problem pretty quickly.”

During a visit to Helsinki last November, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis offered an enthusiastic endorsement of the Hybrid CoE, saying it would be highly valuable as the U.S. and its allies work together to understand a new world in which hybrid threats are proliferating. “Here in this Helsinki center, the shared concerns of our transatlantic democracies can be researched and addressed in a collaborative manner, each of us learning from the other and building resistance to those with malign intent toward our democracies,” he said. “With this center, Finland has created an institution fit for our time.”

While many Western governments only recently woke up to the threat posed by Russia’s newer hybrid warfare tools, Finland has spent years trying to render them ineffective.

On the other side of the two countries’ shared 833-mile border, Russian operatives also seemed to recognize the center’s potential—and immediately tried to disrupt it. Even before the Hybrid CoE officially began its work, it had a target on its back. A website with a Russian “.ru” domain was quickly created for “The Helsinki Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats,” an obvious imitation of the Hybrid CoE. When the Hybrid CoE debuted its logo—a simple arrangement of nine blue and red dots—this Russian website posted a similar one featuring a Finnish coat of arms. The contents of the imposter website included a pamphlet titled, “EU’s Infowar on Russia: Putting in Place a Totalitarian Media Regime and Speech Control.”

The Hybrid CoE’s leadership was unfazed by the knock-off. To the contrary, says Juha Mustonen, the center’s director of international relations, “That was somehow poetic justification for the center’s existence, that as soon as it was established there was a fake one.”

Read the rest of Mackenzie’s piece at World Politics Review and check out the Hybrid CoE here!

 


When Reason Trumped Politics: The Remarkable Political Partnership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Wendell L. Willkie


When Reason Trumped Politics:

The Remarkable Political Partnership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Wendell L. Willkie

by C. Stephen Heard, Jr.

As the American people nervously watch this year’s presidential campaign descend into a rant of name calling and outright crudity that would be inappropriate in a saloon, it might be wise to pause and look back 75 years to a remarkable partnership between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Wendell L. Willkie, opposing candidates in the 1940 election. Though the race was boisterous and equally contentious — FDR was running for an unprecedented third term to the horror of the Republican Party — each candidate managed to wage a vigorous campaign that kept sight of a shared common goal: the betterment of America. Even more importantly, their cooperation during that election year and in the years that followed likely prevented the collapse of Great Britain and provided America with its greatest fighting ally against the forces of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

This relationship is all the more remarkable considering the very different starting points of these two men. FDR was born to an affluent family in Hyde Park, New York. He graduated from two of the country’s most prestigious schools, Groton and Harvard. (He attended Columbia Law as well, but never completed his degree.) Intrigued by politics at an early age, Roosevelt was elected to the New York Senate in 1910, and later, despite the crippling effects of the polio he contracted in 1921, he achieved the governorship of New York in 1928. Roosevelt owed his allegiance to the Democratic Party as much to sympathy with its tenets as to the fact that his distant cousin Theodore Roosevelt had four sons who appeared eager to enter politics. FDR realized very early on that there would be much more opportunity with the Democrats than there would ever be in the Grand Old Party.

Wendell Willkie

Willkie, on the other hand, was born to a modest family in 1892 in the small Indiana town of Elwood and attended both college and Law School at Indiana State University. His interest in politics literally began when he was barely four years old — his father took him to a torchlight procession for the Democratic Presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, who had come to Elwood during the 1896 campaign. His commitment to politics continued through his school career including meeting with the liberal trial lawyer, Clarence Darrow. Willkie also developed an interest in communism reading Karl Marx and even considered a run for Congress.

On April 2, 1917, the same day Woodrow Wilson signed a declaration of war against Germany, Willkie volunteered for the United States Army. He was sent to France but the war ended before he saw combat. In 1918, he married Edith Wilk, a librarian from Rushville, Indiana. Soon his mother, Henrietta, herself a lawyer and one of the first women admitted to the Indiana bar, convinced Willkie that his strong character and intelligence would better serve him in a larger arena. So the young couple moved to Akron, Ohio where Willkie started with Firestone Tire and Rubber, and soon joined a local law firm. He soon became a leading utilities lawyer and was elected President of the Akron Bar Association.

His wife, Edith, who shared the same ambitions as her mother-in-law, convinced her husband to move to New York where he joined a major utility company, Commonwealth and Southern Corporation, as General Counsel. In 1933 Willkie became the president of C&S, which through multiple acquisitions, had become the largest public utility holding company in America. Maintaining his interest in politics, Willkie became a delegate to the 1932 Democratic Convention. He eventually supported Roosevelt as the party’s nominee and contributed $150 to his campaign.

REA Poster 1939

The two men became adversaries as the respective spokesmen for the opposing sides in one of America’s key issues in the 1930’s – the expansion of the country’s electrical grid. Willkie felt strongly that private utilities, like C&S, could and should do the development job. Because of the project’s scale, Roosevelt felt equally strongly that this was a job best undertaken by the Federal government

Although Thomas Edison had developed the electrical means to power the incandescent light bulb in 1870, by the 1930’s only the northeast surrounding New York and the northern Midwest around Chicago had enjoyed the benefits of the new power source. Virtually the entire Midwest and southern areas of the country were without electricity. The long power lines and generation facilities required to electrify these massive land areas crucial to America’s farms and agricultural areas were simply too extensive and too expensive to finance privately. Roosevelt therefore introduced and engineered legislation through a Congress he knew was deeply aware of the broad and painful impact the Depression was having on their constituents. Roosevelt’s leadership led to the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration(all external links in this article are to wikipedia.org unless noted), the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Public Utilities Holding Company Act. Through the legislative hearing process, as well in speeches and the press, the two men vigorously defended their differing approaches, yet in stark contrast to today, publicly expressed respect for their opponent.

Willkie’s first meeting with Roosevelt was in the White House in December 1934. After a cordial exchange, Willkie sent a telegram to his wife “CHARM OVERRATED. I DIDN’T TELL HIM WHAT YOU THINK OF HIM.”

As Willkie’s potential appeal grew in the eyes of the Republican leadership, they seemed to be unmindful, at least at first, of his liberal and internationalist views, concentrating instead on Willkie’s increasingly vocal objections to the anti-business direction of the Democratic party. In fact, he broke ranks and voted for Al Landon in the 1936 election.

In 1939, feeling that the Democratic party had abandoned him, Willkie switched his voter registration from Democratic to Republican at the suggestion of prominent New York Republican businessmen who planned to back him as the candidate best qualified to run against President Roosevelt in 1940. Willkie won the Republican nomination on the sixth ballot at a brokered convention. He then proceeded to wage a vigorous and at times aggressively personal campaign against the president, largely centered on domestic issues. In particular, Willkie objected to FDR’s decision to run for an unheard of third term, viewing it as a highly dangerous precedent. “If one man is indispensable,” he argued, “then none of us is free.” However, on the international front, Willkie spoke often about the dangers facing America, and believed, as did Roosevelt, in the need to help our allies, especially Great Britain. He supported, for instance, Roosevelt’s call for the first ever peacetime draft, as well as the Destroyers for Bases Agreement — policies that had limited appeal within the isolationist ranks of the Republican party — but that Willkie felt were essential to the security of the United States.

Some hardly subtle Willkie campaign buttons from the collection at the FDR Library and Presidential Museum

In the end, with active wars raging in Europe and the Far East, the electorate decided not to change leadership. Roosevelt won the election easily, capturing both the popular and Electoral College vote by very large margins.

Interestingly at the time, there was a precedent for Roosevelt reaching out to Republicans in his desire to build a bipartisan foreign policy. In the spring of 1940, the president had a growing and increasingly deep concern as he watched country after country in Europe falling under Hitler’s war machine. Roosevelt also had the personal and political strength to take a bold step especially given the strong desire to stay out of the war by Republican isolationists. He brought two prominent Republicans, Henry L. Stimson and Frank Knox into the government as his Secretaries of War and the Navy, respectively. Both men had vigorously opposed Roosevelt’s 1930 campaign seeking reelection as the governor of New York. Both men, however, went on to be strong and highly regarded supporters of Roosevelt’s wartime strategies and actions. In that long-ago time the differences between the parties — with the exception of the Republican right-wing isolationists — was significantly closer than it is today.

The success of Roosevelt’s decision to bring two well-known Republicans into his cabinet as well as his respect for Willkie, whom he had just defeated, brought about a unique and uncommon phenomenon historically unheard of in Presidential elections. Shortly after the November election President Roosevelt told close advisors that he wanted to use his former adversary’s talents and intelligence, perhaps even offer Willkie a position in the government. The opportunity presented itself before the end of the year.

On December 29, while the president was trying to relax in the Caribbean, he received an urgent message from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the effect that England was running out of cash and thus unable to buy arms and take other steps to protect the British people. Roosevelt’s response was characteristically swift and strong.

The original letter from Roosevelt hung for many years on the wall at Chartwell.

In January 1941, the president asked Willkie to go to London to personally deliver a letter to Mr. Churchill whom Mr. Roosevelt frequently addressed as “a former naval person.” In the letter, Roosevelt wrote, quoting from Longfellow:

January 20, 1941

Dear Churchill:
Wendell Willkie will give you this –He is truly helping to keep politics out over here.
I think this verse applies to you people as it does to us:
“Sail on, Oh Ship of State!
Sail on, oh Union strong and great.
Humanity with all its fears
With all the hope of future years
Is hanging breathless on thy fate.”

As ever yours,
Franklin D. Roosevelt

Churchill was inspired by the letter and later gave one of his most memorable speeches in Parliament: “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job,” he finished. (You can listen to the relevant excerpt HERE (link to youtube.com) Churchill framed the president’s letter and hung it at his private residence at Chartwell where it remained until his death.

Willkie had planned to visit embattled Britain on his own before Roosevelt asked him on the eve of his third inauguration to be the president’s informal emissary. Willkie accepted immediately. While he was in London, Willkie walked the streets without a helmet or gas mask, protections which virtually all Londoners carried because of constant German air raids. He visited bombed out sites and slept in air raid shelters and subways with British civilians. He also visited other cities and towns — Birmingham, Coventry, Manchester and Liverpool. Churchill invited him to 10 Downing Street, though he did insist on providing his guest with a helmet and gas mask.

On February 5, Roosevelt called Willkie to return to the United States to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of the Lend-Lease legislation, which ultimately brought America into the war and helped turn the tide for the Allies against Hitler. Lend-Lease allowed the United States to supply food, oil, armaments, including warships and warplanes to Britain and other allies, including Free France, Britain, China.

Willkie and Churchill in front of Number 10

When ultraconservative Senator Nye of North Dakota asked Willkie at the Senate hearing about the apparent contradiction between his support of Lend-Lease and his previous campaign statements that Roosevelt would lead America into war by April 1, Willkie smiled and said, “That was a bit of campaign oratory, Senator.” The hearing room burst into laughter.

In his testimony, Willkie went on to explain, “I tried as hard as I could to defeat Franklin Roosevelt, and I tried not to pull any of my punches. He was elected president. He is my president now.”

Roosevelt, hoping to ensure public support for his controversial plan, conjured one of the most memorable metaphors of his time in office. Speaking to the press, he compared his plan to someone lending their neighbors a garden hose to put out a fire in their home. “What do I do in such a crisis?” the president asked the assembled reporters. “I don’t say …‘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.” To which skeptical Senator Robert Taft of Ohio later responded: “Lending war equipment is a good deal like lending chewing gum. You don’t want it back.”

Willkie’s testimony helped pass the Lend-Lease Act while earning him the enmity of the Republican Party.

Roosevelt’s respect for Willkie was again demonstrated in the summer of 1942. Specifically, the president’s former adversary, and now close advisor, suggested to Roosevelt that he again act as an envoy, to traverse the globe seeking insights into how the world could live in peace after the war. Travelling on an Army Air-Corps converted B-25 bomber with an Army Air-Forces crew, Willkie spent 49 days meeting with foreign leaders including Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union. General de Gaulle, leader of the Free French, British Field Marshall Montgomery in North Africa, Chang Kai-Shek in China and elsewhere showing American unity and discussing plans for the post war world.

Willkie greets General Chang Kai-Skek

Upon his return to the United States, Willkie reported to Roosevelt. He also authored a best-selling book, One World, with his observations and recommendations. The book sold one million copies in its first month. In October of 1942, Willkie made a radio “Report to the People” which was heard by about 26 million Americans. In his broadcast, Willkie urged that after the war America should join a world-wide organization, which ultimately became the United Nations. The President wanted Willkie to lead the new organization. Willkie declined.

In April, Willkie had joined a New York law firm which subsequently became one of the city’s largest and most respected, Willkie, Farr & Gallagher. Two months later he also represented Hollywood movie producers before a Senate subcommittee that was investigating claims that the industry was producing pro-war propaganda. Willkie’s First-Amendment arguments ended any further investigation. Around this same time, he was asked to join the Board of Directors of Twentieth Century-Fox and soon became Fox’s Chairman.

Willkie’s views on race were equally advanced. He had previously advocated integration of the military and civil service. Willkie now urged appointment of an African American to the cabinet or the Supreme Court. He continued to be a strong advocate for equal rights for minorities. In 1943, Willkie worked with the then Chairman of the NAACP, Walter White, to convince Hollywood to give black Americans better treatment in the movie industry.

Memorial plaque to Wendell Willkie on the grounds of the New York Public Library. The inscription reads:
“I believe in America because in it we are free-
free to choose our government, to speak our minds,
to observe our different religions.”

The final chapter of the Roosevelt-Willkie partnership is perhaps even more fascinating than the collaboration described here. Although some political historians are aware of certain of the facts, most have only vague knowledge of the fact that Roosevelt asked Willkie to be his Vice-Presidential running mate in 1944, the president’s successful attempt to earn an unprecedented fourth term. When Willkie declined the invitation, Roosevelt dispatched his Special Counsel, Samuel L. Rosenman, to New York to have highly confidential discussions with Willkie about Roosevelt’s “long term project…after the 1944 election to start to form a new party with Willkie” – a more moderate hybrid or fusion party – that would free American politics from isolationism by jettisoning the extreme right or left of both parties.

Sadly, it never came to pass. Willkie died in October of 1944. Roosevelt passed away less than six months later, in April of 1945.

While it’s unlikely that the current crop of bickering candidates will soon provide anything like the legendary non-partisan cooperation evinced by these two men, perhaps the rancor and dysfunction of the 2016 presidential campaign will finally provoke the American public to seriously consider the formation of a new party — one freed from extremism — that was so presciently contemplated by two of America’s most astute politicians over 75 years ago.

Retired attorney, avid history buff and Foundation Alumni Advisory Board member C. Stephen Heard Jr. ’58 wrote his senior honors thesis on Wendell Willkie. He lives with his wife Susan in Charleston, South Carolina.

A printer friendly version of this article can be downloaded HERE.


FDR: A Life in Pictures


FDR: A Life in Pictures

Get the book!
FDR: A Life in Pictures

by Michael Weishan

Lightweight yet Machiavellian. Frivolous but intense. Socialist and fascist. Devious yet charming. Communist while Caesar. Both traitor and savior combined. Rarely have such contradictory descriptives been attached to a single man. But at one time or another, each was tagged to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, perhaps the most influential political figure of the 20th century. Here for the very first time in one volume: a visual road map through the extraordinarily rich timeline of FDR’s life, charting step-by-illustrated-step his amazing progression from pampered youth to 32nd president of the United States. Meticulously compiled from more than 70 large-format, digitally restored period photos — some never before published, and most with extended captions — FDR: A Life in Pictures documents as no other book can the remarkable living legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.