Turkey is not a lost cause

The West shouldn’t give up on Turkey, especially for the sake of the many Turks who did not vote Erdogan in the last two ballots. In both, the 2014  presidential election and the 2017 referendum on the constitutional amendment, slightly less than half of the electorate voted against the incumbent. Nonetheless, after the unsuccessful coup attempt in the summer of 2016, Erdogan managed to massively expand his influence over the country’s political institutions, courts, and media. As a consequence, the second half of the Turks have become virtually invisible to the rest of the world. Ever since the transformation of the country according to Erdogan’s ideology is in full swing. 
His strategy builds on his own idiosyncratic reading of Turkey’s Ottoman past. Since the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos,   where he had brushed off Israel’s president Shimon Peres on stage, he has campaigned to reposition Turkey as the protective power of the Near East – just like in the heyday of the Ottoman Empire. A clear line leads from 2009 into the current military deployment against the Kurds and in Syria. In the years before 2009, Erdogan was the hope of all Turks, the secularists and the pious. Heading towards EU membership, he had brought reforms on their way and strengthened the economy. 
Unlike in Erdogan’s much-admired Russia, where minorities are demonised and hunted down, no such strategy is necessary on the Bosporus. While homosexuals and journalists have to fear for their life in Putin’s Russia, Turkey liberalises in some areas, normalises the relationship to the Kurdish minority by allowing more space for their language on airwaves and their culture in the public space. 
Today, only a few years later, the fear of a civil war is on the mind of many Turks. Both camps, Erdogan supporters and opponents, face each other with equal might and unforgiving steadfastness. Under the radar, Erdogan long worked towards this confrontation. Back during his first campaign in 2003, he employed a rhetoric that today belongs to the essentials of any populist movement: He, Erdogan, constructed himself as the representative of the ‘brown Turks’, those who call Anatolia and the Coast of the Black Sea their home. In a classic ‘us-versus-them’-narrative, they were pitted against the so-called Kemalist and secular ‘white Turks’. Divide and rule tactics brought him to power. 
The West currently discusses, whether Erdogan has forsworn Islamism or not, and consequently whether he intends to lead Turkey back into Islamic ages or a future that reconciles Islam and democracy. 
The Turkish EU rapprochement initially gained speed but was ultimately slowed down again by the unsuccessful French and Dutch referenda on an EU constitution. The denial of such an EU-wide constitution was read as a rejection of Turkish EU membership. It will be up to future generations to uncover the point at which Erdogan’s ensuing radicalisation became irreversible. 
From today’s perspective, it’s undeniable that he must have recovered a religious reading of his political authority and the country’s path, should he have renounced an Islamic worldview in the first place. Today, the president of the secular Republic of Turkey offers its citizens advice on the number of children a  Turkish Muslim wife should have. Erdogan also knows that there is no homosexuality in Turkey, given that such would against his reading of Islam. 
The Christian minority in the country is facing enormous pressures. The Turkish Ministry of Religion, ‘Diyanet’, which was initially founded to hedge in the Islamic movement of the country and work towards its compatibility with modernity, now spies on Turkish citizens – domestic and abroad. 
In the Federal Republic of Germany, cases became public of Turkish Imams on a government-backed mission to find and denounce sympathisers of Fethullah Gülen. Erdogan does not seem to grow tired of pointing his finger at the preacher as the mastermind behind the coup attempt in Summer 2016. He has thus far produced no evidence or proof of these accusations. 
After the coup attempt, thousands of people were stripped of their economic and social status. The fear of an overly-powerful state apparatus firmly in the President’s hands has stifled the resistance of many but hasn’t yet silenced the whole opposition movement. Hundreds of thousands of people, for example, partook in the ‘March for Justice’ in Summer 2017, lead by oppositional politicians and representatives of civil society. The march concluded with a rally in Istanbul. 
Turkey was a democracy for ninety years, the country harbours a developed civil society and is accustomed to diversity in opinions, not least on religious issues. Contrary to Erdogan’s retrospective monolithic construction of the Ottoman Empire, different ethnic and religious groups, the Millets, lived a relatively free and autonomous life within it. ‘Turkish Islam’, as the President describes it, is thus not historically ‘Turkish’. Rather, it is part of a much more extensive religious restoration in various parts of the Islamic World that builds on ideological dogmatism and the creation of boundaries. 
In today’s terms, the Ottoman Empire certainly was no democracy with human rights, such as religious freedom. But it equally wasn’t a fundamentalist theocracy characterised by religious despotism, as Erdogan’s imagines its resurrection. 
The many millions of Turks, who did not vote for Erdogan, are equally descendants of the Ottomans and children of the Turkish Republic. They stand for a different interpretation of the role, which Turkey should assume in the geopolitics of the 21st century. They stand for a conception of society that radically diverges from the Islamic one, which Erdogan’s is busy trying to sell to the West as the only authentic one.  
The West would fare well by strengthening and supporting these Turks in their debilitating struggle for the future of the country. We must not give up on Turkey. 
Professor Alexander Görlach is an affiliate of the FDR Foundation’s Defense of Democracy program and a senior fellow to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. He is also a fellow to the Center for the Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge, UK. He holds PhDs in linguistics and comparative religion and is the publisher of the online-magazine www.saveliberaldemocracy.com. This article represents his views alone, not those of the FDR Foundation or other institutions. 

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.

A Liberal Democracy Doesn’t Just Fall from the Sky

by Alexander Görlach [translated from the German original published in Neue Zürcher Zeitung, December 17th, 2017]
The West appears to face its end. After seventy years of liberal hegemony, the opposition carries the day in countless places. This opposition stands in stark denial of the core principles of citizenship and social liberties which the West brought: tolerance of religious minorities, equality of men and women, free speech, and openness to the variance of life-paths. Regarding the relations between peoples and nations, it’s “us first” again – from the US to Catalonia. Cosmopolitan thinking, which thinks of politics as a solution to global quests, is ridiculed. 
Narcissism returns to the grand stage of international politics: the appraisal of the self at the peril of the other. The Western model – secular liberal democracy – functioned in the exact opposite way: a democracy that derives the general well being from the liberties of its minorities. It is a community that strives to enable participation and welfare the broadest possible group. This order ultimately realizes the utopia of equality, liberty and brotherhood by combining the political with both economic and welfare metrics. 
A liberal democracy can only exist where schools and universities are open to everyone. It can only exist where social pathologies are countered with unemployment welfare, statutory accident insurance, health care, and pensions – for all. Liberal democracy doesn’t just fall from the sky; it is the result of equal living conditions for all those participating in it. The middle-class societies of the West are its perfect breeding ground. To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht: where there’s enough to eat, there’s time to think about morality. 
Civil liberties only enter conscious thought where education welfare and affluence offer it a breeding ground. That’s why the United States, in its rebuilding strategy after World War II ,prioritized economic projects that overcame the differences of the past – both in Europe and the Pacific Rim. The susceptibility to demagogic rhetoric decreases with affluence. This also explains why The People’s Republic of China strengthens its grip on society at the very moment a well-situated middle class establishes itself. Beijing learned its lessons from the West’s success story. 
In the countries of Europe and the United States, which make up the West as we know it, the liberal model isn’t yet fighting one-party systems and autocrats. Instead, it’s battling with a perceived unlinking of economic and political participation. If the middle class isn’t growing anymore, if savings pay no interest anymore, and if the access to education is increasingly hard, then this middle-class loses faith in liberal democracy. 
That’s why calls for a strong leader are audible in almost every country of the western world. And it’s the reason, too, why minorities and Muslims are demonized and declared to be the root of all evil – past, present, and future. In Germany, for example, supporters of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and Pegida claim in surveys that while they’re content with their present situation, they fear a bleak future of mass immigration. 
In the internet age, the facilities for political participation have substantially increased in number. That doesn’t apply to the possibilities of profiting economically from these new developments. The criticism aims at the political system but means the financial-economic sector. During the summer of 2011, Thatcher biographer Charles Moore and German intellectual Frank Schirrmacher began a public discussion on the question of whether the Left might have been right with its criticism of financial capitalism. 
The conservatives, argued Schirrmacher, had entrusted the financial liberals with their values and ever since waited for the dividend – without success, as Schirrmacher concludes. That’s how both the conservatives, which understood themselves as patriotic cosmopolitans, and the social-democrats, who considered themselves an international alliance, stumbled into a crisis created by what is now labelled neoliberalism. 
The world, globalized by the West, holds both blessing and curse. Blessing, because it realized the cosmopolitan vision of classical antiquity by enforcing free movement of persons and ideas. Curse, because free-flowing capital doesn’t benefit the many, but the few – contrary to knowledge. 
The result is a divide between expectations and unfulfilled hopes. This dialectic of the liberal world is a re-issue of the dialectic of enlightenment. Curse and blessing are still intertwined in political consciousness. That explains why citizens are willing to protest against refugees with a smartphone, but not when the Panama or Paradise Papers reveal how the most affluent abuse financial globalization to avoid their duties to the welfare state. 
European modernity, with its pursuit of enlightenment and development, got the ball rolling. It alone can reconcile the quarreling spirits that it conjured up. To do so, the West has to reappraise its origin: Christian humanism with its emphasis on humankind as an end in itself. As the Christian theologian argues, man is the axis of salvation. The world, in which man finds himself has to befit his proportions and remain intelligible and comprehensible to him in relation to the self.    
In the classical sense, this certainly does not imply that human beings of foreign origin, language or religions are perceived as beyond the bounds of his proportions. Instead, cosmopolitanism argues that the rulebook of the world applies equally to all because all are equal. The first cosmopolitans, by name and conviction, were philosophers of Athens (and later Rome). To them, it meant an empathetic basis for thinking and acting that would reveal the whole world in us and our actions. Only in this way can the gaze, in a next step of abstraction, direct itself to the world beyond the city walls. 
When, on Christmas Eve 1968, the Apollo 8 crew first transmitted a photograph of the Earth from outer space, the dream of the ancient European cosmopolitans was about to be fulfilled. Doesn’t this planet look too vulnerable, from up there – sub specie aeternitatis – for its inhabitants to be divided over trivialities such as race, gender and language? The photograph, titled “Earthrise” inspired the peace and environmental movement alike. 
Today, the isolationist movements in all parts of the world point to the opposite direction, into an age of nationalism and totalitarianism that could be termed ‘second middle age’. To the European, accustomed to vicissitudes of life, the relapse into barbarism seems undeniable and fatal. But it isn’t. He ought, instead, to go into battle and missionary mode and offer to humankind what has always been in its nature: a political and social system that builds on the connection lines of the human family, embedded in a shared sense of compassion. Above all, doing so will require a global social contract that puts an end to the rule of capital, which has enslaved man and disfigured his soul for far too long. 
Professor Alexander Görlach is an affiliate of the FDR Foundation’s Defense of Democracy program and a senior fellow to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. He is also a fellow to the Center for the Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge, UK. He holds PhDs in linguistics and comparative religion and is the publisher of the online-magazine www.saveliberaldemocracy.com. This article represents his views alone, not those of the FDR Foundation or other institutions.


Roosevelt addresses the crowd at the Christmas tree lighting ceremony from the White House South Portico on December 24, 1941. Churchill can be seen on the right. (FDR Presidential Library)

It was Christmastime when Prime Minister Winston Churchill arrived in Washington on December 22, 1941—two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor and eleven days after Hitler audaciously declared war on the United States.

For eighteen months Churchill had wooed Roosevelt, cajoling, charming, and even begging him to bring the United States into the war against Germany. Now Churchill’s prayers were answered:  the United States would certainly enter the war. On learning of the attack, Churchill later wrote, “Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the thankful and the saved.”

Churchill had come to Washington to make sure that earlier agreements of an Anglo-American alliance against Germany (should America enter the war) remained firm in the face of the Pearl Harbor attack. Understandably, the American people had an overwhelming desire to strike back at the Japanese. Churchill needed to turn them from thoughts of revenge to Britain’s view of the realities of the Axis threat. His task was made more difficult by Japan’s stunning victories in the weeks following Pearl Harbor. In the Philippines American troops were trapped on the southern tip of the Bataan Peninsula and the Rock of Corregidor. Within a matter of days, Guam, Wake, and Hong Kong had fallen. American territories were being invaded and American lives lost. Americans wanted to throw everything they had against the Japanese.

Yet there was Britain’s precarious position to consider: if the Soviets fell, Hitler would throw his full strength into the temporarily delayed invasion of the United Kingdom. If Britain fell, what would be next for the United States? Germany was the more powerful of the foes. In an Anglo-American alliance, Churchill’s longstanding policy was the defeat of “Germany First.” He needed to make sure that the great power of the American war machine was leveled first against Hitler and second against the Japanese. Fortunately, Roosevelt agreed with him. But his position was not without dissent from some military advisors—and critics in the press and public.

Whatever his motives, Churchill’s presence was a tonic to the shattered Americans. On December 23 he joined FDR in a news conference in the Oval Office. More than two hundred journalists crowded into the room, some using edges of the president’s desk to take notes. “Wearing polka dot bow tie, a short black coat, and striped trousers,” Doris Kearns Goodwin tells us, Churchill

stared imperturbably into space, his long cigar between his compressed lips as Roosevelt spoke. When the time came for the prime minister to speak, reporters in the back called out that they could not see him. Asked to stand, Churchill not only complied, but scrambled atop his chair. “There was a wild burst of applause and then cheering,” The New York Times reported, . . . “as the visitor stood there before them, . . . with confidence and determination written on the countenance so familiar to the world.” (p. 303)

Bernard Baruch was among those invited to the White House that Christmas season. He “believed that Churchill’s visit would ‘galvanize’ American public opinion,” according to Eleanor Roosevelt biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook.

With the Pacific fleet in ruins, Wake Island fallen, Singapore besieged, and the Philippines invaded, Baruch considered Churchill “the best Christmas present” to restore heart and hope to the Allied world. “The pink-cheeked warrior in the air raid suit” was the leading symbol of resistance to the Blitz: “Do your worst, we can stand it,” his presence seemed to say. “We won’t crack up.” (Cook, pp. 409–410).

Wartime blackout regulations and tight security precautions were already in place in Washington; nevertheless, Roosevelt insisted on lighting the national Christmas tree. Various reports describe the event. “Our strongest weapon in this war is that conviction of the dignity and brotherhood of man which Christmas Day signifies,” he declared. Churchill joined Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt on the balcony of the White House before a crowd of 20,000 and in a national radio broadcast that reached millions. “Let the children have their night of fun and laughter,” Churchill said, and then:

Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.

On December 26 Churchill addressed a Joint Session of Congress, declaring himself half-American. “By the way, I cannot help reflecting that if my father had been American and my mother British instead of the other way around, I might have got here on my own.” Much to Eleanor Roosevelt’s distress (who had a more internationalist vision), he stressed the unity and implied superiority of the English-speaking world, speaking of the “outrages they have committed upon us at Pearl Harbor, in the Pacific Islands, in the Philippines, in Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.”

Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt give a joint press conference in the Oval Office of the White House, December 23, 1941. (FDR Presidential Library)

The White House hosted a steady stream of diplomatic and military dignitaries during Churchill’s two-week visit. Meetings were held every day and long into the night—including Christmas day when a War Council was held from 5:30 to 6:45 pm. The war planners set themselves to the business at hand: North Africa, the Pacific and Southeast Asia, military strategy, war production, tonnage, and the Far East were among the subjects of talks. Ambassador Maxim Litvinov from the USSR, Prime Minister Mackenzie King of Canada, and the chiefs of the American Republics of South America and the Missions of the Allied Power and Refugee Governments came and went.

Since Churchill’s arrival he and FDR had been working on a Joint Declaration of Unity and Purpose for the Allies. As they laid the groundwork for war, they also began to frame the peace. It was FDR who suggested to Churchill on the morning of December 29th the name that would signify both war power and the promise of peace: the United Nations.

On New Year’s Day Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Maxim Litvinov of the USSR, and T. V. Soong of China signed the Declaration of the United Nations. An exultant Churchill declared, “Four fifths of the human race” has resolved Hitler’s end.

The next day twenty-two additional countries signed: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Poland, Union of South Africa, and Yugoslavia. Subsequently Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Uruguay, and Venezuela signed.

Those countries that signed by March 1945 would become the founding members of the United Nations.

The Declaration read in part:

The Governments signatory hereto,

Having subscribed to a common program of purposes and principles embodied in the Joint Declaration of the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland dated August 14, 1941 known as the Atlantic Charter.

Being convinced that complete victory over their enemies is essential to defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands, and that they are now engaged in a common struggle against savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world,


(1) Each Government pledges itself to employ its full resources, military or economic, against those members of the Tripartite Pact and its adherents with which such government is at war.

(2) Each Government pledges itself to cooperate with the Governments signatory hereto and not to make a separate armistice or peace with the enemies.


What then was this Atlantic Charter that underpinned the entire agreement?

It was nothing less than a declaration of goals for the postwar world, an instrument for peace forged in the exigencies of war: “after the final destruction of Nazi tyranny, [it envisioned] . . . a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.”

To ensure that world, Roosevelt and Churchill called for permanent disarmament and envisioned a “permanent system of general security.”

All of the nations of the world, for realistic as well spiritual reasons, must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no future peace can be maintained if land, sea, or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten, or may threaten aggression outside of their frontiers, [the signatories] believe, pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential.

Churchill had come to the Atlantic Conference seeking American entry into the war against Hitler to preserve the British Empire. The Atlantic Charter was Franklin Roosevelt’s vision, a reimagining of the lost promise of the League of Nations and Woodrow Wilson’s failed vision for an end to all war. Out of it grew the United Nations—an ambitious idea for a post-war world of peace, disarmament, decolonization, democratic self-determination, respect for human rights, and free trade.

This is the legacy of Christmas 1941—and a reminder of work we have yet to complete.


Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt: The War Years and After, Volume 3, 1939–1962. New York: Viking, 2016.
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.


Taiwan Versus the Beijing Narrative


As a European in Taiwan, I came to understand why the conflict of Taiwan is often misunderstood in the West. The knowledge about the civil war between the Kuomintang and Communists, resulting in the retreat of Chiang Kai-shek and his troops to the island, is not widely known. The implications of the term “One China,“ therefore, leaves many Westerners clueless. When Chinese President Xi Jinping deals with the island as if it were a defecting province, as he did at the 19th Communist Party Congress this week, he sounded somewhat legitimate.


Surely, Western governments are aware of the complicated situation and the pending threat, but they may feel that their hands are tied. Europe has always looked to the United States of America when it came to supporting Taiwan. Now, with declining support for the values of liberal democracy across the Old World in recent years, as evidenced by the Brexit vote and the rise of far-right xenophobic movements, little compassion is left for a far-away country such as restricted Taiwan. The stance that US President Trump takes on the issue is still unclear.

Prior to the National Day on October 10th, an article was widely shared and discussed on social media. The text claimed that the Chinese military would finally meet the necessities to invade Taiwan by the year 2020. Observers, however, would argue that the Mainland’s military would neither dare nor have the capacity to invade and long-term occupy Taiwan. Alas, that doesn’t mean Taiwan will not see some serious infringement on its liberal democracy. 

For Beijing, Taiwan is a threat because the leader of the Communist Party sells the idea to his followers and the West alike that being Chinese and simultaneously a liberal democrat is impossible: the tradition of Confucianism can only live on in the form of the one-party state. Mr Xi Jinping’s fight against corruption and moral misconduct needs to be seen as him catering to the narrative that he has deployed during his first term as president of the People’s Republic of China: emerging to the very top is only possible by applying the highest ethical standards

In the West, where democracy is typically deliberately limited by the rights of individuals or specific groups such as minorities, leaders do not cease to praise the Chinese president (and leaders before him) as visionary, innovative, and thoughtful. What they mean is that, due to the autocratic one-party rule, Beijing is capable of following through with policy ideas – such as tackling climate change – that would take years in a democratic framework.

The existence of Taiwan, however, reminds Mr. Xi Jinping and the West of the existence of a democracy in a Confucian context. As a matter of fact, Taiwan is not the only liberal democracy of the region. It has potentially powerful allies in South Korea and Japan. All three are allies of the United States, and all three have a similar set of interests when it comes to fighting off a power-hungry China.

Yet, for historic reasons, the three have not elaborated on their common policies. And it is doubtful that they will do so anytime soon. Beijing is anything but sad about the disagreements of its democratic rivals across the Sea. In Taipei, Seoul, and Tokyo observers may already be nervous when they anticipate Donald Trump’s visit to China in a few weeks. The US president seems to have been marveling autocratic rulership.

One can only hope that the result of the meeting between these two power-hungry men of dubious mindset and character when it comes to civil liberties and liberal freedoms will not be frightening the three truly democratic countries in the region. As for Taiwan, the leadership and the people should be eagerly trying to strengthen their ties with Western allies and the liberal democracies in South Korea and Japan. For China may not be able or willing to invade the country, but it will also not tolerate any further development of a free and independent society for this may, in the logic of Beijing, inevitably lead onto the street of independence. 

Alexander Görlach is an affiliate professor with the FDR Foundation’s Defense of Democracy Program. He is also a fellow to the Center for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge, UK. He’s a senior fellow to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and a senior advisor to the Berggruen Institute. Alex holds a PhD in linguistics and a PhD in comparative religion. He is the publisher of the online-magazine www.saveliberaldemocracy.com and an op-ed contributor to the New York Times. This academic year he is a visiting scholar to National Taiwan University and City University of Hong Kong. This article represents his views alone, not those of the FDR Foundation or other institutions.

How the New Right-wing Party AfD Dominates German Politics

Now Germany…
After all other European countries, the Federal Republic will also have a right wing party in the midst of its national parliament. The 13 percent, which the party achieved on Election Day, September 24, can be called a landslide victory. Beyond strongholds in the East of the country where they gained nearly thirty percent of their followers, their voter base now also extends to wide parts of the West of the country, where they numbered, in many places, in the double digits. 

The country, however, even 26 years after its reunification, still shows regional electoral preferences. In the nineties and the early ‘aughts the far left party Die Linke attained power in all states in the former East. They have now lost plenty of voters to the new right. In the West, on the other hand, right wing parties have sparked every ten years or so, only to disappear after a short while. Usually, they had a try-out period in state parliaments where they did not convince the electorate. They were not voted for again.

Until now Germans in the West, so it seems, had had enough of this extremism, for it led the country into the catastrophe of the Second World War and the Shoa. Nazism should never return to the country. The notion of a strong leader with claims to have the capacity to solve all the country’s problems was frowned upon. Moreover, today’s right wing extremists, the so called Alternative for Germany, did not fall in with one chairman but with a whole array of front row politicians, some of them using extreme right wing vocabulary. That included praise for the German Wehrmacht and revisionist utterances when it comes to German’s commemoration of the Holocaust. The new right wing populism is a pan-German phenomenon. And that was the real news in the results of this year’s election in Europe’s largest country.

Since the election, both German and international media are trying to wrap their head around the success the AfD had in this years voting. Undoubtedly the refugee crisis of 2015; where up to one million refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia made it into Europe and further on to Germany; has played a role. The Alternative for Germany before the crisis had plummeted in the polls. Created in 2013 as a party mostly opposing the European Union and the European currency, they had initially lost momentum. When the refugees entered into Germany, one of their AfD chairs, Alexander Gauland, cheered: the refugees were a godsend to his party.  With their xenophobic, anti-Muslim voice they indeed quickly re-gathered followers: in the state of Sachsen-Anhalt they gained 24 percent of the votes in the state election, in Baden-Württemberg 15 percent. Mr. Gauland is the one who recently claimed that Germans ought to be proud of the Wehrmacht, the German army, and their doings in both two world wars; this outrageous statement only surpassed in egregiousness by Björn Höcke, who claimed that the Holocaust Memorial Site in Berlin should be considered a monument of shame for the Germans, urging the country to move on and leave any narrative commemorating the Shoa behind. The pundits disagree on whether the AfD receives their support for this sort of rhetoric. They are now in 13 of the countries 16 state parliaments and in the national parliament, the Bundestag.

The Bundestag in the Reichstags-Building is now the international stage for the party. They are in their view on equal terms with other similar movements all across Europe. But, more importantly, they are also on the radar of the international media that usually does not report about the ongoings in state-level German politics. That’s why the former right-wing movements disappeared rather unnoticed. Focusing on a single topic, they fail to govern once confronted in parliament with actual legislative work (“what is your stance on the pension funds, the retirement age or environmental protection?”). As a matter of fact, AfD made it into the Bundestag without having a concise pension model. And this in an aging society such as Germany! 

In the weeks before the Election Day, the AfD had sunk to seven percent in the polls, as one could expect given the prior experience of right-wingers. But all of a sudden – and there is lots of guesswork why this has happened – it went up again to 12, 13 percent, a figure very close to their final result. As a result of the success of the right wing populists the political spectrum in Germany has shifted to the right. It is a dangerous approach: the hope that people will return to traditional parties simply because they may use sharper rhetoric against the AfD is delusional. In Bavaria the conservative CSU (Christian Social Union), sister party to the CDU (Christian Democratic Union) that governed the country for almost seventy years, lost 11 percent in the federal election. They tried to mimic the new appeal and rhetoric of the AfD. But when people have the choice between an original and the copy, they go for the original. Very sadly so in this case.

Alexander Görlach is an affiliate professor with the FDR Foundation’s Defense of Democracy Program. He is also a fellow to the Center for Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge, UK, and a senior fellow to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Alex holds a PhD in linguistics and a PhD in comparative religion. He is the publisher of the online-magazine www.saveliberaldemocracy.com and an op-ed contributor to the New York Times. This article represents his views alone, rather than those of the FDR Foundation.