Donate to the H-11 Campaign

Denizens Past of H-11,

We are writing to you on behalf of Michael Weisham and the Adams House FDR Global Fellowship.  As many of you know, the Fellowship funds a summer studying and working abroad for two Adams House undergrads. It has proven to be an invaluable experience for those chosen; they will become more than they would have otherwise. However the program is threatened by lack of money.

Pat Emery, Bob Kalinoski, Paul Waickowski and I (Bill Terranova) spent our undergraduate years in H-11.  Four blue-collar kids thrown together who have become life-long friends. We all became more than we would have otherwise.  In that spirit we have donated $3500.00 to help fund this year’s fellowship.  We believe that many of you, spending years together in H-11, have had a similar experience.  And so we ask you, in that same spirit, to add your donation to ours.

Michael tells me that it costs $6000-$8000.00 for each student.  Our goal should be to fully fund one fellowship—in celebration of those years in suite H-11.

Thank you.

Bill Terranova, Pat Emery, Bob Kalinoski, Paul Waickowski




The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation, Inc. is a 501(c)3 U.S public charity dedicated to expanding the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and preserving the historic nature of Adams House, Harvard College, including the newly restored Franklin Delano Roosevelt Suite in Westmorly Hall. Your contributions to the Foundation are deductible to the extent allowed by law.

FDR’s Last Personal Diplomacy: Ibn Saud and the Quest for a Jewish Homeland

The alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United States goes back seven decades, to when King Abdulaziz, the founder of the modern Saudi state, met President Franklin Delano Roosevelt aboard the U.S.S. Quincy at the Great Bitter Lake in the Suez Canal.

New York Times, September 29, 2016

 With Saudi-American relations in the news again, I thought it worth remembering that today’s alliance had its beginnings in one last bit of Rooseveltian personal diplomacy: an attempt to use his redoubtable skills on behalf of European Jews.

The meeting with King Abdulaziz (often known in the West as Ibn Saud) took place immediately following the Yalta Conference in February 1945 when the Big Three—Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin, and Roosevelt—hammered out the final diplomatic agreements of the Second World War. Besides the conference with Ibn Saud, Roosevelt also arranged meetings with King Farouk of Egypt and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia that are little remembered today.

By scheduling the meetings without Churchill’s knowledge, Roosevelt breached the United States’ longstanding hands-off policy respecting Britain’s sphere of influence in the region. When Churchill learned of the meetings, he hastened to schedule talks of his own. But a change was already under way.

The strategic importance of the Middle East had become increasingly clear during the war, and Roosevelt’s economic and military advisers were anxious to secure America’s military presence in the Middle East—as well as cement America’s budding oil-drilling partnership with Saudi Arabia. These were solid reasons for Roosevelt to meet with Ibn Saud, but there is ample evidence that Palestine was the main purpose of the president’s visit.

In 1944 both Republicans and Democrats vied for Jewish votes with pro-Zionist planks in their campaign platforms. But this statement from Roosevelt, read to the Zionist Organization of America on October 15, confirmed the loyalty of American Jewry to the Democratic Party. “I know how long and ardently the Jewish people have worked and prayed for the establishment of Palestine as a free and Democratic Jewish commonwealth.   I am convinced that the American people give their support to this aim, and if reelected, I shall help to bring about its realization” (quoted in Breitman and Lichtman, p. 259).

Historian Robert Rosen and others point out that Roosevelt had also privately promised his Jewish friends to try to solve the problem of Palestine before the war was over. Before he left for Yalta, he conferred with Rabbi Stephen Wise and told his Cabinet that he would meet Saud and “try and settle the Palestine situation” (quoted in Rosen, pp. 409–410).  Historians Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman recount that after the election he began to make plans for the Yalta trip, stating to Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius, “I am going to take a trip [the Yalta Conference] this winter and will see a lot of people. . . . I want to see if I can’t unravel this whole situation [the question of Palestine] on the ground,” leading them to conclude that Roosevelt hoped to use his personal, persuasive diplomacy to settle matters on Palestine (p. 297). In early January, Roosevelt told Stettinius that when he met with Ibn Saud after Yalta, he wanted a map with him that showed the small size of Palestine in relation to the Arab world in order to make the case that “he could not see why a portion of Palestine could not be given to the Jews without harming in any way the interests of the Arabs with the understanding, of course, that the Jews would not move into adjacent part of the Near East from Palestine” (Breitman and Lichtman, p. 299).

 Franklin Roosevelt and Ibn Saud meeting aboard the U.S.S. Quincy, February 14, 1945.

Franklin Roosevelt and Ibn Saud meeting aboard the U.S.S. Quincy, February 14, 1945.

Roosevelt’s translator at Yalta, Charles Bohlen, recorded in his memoirs Witness to History (p. 212) that Roosevelt raised the subject with Stalin during the Yalta Conference in a controversial conversation that contained an unfortunate remark that led some to label Roosevelt anti-Zionist. Breitman and Lichtman interpret the anti-Semitic exchange as an “ice-breaker,” which Roosevelt used to test the waters of Stalin’s potential opposition to a Jewish homeland in Palestine—and found no resistance (p. 301). Roosevelt biographer Frank Freidel agrees, “In actuality Roosevelt was stubbornly pro-Zionist, and had a difficult time with Ibn Saud when he tried to persuade the king to accept 10,000 more Jews in Palestine” (p. 594). Breitman and Licthman also tell us that Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, who worked closely with the president, believed that Roosevelt “like the late Justice Brandeis, thought a Jewish state would become a model of social justice and would raise standards of living in the region. FDR also knew that Saudi Arabia badly needed outside funds for development. Surely a farsighted Arab leader would recognize such benefits—along with the advantages of American aid” (p. 299) Adding to all of these considerations, the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army in late January revealed to the world the horrors of the Holocaust. Thomas Lippman, another scholar of the subject, states categorically that Roosevelt met with Ibn Saud because “the Jews had a claim on the world’s conscience, and on Roosevelt’s” (p. 3).

By all accounts the meeting with King Abdulaziz was extraordinary. Ibn Saud and his retinue of 47—which included an astrologer and food taster—traveled across the Arabian peninsula from Riyadh to Jeddah where they boarded the U.S.S. Murphy for a two-day sail on the Red Sea to Great Bitter Lake in the Suez Canal. Only once before had the king left the Arabian peninsula. Fitted out for the king’s use, the Murphy’s deck was covered with colorful carpets and shaded by an enormous brown canvas tent. A flock of sheep, brought along for fresh meat, grazed in a corral. Food was cooked on charcoal braziers on the deck. Abdulaziz, 64 years old, a large and imposing black-bearded man dressed in Arab robes, his headdress regally bound with golden cords, was seated on a golden throne. The king was attended by barefoot Arab warriors armed with long rifles, each with a scimitar bound to his waist. One American witness described it as “a spectacle out of the ancient past on the deck of a modern man-of-war” (quoted in Lippman, p. 2).

Roosevelt waited on the U.S.S Quincy, surrounded by his own retinue of admirals and high-ranking diplomats. Ibn Saud was transferred to the Quincy and the two leaders, meeting from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on February 14, 1945, forged an improbable alliance that linked the two nations and shaped the history of the Middle East for decades to come.

I first learned about the meeting between Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz in 2003 when American Counsel to Saudi Arabia, Hugh Geohagan, visited the Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park. His purpose was to discuss returning to the Library a collection of objects that had been borrowed a few years earlier for an exhibition, “Gifts of Friendship,” in the King Abdulaziz Archives in Riyadh. Held in 2002, the exhibition commemorated the centennial of Abdulaziz’s rule by displaying the state gifts that he and Roosevelt exchanged in their shipboard meeting in 1945.

DC-3 passenger plane given by FDR to King Abdelaziz.

Ibn Saud’s gifts to FDR included brightly colored camel’s hair robes embroidered with gold, hand-painted perfume bottles, a bottle of granular musk, lumps of ambergris, a gold dagger set with diamonds, and a gold filigree sword and belt set with diamonds. In return FDR famously gave the king a DC-3 passenger plane (fully staffed with a crew supplied by the U.S), which marked the beginning of the Saudi Air Force. When he saw that the king had trouble walking, FDR spontaneously gave him one of his wheelchairs. The gifts were extraordinary, but not as extraordinary as the meeting itself.

Formal talks began after they had exchanged the gifts and enjoyed lunch and Arabian coffee. “Roosevelt came straight to the most urgent point: the plight of the Jews and the future of Palestine, where it was already apparent that the governing mandate bestowed upon Britain by the League of Nations twenty years earlier would come to an end after the war” (Lippman, p. 8).

Memoir of the meeting by Col. William A. Eddy, U.S. Minister to Saudi Arabia and translator of the meeting.

Memoir of the meeting by Col. William A. Eddy, U.S. Minister to Saudi Arabia and translator of the meeting.

An account of the conversation, FDR Meets Ibn Saud, was published by U.S. Minister to Saudi Arabia Col. William A. Eddy, who was deeply involved in the intricate intercultural arrangements for the meeting. Born in what is now Lebanon, Eddy was fluent in Arabic, and as translator, was the only person to hear both sides of the conversation between the two leaders. As quoted from Eddy’s account in Rosen (pp. 412–413), “President Roosevelt was in top form as a charming host, witty conversationalist, with the spark and light in his eyes and that gracious smile which always won people over to him whenever he talked with them as a friend. . . . With Ibn Saud he was at his very best.” Roosevelt said that he felt “a personal responsibility” for the Jewish victims of the Holocaust who had suffered “indescribable horrors at the hands of the Nazis: eviction, destruction of their homes, torture, and mass murder” and asked the king for his advice. The king replied that the Allies as victors should give the Jews and “their descendants the choicest lands and homes of the Germans who had oppressed them.” Roosevelt responded that the Jews had a deep desire to settle in Palestine and were fearful of remaining in Germany. The king said he did not doubt that the Jews did not trust the Germans, but “surely the Allies will destroy Nazi power forever and in their victory will be strong enough to protect Nazi victims. If the Allies do not expect firmly to control future German policy, why fight this costly war?” He lectured the president on the long history of animosity between Arabs and Jews.

Continuing with Eddy’s account as recounted in Rosen, Roosevelt persisted, saying that he counted on Arab “hospitality” and on the king’s help solving the problem of Zionism, but the king repeated his position. “Amends should be made by the criminal, not by the innocent bystander. What injury have Arabs done to the Jews of Europe? It is the ‘Christian’ Germans who stole their homes and lives.” Later Roosevelt returned a third time to the subject. The king lost patience, observing that American “oversolicitude for the Germans was incomprehensible to an uneducated Bedouin with whom friends get more solicitude than enemies.” Ibn Saud’s final remark on the subject reiterated his unalterable position. According to Arab custom, he said, survivors and victims of battle were distributed among the victors according to their number and their supplies of food and water. Palestine, he said, was a small, land-poor country “and had already been assigned more than its quota of European refugees.” Still Roosevelt persevered. “The Arabs would choose to die,” he told the president, “rather than yield their land to the Jews.” Roosevelt offered economic aid, irrigation projects, and improved living standards for the Saudi people who were then poverty stricken by war-time disruptions to their economy (quoted in Rosen, pp. 413–414).

But the king was adamant. Was his confidence shaken? He later told Eleanor Roosevelt that his failure to convince Ibn Saud was his one complete failure. To Rabbi Wise he said, “I most gloriously failed where you are concerned.” To Congress, in his report on the Yalta Conference, he said only, “I learned more about that whole problem, the Moslem problem, the Jewish problem, by talking with Ibn Saud for five minutes than I could have learned in the exchange of two or three dozen letters.” He later reported to Wise:

There was nothing I could do with him. We talked for three hours and I argued with the old fellow up hill and down dale, but he stuck to his guns. He said he could see the flood engulfing his lands, Jews pouring in from Eastern Europe and from America, from the Riviera and from California, and he could not bear the thought. He was an old man and he had swollen ankles and he wanted to live out his life in peace without leaving a memory of himself as a traitor to the Arab cause [quoted in Rosen, p. 415].

Roosevelt himself had less than two months to live. Judge Joseph Proskauer later recalled that FDR was frightened now for the Jews in Palestine. He believed that “either a war or a pogrom would ensue” (quoted in Rosen, p. 416).

 Diamond and gold dagger and scabbard given by King Abdulaziz to FDR. Courtesy FDR Library and Museum.

Diamond and gold dagger and scabbard given by King Abdulaziz to FDR. Courtesy FDR Library and Museum.

Why did he do it? This was one of Roosevelt’s last acts. Surely he knew that his life was slipping away. Too ill to endure a fourth inauguration ceremony on Capitol Hill, a swearing in was held at the White House followed by the second briefest inaugural address in history. Yet two days later he began his 14,000-mile journey to Yalta, where he secured his twin priorities of Soviet entry into the war in the Pacific and Stalin’s commitment to the United Nations. It was only Roosevelt’s vision of a secure and peaceful postwar world that sustained him—not only at Yalta, but also to extend his arduous journey and meet with King Abdulaziz.

Many historians have reported on Roosevelt’s supreme confidence, his steadfast belief that through personal diplomacy—by meeting adversaries face to face—he could solve problems that stymied others. Breitman and Lichtman report on a telling incident, “After attending a presidential session on the Middle East, State Department economic advisor Herbert Feis said, ‘I’ve read of men who thought they might be King of the Jews and other men who thought they might be King of the Arabs, but this is the first time I’ve listened to a man who dreamt of being King of both the Jews and the Arabs’” (quoted in Breitman and Lichtman, p. 299).

Despite his own failure at Great Bitter Lake, Roosevelt’s belief in the power of personal diplomacy was intact. It was, after all, the foundational idea for the United Nations—that is, that seemingly intractable problems can be solved in a world organization that brings people together to overcome their differences. A belief fervently shared by Eleanor Roosevelt, for FDR it was the only hope that the world could avert war.

With his health failing, FDR went to Warm Springs on March 30 to attempt to recover his strength. There he would write his “Jefferson Day” radio address, scheduled for April 13. He died on April 12.

 

With his powers of personal diplomacy failing, Roosevelt bequeathed to all of us the hope that what he knew about “science of human relationships” could be invested in a world organization. The fate of the Jews of Europe, like so much unfinished business of the Second World War, would fall to the United Nations. There has been no end to war, but neither has there been a Third World War.

 

Sources

Bohlen, Charles E. Witness to History: 1929-1969.  New York:  W.W. Norton, 1973.

Breitman, Richard and Allan J. Lichtman.   FDR and the Jews. Cambridge:  Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 2013.

Coppola, John.  “A Pride of Museums in the Desert: Saudi Arabia and the ‘Gift of Friendship’ Exhibition,” Curator 48/1 (January 2005): 90-100.

Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny.  Boston and New York: Little Brown, 1990.

Lippman, Thomas, W. “The Day FDR Met Saudi Arabia’s Ibn Saud,” The Link (April-May 2005):1-13.

Rosen, Robert. N. Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2006.

 

Hillary R[oosevelt] Clinton: Or, Channeling Eleanor and Franklin

When Hillary Clinton was First Lady, critics lampooned her for “talking” to Eleanor Roosevelt, who had been dead for more than thirty years. (Full disclosure: when I was director of the FDR Library, between 1999 and 2010, I regularly did the same thing with both Roosevelts. They give great advice!) The revelation about Hillary and Eleanor caused quite a stir as Hillary Clinton was ridiculed for “talking with ghosts” and other New Age-y things. But Mrs. Clinton was not particularly embarrassed; in fact, she herself wrote in “Talking It Over,” her weekly syndicated newspaper column, “[Eleanor Roosevelt] usually responds by telling me to buck up, or at least to grow skin as thick as a rhinoceros.” “Talking It Over,” which ran from 1995 to 2000, was itself an homage to Eleanor Roosevelt—as Mrs. Clinton explained in her first column:

Some people may wonder whether I am looking to Eleanor Roosevelt for my inspiration. In thinking about this article, I re-read the column that Mrs. Roosevelt wrote nearly every day for the better part of three decades. She called her column “My Day” and covered subjects as varied as her annual picnic for disadvantaged boys, the meaning of religion in our lives and the fuss over a new bob in her hair. Sounds familiar!

My hope is that this column, like hers, will prompt all of us to think more about the human dimension of our lives. In some small way, I hope it will help bridge the gaps in our society so that we can reach beyond stereotypes and caricatures—and respect one another for the unique contributions each of us makes to our country.

irst Lady Hillary Clinton at the dedication of the Eleanor Roosevelt Monument in Riverside Park, New York City, October 5, 1996

irst Lady Hillary Clinton at the dedication of the Eleanor Roosevelt Monument in Riverside Park, New York City, October 5, 1996

My wish too is that it will provide information about problems facing us that people can use to help decide what they think should be done. Mostly, though, this column will give me the chance to talk things over in the hope that some of you will join the conversation.

During my tenure at the Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, we were well aware of the Clintons’ admiration for the Roosevelts. President Clinton visited three times while he was president (a record) and again after he left office. Senator Clinton visited the Library for an awards ceremony and on another occasion to ascertain the needs of both the National Park Service and the National Archives, the government agencies responsible for maintaining the Roosevelt National Historic Sites and the Roosevelt Presidential Library. Through the special historic preservation program “Save America’s Treasures” (which she started as First Lady) she took a special interest in Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-Kill Cottage, a National Park Service site. As senator she was an early supporter of the funding necessary for the much-needed renovation of the Roosevelt Library that was completed in 2013.

And it is clear that Hillary Clinton has not forgotten the Roosevelt legacy in her campaign for the presidency. Her decision to kick off her campaign at the Four Freedoms Park in New York City shone an international spotlight on her commitment to revitalizing the Roosevelt legacy, “To be here in this beautiful park dedicated to Franklin Roosevelt’s enduring vision of America, the nation we want to be.” Located on Roosevelt Island in the shadow of the United Nations, it memorializes FDR’s Four Freedoms speech to a war-torn world to fight for Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Fear, and Freedom from Want “everywhere in the world.”

In declaring her candidacy for president, Hillary Clinton spoke of the Four Freedoms as “testament to our nation’s unmatched aspirations and a reminder of our unfinished work at home and abroad.” She spoke of her husband and Barack Obama as “two Democrats guided by” Roosevelt’s “fundamental American belief that real and lasting prosperity must be built by all and shared by all.”

President Roosevelt called on every American to do his or her part, and every American answered. He said there’s no mystery about what it takes to build a strong and prosperous America: “Equality of opportunity. . . Jobs for those who can work . . . Security for those who need it . . . The ending of special privilege for the few . . . the preservation of civil liberties for all . . .a wider and constantly rising standard of living.” . . . It’s America’s basic bargain. If you do your part, you ought to be able to get ahead. And when everybody does their part, America gets ahead too.

This past July, as she accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton faced a new challenge—the vitriol and fear mongering of her opponent. Again she turned to Roosevelt.“[A] great Democratic President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came up with the perfect rebuke to Trump more than eighty years ago, during a much more perilous time. ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’”

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt believed that hope—paired with a sense of civic responsibility—gave people the courage they needed to counter fear in the midst of the Great Depression and against fascism and totalitarianism a decade later. And as Eleanor Roosevelt described it in her final book Tomorrow is Now, that hope was always linked to a practical appreciation of the worth and obligations of every individual in a democracy.  “We have to work with the people as they are in this country, with all their shortcomings. . . . I remember clearly my husband’s words in his last State of the Union address in 1945:  ‘[I]n a democratic world, as in a democratic nation, power must be linked with responsibility and obliged to defend and justify itself with the framework of the general good’” . Things are not so very different today. Like the Roosevelts, Hillary Clinton must inspire us to act not only in our own best interest but for the general good, which—and this is the genius of democracy—benefits us individually as well.

Dr. Cynthia M. Koch is the Historian in Residence and Director of History Programming at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation. She is also the Past Director of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum at Hyde Park.

Whither Religion?

Leonardo Radomile

What happened to religion?  For those growing up in America during the 50’s, religion was considered a fundamental aspect of daily life. It provided a series of unquestioned values and social norms, expected weekly rituals, if only casually practiced, and an assumed framework for living. But during the lifetime of the typical baby boomer a series of dislocations both social and cultural have made religion less relevant.

According to Gallup, in the 50’s and early 60’s approximately 70% of Americans then felt that religion was “an important part of their lives”. Today, over 70% of millennials, the largest population group and one that may indicate future trends,  state that religion is not very important, not important at all, or just don’t know.

The causes of this change are complex, but at the same time there is another trend worth noting, somewhat more disturbing even for those that feel that religion has no relevance to their lives. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, during the same period, the number of Americans diagnosed with depression has almost doubled. Among one of today’s youngest generations, perhaps another harbinger of the future, 30% of college age students reported that they experienced depression sufficient to disrupt their ability to learn. At the same time that religion became less important, people, especially the young, are  notably unhappier.

paradise_lost_2 These statistics seem counter-intuitive. Despite our current economic difficulties, the period from the 1950’s to today has seen a rapid overall increase in individual income, free time, and quality of material living standards. Americans have never been safer, wealthier, had more leisure time, or greater choices in how they spend their free time. We are encountering what has been called a “Progress Paradox”, a time when “life gets better while people feel worse”.

This is not to say that religiosity, a belief in God and the acceptance of certain theological claims, is necessary for people to be well, or that religion per se is necessary for a happier life. But it may be that some of the things that many religions offer are necessary for people to live fuller lives.

Theology aside, it can be argued that some religious institutions do provide some of those things necessary for emotional and psychological well-being. These can be summarized as a metanarrative framework, identity, community, empowerment, purpose, and transcendence.

A metanarrative, the big story that explains where we come from, where we are going, what our purpose is, and how we should live is one of the greatest buffers against the anxiety that affects so many. Though some may consider such stories fanciful or even delusional they are often embraced not only by “common folk” but intellectuals as well. Consider the Veritas Forum at Harvard, the L’Chaim group at Oxford or such notable religious intellectuals and scientists as C.S. Lewis and Wernher von Braun.

These metanarratives also provide a sense of identity. When shared, community is built in a very particular sense. Too often what is described as community is no more than an aggregation of individuals with common beliefs and values. But some religious institutions offer more than that. They have shared values and beliefs, but also foster a sense of interdependence that changes an aggregation of individuals into a  community of interdependence where people can rely on each other and take responsibility for each other in an almost tribal sense. A Jew walking into a Chabad House on a Friday evening in a new city knows that he will find immediate and meaningful connections, people interested in who he is and what he is doing, looking ways to connect him with others that can help him accomplish whatever he is in that city for. The same is true in many evangelical church groups.

From this shared sense of community comes empowerment, a rich matrix of social capital from which a stranger can both draw and contribute to.

All these elements combine to create purposefulness, a knowing, whether one agrees with it or not, that life has meaning. It is that sense of meaning that science tells us creates feelings of well being that greatly contribute to professional accomplishment, emotional soundness, and effective agency.

But perhaps the most distinct aspect of religion is the element of transcendence. Religion alone offers the ability to experience the ineffable not only individually but also in concert with others, and an ability to put language around it so that it can be remembered and reinforced as a real thing. One may quibble with the terms, but any member of a Pentecostal Church knows what it is to be “slain in the spirit,” or feel the infilling of the “Holy Spirit” while others have no words to describe the feeling when they see their child sleeping in her innocence or the joy of homecoming.

Perhaps science will provide explanations for these phenomena. Some evolutionary biologists posit that we humans ceased the greater part of our socio-biological evolution at the hunter-gatherer stage when we roamed the savannas in bands of 50 to 75 members, totally dependent on each other for survival and having a sense of the numinous in everyday life translated into stories that told us how to live.

Do we need religion? Where will it go? No doubt we need the things that some religions offer. Perhaps the answer is to find a new metanarrative, one that incorporates the things that make humans flourish in a coherent story that is transcendent, sublime, and tells us both how to live our lives and why we are living it.

 

Leonardo Radomile is a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School and Harvard Kennedy School where he was associated with the Center for Public Leadership and taught a seminar on Religion and Economic Development in Emerging Nations. He is currently the Executive Director of The Cambridge Learning Center which is launching a new small business program, “The Existential Entrepreneur: Finding Meaning and Purpose Through Enterprise.

FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy

“There has perhaps never been a time when it was more important for us in the United States to understand the background, history, and present state of the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking peoples to the south of us.”

-Richard Pattee, Assistant Chief in the Division of Cultural Relations at the U.S. Department of State, statement in the preface to Along the Inca Highway, published in 1941

 

goodneighbor

In his first inaugural address, President Roosevelt extended his hand in friendship to our southern neighbors in Mexico and South America when he announced his Good Neighbor Policy. As Breeann Robertson writes in “Textbook Diplomacy, The New World Neighbors series and Inter-American Education during World War II” writes in her dissertation thesis, “in early 1941, the United States was a nation on the brink of war. For strategic planners and political leaders in the United States, Latin American nations appeared particularly vulnerable to Axis invasion by Germany, Italy and Japan. According to Fortune magazine, by August 1941 only a small fraction of the American public—fewer than 7 percent—believed that Hitler had no political designs on either North or South America. More than 72 percent, by contrast, were convinced that “Hitler won’t be satisfied until he has tried to conquer everything including the Americas.”

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor created an immediate need to re-set the U.S. relationship with Latin America. FDR’s first inaugural laid the groundwork:

“In the field of World policy, I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor, the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others, the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a World of neighbors.”

In order to create a friendly relationship between the United States and Central as well as South American countries, Roosevelt’s policy reversed previous interventionist perspectives. Cordell Hull, FDR’s Secretary of State, made the case in Montevideo at a conference of American states in December 1933: “No country has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.” Roosevelt then confirmed the policy in December of the same year: “The definite policy of the United States from now on is one opposed to armed intervention.”

The Good Neighbor Policy terminated US occupation of Nicaragua and Hait in the 1930s, re-calibrated our relationship with Cuba in 1934 by terminating the Platt Amendment, and negotiated compensation for Mexico’s nationalization of foreign-owned oil assets in 1938. These are some of the diplomatic maneuvers – but President Roosevelt and his team also knew that, in addition to basic state-craft, they needed to reach the hearts and minds of ordinary Americans and invite them to re-imagine negative stereotypes of Latin Americans which painted Latinos as lazy, suspicious and uncivilized. So they set about their task using the tried and true tools of imagineering – arts and leisure. In the leisure industry, the United States Maritime Commission contracted with Moore-McCormack Lines to operate a “Good Neighbor” fleet of ten cargo ships and three ocean liners between the United States and South America. The passenger liners SS California, Virginia and Pennsylvania were refurbished and renamed them SS Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina for their new route between New York and Buenos Aires via Rio de Janeiro, Santos and Montevideo.

blair

Roosevelt also created the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (OCIAA) in August 1940 and appointed Nelson Rockefeller to head the organization. The sister division to the OCIAA, the Motion Picture Division, was headed by John Hay Whitney, with the main intent to abolish preexisting stereotypes of Latin Americans that were prevalent throughout American society. Whitney was convinced that “power of Hollywood films could exert in the two pronged campaign to win the hearts and minds of Latin Americans and to convince Americans of the benefits of Pan American friendship.” Whitney encouraged film studios to hire Latin Americans and to produce movies that placed Latin America in a favorable light. Further, he urged filmmakers to refrain from producing movies that perpetuated negative stereotypes. The government underwrote Walt Disney’s research trip to Mexico and South America in 1941, which resulted in the production of three animated features and later, the design and conceptual art for live attractions at Epcot Center created by the American animator and illustrator Mary Blair, who was part of the Disney group that traveled to South America.

The Office of War Administration also used striking visual illustrations to deliver impact to FDR’s policy goal. The most notable is Leon Helguera’s poster illustration entitled “Americans All.” Born in Mexico, Mr. Helguera worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for several Mexican publications before coming to the United States. In 1943, his design tor a stamp honoring the United Nations was chosen by the United States Post Office Department in a contest among leading American artists. He also designed stamps for the United States and the United Nations.

Please join us as we celebrate and study the legacy of the Good Neighbor Policy, with programming throughout 2017 beginning with our inaugural gala event. For information, please contact marcela.davison.aviles [at] fdrfoundation.org. And please support the program by donating here.