His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt

– – Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Readers are right to flinch whenever a book under review is called, “magisterial.”

Yet there is a certain majesty in the way author Joseph Lelyveld combines his long-honed reporting experience with a historian’s eye firmly fixed on this important story. In this case it is an exploration of the labyrinthine mind of Franklin D. Roosevelt as he enters the decline leading to his death on April 12, 1945 at his hideaway in Warm Springs, Ga.

Mr. Lelyveld’s story is important on several counts. With an impressive array of new archival evidence he challenges the long-lived slander that FDR gave away Eastern Europe to the tyrant Josef Stalin either because (as many old Cold Warriors swear) Roosevelt was a Communist dupe or, more plausibly, because he was unaware of his deteriorating health and could not focus on the critical Big Three negotiations that he, Winston Churchill and Stalin waged at Tehran in December 1943 and again in Yalta in February 1945.

Read more at the Washington Times

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.

Living in a Post-Fact World: Lessons from Swedish Counter Propaganda 10/3

sovietdisinformation_1200This is a rare chance to meet the men and women at Counter Influence Branch of the Swedish Civil Contingency Agency (MSB), a kingdom-wide combination of America’s DHS and FEMA. Learn about current trends in international media manipulation, defensive media monitoring and analysis, and the Swedish approach to counter propaganda.

12:00-1:30pm, OCTOBER 3, 2016

Limited to 30 – SIGN UP HERE

Location: Adams House Upper Common Room

This is a brown-bag lunch event. Adams House students: feel free to bring a tray up from the dining hall.


In Defense of Democracy: Preserving the Post Enlightenment Narrative in the 21st Century



[Please note that this page is a placeholder, currently under revision. Suggestions welcome!]

History demonstrates that democracy is a fragile creation. This is especially true in the 21st century, as liberal democracy and Post-Enlightenment values come under threat both directly — from competing ideologies like ultra-nationalism, jingoistic populism, ”Putinism,” Chinese communism, and violent extremism— as well as indirectly, from the massive challenges posed by climate change, globalization, automation, and resource scarcity. In the spirit of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the American president who successfully defended liberal democracy from fascism, communism, and economic depression, the FDR Foundation proposes an aggressive program of education and applied research to safeguard democratic ideals for the 21st century.


The FDR Foundation will begin by illuminating the problem through survey-driven research around the Atlantic region and multi-sector programming at Harvard. We will then partner with some of Harvard’s professional schools (Business, Divinity, Education, Government, Law, Public Health) to develop cross-disciplinary interventions aimed at specific regions and age cohorts.


The Foundation endorses efforts to defend liberal democracy by these Harvard faculty members:

Matthew Baum, Veronica Boix-Mansilla, Quinton Mayne, and Pippa Norris

And these professors from around the U.S. and the world:

Adam Berinsky, Matthew Gentzkow, Kelly Greenhill, Alexander Görlach, Randy Kluver, David Lazer, Brendan Nyhan, Emily Thorson, and Monica Toft


In Defense of Democracy is the FDR Foundation’s only open-ended program. As of Fall, 2017 we are actively seeking advocates, partners, and co-sponsors.

For more information, please contact:

Jed Willard (Jed.Willard@FDRfoundation.org | Willard@FAS.Harvard.edu | @WillardJed)




The World Unbound – FDR, Frida Kahlo & the Cultural Legacy of the Good Neighbor Policy 10/4

frida-kahlo_self-portrait-with-hummingbird-fullAs part of our continuing Fireside Chat series, FDR Foundation Arts and Humanities Director Marcela Davison Avilés explores the impact of FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy on America’s visual, film, and performing arts and the legacy of the New Deal on American pop culture. Learn about the friendships, influences and intrigue among the major players in FDR’s cabinet and Mexican artists, and the influence of Eleanor Roosevelt on the social justice arts of the day. Are these art lessons of the past worth repeating? Join the conversation and share your views.

October 4th, 7PM in the FDR Suite. Limited to 12  Sign up info HERE

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



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.


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.