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Photo by: REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout via Reu
Roosevelt and Obama
By ALEXANDER ZVIELLI
02/12/2013
There is wide similarity in these two leaders' presidential technique.
 
It might be interesting to recall that in December 1941, after Japan declared war on the US, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was still reluctant to declare the war on Germany. It was only after the angry Hitler, prompted by his foreign minister Ribbentrop, had declared war on US that Roosevelt was left with no choice but to reciprocate.

This characteristic hesitation to take decisive steps was an integral part of Roosevelt’s slow and deliberate foreign policy until Pearl Harbor, and it had caused a few major headaches for Winston Churchill.

Roosevelt was well aware of the danger Hitler posed to the entire free world, and it was to stop his progress that he wanted to help England as much as possible. But he was slow taking steps in this direction, being also well aware of the views, fears and arguments of his bitter opponents.

He feared to repeat the mistake made by Woodrow Wilson in 1917, and would never take any risky steps that could affect his standing and reputation.

When he was elected in 1933, he could do no wrong. America supported most of his programs.

However toward the late Thirties he was drawing fire from all those who criticized heavy government spending, and was even accused of destroying “the American way of life,” just as Barack Obama is accused today of destroying American medicine.

He also remembered his election appeal, made before his second election: “We shun political commitments which might entangle us in foreign wars.We seek to isolate ourselves completely from war.”

Roosevelt, who continued his New Deal and numerous economic and industrial projects, knew that this, and hardly anything else, was what American people wanted.

Consequently Congress passed the “Neutrality Act.” Roosevelt signed this act, but immediately afterwards spoke against it, since it crippled his plans.

In one of his public addresses he reminded his listeners that England was not fighting alone, but had a firm support of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the entire British Empire.

However, at Britain’s most crucial hour, in November, 1941, when Churchill appealed for immediate aid, Roosevelt found himself torn again between the arguments of the traditional American isolationists, still sharing the bitter memories of World War I, and a growing movement of interventionists full of admiration for the courageous British defense under heavy bombardment and desiring to extended assistance to the beleaguered island.

Ernest Hemingway wrote in 1935, two years after Hitler came to power: “Of the hell broth that is brewing in Europe we have no need to drink. We were fools to be sucked once in a European war.”

Stickers on millions of American cars declared: “Keep US out of war!” Letters, postcards, declarations written by hundreds of thousands of Americans wrote to their senators and congressmen against any participation in the European war.

Most Americans believed that although a few companies benefited from WW1 financially, the nation suffered a total loss. Over fifty thousand young men had lost their lives, and many suffered lasting injuries. The loans given to the Allies were never repaid.

“We must be ready to defend America,” the non-interventionists said, “but never be fools again.” The war in Europe, they believed, was an integral part of European history, their continued continental quarrels which were hardly worthy of any American specific interest.

The non-interventionists enjoyed massive support from various committees, like that of General Wood, the founder of “America’s First Committee,” as well as from the much-cherished American hero, Col. Charles Lindbergh.

Robert McCormick, the publisher of The Chicago Tribune, enlisted a large section of American press in non-intervenionist campaign.

They were supported by a large net of massive native movements, like that of the fascist “Silver Shirts,” the Silver Legion of America, whose founder, William Dudley Pelley, threatened to march on Washington to take over the country and get rid of all those Jews that opted for the war. Multiple native groups like Vindicators and other associations and isolationist groups were led by the top anti-Semite Charles Coughlin, an ally of Henry Ford who was congratulated for his anti-Semitism by Hitler in his book Mein Kampf.

They thought that the Third Reich did not pose a threat to America and might be allowed to keep Central and East Europe and even seek Hitler’s Lebensraum, if one day he succeeded to defeat the Soviet Union to the ultimate benefit of all mankind.

THERE WAS constant, vicious and well-paid German and Nazi propaganda against any American intervention in European affairs. The British premier, Neville Chamberlain, must have been aware of this situation when he remarked in 1938: “To count on nothing from America except words.” On April 3 1940, the US House of Appropriations Committee slashed, not increased, Roosevelt’s proposal to increase military spending by 10 percent. It was only after the German blitz in France succeeded and Paris fell that on May 16, Roosevelt got $1.58 billion in the new military appropriations.

At the time when he celebrated his third election victory in November, 1941, England suffered under a terrible blitz, more than 30,000 Britons had been killed in German raids, half of them in London.

Millions of houses and most important landmarks were destroyed. The only really aid which Roosevelt had offered Britain so far, and this after prolonged and painful negotiations, were several dozen bombers and 50 old destroyers. This was offered after Britain surrendered to the US her bases in the Carribean and Western Atlantic.

The deal was most favorable for American security and presented to the public and Congress as such.

Churchill was convinced that once Roosevelt was re-elected for the third time, he would be able to negotiate his promises of more serious aid and eventually even enter the war. Britain not only needed armaments, but was already in great financial difficulties. The British Treasury borrowed gold from the Belgian government in exile, now in London, to make the necessary purchases abroad. Huge credit was needed, as soon as possible.

But Roosevelt did not even answer Churchill’s warm election congratulations. Almost a month passed in complete silence. He wrote another letter, one of the most difficult in his life; he didn’t warn or beg, just frankly described Britain’s very difficult situation. But Roosevelt was still making up his mind.

The “Life” noted that “Americans had been waiting for a full month since the election day, to be given marching orders, to be clearly told what the sacrifices are which all of them must make.”

Roosevelt was not to be hurried. He took his time and was carefully considering the entire situation.

The general atmosphere in the US was changing rapidly to the British advantage. British propaganda and the stories of her heroism published in American press by its own correspondents deeply moved the public. The former anti-British mood, distant memories of the American independence struggle, were disappearing fast.

Liberals, intellectuals, most prominent journalists understood the danger of Nazism and fascism spreading across the entire civilized world. Hollywood (including many Jewish producers) played a major role in producing films revealing Nazi crimes.

Stories of Nazi cruelty in occupied countries and the concentration camps helped Americans understand the threat posed by an ultimate German victory.

CHURCHILL’S LETTER to Roosevelt, delivered on December 7, 1941, was very frank. In it Churchill said that if Britain was to survive and keep fighting, it would need massive amounts of American aid, and as soon as possible. The president was upset by this blunt statement and resented the fact that an attempt was being made to force his hand. He knew that American industry was still hardly geared for a major war effort – in November 1941, alone 400,000 new cars found customers and many industrialists spurned offers to produce more arms. The army was weak and unprepared.

It took him some time to decide on the Land- Lease plan and additional anti-German steps: the occupation of Iceland and the American protection of the Atlantic convoys.

But he finally addressed the public, telling them that: “Never before Jamestown and Plymouth Rock had our American civilization been in such a real danger as now, if Axis win all control of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the high seas.” But it was finally Germany which declared war on US.

Many historians believe that had Hitler not, in a bout of anger, declared war on the US, Roosevelt would have been fighting Japan and Churchill would have been waiting in vain for an additional aid.

ROOSEVELT AND Obama are two very different persons of different backgrounds and attitudes. And yet there is wide similarity in their presidential technique and their understanding of American needs and desires. Both can be described as very personal, taking great care of their ego and carefully avoiding any division and trouble. Both face a country divided again by those who claim that there is no need to get too deeply involved in various foreign affairs and those who fear that non-intervention will ultimately harm American security and interests abroad.

Both Obama and Roosevelt faced a country tired of past wars which brought no benefit, and a lot of pain. Obama is busy with his Obamacare project, which has raised huge public controversy and doesn’t seem to be faring well, just like Roosevelt was busy with his New Deal and industrial expansion.

Such similarities seem to indicate that Obama would be just as slow in taking practical steps against any outside, or remote danger as Roosevelt was in his day, even if he is well aware that there is an ominous similarity between Hitler’s plans of world conquest of yesteryear and the Islamic plans of conquest today.

He understands that Americans are tired of senseless foreign operations which failed, at great cost of casualties and economic loss. He continues carefully to consider his options, not unlike Roosevelt, and will carefully explore and exploit any arrangements that may postpone radical action.

He will always opt for diplomatic agreements in an attempt to preserve peace. He may be forced to act just like Roosevelt did after Pearl Harbor, but only if he has no other choice.

This places Israel in a most difficult position, since it is directly threatened by Iran, which supports both Hezbollah and Hamas, proxy organizations whose purpose is our destruction. The fact that Israel is the sole real friend of America in this part of the world is important, but irrelevant when major issues of war and peace are at stake.

Israel has faced similar dangers before, and has no choice but to stand firm, just as Britain did while Roosevelt hesitated in November, 1941. One should not hope for President Obama to be hasty in acting against Iran, at least as long as he finds other means of obtaining what he considers a more or less satisfying agreement.
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