Roosevelt Against Hitler





THERE was a period of approximately twenty-four hours in the year 1933 more fateful for the destiny of mankind than any other one day in the century.

A little after noon on March 4, 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated as President of the United States. Before midnight on March 5, 1933, the German Reichstag had passed the Enabling Act, putting absolute power into the hands of Chancellor Adolf Hitler.

Eight years later these two men faced each other as the champions of two ways of life so antagonistic that the world is not wide enough for them to exist together in peace. In 1933 not many people were able to perceive any relation whatever between them; but in 1941 not many doubt that one of these men is destined to destroy the other, and it is not beyond the bounds of credibility that they may destroy each other. Hitler has said that the outcome of the duel between the systems they represent will fix the destiny of mankind for a thousand years, and it is by no means certain that his assertion is extravagant.

If Mr. Roosevelt is described as the chief protagonist of the way of life preferred by the democracies it is not by his own choice, nor by reason of his personal superiority to other democratic leaders. The man who saved Britain in her desperate hour, for example, has attributes of mind and character that make it preposterous to rate him as inferior to any man alive; Mr. Roosevelt’s resources, not Mr. Roosevelt himself, give him the central position in the present situation. Mr. Churchill does not have available 25 million men of military age, nor a national income of 70 billion dollars, nor the incomparable industrial plant of the United States, nor 359 million acres under the plough. The last reserves of the free peoples are the forces commanded by the President of the United States.

But there is another reason why the President, rather than the Prime Minister, is the central figure on his side. The President shares the quality that has made Hitler strong; he is associated in the minds of the masses with the dynamic, rather than with the static, theory of government. Churchill is a conservative. That doesn’t mean that he is a less ardent believer in human freedom than Roosevelt; but it does mean that his first care has always been to preserve what is best out of the past. But it was revolt against the abuses of the past that heaved both Roosevelt and Hitler into power — and has demolished a dozen other governments. The people who revolted do not associate a victory of Roosevelt with a return to the old conditions. As a matter of fact, neither would a victory of Churchill involve such a return, because the old conditions are demolished, and there is no possibility of returning to them. But Roosevelt has no desire to return to them, and all the world knows it; hence a movement led by him cannot possibly be branded as counter-revolutionary.

Copyright 1941, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass. All rights reserved.

If there is anything certain in human affairs, it is certain that he did not envisage the present situation on March 4, 1933. He had plans, indeed, that were wide-spreading and far-reaching; but peace is the first prerequisite to the development and perfection of that sort of plan. ‘Adapting existing economic organizations to the service of the people’ is work that cannot be performed with artillery, tanks, and bombing planes. This is not to say that he wasn’t aware of the possibility of war, even eight years ago. He is not feeble-minded, and every man above the intellectual level of a half-wit has been aware of the possibility of war ever since firing ceased in 1918. But the President, like the majority of the American people, rejected war as an instrument of national policy. It was present in his mind, as it was in the minds of most of us, as a calamity to be avoided as long as possible, not as an opportunity to be carefully studied and considered.

It is doubtless true enough that Hitler never intended to face Roosevelt under the circumstances that now exist. Difficult as it is for us to believe, Hitler evidently thought that he could defeat Britain by psychological weapons and then face Roosevelt, or whoever happened to be President of the United States, with all, or nearly all, the power of Europe solidly organized behind him. For the destruction of free government in this country is a necessary part of any plan of world domination, and Hitler must have envisaged it from the beginning.

Yet in the month of March, 1933, the positions of the two men were strangely similar. Both had risen to power on the crest of a wave of protest set in motion by the same sort of grievances. Both took over countries economically in a state of collapse and visibly disintegrating socially. Both faced the problem of putting millions of idle men back to work immediately, and the even more urgent problem of putting some spirit into an apathetic and despairing people.

There were other similarities. In Germany, as in America, the people were not so much aflame with enthusiasm for the new leader as inflamed with wrath against the old ones. In Germany, as in America, the gravamen of the old leaders’ offense was not so much what they had done as what they had failed to do. In Germany, as in America, the indictment of the old leaders included a multitude of counts, but there as here they may all be summed up as failure to obey the injunction of the Constitution of the United States ‘to provide for the general welfare.’ Finally, in Germany as in America, the new leader, largely because he was new, was given carte blanche to do what he thought best.

Even if you are one of those who regard the New Deal as Americanism at its worst, it is still Americanism. However distorted you may think its ideas, they are still ideas whose origin is to be found in the Constitution and the Federalist, not in Wagnerian opera. Its traditional hero is Mr. Jefferson, not Wotan; and Mr. Jefferson, with all his faults, was recognizably a statesman, and not a baritone singer seven feet high with cowhorns on his hat. We may have come off badly, but at least we came off with something that looks more like a government than like a lunatic stage manager’s setting of the Ride of the Valkyries.

The protest that brought both Hitler and Roosevelt to power has been described by Mrs. Anne Morrow Lindbergh as ‘the Wave of the Future.’ No doubt it is, but it is also the same old wave that has surged up in the past under the same stimulus. Since the beginning of recorded history, the king has never been conceded a right to demand allegiance of his subjects except as he could, and would, protect them from dangers against which they could not protect themselves. In this respect human nature has not changed; what has changed is the enemy. In modern times, and especially since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the ordinary man has had less reason to fear human robbers with tangible weapons than the impersonal, intangible operations of the economic system. Yet death by starvation is still death by starvation, whether the proximate cause is the irruption of a band of men-at-arms who have ravaged a peasant’s farm and taken away all his food or an economic collapse that has deprived a workman of any chance to earn a living. A government not clever enough to prevent starvation through economic wreckage cannot command the faith and loyalty of its citizens today.

The government owes no man a living, but it does owe every man protection of his life. It incurs this obligation when it exacts of him loyalty and support ; and the obligation has never been denied. As far back as human records go it has been acknowledged that, when the ruler can no longer protect the subject, the subject is released from his obligation to support the ruler. In 1933, in Germany and in the United States, millions of men were threatened with death by starvation because the government did not know how, or did not dare, to protect them from the economic forces that were destroying them; so, in both countries, the people revolted against the government. But this was certainly nothing new, nothing without precedent; on the contrary, it has been the common fate of every government guilty of a similar failure.

But it was none the less a sinister thing. It was the old nightmare that has haunted the dreams of every ruler, and of every ruling class since organized government was established. For time and time again it has been demonstrated horribly that when the Jacquerie once gets out of hand there is no limit to its ferocity, nor to its stupidity. It was this that Alexander Hamilton had in mind when he declared, ‘Your people, sir, is a great beast! ‘ Leaderless, or led by scoundrels, a people is a great beast, capable of rending its friends as readily as its enemies, incapable of distinguishing virtue from vice, patriotism from treason, philanthropy from rapacity. Time and time again it has been demonstrated that a popular movement that starts from the depths cannot be stemmed, cannot be dammed, cannot be arrested. It can be guided, but only by the highest political skill; and rarely, indeed, is it so guided. New? Why, it is the oldest terror that organized government knows.


Perhaps it is the supreme triumph of the American genius for self-government that in this crisis the American people turned to a man of their own blood, steeped in their traditions, and a sincere believer in their way of life. The Germans, on the other hand, turned to a foreigner, little acquainted with the true greatness of Germany, and contemptuous of what he did know. The Germans were perhaps the more logical; since the old system had failed them, why not turn to a man as far removed from it as possible? The old system had failed the Americans, too, but they listened to a man who insisted that the system was basically sound and could be made to work satisfactorily by the use of different methods.

Once in power, though, the two leaders began to diverge at once. Perhaps the essential difference in their philosophies is that Roosevelt believed that the wreckage with which he was surrounded was due, for the most part, to stupidity, whereas Hitler believed that the wreckage of Germany was due to crime. Roosevelt realized that the wealth of America had been dissipated and lost. Hitler believed that the wealth of Germany had been stolen. Roosevelt’s aim, therefore, was recovery; Hitler’s aim was recapture. One leader said to his ruined countrymen, ‘Let us make.’ The other said to his, ‘Let us take.’

They agreed, however, on one point, which was that the sacredness of private property is not absolute but is conditioned on the safety of the nation. Neither hesitated, therefore, to spend enormous sums to establish national safety. By 1939 Roosevelt had spent about 40 billion dollars over and above the ordinary operating expenses of the government, and Hitler had spent a sum which, owing to his incomprehensible methods of accounting, cannot be determined with precision, but which is generally supposed to range between 90 and 100 billions.

But Roosevelt spent the bulk of his money on such matters as roads, bridges, dams, powerhouses, irrigation projects, schoolhouses, land reclamation, and reforestation. Hitler spent the bulk of his on arms. This was the natural result of the difference in the two men’s aims. Roosevelt proposed to restore the prosperity of the American people by creating new wealth. Hitler proposed to restore the prosperity of the Germans by taking other people’s wealth away from them. In view of Hitler’s plans, perhaps Roosevelt would have done better to spend his money on arms, too, but who would have believed it in 1933?

In the end, of course, Hitler forced his scheme on all the world. Under modern conditions no one nation can afford to devote even the major part of its energies to planning for peace while another large nation is furiously preparing for war. People are always referring to this as one of the inherent weaknesses of democracy, but it is hard to see where there is anything in it peculiar to democracy. It is rather the weakness of every nation, democratic or not, that cherishes the concept of the citizen-state as opposed to the concept of the bandit-state. There is no apparent reason why a benevolent and intelligent despot should not regard his domain as a member of a larger community, a citizen of the world-state. Up to 1939 the Russians, for instance, vociferously proclaimed that this was precisely their concept of the position of their totalitarian régime; and until their attacks on Poland and Finland revealed the insincerity of the claim there was so much evidence to support it that many Americans at least half believed it.

There is a school of thought which holds that in this Hitler was the realist, and Roosevelt the idle dreamer, whose drowsy amiability is the real source of his nation’s peril. This is the school of the moral defeatists, which has surrendered in advance the principle that is the very cornerstone of American political philosophy. For if men not only lack at present but are forever incapable of developing the capacity to manage their own destiny intelligently, then the Constitution of the United States is nonsense and the republic itself a futility and a fatuity. Logically, this doctrine is not impossible. Perhaps we are essentially bestial. Perhaps there is in us no capacity for self-government, not even latent. But this is not the doctrine of the republic, hence a man who holds it is not eligible to be President of the republic. A man who holds that office must take it as axiomatic that intelligent self-government is possible, that liberty is an attainable ideal, that a continuing elevation of the cultural level of the masses is practicable, that the people are capable of drawing steadily closer to justice. He must frame his policy on this basis, and not on the basis of barbarism, unless the threat that is offered by barbarism is so close and so plain that none can doubt the necessity of turning to meet it. Roosevelt undoubtedly foresaw the possibility of war in 1933; but he would have been no American had he thrown all the energies of the country into preparations for a war still so far away that few of the people perceived it at all.

In any event, the moment Hitler marched into Poland it made little difference what Roosevelt regarded as the wise course through which to repair the damage of the economic and social collapse. At that moment the threat of barbarism did become plain. From that moment the thought and energy, as well as the money, of the country had to be applied in ever-increasing proportion to the problem of national defense. The New Deal is a peacetime program. The moment the threat of war overshadowed the land it had to be held in abeyance. Mr. Roosevelt tacitly admitted that fact when he appointed to head the War and Navy Departments, and the enormously important Office of Production Management, men who were not New Dealers and not even Democrats.

It is undeniably true, therefore, that of the two great antagonists who came to power in 1933 Hitler was the winner, up to the summer of 1941, not on the field of battle only, but in the field of governmental theory as well. He had forced Roosevelt to abandon his own course and follow that of Hitlerian Germany — that is, the diversion of the national energies from the problems of peace to the single task of creating as rapidly as possible the most formidable military power possible.

There are some Americans pessimistic enough to believe that this represents the loss, not of a battle only, but of a campaign. Strongly anti-New Deal, they hold that the six years and the 40 billions devoted to that program represent losses that have weakened us dangerously as we face the menace from abroad. This feeling is natural, doubtless inevitable, in a man who dislikes and distrusts everything Roosevelt has done from the start; yet even in such a man it is hardly justified by the facts.

Grant, for the sake of argument, everything this man asserts. Grant more than has ever been asserted by reasonable anti-New Dealers. Grant that the New Deal was downright criminal, which none except those driven maudlin by hatred of Roosevelt have ever asserted. Nevertheless, the fact remains that 27 million American voters, a clear majority of the whole, more than 55 out of every 100, believe the contrary so strongly that they trampled down the thitherto sacred third-term tradition in order to reëlect the chief New Dealer. If, as few observers doubt, the prejudice against giving any man a third term cost Mr. Roosevelt several million votes, then even the tremendous figure of 27 million does not represent all the American voters who believe that the New Deal was a move in the right direction.

It is important to eliminate Hitler’s armed forces as menaces to our peace and safety; it is vastly more important to eliminate Hitler’s ideas if we are to enjoy peace for any considerable length of time. But an idea is impervious to bayonets and bullets. It can be killed only by another idea. Now Roosevelt has given a majority of the American people the idea that democracy can be made to work to the satisfaction of the average man, and this idea, whether true or false, is a powerful prophylaxis against infection with the idea that the only hope for common people is embodied in the ‘leadership principle,’ the ‘master race,’ the ‘protection of the blood,’ and all the other fantasies of which Germany has been so fearfully productive in recent years.

The 27 million may be deluded, of course, but the New Deal has given them faith that the American system is, or can be made, the best system of government as yet devised. Being full of faith, they are full of fight. In that sense, the country was being well armed during those six years when more money was going into bridges and schoolhouses than into tanks and battleships. The antiRoosevelt man, assuming that he is himself profoundly American, can take satisfaction in this. Without those six years, most of the people might not have been so jubilantly confident that theirs is a government worth shedding their blood to preserve. In consideration of this, much can be forgiven by a patriot, even though he is an anti-New Dealer,


As a matter of fact, now that the lines are drawn, not as between Democrat and Republican, but as bctwnen American and foreigner, most of us are disposed to welcome those phases of government which we can point out with pride to a foreigner, more than those which we can criticize privately at home. But the years of terrific domestic battling have obscured from its opponents even the incontestable merits of a group whom they oppose. Let it never be forgotten that for eight years it has been politically, and sometimes financially, profitable to paint the New Deal as black as possible; and when blackening is profitable no one need doubt that a good job will be made of it.

Surely it is not mere Democratic propaganda to point out, at this time, those features of the Roosevelt administration which even its opponents admit are not bad, and which shine brilliantly when contrasted with the régime which it now opposes. There have been many things in Washington during the last eight years in which any American can take pride, no matter what ticket he votes, and which he can justifiably emphasize when it is a matter of his country against any other. Certainly now is the time to remember them, without regard to our domestic differences.

The first and greatest of them all is, in fact, to be credited only in part to the New Deal. This is the sharp rise in the level of political debate during the last eight years. The New Deal, simply because it has challenged many long-established concepts, has forced a reconsideration of the fundamentals of our political system, which has been reflected in all public debates but especially in those on the floor of the United States Senate. It is doubtful if the intellectual level of the present Senate is conspicuously higher than that of the Senates of the twenty years prior to the New Deal; but its debates have been markedly above that level. The reason is that a Senator of mediocre intellectual attainments, when he is talking about something important, talks better than a brilliant man who is talking without anything to say. For the last eight years the Senate has had before it a succession of great constitutional questions which could not be discussed at all without some cerebration, and which could not be discussed adequately without long and severe mental effort. As a result, the Senate has talked well.

Perhaps it is not to be listed among the great periods of the Senate. Few would compare it, for sheer brilliance, with the days when ‘Old Bullion’ Benton stood in the Senate like a bull in the ring, tormented but deadly dangerous, while the incomparable picadors Webster, Clay, and Calhoun circled around and around, prodding him. But it certainly was far above the period when the Republican leader, Senator Smoot, could fill hours of the Senate’s time and columns in the newspapers with his horror at discovering a dirty book; and when Heflin, the Democrat, could gain country-wide attention and waste other hours by hurling billingsgate at the Pope. Of late the Senate at least has had too much to do to spend its time considering either Lady Chatterley’s Lover or the religious prejudices of Alabama. This may be an indication of more distress in the country, but it is certainly an indication of more thought in the Senate.

What is true of the Senate debates is applicable, in a measure, to political debating in general for the period. Neither Mr. Landon nor Mr. Willkie, Mr. Roosevelt’s opponents in the Presidential races of 1936 and 1940, is a pettifogging type, but, if either had been, that sort of thing would not have served, for nobody thinks of Mr. Roosevelt as a petty misdemeanant. He may be pulling down the very pillars of the temple, but he certainly is not running away with the altar cloth.

It would be silly to imply that the advent of this President has converted Washington into a serious rival of the Old Academy, but it is sober truth that it has driven Americans to a more careful consideration of the first principles of government than any other administration of recent years has inspired. Among other things, it has had the effect of restoring some validity to party divisions. To be sure, the old party names of Republican and Democrat are still untrustworthy guides to a man’s political philosophy, as they have been for thirty years and more; but the terms ‘New Dealer’ and ‘anti-New Dealer’ have meaning. Republicans and Democrats are frequently indistinguishable; but there is a difference between New Dealers and anti-New Dealers.

Another characteristic of the New Deal about which there is no dispute is its notable freedom from the grosser forms of misconduct in office. The spending that has gone on in Washington has been unapproached in time of peace; but the stealing there apparently has been confined to the petty cash and to officials of the rank of clerks and office boys. There have been peculations of considerable size. Several cases have been prosecuted, and it is highly probable that more have been successfully covered; but the stealing was not done in Washington. All the important cases that have come to light were discovered where construction work was going on or funds were being distributed for other reasons out in the country, not under the eye of the administration chiefs.

Nor has the partisanry that unquestionably has stained the record been most blatant and unashamed in Washington. Prodigious efforts were made to connect James A. Farley while he was Postmaster-General — traditionally the Cabinet post of the Politician-in-Chief of the administration — with the improper use of relief and recovery funds for partisan purposes, but none was successful. Of course this did not acquit him. There are people with whom it is an article of faith that Jim Farley bought the election of 1936 with relief funds; and they are quite unshaken in that belief by the complete lack of evidence. If an archangel were Postmaster-General there are people who would believe that he had played dirty politics and was too smart to get caught at it.

It is strange that men are unable to perceive the self-stultification that this belief involves. Anyone who believes that Mr. Farley, or anyone else, could buy the American electorate necessarily believes that the republic is rotten to the core. If the people in the mass are purchasable, then democracy is a fraud on its face, and ought to be abolished forthwith. A man who believes the election was bought has no sound reason for opposing Hitler, or any other conqueror who will reduce a venal nation to the satrapy that is all it deserves to be. A man who believes the election was bought is an apostate American who has repudiated the faith on which the republic was founded. Of course there are men of intelligence and personal integrity who do believe that the republic is thoroughly rotten, and that democracy is a sham and a fraud; but every such man of my acquaintance is also opposed to universal suffrage and to the continuance of the American political system in general. Most of them see no point in opposing Hitler. It is possible to retain respect for such a man, as it is possible to recognize the ability in war and statecraft and the many admirable personal traits of the Emperor Julian, who also was an apostate. But when a man in the same breath proclaims his faith in democracy and his belief that the election was bought, it is impossible to retain respect for his intelligence, whatever one thinks of his sincerity.

The truth is, of course, that Jim Farley all but dislocated his spine leaning backward in his effort to avoid the use of relief funds for party purposes. There is never a doubt that the smaller fry in some of the states were less scrupulous. Some open scandals resulted, and there were evil smells from states where nothing was ever brought to light. But no Cabinet officer was involved.

The noteworthy lack of stenches in the air of Washington ought to be peculiarly gratifying to Americans at this time when they remember the appalling fetors that every breeze from Berlin has brought to their nostrils for eight long years. When the official press was through describing, after the blood purge of 1934, the official and private characters of the men who had stood next to Hitler in the Nazi hierarchy, the average American was pretty well convinced that any plain embezzler or bribe taker would be disgraced by being found in such company. But is there really anything extraordinary in this situation? Is it not, indeed, an old and familiar pattern? When, in all human history, has a revolutionary movement concentrated all power in an individual without being attended by an upheaval in the moral as well as in the political realm? There is a tradition that Nikolai Lenin ruled in an atmosphere of puritanical austerity, and so, apparently, did Oliver Cromwell; but both men are regarded as remarkable on that account. Ordinarily the dictator, for the very reason that he has overthrown the regularly constituted government, is forced to make use of some worse than dubious instruments; and these questionable fellows usually disgrace his régime.

We are not hearing from Washington well-authenticated tales of misappropriation, bribe taking, and embezzlement; of misuse of the sword of justice to gratify private spite; of perjury in the highest places, and cynical betrayal of trust; of great officers of state employing the methods commonly attributed to Al Capone during the prohibition era. Still less are we hearing whispers of disgusting personal habits among the leaders of the government; of strange orgies in official residences; of drug addicts in high office; of men convicted of infamous crimes put in positions of command; of perversion and degeneracy among those who bear the honors of the nation. Mr. Roosevelt himself has been accused of many things, but no one as yet has suggested that there is anything epicene about him, nor has he been seen gnawing the carpet in a fit of hysteria.

It is fatuous to account for this with the smug assertion that such things simply couldn’t happen in America. They could happen, and they would happen, fast enough, if there were in Washington a government possessed of supreme power and holding itself accountable to no one. Indeed, they could happen in Washington faster than anywhere else, for the simple but sufficient reason that there is more wealth in Washington than anywhere else; and when the swine are in control their swinishness is in direct proportion to the amount of wealth they find at hand. The relative inoffensiveness of the air in Washington is the most conclusive evidence of all that no dictatorship, but an accountable government, aware that it may be brought to book, holds sway there.


Finally, there is one accomplishment of Mr. Roosevelt which his opponents ordinarily dislike even to consider but in which, at this juncture, they may find a certain comfort. This is his remarkable success in nationalizing our domestic politics.

Franklin D. Roosevelt is the first Democratic President since the Civil War who did not need the support of the Solid South in order to win. He has been supported by the South, to be sure, but that support was not essential. In any, or all, of his three campaigns he might have given his opponent the entire electoral vote of the eleven states that formed the Confederacy, plus the vote of the border states of Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri, and yet have been elected easily. This is a consideration that naturally annoys Republicans under ordinary circumstances, but under the circumstances that exist at present it has a certain nonpartisan value. It proves that our representative in the crisis is a national figure, and not a sectional hero who obtained national office by a political fluke. There is no possibility of a split in our ranks because one section of the country suspects the President of being Jeff Davis in disguise. This gains importance as it applies to a situation in which unity is the first essential.

There is something more than a jest in the apothegm that he who would know the sturdiest manhood in all America should study a Vermont Democrat or a Georgia Republican. The strength of character that can sustain defeat after defeat with no yielding of conviction, that can fight campaign after campaign with no hope of success, and that can bow to the will of the majority without a thought of bowing to its wisdom, is part and parcel of the bedrock on which our political institutions are based. To suggest to a man who has believed all these years that Mr. Roosevelt is wrong that he should now change his opinion, simply because for the third time most of the people have declared that they believe Mr. Roosevelt is right, is more than an insult to the man; it is an insult to the very spirit of Americanism. A man who based his vote for Willkie on conclusions reached after carefully weighing all the facts, and nothing but the facts, would be a poor American if he changed his opinion simply to conform to the election returns.

But Americans, without regard to party, feel an obligation to support the President — any President — whenever the nation is threatened from without. Not all the inhabitants of this country accept that obligation; but not all the inhabitants of this country are Americans. Not even all the natives are Americans except in a strictly technical sense.

There are some men so blinded by partisan passion that they would rather see the nation remain in peril than see it delivered by a member of the other political party. But they are partisans, not Americans.

There are some so steeped in class and caste prejudice that they would prefer to see Hitler lord of America than see American workmen gain another inch. But they are Tories, not Americans.

There are some so eaten by avarice that they fear a dictator less than they fear the doctrine that property is not as sacred as the duty of the government to see that famine shall not slaughter the poor. But they are not even civilized men, much less Americans.

No one would waste words on these, any more than one would waste words on those who have secretly transferred their allegiance to Hitler, or to Mussolini, or to Stalin. In time of war there is a person officially designated to do all the talking to these people that is necessary; he is the provost-marshal.

To Americans, though, who must support the President, it is not an insult, it is a relief, to consider in as favorable a light as they can the qualifications of the man whom fate has made their leader during the critical years ahead. The fortunate people, of course, are the majority who have believed in Roosevelt from the start. They need no reassurance, for they have no doubts; they can, and do, face the future calmly confident. But in what can a member of the minority find reassurance? Judging the future by the light of the past, what can he reasonably expect of Mr. Roosevelt, not as the leader of the New Deal, but as President of the United States charged with the duty of assuring the safety of the nation against the threat of physical force?

Well, he can expect the first and most essential quality of courage. Whatever else may happen to the man who represents our side in this clash between two worlds, he will not be appalled. Infantile paralysis is a more terrifying devil than Hitler, but Roosevelt faced it. Economic collapse is more terrifying than a bombing raid, but Roosevelt faced it. Whoever may blench, whoever may quail, as we plunge into the fog and smoke, we may rest assured that the man at the top is not afraid, for he has seen worse than this, yet came through all right.

By the same token, we may expect resolution — this not only on the testimony of Mr. Roosevelt’s friends, but on the even more enthusiastic testimony of his enemies. They call him the stubbornest man alive. Perhaps this is where his Dutch ancestry counts. At any rate, if he could battle seven long years to reach the point where he can walk limpingly, and could battle seven years more to bring the country to the point where it could get about without crutches, is there any doubt that he will fight quite as stubbornly to prevent the enslavement of the American people? No, another thing that is certain is that the man at the top will not quit.

In addition to courage and resolution, we may expect inflexibility. This will be denied. The idea is firmly imbedded in many minds that Mr. Roosevelt is a master of sinuosity and deviousness, but the idea has been created and propagated by two classes of people — first, those to whose interest it was to make him seem so, including, of course, his political opponents; second, those who have put into Mr. Roosevelt’s mouth words he never spoke, and into his mind ideas he never held, and have denounced him for not adhering to these things. An example was furnished by the isolationists, with their denunciations of the President for breaking his promise to keep us out of war. Of course he never made any such promise, any more than he promised to maintain 25.8 grains as the weight of a gold dollar. He said that he hoped to keep us out of war. He said he would do all that lay in his power to keep us out of war. He said he would never send an American soldier to fight in a foreign war. But no man, not an utter fool, would make a flat promise to prevent war, and Mr. Roosevelt is no fool. Neither did he say that he would never send an American soldier to fight on foreign soil. No man not a fool would make that promise either. On the contrary, any man not a fool knows that if we must fight we are lucky indeed if we can fight on foreign soil instead of on our own.

Mr. Roosevelt is a politician, and any politician whose ethics are examined by the standards of a doctor of moral philosophy is pretty sure to show some wavering along the edges. But doctors of moral philosophy do not get elected President of the United States. If it is immoral to accept a man’s support simply because he does not, or will not, understand the English language and insists on putting his own false interpretation on plain words, then Mr. Roosevelt is guilty; but so is every man who has held the office of President.

As it happens, the test of this man’s straightforwardness is not difficult. Let any fair-minded man take the Commonwealth Club speech, in which he said what he was going to do, and lay it alongside the record of what he actually did — omitting his whirlwind action during the banking crisis, which was not contemplated when he made the speech. The exactness of the parallel between promise and performance will bear comparison with the record of any politician whatsoever, not excluding either Lincoln or Washington.

Mr. Roosevelt has declared that this nation, while he directs its foreign policy, will not submit to domination of the world by Hitlerism. That’s that. Whatever else happens, we may rest assured that the man at the top is not going to flatten us with a sudden announcement that he has made a non-aggression pact with Hitler.

All this, of course, still leaves plenty of doubts. Whether or not Mr. Roosevelt will make a good Commander-inChief in time of war I don’t know. Neither does anyone else. It all depends upon whether he can tell the difference between a general and a stuffed tunic, and that can never be determined with certainty until his selection has been tested in actual battle. They all look alike on the parade ground. Whether Mr. Roosevelt can spur the armament industry to maximum production I don’t know; but I do know that he will be accused of fumbling the production program. I also know that if the President were not Roosevelt, but Tubal-cain, father of all workers in metal, he would be accused of fumbling the production program. From now on, denouncing the fumbling at Washington will be one of the easiest ways of impressing the credulous and making oneself seem important. There will be fumbling enough, God knows; but for every fumbler the denouncers will be twice as numerous and ten times as loud. It was so in Wilson’s day. It was so in Lincoln’s day. Indeed, as far back as 712 B. C. (according to Archbishop Ussher), the Prophet Isaiah was complaining, ‘Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.’ Let us bear this in mind.

The editors of the London Economist ended their inconclusive attempt to define the New Deal with these words: ‘Mr. Roosevelt may have given the wrong answers to many of his problems. But he is at least the first President of modern America who has asked the right questions.’ He is always at his best in a crisis; and in this greatest crisis of all he has certainly asked the right question.

As a nation we are full of imperfections, and it is only too likely that the stresses and strains of the next few years may reveal them horribly. But such as we are we intend to remain, not that we cherish any crazy delusions of being a ‘master race,’ and not that we have any God-given mission to regenerate the world, but because we know that the things we value we have created by our own methods and in our own way; and we are certain that if we submit to dictation all that is worth having will slip from our possession, and we shall never again create anything that is excellent or worth the world’s attention. We are aware that in determining to live our own national life in our own way we are challenging the aggressors; for even one nation of freemen is a standing reproach and a perpetual menace to all tyrannies. But shall we apologize for living?

Not now. Not while we remain American. Not under the leadership of a man who, whatever his faults, is at least bold, resolute, and inflexible; whose roots are buried deep in American soil; whose blood is American blood, and whose hopes, desires, ideals, and dreams are of and with and for America. Let us stand to arms, then, steadily, knowing that under our latest President, as under our first, we have raised a ‘standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God.’