April 28, 2005

by Joe Sobran

     I see that HBO is doing a movie honoring Franklin 
Delano Roosevelt, who "brought us out of the Depression 
and through World War II." It stars Kenneth Branagh as 
Roosevelt, and anything that keeps Branagh too busy to 
make another of his wretched Shakespeare films is, to 
that extent, laudable.

     But why this endless celebration of FDR? The Germans 
are expected to repent the Hitler era everlastingly; the 
Japanese are supposed to apologize for their role in the 
same war, while they are also being hounded by the 
Chinese for their impenitence about invading the 
mainland. The Russians are repudiating the Soviet era. 
Everyone is issuing apologies for history these days.

     I'm always a little leery of people who repent other 
people's sins, because one suspects hypocrisy -- or what 
C.S. Lewis called the sin of detraction masquerading as 
the virtue of contrition. I can't honestly repent the 
massacres of the American Indian, because I didn't take 
part in them; they were largely crimes of the U.S. 
Government, which I can only helplessly deplore, as I 
deplore its current crimes at home and abroad.

     Still, we can recognize crimes as crimes, which 
brings me back to Roosevelt. Why are Americans still 
treating this monster as a hero?

     I hardly know where to start. His contempt for the 
U.S. Constitution he was sworn to defend, in everything 
from creating a national welfare state to putting U.S. 
citizens in concentration camps, is almost a minor item 
on his ledger. So are his deceits in getting the United 
States into World War II, while assuring the American 
public that he was doing everything he could to keep us 
at peace.

     Long before that war began, he befriended Joseph 
Stalin by granting diplomatic recognition to the Soviet 
Union, shortly after it had deliberately starved millions 
of Ukrainians. During the war, he made an alliance with 
Stalin, not as a regrettable necessity, but with effusive 
praise for "Uncle Joe." He even urged Hollywood to make 
pro-Soviet films to dispel "prejudice" against Soviet 
Communism and lent a hand in the production of the 
egregious propaganda movie MISSION TO MOSCOW. (Jack 
Warner later called the film the worst mistake of his 
long career.)

     As the war progressed, Roosevelt ordered the massive 
bombing of Japanese and German cities for the express 
purpose of killing as many civilians as possible. His 
victims, from Tokyo to Berlin, numbered in the millions. 
He was uninhibited by the ancient principle of Christian 
civilization that warfare should spare noncombatants.

     But that wasn't enough. Meanwhile Roosevelt launched 
the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb, which 
could obliterate whole cities in a flash. He thereby took 
the world into a dreadful new era in history, which 
concerned him not at all.

     Long after Pearl Harbor is forgotten, the name of 
Franklin Roosevelt should "live in infamy." Yet the 
United States still officially honors him when an 
official apology to the entire human race would be more 

     Despite his great popularity, many critics saw 
through Roosevelt in his own time. He tarred them as 
fascist sympathizers, though their chief criticism of 
him, developed by John T. Flynn's book AS WE GO MARCHING, 
was that he himself was bringing a form of fascism to 
this country. His most eloquent critic was perhaps Garet 
Garrett of THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, whose trenchant 
anti-Roosevelt editorials cost him his job. FDR, always 
vindictive, also worked behind the scenes to ruin Flynn. 
The caustic H.L. Mencken, seeing the futility of opposing 
Roosevelt during the war, decided to keep a prudent 

     When Roosevelt died of a stroke in 1945 (in the 
company of his mistress), the war was pretty much won, 
even without atomic weapons. Yet those weapons, used by 
his successor Harry Truman, would be his chief legacy to 
the world. When Stalin acquired them too, the long Cold 
War became a global terror.

     It's an interesting footnote to all this that Flynn, 
though a principled anti-Communist, saw that American 
militarism had become a threat to American liberty. But 
Cold Warriors didn't want to hear this, and Flynn became 
persona non grata in the conservative circles which had 
loved his anti-Roosevelt polemics.

     Flynn died forgotten. It's as if Roosevelt had 
managed to take his critics with him.


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