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 Roosevelt and His Critics 

APRIL 28, 2005 
I see that HBO is doing a movie honoring Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who “brought us out of the Depression and through World War II.” Today's column is "Roosevelt and His Critics" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.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.

[Breaker quote for Roosevelt and His Critics: Time for an apology?]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 fitting.

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 silence.

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.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2005 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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