Friday, November 23, 2007

FDR - a book review


Mr. Smith published his biography this year (2007). I found it at the Public Library in the new book review section. It is astounding in the detail contained that could only be accomplished after exhaustive research. It took me several weeks to read. I confess I read slowly and deliberately whenever a book of this importance is in my hands. The text is 636 pages long and written in small type. The notes and bibliography uses another 224 pages.
This is not the first time I have read a biography about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I had my own copy of a previous biography which I gave to my son Andy for his library. I was born in 1928; President Roosevelt was the only President I can remember from my youth. I don’t profess knowledge of his first two terms as President but I was 13 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked, December 7, 1941. From that point on I knew who he was and followed as best a young boy can the war and his leadership of the country and the allies. As a family we would sit in front of the radio to hear his “fireside chats” Sunday evenings as he addressed the American people. There were a minority of citizens who despised him but the vast majority loved him and followed his directives as we all pulled together to save the world. We truly believed we were fighting a just and noble war and to this day I have never deviated from that premise.
The book starts by informing the lineage leading to his birth in 1882. It describes his boyhood, college years and his forays into politics. He was the Governor of N.Y. for two terms before becoming President. At that time the depression was devastating. President Hoover took a hand off attitude assuming that in time the economy would correct itself. Roosevelt couldn’t wait to assume control as he was determined to take whatever steps were necessary to get the recovery under way. His programs were referred to as “The New Deal”.
On page 601 at a press conference on 12/28/1943 he was asked by a young reporter about the new deal and whether it was still in effect. He answered no and then went on to state why it was necessary at the time. He followed with a partial list of things entailed in his program including; saving the banks by setting up a sound banking system, the Federal Deposit Insurance program to guarantee bank deposits.
(As an aside my father refused to put funds into any bank during his entire lifetime. At his death we finally convinced our mother to have her social security check deposited in a bank checking account. I remember her asking, “How will I know it is there”.)
Other programs mentioned were H.O.L.C. (Home Owners Loan Corporation) which helped save homes from foreclosure. F.C.A. (Farm Credit Administration) saved farms from foreclosure. Triple A (Agricultural Adjustment Administration) rescued agriculture from disasters, Soil Conservation; protecting investors through the (Securities and Exchange Commission) also Social Security, unemployment insurance, aid to handicapped and infirm, minimum wage and maximum hours legislation, abolition of child labor, rural electrification, flood control, the public works program, the TVA, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the WPA, National Youth Foundation and many others. Some of the above are still in effect to this day. His exhortation to staff was to try something. If it didn’t work then try something else. Doing nothing was not acceptable.
Two major mistakes during his presidency were trying to pack the Supreme Court in 1937 and placing American citizens of Japanese descent in camps in 1942. The first was because the court had ruled against a number of his new deal programs and the second because of the concern in California where a number of defense plants were located that Japanese citizens might commit sabotage. Pearl Harbor created this hatred and concern.
He was a remarkable man, very intelligent and energetic. He contracted Polio when he was 39. With ample recourses available to him he could have retired and devoted his years to improving his health and enjoying life as best he could without the use of his legs, but he choose to fight it and remain active in whatever government service availed itself to him. It is incredible to me that he had the ability to campaign and to assume ever increasing responsibilities and perform with skill and effectiveness. Once he became President he had twice per week press conferences in the Oval Office and often on Sunday evenings he would talk to the people over the radio. He called them fireside chats. These would give the people confidence that someone cared about their condition and was working hard on their behalf to improve their lives. One early speech concluded with the famous line, “All we have to fear is fear itself”.
During the late 30’s it became increasingly clear that Adolph Hitler posed a threat to civilization as the world new it at the time. Americans were united in their desire to not be drawn into another European War. Our armed forces had dwindled to where we were one of the weakest nations. Once war commenced between the Axis Powers and the Allies he lead us in small steps towards preparing for war. He proposed a lend lease program to provide materials to England after the fall of France. Should England fall then the world was likely to become victims as well. This was expanded to include Russia once they were attacked. He tried to persuade the Japanese to curb their territorial ambitions through diplomacy to no avail and in the end after Pearl Harbor we were in it fully with no turning back until absolute victory was achieved. The first few years were negative but gradually as our troops were trained and supplied with material of all kinds we gradually started to turn the tide. His leadership was absolutely necessary to keep up the moral of our people. He was elected to a third term in 1940 as America wanted his leadership as the threat of war increased and then a fourth term in 1944. We could not conceive of losing him as our President, upon his sudden death on 4/12/1945 we wondered if we could conclude the war without him.
Only Lincoln in my opinion was as great as FDR. They both faced incredible problems to solve. Both were the right men at the right time in history. Without their leadership and charisma who knows what the world would be like today had they not been there when the crisis needed to be dealt with.
If you take the time to read, I can assure you, that you will be enthralled to follow this great man’s life as he fought for us and eventually died for us.
One last request, check out the FDR Library on the internet. You can hear portions of some of his most important speeches. You may be as enthralled as I was when I heard him as a young man.

Jack B. Walters
3961 N. Hillwood Circle
Tucson, AZ 85750
(520) 722-2958
November 23, 2007

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