Of all the Presidents, there is no doubt that Franklin Delanor Roosevelt ranks among the top in terms of popular adulation.  He entered the White House during the worst part of the Great Depression and immediately, during his first one hundred days, initiated policies to alleviate the horrible sufferings of millions of unemployed workers. 

His radio Fireside Chats informed millions and extended hope that the nation would see an end of the worst economic catastrophe in living memory.  He rapidly appointed a competent Brain Trust to formulate and enact policies promising a quick end to the terrible tragedy. 

There is no doubt that his agencies, especially the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corp offered many employment to overcome horrible suffering.  Among the beneficiaries were farmers, unemployed factory workers on down to artists and the homeless.  He offered hope in an age of utter despair.

Indeed he was right to state:  “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  

Those who revere FDR are quite correct in their perception and perspective of him.

On the other hand those who criticize and fault FDR are also correct and could make a persuasive anti-FDR case. 

They point out that FDR violated the historical pattern of limiting presidential terms to two by serving four.  Beyond this, they can with some justification accuse FDR and his treasury secretary Morgenthau of causing a depression within the Great Depression, a historic first in modern economic history when in ’37 the GDP collapsed by about 30 percent and recovery took more than a year.

Republicans and even demagogues like Huey Long faulted FDR for either ruining the private enterprise system and massively expanding governmental control over the economy or for not doing enough in sharing the wealth.

They can also point to the fact that by ’39, when World War II broke out, the unemployment rate was still a depression level of 14 percent. 

World War II gave both pro and anti FDR factions more ammunition for their respective contrary assessments.  Interventionists applauded FDR for gearing up for a total war long before Pearl Harbor.  The Pentagon building, the world’s largest office complex, was started before Pearl Harbor and so was Lend Lease Aid, offered to Britain and Stalin, which provided billions to stop Hitler.  Though little known, the decision to build the atom bomb was made one day before Pearl Harbor. 

On top of this, again before Pearl Harbor, the Rainbow Five military plan envisioned a 10 million men army of which one million would be send to Europe to get Hitler.  In spite of these actions, FDR told the nation that he would not send our soldiers into any foreign wars and the 1940 election was characterized by the notion he kept us out of war while actually preparing for war.  Ironically, FDR empowered Stalin to become the chief beneficiary of World War II.

Non-interventionists, aka isolationists, like Senators Borah from Idaho and Wheeler from Montana and others such as Congressman Hamilton Fish and Charles Lindbergh, severely criticized FDR pro-war policies.

In any case both, pro and anti FDR factions, can make a strong argument in defense of their respective positions.  Ultimately and in the final analysis, these complex issues with their far ranging socio-economic consequences resemble eerily the current issue of lockdown v. opening up.  Here, too, one can make a pro and contra argument and understand both sides and still not come up with a sound conclusion in regards to the best overall policy.

The complexities of the issues defy sound and logical analysis hence spawning never ending political bickering that entails deteriorating civil standards.  Yet, precisely because of this, hyped up confrontation and repulsive political rhetoric should be avoided.  Reconciliation, as has emerged in various venues globally, should be the aim to sustain civility and dignity in politics.

Ottumwan Siegfried "Sig" H. Sutterlin, who has earned a doctorate in history from the University of Minnesota, is a former senior Fulbright scholar in Europe and retired history instructor at Indian Hills Community College. He can be reached at hay7be@yahoo.com.

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