FDR THUNDERS


In 1936 I was a fourteen-year-old volunteer working at the Massachusetts Democratic campaign headquarters in Springfield’s Kimball Hotel; my immediate superior was nineteen-year-old Lawrence E O’Brien. On the last day of October I wanted to hitchhike to New York and hear the President speak in Madison Square Garden. But Larry couldn’t me, so I missed FDR’s greatest political philippic. He had put up with a lot from the Republicans during that campaign. The voters had been told that he was a diseased tyrant out to destroy private property, the Constitution, even civilization itself; the chairman of the Republican National Committee had gone on the air to charge that under Social Security every American would be required to wear round his neck a steel dog tag (“like the one I’m now holding”) stamped with his Social Security number. Until October31 either Ray Moley or Louis Howe had been on hand to discourage or soften wrathful presidential replies, but they were elsewhere that Saturday evening, and if I could be passed back through a kind of time warp, I would like to be right by the platform as FDR entered the Garden.


Nearly fifteen minutes passed before he could say a word. The band was playing “Happy Days Are Here Again,” and the sound of the audience—packed to the roof of the huge hall—was earsplitting. Roosevelt finally raised his arms, like a biblical patriarch, and a hush fell. He turned up that great organ of a voice, identifying his “old enemies”: “Business and financial monopoly, speculation, recklessebanking, class antagonism,” and “organized money,” adding “Government by organ -ized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. ” The crowd,eon its feet throughout, ringing cowbells, howled its approval. In an edged voice he said: “Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.” The New York Times compared the applause to “roarsewhich rose and fell like the sound of waves pounding in the surf.” The Presidentedeclared: “I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness met their match.” Now his voice swelled: “I should like to have it said—.” He had to pause, the ovation had begun; he raised his arms again and the din abated: “I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.” The cheering surged and continued long after his departure.


Demagoguery? Of course. So were Tom Paine’s pamphlets. So were Churchill’sespeeches in 1940. But imagine a President of the United States, who presided in our times, fighting the right adversaries on the right issues, using powerful language as a weapon to drive them into eternal obscurity! Even the recollection of it makes you proud.


                                                      William Manchester, Adjunct Professor

                                                             of History and Writer-in-Residence, Wes-

                                                                                                      leyan University.




FDR AND LBJ


I would have enjoyed witnessing the private conversations between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the young congressman from Texas, Lyndon Johnson.


There were a considerable number of these informal talks, and not merely because Roosevelt t was fond of Johnson. In explaining the frequency with which the President would invite Johnson for breakfast chats (with the President sitting up in bed with a blue Navy cape around his shoulders) and to the Oval Office (Johnson had already set his sights on the White House, and one can only imagine his feelings during those conversations in that bright, sunny room in which belonged to sit in his own right), Roosevelt’s aide James H. Rowe said: “You’ve got to remember that these were two great political geniuses,” and that FDR could talk to LBJ on a level on which he could talk to few men. “A most remarkable young man, the President said shortly after he first met the twenty-eight-year-old congressman from the remote Texas hill country, and familiarity reinforced that opinion. Roosevelt not only told Harold Ickes that Johnson was “the kind of uninhibited young pro he would have liked to have been as a young man” (and might have been “if he hadn’t gone to Harvard”), but added that “this boy could well be the first Southern President.” To anyone interested as I am in the inner workings of politics, these talks between the President who was already such a master of the subject and the young man who was already known as “the wonder kid of politics” would have been fascinating.


 Lady Bird Johnson says that “every time” her husband came back from the White House, “he was on a sort of high.” Listening to those conversations would have given me a high, too.


                                                      Robert A. Caro, author of The Years of

                                                             Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power.




PEARL HARBOR


TO WITNESS FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT—ON THE NIGHT OF DEC. 7th, 1941. as the news came in. Who brought him the dispatches? How did he react? Whom did he turn to? Whom did he call? When did he begin to word his “day of infamy” speech? When did he find time to be alone, and think before they carried him up to bed?


                                                      Theodore H. White, reporter, corre-

                                                             spondent, and historian. Author of, most

                                                             recently, America in Search of Itself.




THE NEWS REACHES CHURCHILL


The scene is not America, it is London. It is late evening of December 7, 1941, and Winston Churchill has just heard the news of Pearl Harbor . “So we had won after all,” he said, “England would live, the Empire would ....... . Once again in our long Island history we should emerge, however mauled or mutilated, safe and victorious we should not be wiped out. Our history would not come to an end. Hitler’s fate was sealed, Mussolini’s fate was sealed .” The next day he went to the House of Commons to make the announcement. That is the scene I should most like to have been a part of, the address I should most like to have heard.


Listen to Churchill, and recall, as you do, that sonorous voice, the veritable voice of History and, as it turned out, the voice of Doom: “The enemy has attacked with an audacity which may spring from recklessness, but which may also spring from a conviction of strength. The ordeal to which the English-speaking world and our heroic Russian Allies are being exposed will certainly be hard.... Yet when we look around us over the sombre panorama of the world, we have no reason to doubt the justice of our cause or that our strength and will-power will be sufficient to sustain it. “We have at least four fifths of the population of the globe upon our side. We are responsible for their safety and their future. In the past we have had a light which flickered, in the present we have a light which flames, and in the future there will be a light which shines over all the land and sea.”


                                                             Henry Steele Commager, Professor

                                                             Emeritus and John W Simpson Lecturer,

                                                             Amherst College. Author of, most recently;

                                                             The Empire of Reason.




THE BOMB


I would like to have witnessed the explosion at Alamogordo, on July 16, 1945, for at that moment the history of the past met the history of the future as the two had never met before. Science had then achieved its most visible and awful triumph. On that account, a knowledge of history became indispensable as the surest way in which men and women might learn to understand their limitations— though they have yet to do so—and might thereby prevent the extermination of life on this earth.


                                                             John Morton Blum, Sterling Professor

                                                                                  of History, Yale University.




                   

TRUMAN DEFEATS DEWEY


I would like to have been present on that post-election morning in 1948 when Harry S. Truman heard that he had won over the invincible Thomas Dewey.


I would love to have seen his face and heard his feisty remarks. His victory was so personal and so double-edged it proved how wrong we all were about the man. In the campaign he was underestimated and demeaned. We were oblivious to his nature, his strong characteristics. He refused to accept defeat, he came out fighting. He had faith in himself and his purpose, he ran a remarkable underdog campaign. He captured the imagination of America and pulled off one of the most amazing campaign upsets in American history. We should have learned from this victory never to underestimate this man again, this haberdasher from Independence, Missouri, who grew in the job and made the tough decisions at a time when our nation needed tough decisions.


Time is giving us a more constructive historical perspective of Harry Truman. >Many of us are now cognizant of how wrong we were about him . I would love to have seen his face on the morning that was the beginning of his triumph and our future understanding of him.


                                                      Victor Gotbaum, Executive Director,

                                                             District Council 37, American Federation

                                                             of State, County and Municipal Employees,

                                                             AFL-CIO




RIDGWAY IN KOREA


On the Korean battlefield in the closing days of December 1950, there occurred the most remarkable display of leadership in the history of American arms—the resurrection of the 8th United States Army by its new commander, Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway.


It was an army defeated and demoralized by the unexpected intervention of Chinese Communist Forces that had sent it reeling back hundreds of miles in confusion and disarray. The situation was precarious, and the total evacuation of the Korean Peninsula was being seriously considered. But if the 8th Army was defeated, its new commander was not. Dismissing plans for further retreat, General Ridgway ordered the 8th Army to prepare the attack. Within days he had seized the moral initiative and begun to dominate the battlefield. Three months later, Seoul had been recaptured, and the Chinese and North Koreans pushed back across the South Korean frontier.


Fascinated with technology and with the weapons of war, we are liable to forget that at its most fundamental level, war is a contest of wills. A century and a half ago, that master military theoretician, Karl von Clausewitz, observed that in the face of battlefield disaster, “[all] gradually comes to rest on the commander’s will alone. The ardor of his spirit must rekindle the flame of purpose in all others; his inward fire must revive their hope.” General Ridgway did precisely that. In so doing, he serves as a constant reminder that human spirit, not weaponry, is the true found-ation of our national security.


                                                      CoI. Harry G. Summers, Jr., author,

                                                             faculty member of the Army War College.




THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964


I would like to have watched Lyndon B. Johnson sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I make this choice because I was there—in spirit, at least. I have always been somewhat split between North and South, by parentage if not conviction. It happens that I was visiting Louisiana relatives that weekend, or whatever it was, that included July 4, 1964—the act was passed in June, but the actual signing took place July 2. On that day some of the relatives had taken me out yachting, and we were anchored >at Pass Christian. Some people were talking about the civil rights workers who had disappeared. Somebody said they were probably buried a long way down in Mississippi soil. I was not sure if the speaker thought that good or bad: I was busy trying to make out the strange flags that were being flown by a lot of our neighbors.


“What’s that?” I asked at last. “What’s that funny flag on that launch over there?” They scoffed at me . “It’s the Confederate flag,” they explained at last. Then word came through on the radio about the signing.


                                                      Emily Hahn, free-lance writer.

                                                             Author of, most recently, Love of Gold.




NIXON’S LAST DAYS


My taste as to scenes which I would like to have witnessed varies from the morbid to the wonderful. Years ago I thought I would like to have been a fly on a wall of the bunker watching the last days and hours of the Third Reich, a terrible but engrossing sight. But no longer. For the last decade I have yielded entirely to the wish that I could have been there in the White House on that day when Richard Nixon decided to resign his Presidency and knelt with my old friend Henry Kissinger to pray. And how God, too, must have wondered!


                                                                        John Kenneth Galbraith,

                                                                                  Powell M. Warburg Professor

                                                                                  of Economics Emeritus,

                                                                                  Harvard University.



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