Super Power leadership – the FDR template.
It is always a good idea to write your own memoirs, a quiet effort to keep one favourable finger at least on the otherwise remorseless scales of history. Churchill went all in with six volumes of “The Second World War” confirming his indomitable role as the successful war time Prime Minister – a tour de force for all it was part myth part substance. But my researches recently have turned the light onto a very different leader, onto FDR and, as an election year dawns, I want to share my conclusions with you.
In a period of just three weeks around Christmas 1941 Roosevelt became the first and so far sole fully capable leader of the free world.He set a benchmark and a template for all to follow.
Pearl Harbour, the failure of MacArthur in the Philippines and finally the sinking of the British batteships Repulse and Prince of Wales – all on top of Hitler’s tumultuous successes throughout Europe – created an immediate context of disaster. The White House in disarray, The Pacific and Indian Oceans at the mercy of the Japanese – Roosevelt’s coming of age can be summarised in two events both achieved under extreme adversity.
The first was the gradual unveiling of his Victory Plan. This was not, as Churchill would later have it, written with the guidance of the British PM staying that Christmas at the White House. Instead months earlier the far sighted President had long concerned himself with the battle unreadiness of the US infantry. They were, he knew, innocent, untested, unseasoned. His army staff and command were no less inexperienced. in the aftermath of Pear Harbour instead of the obvious knee jerk focus on Japan, Roosevelt directed his aim against US popular opinion onto Germany. And there, instead of the heroic frontal assault across the channel, favoured by Marshall and Eisenhower he chose the weaker Vichy armies of North africa as the testing ground for his new armies and for the world wide alliance he was to put into place against the Nazi tthreat. The route to victory would be one of accumulating experience – the rest would be logistics. As early as September 1941, three months before Pear Harbour Roosevelt had strategised the path to victory. He had his plan.
The second event was his fireside chat delivered from the White House at 10.00 pm on December 9 two days after the sinkings in Hawaii. Not only did he have a plan – he knew how to communicate it.
In one great speech he faced down the appeasers, routed the German sympathisers and isolationists and created the template for US leadership in the free world.
First he dealt with the here and now and shared the enormous burden ahead:
“We are now in this war. We are all in – all the way. Every man, woman and child is a partner in the most tremendous undertaking in our history” and he summarised the dismal situation they all faced. But the government had not been idle, the US had sent vast quantities of war material to those still fighting the Axis aggressors – “This has given us time, invaluable time to build our assembly lines of production.” It was then that he turned his attention full on to the role of leadership:
“We will make certain that such treachery shall never endanger us again… (and so) abandon once and for all the illusion that we can ever again isolate ourselves from the rest of humanity. Most violently in the last three days we have learned a terrible lesson…there is no such thing as security for any nation …our ocean girt hemisphere is not immune from severe attack – we cannot measure our safety in terms of miles on any map any more.”
And finally with an almost operatic change of pace and delivery President Roosevelt called out the words that I suggest define leadership of the free world today:
“We americans are not destroyers – we are builders. We are now in the midst of a war not for conquest, not for vengeance, but for a world in which all this nation represents will be safe for our children.” “So we are going to win this war” he declared – his broadcast heard by an estimated 92% of american families – “and we are going to win the peace that folows.”
I suggest every US president should learn this speech by heart.
Have a good Christmas, James