GREAT NECK, NY – Historians will be analyzing, celebrating or both, the 80th anniversary of one of the most important presidential oratories ever delivered to the citizens of our great nation. The date was December 29th, 1940, and millions of Americans listened to their radios as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave a speech titled, “The Arsenal of Democracy’’. The speech that night was one of approximately 20 addresses – known famously as “fireside chats”– that Roosevelt, since becoming the nation’s 32nd president in 1933, periodically gave on radio broadcasts to the nation’s 132 million citizens, who were then facing the dismal economic realities of the financial catastrophe known as the “Great Depression”.
In his previous “Fireside Chats” Roosevelt spoke about the fears and the hardships suffered by a majority of Americans due to this financial disaster, and he outlined the details of his ambitious “New Deal” programs, which he vowed, would lead America out of its economic nightmare and into a secure and prosperous financial future. The most famous of Roosevelt’s depression – focused “Fireside Chats” was delivered on March 4, 1933 and bore the corresponding title of its celebrated declaration, “The Only Thing to Fear is Fear Itself’’.
But the speech Roosevelt delivered seven years later, on December 29, 1940, was about a different kind and far more dangerous crisis. The armies of Nazi Germany’s dictator Adolph Hitler had recently annihilated the individual armed forces of Poland, Austria, Belgium, The Netherlands and France and had taken a ruthless and deadly total control of these once independent nation’s defenseless citizens, Roosevelt reminded his audience.
The people of England, the sole European nation still standing, Roosevelt also reminded Americans that night, were desperately trying to survive German aerial bomber attacks, which had over the previous three months rained death and destruction over London and other strategic cities across their island nation.
While in the speech Roosevelt promised to try to keep America out of the war in Europe, he asserted that the only way for America to avoid war with Germany was to supply England with the military aid she had asked for to defend herself. Thus, FDR urged Americans to act as if they were at war themselves and help manufacture and produce weapons and other war supplies which, he explained, would speedily be sent to England.
As history informs us, America met Roosevelt’s call. American built advanced anti-aircraft weapons and other military equipment flowed in enormous quantities from assembly lines across our nation and were quickly delivered by brave sailors on merchant ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of England. And, by May, 1941, the British, with the decisive help of these weapons, put an end to German’s aerial assault, which tragically by then had killed more than 40,000 British civilians.
Seven months later, on December 7th, Japan, Germany’s ally, attacked Pearl Harbor, and America was plunged into a war forever known as World War II, that Roosevelt had implied in his speech that night would be difficult to avoid.
America, England, Russia and several other of our allies, of course, won World War II. But before it ended- first with Germany’s surrender on May 7th, 1945 and then finally with Japan’s surrender on August 15th 1945 – four months and two U.S. devastating nuclear bombs dropped on the imperial nation of Japan later – an estimated 60-75 million people in the world had been killed.
Expect now in the days surrounding its anniversary to hear on news and history TV and radio shows about the “Arsenal of Democracy” speech and about the impact its ensuing military assistance to England had both on saving that democratic nation from defeat and later leading America and her allies to go on to destroy Nazi Germany and her Axis allies.
I must confess, though, that my own interest in Roosevelt’s immortal speech did not come as a result of my remembering its upcoming anniversary (I had not), but rather from a very touching email I had received two weeks ago from a reader who identified himself as Ron Turner.
Turner wrote that he is a 63- year-old, Chicago based veteran actor, musician and singer who in 1984 along with a guitarist named Jimi Rezin and a bass player named Bryan Fulbright, formed in Houston, Texas a Rock and Roll group called “Top Secret, The Band”.
While the trio, all sons of military veterans, have lived in different states over the past several decades, wrote Turner, they have continued to compose songs and music videos, recorded in the modern mode of a de facto music studio, the internet.
More importantly, Turner elaborated that his band’s work has always reflected the group’s passionate patriotism… with the intent to help refresh the idea that our liberties have been earned through blood and sacrifice from our founding days… Our most recent song and video, “Freedom” is posted free on line at YouTube with the text “If you believe in Freedom and Democracy, please share this,’ Top Secret members ask those who post or share the music video via their own social media networks to include the message.
Turner then kindly added that as a regular reader of my columns, he believes that he and I possess the same feeling about the greatness of America, and stated that he would be honored if I listened to and watched “Freedom” myself.
I downloaded the video, of course. And, within a few moments, to my surprise, I realized that I had heard the words spoken in the first sentence of the song countless times on countless history shows before: “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear – that the only thing is fear itself”- famous words, I knew had been excerpted from F.D.R.’s earlier referenced, “The Only Thing to Fear is Fear Itself” fireside chat.
Several stanzas later in the song, I once again heard the voice of F.D.R., this time excerpted from one of the final passages of the earlier noted, “Arsenal of Democracy” fireside chat, which ends as the song plays with the immortal maxim, “And of all things that American Democracy means to you, me and to ours. We must be the great arsenal of democracy”.
Still, as I listened to “Freedom” for the second and third times, I concluded that F.D.R’s immortal quotes mainly served, not as a history lesson, but rather as a thematic backdrop to the group’s 25 self-written other lines, which include, first the chilling, and then the brave words, “Well you may not be persuaded when you’re walking ten feet tall/ But you’ll find it underrated when your freedom takes a fall/ No, you ain’t gonna take that away from me”.
Such of the song’s spine tingling lyrics combined with the inspiring words of F.D.R., make, in my view, “Freedom” not only a song about how Americans joined together, regardless of their race, religion our creed, to defeat its purely evil and frighteningly powerful enemies 80 years ago, but also, a song that provides the vital message that we must once again join together as a nation to defeat the malevolent adversaries we face today.
You might think of that message as we now celebrate the anniversary of F.D.R’s “Arsenal of Democracy” speech. And you also might think of that message, if, as I recommend, you listen to the music, words and lyrics of “Freedom”, as you remind yourself of how blessed you are to be an American.