Monday, June 11, 2007

June 10, 1940:

FDR's "Stab in the Back" Speech

On June 10, 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt gave the commencement address to the University of Virginia, where one of his sons was graduating. The speech is known to history as the "Stab in the Back" speech, reflecting the president's view of the recent -- earlier that day -- declaration of war by Mussolini's Italy against France and the UK. Perhaps they seemed like easy pickings to Italy, since France was on the verge of collapse against the weight of the German attack that spring. But in fact it was the beginning of the end for Mussolini.

More generally, Roosevelt used the speech to argue against isolationism on the part of the American people, which would take a formal shape as the America First Committee later in 1940 (one of whose founders was future president Gerald Ford). "Perception of danger to our institutions may come slowly or it may come with a rush and a shock as it has to the people of the United States in the past few months," Roosevelt said. "This perception of danger has come to us clearly and overwhelmingly; and we perceive the peril in a world-wide arena—an arena that may become so narrowed that only the Americas will retain the ancient faiths [that is, in democracy].

"Some indeed still hold to the now somewhat obvious delusion that we of the United States can safely permit the United States to become a lone island, a lone island in a world dominated by the philosophy of force.

"Such an island may be the dream of those who still talk and vote as isolationists. Such an island represents to me and to the overwhelming majority of Americans today a helpless nightmare of a people without freedom—the nightmare of a people lodged in prison, handcuffed, hungry, and fed through the bars from day to day by the contemptuous, unpitying masters of other continents."

The entire speech is here.

June 10 is also the anniversary of the Battle of Big Bethel, with Union general Gen. B. F. Butler overseeing an embarrassing defeat. Benjamin Franklin Butler went on to fame, or infamy, as the military commander of occupied New Orleans, and after the war as a radical Republican and ardent supporter of President Grant. In 1884, he was the presidential nominee of the Greenback and Anti-Monopoly parties, polling 175,370 votes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah, good old "Spoons" Butler! He mismanaged - to use a term much more polite than General Grant doubtless used - every campaign entrusted to him. Big Bethel was just the start.