If you need a break from the current American confusion, fear and loathing surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic, let me suggest as an antidote reading President Roosevelt’s December 9, 1941 “fireside chat” radio broadcast to the nation.
At a time of far greater peril than we face today, FDR delivered a message of inspiration, courage and steely resolve to all Americans. Just two days after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor and with the certain prospect of more bad news in the weeks and months ahead, Roosevelt spoke frankly—and confidently—about what the American people and their government would need from each other to emerge triumphant.
The link to the full text and audio of the speech is provided. But given today’s circumstances, these sections are worthy of reflection:
On Telling the American People the Painful Truth
“So far, the news has been all bad. We have suffered a serious set-back in Hawaii. Our forces in the Philippines, which include the brave people of that Commonwealth, are taking punishment, but are defending themselves vigorously. The reports from Guam and Wake and Midway islands are still confused, but we must be prepared for the announcement that all these three outposts have been seized.
The casualty lists of these first few days will undoubtedly be large. I deeply feel the anxiety of all of the families of the men in our armed forces and the relatives of people in cities which have been bombed. I can only give them my solemn promise that they will get news just as quickly as possible.”
On Needing All Americans in the Fight
“We are now in this war. We are all in it- all the way. Every single man, woman, and child is a partner in the most tremendous undertaking of our American history. We must share together the bad news and the good news, the defeats and the victories—the changing fortunes of war…
Every citizen, in every walk of life, shares this same responsibility. The lives of our soldiers and sailors- the whole future of this Nation—depend upon the manner in which each and every one of us fulfills his obligation to our country.”
“I was about to add that ahead there lies sacrifice for all of us.
But it is not correct to use that word. The United States does not consider it a sacrifice to do all one can, to give one's best to our Nation, when the Nation is fighting for its existence and its future life.
It is not a sacrifice for any man, old or young, to be in the Army or the Navy of the United States. Rather is it a privilege.
It is not a sacrifice for the industrialist or the wage earner, the farmer or the shopkeeper, the trainman or the doctor, to pay more taxes, to buy more bonds, to forego extra profits, to work longer or harder at the task for which he is best fitted. Rather is it a privilege.
It is not a sacrifice to do without many things to which we are accustomed if the national defense calls for doing without.”
On News and Rumors
“This Government will put its trust in the stamina of the American people, and will give the facts to the public just as soon as two conditions have been fulfilled: first, that the information has been definitely and officially confirmed; and, second, that the release of the information at the time it is received will not prove valuable to the enemy directly or indirectly.
Most earnestly I urge my countrymen to reject all rumors. These ugly little hints of complete disaster fly thick and fast in wartime…
Many rumors and reports which we now hear originate, of course, with enemy sources…This is an old trick of propaganda which has been used innumerable times by the Nazis. The purposes of such fantastic claims are, of course, to spread fear and confusion among us, and to goad us into revealing military information which our enemies are desperately anxious to obtain.
Our Government will not be caught in this obvious trap—and neither will the people of the United States.
Of necessity there will be delays in officially confirming or denying reports of operations but we will not hide facts from the country if we know the facts and if the enemy will not be aided by their disclosure.
To all newspapers and radio stations—all those who reach the eyes and ears of the American people—I say this: You have a most grave responsibility to the Nation now and for the duration of this war.
If you feel that your Government is not disclosing enough of the truth, you have every right to say so. But—in the absence of all the facts, as revealed by official sources—you have no right in the ethics of patriotism to deal out unconfirmed reports in such a way as to make people believe that they are gospel truth.
Every citizen, in every walk of life,. shares this same responsibility. The lives of our soldiers and sailors- the whole future of this Nation—depend upon the manner in which each and every one of us fulfills his obligation to our country.”
On the Impossibility of Isolationism
“I repeat that the United States can accept no result save victory, final and complete. Not only must the shame of Japanese treachery be wiped out, but the sources of international brutality, wherever they exist, must be absolutely and finally broken.
In my message to the Congress yesterday I said that we ‘will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.’ In order to achieve that certainty, we must begin the great task that is before us by abandoning once and for all the illusion that we can ever again isolate ourselves from the rest of humanity.”
On the Unwavering Commitment to Victory
“We are now in the midst of a war, not for conquest, not for vengeance, but for a world in which this Nation, and all that this Nation represents, will be safe for our children. We expect to eliminate the danger from Japan, but it would serve us ill if we accomplished that and found that the rest of the world was dominated by Hitler and Mussolini.
We are going to win the war and we are going to win the peace that follows.
And in the difficult hours of this day—through dark days that may be yet to come- we will know that the vast majority of the members of the human race are on our side. Many of them are fighting with us. All of them are praying for us. For in representing our cause, we represent theirs as well- our hope and their hope for liberty under God.”