Posts Tagged ‘betrayal’

WW2 Anniversary

|   14 December 2010

Roosevelt and the art of timing.

Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt

This Friday, 17th December, is the 70th anniversary of one of the most important speeches ever made by a democratic leader. On this day in 1940 President Franklin Roosevelt announced to the American people his idea of ‘Lend Lease’.

Instead of selling the British what they needed to carry on the fight against the Nazis, Roosevelt said the Americans would ‘lend’ what was required. The folksy analogy Roosevelt used in the speech was that of a good citizen lending a length of hose to his neighbour when his house was on fire. After the fire was put out the hose could be returned, and if it was damaged then the good citizen could later be recompensed with a replacement hose bought by a grateful neighbour.

It was a wholly misleading comparison, of course. Because the British were clearly going to use the equipment the Americans gave them under ‘Lend Lease’ and Roosevelt knew they didn’t have the money to replace it. But nonetheless, Roosevelt’s speech caught the imagination of many Americans – as always FDR knew the right buttons to press. In this case he was locking into the American ‘frontier spirit’ of neighbourliness in adversity.

But for me almost the most significant aspect of this remarkable speech is the timing. Roosevelt had been careful during the Presidential election of 1940 not to give the impression that he was taking America to war. He was standing for an unprecedented third term as President and he knew that any hint of full scale military support for Britain would be dangerous to his chances. So he waited until after his re-election and then carefully announced this opaque ‘Lend Lease’ policy which appealed to the best in the American character.