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Franklin Roosevelt Essay, Research Paper

Despite an attack of poliomyelitis, which paralyzed his legs in 1921, he was a charismatic optimist whose confidence helped sustain the American people during the strains of economic crisis and world war. He was one of America\’s most controversial leaders. Conservatives claimed that he undermined states\’ rights and individual liberty. Leftists found him timid and conventional in attacking the Depression. Others thought him devious and inconsistent and uninformed about economics. Some of these claims were well founded. Though Roosevelt labored hard to end the Depression, he had limited success. It was not until 1939 and 1940, with the onset of heavy defense spending before World War II, that prosperity returned. Roosevelt also displayed limitations in his handling of foreign policy. In the 1930\’s he was slow to warn against the menace of fascism, and during the war he relied too heavily on his charm and personality in the conduct of diplomacy.

Still, Roosevelt\’s historical reputation is deservedly high. In attacking the Great Depression he did much to develop a partial welfare state in the United States and to make the federal government an agent of social and economic reform. His administration indirectly encouraged the rise of organized labor and greatly invigorated the Democratic Party. His foreign policies, while occasionally devious, were shrewd enough to sustain domestic unity and the allied coalition in World War II. Roosevelt was a president of stature.

Cordell Hull of Tennessee served as secretary of state from 1933 to 1944, but Roosevelt\’s desire to engage in personal diplomacy left Hull in a reduced role. In 1933 the president\’s \”bombshell message\” to the London Economic Conference, saying that the United States would not participate in international currency stabilization, ended any immediate hope of achieving that objective. In the same year he extended diplomatic recognition to the USSR, still a relative outcast in world diplomacy. Roosevelt and Hull worked smoothly in behalf of reciprocal trade agreements and in making the United States the \”good neighbor\” of the Latin American.

By the mid-1930\’s dictatorial regimes in Germany, Japan, and Italy were casting their shadows across the blank pages of the future. In 1936, in his speech accepting renomination as president, Roosevelt had said, \”This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.\” By 1938, Roosevelt was spending increasing amounts of time on international affairs. Until then he had acquiesced in congressional \”neutrality\” acts designed to keep the United States out of another world war. Roosevelt did not share the isolationist sentiments that lay behind such legislation. But he hoped very much to avoid war, and he dared not risk his domestic program by challenging Congress over foreign policy. For these reasons he was slow to warn the people about the dangers of German fascism.

Germany\’s aggressiveness in 1939 forced Roosevelt to take a tougher stance. Early in the year he tried unsuccessfully to secure revision of a neutrality act calling for an embargo on armaments to all belligerents, whether attacked or attacker. When Hitler overran Poland in September and triggered the formal beginning of World War II, Roosevelt tried again for repeal of the embargo, and succeeded. In 1940 he negotiated an un-neutral deal with Britain whereby the British leased their bases in the Western Hemisphere to the United States in return for 50 over aged American destroyers. Roosevelt also secured vastly increased defense expenditures, which brought about domestic economic recovery at last. But he still hoped to keep out of the war and to appease the anti interventionists in Congress. Thus he remained cautious.

Safely reelected, Roosevelt called for \”lend-lease\” aid to the anti-German allies. This aid, approved by Congress, greatly increased the flow of supplies to Britain. After Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, lend-lease went to the Russians as well.

To protect the supplies against German submarines, U.S. destroyers began escorting convoys of Allied ships part way across the Atlantic. In the process the destroyers helped pinpoint the location of submarines, which Allied warships duly attacked. Roosevelt did not tell the people about America\’s un-neutral actions on the high seas. When a German submarine fired a torpedo at the American destroyer Greer in September 1941, he feigned surprise and outrage and ordered U. S. warships to shoot on sight at hostile German ships. By December the United States and Germany were engaged in an undeclared war on the Atlantic.

Hitler was a menace to Western civilization, that American intervention was necessary to stop him, and that domestic isolationism hampered the president\’s freedom of response. But regrettable is that Roosevelt, in seeking his ends, chose to deceive the people and to abuse his powers.

Debatable are Roosevelt\’s policies toward Japan, whose leaders were bent on expansion in the 1930\’s. Hoping to contain this expansion, the president gradually tightened an embargo of vital goods to Japan. He also demanded that Japan halt its aggressive activities in China and Indochina. Instead of backing down, the militarists who controlled Japan decided to fight, by attacking Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941, and by assaulting the East Indies. These moves left no doubt about Japan\’s aggressive intentions. In asking for a declaration of war, the president called December 7 \”a date which will live in infamy.\” He brought a united America into World War II. By December 11, the United States was at war with Germany and Italy.

It is arguable, that Roosevelt should not have been so stubborn when considering the strength of China and Indochina, which lay outside America\’s national interest–or power to protect. If Roosevelt had adopted a more flexible policy toward Japan, he might have postponed a conflict in Asia at a time when war with Hitler was about to erupt.

Roosevelt\’s military policies also provoked controversy. In 1941 critics blamed him for leaving Pearl Harbor unprepared. Extremists even claimed that he invited the Japanese attack in order to have a pretext for war. In 1942 liberals complained when he cooperated with Jean Darlan, the Vichy French admiral who until then had been collaborating with the Axis, in planning the Allied invasion of North Africa. In 1943, FDR\’s opponents grumbled that his policy of unconditional surrender for the enemy discouraged the anti-Hitler resistance within Germany. Other critics complained that he relied too heavily on strategic bombing. His own generals were angry because he postponed the \”second front\” against Hitler until June 1944. Such delay, infuriated the Soviet Union, which had to carry the hardest part of the fighting against Hitler between 1941 and 1944, which planted the seeds of the Cold War.

Some of these criticisms were partly justified. Poor communications between Washington and Hawaii helped the Japanese achieve surprise at Pearl Harbor. Dealing with Darlan was probably not necessary to ensure success in North Africa. Strategic bombing killed millions of civilians and was not nearly so effective as its advocates claimed. The delay in the second front greatly intensified Soviet suspicions of the West.

But it is easy to second-guess and to exaggerate Roosevelt\’s failings as a military leader. The president neither invited nor welcomed the Pearl Harbor attack, which was a brilliantly planned maneuver by Japan. He worked with Darlan in the hope of preventing unnecessary loss of Allied lives. Unconditional surrender, given American anger at the enemy, was a politically logical policy. It also proved reassuring to the Soviet Union, which had feared a separate German-American peace. Establishing the second front required control of the air and large supplies of landing craft, and these were not assured until 1944. In many of these decisions Roosevelt acted in characteristically pragmatic fashion–to win the war as effectively as possible and to keep the wartime alliance together. In these aims he was successful.

Similar practical considerations dictated some of Roosevelt\’s diplomatic policies during the war. Cautious of provoking the British, he refrained from acting effectively against colonialism. Embarrassed by the delay in the second front, and anxious to secure Russian assistance against Japan, he acquiesced at the Teheran and Yalta summit conferences in some of Russia\’s aims in Asia and eastern Europe. In his dealings with Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Britain and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, Roosevelt also showed an exaggerated faith in the power of his personal charm. The gleefulness and exuberance that had soothed ruffled congressmen and bureaucrats during the early New Deal days were not so well suited for international politics.

In the larger sense Roosevelt\’s diplomacy, like his military policies, was statesmanlike. Despite occasional strains, the awkward wartime coalition among Russia, Britain, and the United States held together. Roosevelt was wise in recognizing the ineffectiveness of trying to stop Russian penetration of eastern Europe, which Soviet armies had overrun by early 1944. Therefore, he sought to avoid unnecessary arguing with Stalin. Had FDR lived into the postwar era, he could not have prevented divisions from developing between Russia and the United States. But he might have worked harder than did his successors in compromising them.

Overall, FDR had spent the more years then and other man at the headfront of the United States. If he was not effective or did not provide America with the correct equipment for foreign and domestic matters, then he would not and should not had spent four terms in office. Thus, though at times he was controversial he did the necessary tasks that needed to be done in economic hardships and world war. More over not only did America survive, they were propelled into the good times of the 1950s. This made Franklin Roosevelt one of the best presidents ever.

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