Life has a way of jumping up to bite you when you least expect it. It happened to me today because of my own carelessness. The subject is President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR).
For many Americans (myself included), FDR remains one of the great American Presidents, because he rallied the nation to overcome the Great Depression and he joined with Winston Churchill to lead the Allies in WW II.
Because of this, I wrote in a FaceBook post this morning that our country needs another FDR, specifically that we need another President with FDR’s type of wisdom, vision, and leadership in order to deal with the crises besetting modern America.
I was careless, utterly and stupidly careless, particularly after spending the last year studying the WW II imprisonment of Japanese Americans and visiting the ten so-called Internment Camps. One dear friend of mine, whose parents were both in the Camps, graciously pointed out my foibles.
There is a profoundly bitter irony that the liberal Democratic icon, FDR himself, is the one who signed Executive Order 9066, leading to the arrest and long imprisonment of over 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent, without any due process whatsoever. He did so at the urging of another liberal icon, then California Attorney General Earl Warren. Here is FDR putting pen to paper.
It is stunning that an order of such staggering consequence could have been done so quickly and by one man.
Then, people were jerked out of their homes and communities and taken to prison camps in remote locations, mostly with harsh weather conditions, where they were held for over three years without recourse.
FDR was a great President. In many respects, like Washington and Lincoln before him, FDR sustained our country in the midst of overwhelming crisis. But his Presidency was terribly flawed as well. That is his legacy, even if most historians do not record it thus. For a President to quickly condemn over 110,000 Americans to prison for no good reason and with no recourse to the courts, is an enduring tragedy of epic proportions.
My friend asked me how to reconcile the greatness and the flaw. I think that is not possible. The terrible flaw remains in spite of FDR’s greatness. Nothing will make that go away. In my mind, there is no other way to put it. FDR’s greatness does not excuse the inexcusable. His greatness and his flaws will remain part of his legacy forever…
I still think that we need another President with FDR’s wisdom, vision, and leadership. But I should have said it much more carefully. I’m sorry for that.