Gary North’s Reality Check
On October 30, I visited the Georgia residence of President Franklin Roosevelt in Warm Springs, Georgia. The visit was part of a weekend seminar on America’s entry into World War II, which was sponsored by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. It was held at Callaway Gardens, which is just a few miles down the road from Warm Springs.
I have believed ever since 1958 that Roosevelt took steps throughout 1940 and 1941 which were designed to provoke the Japanese attack in late 1941. My view was shared by the speakers at the conference. So, visiting the presidential home in warm Springs was sort of cathartic for me. It reminded me of how much work there remains to do in re-writing the textbooks.
The national park at Warm Springs serves as a kind of shrine for Roosevelt. Roosevelt died in his home in Warm Springs on April 12, 1945. He had been President for a little over 12 years. He had been President during the worst economic disaster in the history of the United States, and also the worst disaster, economically speaking, in the history of the modern world. Then he presided over World War II. When you consider the magnitude of these two disasters, back to back, it is understandable why Roosevelt became the closest thing to a political saint in twentieth-century American history.
When we look back at the textbook versions of the great presidents, only one of them presided over the country for eight years without any major crisis. That was George Washington. Washington’s time of trial had been when he served as commanding general during the American Revolution. The other men who are most likely to be named as a great President were wartime presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. Each presided over a national crisis.
Because of his polio-induced paralysis, Roosevelt visited Warm Springs intermittently from 1924 until 1945. The waters let him enjoy himself in the pool. It was a vacation time for him.
There is a museum on the property. As part of the tour through the museum, there is a brief documentary about Roosevelt’s years at Warm Springs. It is narrated by Walter Cronkite. The documentary is filled with praise for the fact that Roosevelt used government power to help the poor.
As I watched that video, I thought back to my years as a high school student in the late 1950s. I wrote a term paper on Pearl Harbor in the fall of 1958, in my senior year. In preparation, I read a book by John T Flynn, The Roosevelt Myth, which had been published in 1948. Flynn was a long-time opponent of Roosevelt, stretching back to the mid-1930s. This book served as his culminating critique of Roosevelt’s presidency.
The book was unique in 1948, because it was critical of Roosevelt’s domestic economic policies, and was also critical of his foreign policies. Both can be described as interventionist. Today, almost 70 years after Roosevelt’s death, there remains only one book that is negative about both his foreign policy and his domestic policy. That book is The Roosevelt Myth. The book is not what I would call a scholarly book. When I read it in 1958, I thought it needed more footnotes. Some of its claims were insufficiently substantiated.
There has never been a book written by a professional historian that is critical of Roosevelt’s foreign policy and domestic policy, There is a reason for this. In academia, there is no widespread commitment to non-interventionism. Ron Paul represents this tradition. He spoke at the seminar on non-interventionism. His views are getting a wider hearing than anyone else since Robert A. Taft, who died in 1953.
There is screening in academia. Those who hold these views are not encouraged to go on with their studies. They are not granted tenure at major universities. This has been true for over 50 years.
A SECULAR SAINT
Roosevelt really does function as a kind of secular saint for most Americans. It is still considered poor etiquette to criticize Roosevelt, despite the fact that there has been a stream of books, beginning in 1947, that indicate that he deliberately provoked the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor. These books are called revisionist history.
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