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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Obama Is No FDR

Barack Obama often refers to Franklin D. Roosevelt in his speeches. But Roosevelt was the un-Obama when it came to war policy.

Roosevelt took this country to all-out war with Japan, even though Japan only had attacked us once at Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt did not limit himself to a proportionate response, say, by bombing a few Japanese airfields. And Germany declared war on us, but only after we had offered military support to Germany's enemies, Britain and the Soviet Union. Roosevelt did not wring his hands over whether we had caused Germany to react.

Moreover, these were not mere retaliatory wars, but wars to the bitter end. Unconditional surrender of Japan and Germany was the only acceptable outcome. There were no considerations of Japanese and German sensibilities, history, or desired compromises.

After the wars, although Roosevelt was dead, the U.S. continued these uncompromising policies. Regardless of Japanese and German culture, we imposed democracy on them. And the result was that we have had two democratic war-averse allies for over half a century.

Obama, by contrast, abhors victory. He has said so more than once. In his speech last week to the UN General Assembly, Obama paid homage to Roosevelt:
Sixty-five years ago, a weary Franklin Roosevelt spoke to the American people in his fourth and final inaugural address. After years of war, he sought to sum up the lessons that could be drawn from the terrible suffering and enormous sacrifice that had taken place. "We have learned," he said, "to be citizens of the world, members of the human community."
Yet Obama drew conclusions completely the opposite of Roosevelt's historical experience of insisting on victory and imposing democracy on the vanquished. Obama said:

Democracy cannot be imposed on any nation from the outside. Each society must search for its own path, and no path is perfect. Each country will pursue a path rooted in the culture of its people, and - in the past - America has too often been selective in its promotion of democracy. But that does not weaken our commitment, it only reinforces it. There are basic principles that are universal; there are certain truths which are self evident - and the United States of America will never waiver in our efforts to stand up for the right of people everywhere to determine their own destiny.
Put aside the put down of the U.S. for being "inconsistent." The more important concept espoused by Obama was that each nation must follow its own cultural path to democracy, and that democracy cannot be imposed from outside. This view is rooted in the same multi-cultural gobbledygook which now forms the foundation of American education.

What would Obama's cultural conceptions have meant in a Japan and Germany with generations of militarism, and self-images rooted in the superiority of their races?

Put Obama in the Presidency in 1943, and his outlook on the world order would have demanded negotiations without preconditions with Japan and Germany and a negotiated peace which preserved Japanese and German political institutions. Instead of meeting only with Churchill and Stalin, Obama would have met with Hitler and Hirohito, if Obama were to be "consistent." The free and democratic nations which emerged after democracy was imposed on them from outside would be quite different from the Japan and Germany we now know and love.

If Obama consistently invokes Franklin Roosevelt, isn't it fair for us to point out that Obama is no Franklin Roosevelt? And that the foreign policies of Obama, which stress accommodation with our enemies, an aversion to victory, and an unwillingness to trumpet our form of democracy, are the antithesis of what Roosevelt demanded.

In fact, Obama's reference to the cultural traditions of others merely is an excuse to turn a blind eye towards the subjugation of women and ethnic/religious minorities in large parts of the world. After all, if it is in the cultural tradition of a nation that women cannot vote, or drive cars, or walk outside without the company of a male relative, then Obama must, under his own thesis, credit such traditions.

The cultural relativism evoked by Obama in his UN speech was the opposite of Roosevelt's uncompromising insistence on victory and democracy. Let's all just acknowledge that we knew FDR, FDR was a friend of ours, and Obama is no FDR.

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  1. Here’s what goes on at Chicago Public School dismissals. Maybe the community organizer can come back and bring the army with him. http://www.myfoxchicago.com/dpp/news/metro/video_derrion_albert

  2. Cultural relativism another term for cowardice. The Bible admonishes us to pursue Justice. I don't think God was talking about relative Justice but the notion of each individual's humanity and right to dignity. Wonder what the President really learned in that pew for twenty years.

  3. While I agree with the basic premise, I do not necessarily agree that “FDR was a friend of ours[.]”

    FDR did plenty of damage himself with similar domestic policies, extending and deepening a recession into a depression. What’s more, by following the approach that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” he caused the Cold War that followed World War II.

    We should have just let Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union go at each other until we’d gotten strong enough to enter the war ourselves. Instead, we gave no end of material support to the Soviet Union even while they held Doolittle raiders as virtual prisoners of war for fear of opening a second front with the Japanese.

  4. though Japan only had attacked us once at Pearl Harbor.
    Um, professor, they made a movie about Wake Island, I think that was ours. And weren't the Philippines? Anyway, I thought they were US related, somehow.
    By the way, your post only got worse from there but such ruminations must give you something to do. Keeps you from damaging any more minds for a few.
    Too funny.

  5. @Tom, so I guess I am wrong that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was THE event which led to the declaration of war.

  6. Just one of many events.

    "Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.

    Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

    Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.

    Last night Japanese forces atttacked the Philippine Islands.

    Last night the Japanese attacked Midway Island."

    Surely you've read FDR's Infamy Speech? Really, if any country could ever be said to start a war not by "attacking us once", but rather by lashing out in as many ways as possible -- "a surprise offensive throughout the Pacific area" -- it's Japan in 1941.

  7. And the Cornellian view of history continues: "Moreover, these were not mere retaliatory wars, but wars to the bitter end. Unconditional surrender of Japan and Germany was the only acceptable outcome. There were no considerations of Japanese and German sensibilities, history, or desired compromises."

    Actually, there was. The planning for the occupation of Germany was in full swing by 1943, with a training center established. Lists of pre-war German politicians were assembled, so that occupiers would know who had been anti-Nazi leaders. IOW, the occupation was conducted competantly; nobody was stupid enough to conclude that the war was won when the first tanks rolled through Berlin.

    In Japan, among other things, the Emperor was allowed to keep the throne (think of Emperor-Shogun relationships to understand that). McArthur was a competant Shogun. Food was sent to Japan, to help with the famine. Japanese civilians were amazed at the civilized conduct of US troops.

  8. FDR was not a friend to Japanese-Americans and Jewish refugees though. And in the lead up before WW2, he was far from open and intentionally obscured the seriousness of what was going on in the interests of his own self-service.