In February of 1942, Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked all U.S. citizens to go out and buy a durable map in preparation for his first address to the nation following the attack on Pearl Harbor. He wanted to speak to the nation about the challenges facing it just after the U.S. had entered World War II. As he talked in positive, upbeat tones about the victory that was certain to come, a victory that was far from assured at the time, he let us know that we would also face innumerable challenges that would require sacrifice.
Millions went out and bought maps in advance of what became known as the Fireside Chats, and 63 million adults tuned in February 23rd to listen to the president. What interests me is the way FDR was able to capture the imagination of the public and galvanize our citizens into action. Automobile assembly lines were retrofitted and made into naval battleship and armaments factories, women went to work, men enlisted, and the vast majority of the adult population tuned in to hear what FDR had to say to the nation.
It’s unfortunate that it took a war of such great consequence to bring U.S. citizens together, and I certainly wouldn’t wish for any more major conflicts, but I have to confess I can’t imagine anything, even events as momentous as an entanglement in the Middle East, bringing us together in the same way. I see, in my mind’s eye, U.S. citizens, sitting down as a family in front of the ubiquitous radio to listen to FDR, and I imagine the support he enjoyed by the average man. I just don’t see our nation rallying together in support of any cause, and we, I fear, have become rather isolationistic in regard to our interactions with each other.
Leave well enough alone seems to be the motto these days, and I find myself, on this early autumn afternoon, wishing there would once again be more to unite us than divide us.