On June 10th, 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave, what might not have been one of his most memorable speeches, nevertheless, it would be one of the most historically influential speeches of his time. What came to be known as the “Stab in the Back” speech was delivered as a commencement address for the 115th graduating class at the University of Virginia; where one of his sons was graduating. In front of hundreds, FDR would deliver a speech that was reflective of the president's examination of the most recent political activities; earlier that day a declaration of war by Mussolini's Italy against France and the UK was set in motion. This speech would eventually prove successful at pushing the United States further into a second world war and lengthening a presidential term beyond limits ever seen.
Franklin Roosevelt speaks frankly, not only to the graduating class that is in is presence, but to a world of graduation classes; graduated from education or of experiences. FDR speaks to the nation as a whole; requesting that Americans ask what they can do and what work is to be had, not of an individualistic manner, rather, what one can do for the nation as a whole. This is where he starts the relationship with his audience, letting them know that “we” are in it together.
In the midst of an ever increasing conflict (war) in Europe the president, FDR, used this platform to call the very shattered American people to prepare for courage, devotion and sacrifice in the name of democratic freedom; insinuating that the American involvement in the next world war was inevitable. Since 1937, FDR had hinted that the US would be involved in war; from words in the "Quarantine Speech”, to his fire side chats, there was constant words of potential war; He continues the same rhetoric in this speech; the need to always be prepared to defend democracy and to be equipped for the imminent threat of war:
"Perception of danger to our institutions may come slowly or it may come with a
rush and a shock as it has to the people of the United States in the past few
"This perception of danger has come to us clearly and overwhelmingly; and we
peril in a world-wide arena; an arena that may become so narrowed
that only the Americas will retain the ancient faiths that is, democracy”.
FDR was notorious for stating, on the campaign trail, that he would do everything in his power to keep the United States from war; this might be why he stresses the importance to be prepared to defend rather than prepare to aggress. The president was also in the middle of a historical campaign for his unprecedented 3rd presidential term; he clearly wanted his supporters free from thoughts of hesitation or questions of his motives and He directed the speech with this in mind.
By and large, Roosevelt used the speech to argue against isolationism on the part of “the American people”; the country, as a whole, was not able or particularly willing to be a part of another devastating war while still attempting to recover from the most recent disasters; WW1 and the Great depression. In an attempt to convince and persuade those still weary of war, FDR asserts:
"Some indeed still hold to the now somewhat obvious delusion that we of the
United States can safely permit the United States to become a lone island, a lone
island in a world dominated by the philosophy of force.”
"Such an island may be the dream of those who still talk and vote as isolationists.
Such an island represents to me and to the overwhelming majority of Americans
today a helpless nightmare of a people without freedom; the nightmare of a
people lodged in prison, handcuffed, hungry, and fed through the bars from day
to day by the contemptuous, unpitying masters of other continents."
Franklin Delano Roosevelt demonstrates, in this particular speech, that he had mastered the art of American political rhetoric. FDR used extremely persuasive measures to “call out”...
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