Wednesday, September 06, 2006

FDR and anti-Semitism revisited. Some criticize FDR for not saving the Jews of Europe. FDR's sins of omission continue to be a problem for me even though he remains one of my most ardent heroes. Nothing, however, is black and white especially in politics. One has to view it, I think, as a balancing act. It is wonderful to be idealistic. Surely in hindsight FDR might have done more for the Jews. When one matures, though, I think, one sees compromise and practicalities must be employed sometimes in order to get half of what one wants. It's nice to be idealistic but it doesn't often work especially in the world of political reality.

Nearly everyone in that era probably fell into the anti-Semitic category. I am not saying it is right but it is the way it was and perhaps even still is to some degree. Recently, transcripts of Truman emerged showing in black and white some explicit anti-Semitic remarks he made BUT he supported the establishment of Israel. Nixon is renown for his anti-Semitism in his private rants but he supported Israel too and probably saved Israel during the Yom Kippur War by supplying it with ammunition. Even Billy Graham needed to apologize for his anti-Semitic remarks he made in a visit to the oval office. That was WASP America since our country's inception.

FDR, in my opinion, was probably less anti-Semitic than many others of his generation but felt he could not to go to world war over Jews. He thought it would never be acquiesced to by the American electorate. He wanted to save Europe (and Jews by proxy) and the US from Nazism and THAT was his larger goal. Perhaps the horrific fate of European Jewry was not entirely known even in the upper echelons of power. If he guessed wrong where that was concerned so be it. If he were alive today perhaps he would even admit he erred. He guessed right, in my opinion, in many other ways including little more than saving our country and the world.

As much as the decision regarding the ship the St. Louis and later not bombing the tracks of Auschwitz, are odious to all Jews and even to so many others, I'll still take Roosevelt's articulate brilliance any day over what we have now. The Jews of Europe were doomed. Europe itself had a chance IF we could prevail upon our people, who had a subliminal current of anti-Semitism running through their veins and were notoriously isolationist after WWI, to engage in that effort and then stick it out. Roosevelt, in his pragmatism, hoped that if they saw the larger picture they would. Morally his decision or lack of it regarding Jews is unpalatable BUT politically perhaps it was expedient as HE saw it. I have read a historian perhaps Doris Kearns Goodwin (I forget whom), who said Roosevelt did not have an anti-Semitic bone in his body. He appointed, among others, a Jew, Henry Morgenthau, to the Sec. of the Treasury and Roosevelt made speeches decrying Nazi anti-Semitism.

Since we cannot rewrite history we can, on balance, I think, look at FDR in totality and not just for what he did or did not do for the Jews. I am thankful for the many fruits we still enjoy because of him. I still consider him one of the greatest, most articulate, most charismatic and humane Presidents who has ever occupied that office.