Monday, January 30, 2006

Fear and Ignorance in the Washington Post

In The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson writes:
Once upon a time we had a great wartime president who told Americans they had nothing to fear but fear itself. Now we have George W. Bush, who uses fear as a tool of executive power and as a political weapon against his opponents.
It's not worth reading beyond this point. The ignorance, whether intended or unavoidable, is too astounding. Robinson embraces the symbolism without substance of attacking one President with another's quotable quote - and he's not alone.

The quote is from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1933 Inaugural Address, not anytime during World War II. But beyond that, I am stunned that Robinson does not remember the most fear-based act of the Roosevelt administration - the forced internment of tens of thousands of Japanese, Germans, and Italians during World War II - or at least the 120,000 Japanese that were most notable.

Then there was a panoply of war measures - including war bonds, rationing, victory gardens, and salvage drives - but the most fear-inducing would be the predecessors of "duck and cover" in civil defense:
In May 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD)... By November, all the states and 5,935 towns and cities had set up defense councils... Proclaiming the safest place in an air raid was in the home, [an OCD pamphlet, "What to do in an Air Raid," advised] Americans to stay away from windows and crouch under "stout" tables. The government, with the threat of coastal enemy invasions on its mind, created the Civilian Air Patrol (CAP) whose duties were to patrol the east coast by ship and small plane. In March 1942, by military order, "dim-outs" began. This meant that there were to be no rays of light emitted on the eastern shore and inland for 12-16 miles. These dim-outs, or "blackouts," soon spread across the county and to the west coast. Americans bought yards of blackout curtain material, and magazines offered suggestions on how to comply with the blackout in style: "Bedrooms need not go into mourning," said House & Garden. "Make a blackout shade by seaming together two pieces of fabric, one black and one to match your curtain." Those who did not comply with blackout orders were subject to arrest.
Anyone who makes light of duct tape and plastic sheeting should condemn FDR for blackout curtains.

FDR's wartime message was this: There's nothing to fear but fear itself... and Japs, and Krauts, and death from the air, and death from the sea, death from enemy infiltrators, death by chemical attack, death by vicious rumors, death by sabotage, subversion and disloyalty, and anything unusual.

So Robinson finds a useful contrast between FDR and President Bush? There is one, but not knowing history, he didn't seem to find it. Where are the war bonds? The bomb shelters? Efforts to defend against chemical and biological attack? Americans are not afraid enough.

Oh, if only we could have the peace and serenity of the Second World War again.


Update, Feb. 2: The disease of historical ignorance spreads to Virginia's governor.


April said...

These people have got to stop stealing the great economics quotes. We don't have many, and this is our best one.

Lady Jane said...

People really are ignorant about history. It's sad.