Evaluation of FDR’s
“Arsenal of Democracy” Speech
29th, 1940, U.S.
president Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered an unusual fireside chat to the
nation that would go down in history as one of the greatest speeches of all
time. The purpose of the radio-broadcast speech was to alert American citizens
to the growing threat of an Axis takeover of Great Britain, and the resulting
responsibilities of American industrial aid in maintaining national security. Its
great success rested largely on its ability to clearly convey the current
problem, the urgent need for a new policy, and the manner in which this new
policy would be achieved.
his speech by solemnly stating “This is not a fireside chat on war. It is a
talk on national security.” Since national security is of utmost importance to
every citizen, this acts as an effective attention getter, while immediately
involving each and every listener. With the attention of the audience, FDR
wastes no time in moving on to the problem facing America: “If Great Britain
goes down, the Axis powers will control the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa,
Australia, and the high seas...and all of us, in all the Americas, would be
living at the point of a gun.”
Obviously, this is a very
undesirable situation, and FDR is very frank about the dangers that lie ahead.
This has two main effects. First, it gets across to audience the fact that this
is a very real and immediate threat, which helps breed support for the policy
he suggests later. Secondly, FDR’s frankness reaches people on a more personal
level, making them more inclined to see things his way, and thereby increasing
the overall effectiveness of his speech.
Although FDR surely hooks people on
this personal level, he also attempts to gain support by appealing to the unity
of this great nation of individuals. He speaks of individual citizens as though
they are the ones making this decision, and he makes frequent references to the
greatness of our nation, such as unmatched “American industrial genius.” Additionally,
FDR tries to acquire any possible remaining support by naming this as
“democracy’s fight against world conquest.” The ultimate effect is that the
audience is recruited on an individual level, a national level, and an
additional global level. This is most certainly an extremely effective method
of attracting support.
After FDR finishes emphasizing the
urgent need to support Great
Britain’s fight, he makes it very clear just
how this will be achieved. He says, “I want to make it clear that it is the
purpose of the nation to build now with all possible speed every machine, every
arsenal, every factory that we need to manufacture our
defense material. We have the men, the skill, the wealth, and above all, the
will.” I think that the clear and very direct objective that FDR gives the
nation makes it much easier for citizens to rally behind him. If he had said,
“we are going to increase our military expenditures by 150%, send 50,000 ships
into the Mediterranean, increase our subsidies to factories by 50%, and begin
planning possible defense scenarios,” then ordinary citizens would feel distant
and perhaps uninterested. However, by giving simple and direct orders that
relate to everyone, FDR makes his message much easier to support.
FDR also makes his argument more
convincing by showing that America
has been in dire straits before, and has climbed out of them successfully, just
as it will now. He uses the example of the recent Great Depression, which threatened
economic security until he engineered and executed a series of successful
reforms. This certainly helps establish his credibility, and makes success of
his new plan seem more plausible.
Another persuasive aspect of this
speech is its inclusion of responses to prominent arguments against support of Great Britain.
For example, it challenges the argument that the U.S.
would still be safe if Great Britain
were to fall, as well as the argument that the U.S. would be better off in a
negotiated peace agreement with the Axis powers. Attacking these arguments
makes FDR’s proposal even stronger, and lets everyone know that this course of
action has been well thought out.
Lastly, FDR uses strong oratory
skills to better persuade his audience. First and foremost, he is calm and
composed throughout his speech. This is especially important since he is giving
a speech on national security. His calm and confident tone delivers the
important message without inciting panic, and instead, symbolizes the strength
Secondly, FDR consistently speaks very slowly and lucidly, so that everyone can
understand this crucial message.
Overall, this speech is very
effective in engaging as much of the audience as possible, and revealing their
role in the current state of affairs. It gives Americans multiple reasons to
support Great Britain,
and gives a very simple, yet inspiring objective to every citizen. If I had to
pick a flaw it would be that FDR sounds a bit flat at times, and could be
slightly more dramatic, especially when speaking of America’s greatness. However, this
is pretty nitpicky, because too much drama would detract from the perception of
stability. Aside from this, the speech is clear and inspiring, and deserving of
its place as one of the all-time great American speeches.