David Greenwood-Sanchez



Evaluation of FDR’s “Arsenal of Democracy” Speech


            On December 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.

            FDR begins 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 U.S. 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 of America. 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 America’s stability. Aside from this, the speech is clear and inspiring, and deserving of its place as one of the all-time great American speeches.