It’s time to stop worshiping FDR

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt continues to be loved by many Americans today. In public opinion polls, he consistently ranks among the top presidents in history, right up there with Washington and Lincoln. We all know about Roosevelt’s policy accomplishments on the domestic front: creating Social Security and a minimum wage, the National Labor Relations Act, public work relief programs, and so on. These domestic policy accomplishments fly in the face of his failures: willingly oppressing minorities and preventing hundreds of thousands of Jews from seeking refuge in America before and during the Holocaust. Yet when I argue this to my progressive friends, I am usually met with blank stares of ambivalence. Roosevelt does not deserve the worship and adoration of the left today, if they truly care about tolerance and justice. As this year is the seventieth anniversary of Roosevelt’s death, the end of the Holocaust, and WWII, I thought it would be appropriate to expound on this seemingly ignored facet of our “beloved” 32nd president.

Perhaps the most well known policy of discrimination by the Roosevelt administration was the internment of over 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II. The most ardent FDR apologists will tell me that yes, while internment was immoral and wrong to do, Roosevelt was only following the advice of his top military advisors, effectively washing his hands of the matter. While this defense of the great progressive crusader looks good on paper, the only drawback is that it’s completely untrue. As early as 1936, FDR instructed different intelligence agencies to begin compiling a “special list of those who would be the first to be placed in a concentration camp in the event of trouble” between Japan and the United States. This list came to include practically all 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation Japanese-Americans on the West Coast, even little children and the elderly. Six weeks after Pearl Harbor, the government began the internment of all Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast.

Furthermore, the President commissioned two reports – one before Pearl Harbor and one after – to determine whether the Japanese-American population at large presented a danger to the country’s national security. Both the Munson Report and the Ringle Report – the latter of which was withheld from the Supreme Court by FDR’s Solicitor General – determined that not only were Japanese Americans not a threat to the country, they were also found on average to be more loyal to and supportive of the United States! Both Attorney General Francis Biddle and the notoriously paranoid FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover voiced their opposition to the President over internment. However, Roosevelt ignored them, and his own commissioned reports, in order to placate racist public opinion from whites on the West Coast. Why do progressives refuse to acknowledge this when opining about how great FDR was? Apparently, racially oppressing tens of thousands of Americans is ok when Roosevelt does it?

In addition to the mistreatment of Japanese-Americans, Roosevelt’s administration was rife with anti-Semitic policies as well. One of President Roosevelt’s closest friends in the executive branch was Breckenridge Long, who served as Assistant Secretary of State during WWII. Long’s relationship with Roosevelt went all the way back to the First World War, when both worked in President Wilson’s administration. During the war, Long used his position to deny Jews from Europe a chance at seeking asylum in the United States. In 1940, he issued an infamous intra-department memo that stated:

“We can delay and effectively stop for a temporary period of indefinite length the number of immigrants into the United States. We could do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way and to require additional evidence and to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas.” 

In this case, “immigrants” refers to Jewish refugees from Europe. Long’s policy on refusing entry to refugees from Europe prevented an estimated 190,000 Jews and other targets of the Holocaust into the country, leaving ninety percent of the immigration quotas from countries occupied by Germany and Italy at the time unfulfilled. All the while, Roosevelt sat back and refused to interfere in the anti-Semitic policies of his “good friend” from the State Department. Throughout the war, Roosevelt’s administration continuously ignored reports about the systemic extermination of European Jewry, dismissing them as “Jewish and Polish propaganda,” even though he had photographic evidence of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp complex.

Perhaps the most blatant example of Roosevelt’s mistreatment of Jews during the Holocaust comes from the infamous 1939 journey of the MS St. Louis, known today as the “Voyage of the Damned.” The St Louis sailed from Hamburg to to Cuba in May of that year, carrying hundreds of Jews seeking asylum from Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, Cuba retroactively invalidated the refugees’ visas without letting them know, so the Jewish passengers were prohibited from disembarking in Havana. The ship’s captain then sailed to Miami, in hopes that the United States government would grant refuge to the Jewish passengers. Roosevelt and his cabinet closely monitored the situation, but the President still refused to let the Jews disembark, citing restrictions on any “new immigrants” from Southern and Eastern Europe under the Immigration Act of 1924. The St. Louis was forced to return to Europe, and an estimated 254 Jews who were on board were killed during the Holocaust. Roosevelt is directly responsible for those lost lives, but the president stayed silent on the matter throughout the rest of his life. It wasn’t until 2012 that the State Department issued an official apology to the surviving Jewish passengers for refusing to allow them entrance 73 years earlier. It’s especially interesting that progressives demand the admittance of tens of thousands of Central American refugees fleeing violence today, while turning a blind eye to their progressive idol’s refusal to accept Jewish refugees escaping the Holocaust.

I would hope that a closer examination of President Roosevelt’s time in office will end progressive adoration of him. Seventy years after the Holocaust and Japanese internment, on Yom HaShoah, it’s time to stop worshiping FDR as the paragon of progressivism.



About the Author
Justin Lewis is a recent graduate of the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He continues to live and work in D.C. in the government relations industry.