Study Guide

The Great Arsenal of Democracy Analysis

By Franklin Delano Roosevelt

  • Rhetoric

    Tugging On The Heartstrings With Pathos

    Take a quick gander at this video of FDR giving his speech on the "great arsenal of democracy." It's pretty impressive—he's got that squinty-eyed look on his face, and the bow tie makes it obvious he's very, very serious.

    But remember, most people wouldn't have actually seen him give his speech. Most people would've heard it, over the radio. No shots of snazzy bow ties for them, unfortunately.

    And we're not even talking about the Apple Radio you can get on your iPhone. Americans would've had radios that looked something like the one in the movie Annie: big, wood-paneled, and a perfect spot to rest your head.

    While Annie and her friends sang and danced and never dressed without a smile, FDR was revolutionizing the relationship between a president and the general public. He was an excellent communicator, and his radio addresses made lots of people feel intimately connected with the most powerful man in the world.

    That emotional appeal (that'd be pathos in action) was crucial to FDR's various policy plans throughout his presidency. In his "Great Arsenal of Democracy," FDR counted on his ability to connect with the American people on an emotion level, and he starts from the very beginning by asking everyone to recall the banking crisis of 1932.

    As if people could ever forget the banking crisis of 1932.

    FDR wanted folks to remember the emotions associated with that time in the not-so-distant past. So many people, from "the workmen in the mills, the mines, the factories...[to] the farmer doing his spring plowing" were worried about how they'd survive, were worried about their life's savings (6). But he also wanted the American people to remember the way they'd all come together to address the situation.

    It's called patriotism, folks, and Americans have it in spades. FDR appealed to that loyalty and dedication to incite an emotional response. Even during the worst financial crisis in U.S. history, the American people still rallied and fought back…because that's just what Americans do.

    You're feeling like belting out God Bless America right now, aren't you? That's okay—we'll wait.

    Emotion is a powerful motivator, and FDR incited feelings of patriotism numerous times throughout his speech, because reminding the American people of their love of country made everyone more invested in what he was talking about.

    And he needed everyone's support, which is where the logos (or logic) comes into play.

    And Rallying The Troops—Er, Manufacturers—With Logos

    First, FDR addresses anyone who says isolation is the best way to address the war in Europe. (This was most of the U.S., btw.)

    He wanted the naysayers to understand that the Axis weren't ever going to be happy with conquering Europe, and leaving the U.S. alone. Check it out:

    That is the same dangerous form of wishful thinking which has destroyed the powers of resistance of so many conquered peoples. (69)

    In other words, the Nazis plowed into Poland and Austria and Belgium, and France—there's no logical way they'd just stop and leave the rest of the world alone.

    And to all those people who say the best bet might be to just jump on the dictatorial bandwagon, FDR says, essentially, "NO @#$%-ING WAY. WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?"

    (We don't like to yell at you in all caps, but we think FDR would have wanted his emotions passed on this way.)

    Allying with Germany was not an option, no matter how many people talked it up as the best solution to avoid physically fighting in the war.

    FDR is a master at combining logic and emotion throughout the "Great Arsenal of Democracy." He talked about what was happening in Europe between the Allies and the Axis, as well as what was likely to happen if the Germans kept misbehaving. Then he appealed to the inherent patriotism in all Americans, the desire for freedom and security, by saying outright that the Axis:

    […] is not a union of ordinary, self-respecting men and women to protect themselves and their freedom and their dignity from oppression. (110)

    Logically and emotionally, the United States cannot support a government like that.

    A Man With A Plan

    Now that he had everybody all fired up, FDR detailed his plan to help—because that's just what America had to do. However, in another emotional appeal to his audience, FDR acknowledged that he wasn't planning to send American troops overseas.

    Instead, he wanted U.S. industry to dedicate all they had to producing weapons and supplies for the Allies:

    American industrial genius, unmatched throughout all the world in the solution of production problems, has been called upon to bring its resources and its talents into action. (155)

    And, logically, everybody knew the United States had access to lots of natural resources, so the American people were ready and able to get the job done. FDR said all manufacturers would dedicate themselves to munitions production, and the workers and managers and plant owners would work together—just as everyone had come together in the face of the banking crisis eight years before.

    In the words of Rosie The Riveter: We can do it.

  • Structure

    Any good speech takes the audience on a journey. And it has to be an interesting journey—you know, like Frodo and Sam Gamgee's—because, typically, you're listening to it.

    FDR's "Great Arsenal of Democracy" speech was intended to get the American people to manufacture weapons in order to help Great Britain in the fight against Nazi Germany. In order to do that, and keep everybody focused on what he was saying, FDR appealed to the listeners' emotions by painting super-vivid pictures of what the Axis were doing overseas, and what the consequences would be if America didn't get involved in some way.

    The speech was effective largely because the American people trusted FDR, as well as his method of communication. Plus, everybody was worried about what was going on in Europe, so if the president spoke about it, people stopped and listened.

    How it Breaks Down

    The Cold, Hard Truth

    As much as he enjoys chatting casually with the American people via radio, the president's job first and foremost is to keep his people safe. That's why FDR warns the public he'll be talking about some unpleasant things.

    The Full Scoop

    Britain and Greece are fighting really hard to prevent the bad guys from getting any real power, but keep in mind that Germany, Italy, and Japan all signed an agreement promising to attack the U.S. if Americans tried to interfere with their plans. That's what's really happening in Europe, and the Axis are watching the United States.

    Isolationism Might Not Be The Answer

    A lot of Americans justified avoiding conflict by saying the Axis have no interest in attacking the United States. No so. They're definitely interested, and if they gain any real power, America will be in deep water.

    No One Will Be Safe if the Axis Gain Too Much Power

    When Germany invaded various countries in Europe, they promised to treat the people fairly if they surrendered. But that's not what happened, and it proved they're impossible to reason with.
    No one will be safe if they keep gaining ground.

    Don't Believe Hitler

    The Nazis say they won't stop until they have complete control, because all people are inferior to them.

    It's not a matter of if they come, but when, and pretending that's not the case won't do anybody any good.

    There's No Reasoning With Fascists

    A bunch of other countries have tried to give the Nazis what they wanted, and things have only gotten worse. What makes you think the U.S. would be any different?

    High Risk, High Reward

    Sirius Black famously said, "What's life without a little risk?" As far as FDR could tell, all the choices America had were risky, but taking action was better than sitting around waiting for the Axis to come and attack.

    We Need YOU...

    ... To work together and produce all the munitions and other war materials the Allies need. The government will protect the workers if the workers promise to give it their all, but the key is that everyone needs to rally.

    Get To Building

    Yeah, yeah—it's a lot of work to make all this stuff. But the increased production will come in handy after the war is over, when manufacturers will go back to producing normal goods, so it's not like it's all for naught.

    Show Them What We're Made Of

    FDR finishes his spiel, and everyone's all psyched and ready to roll.

    So get started and show the rest of the world what patriotism and sacrifice looks like. (Insert team chant here.)

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Technically speaking, the "great arsenal of democracy" which FDR refers to in his speech is U.S. industry—specifically American industry becoming the chief supplier of munitions to help the Allies defeat the Axis.

    But remember, kids—everything's a metaphor.

    So the "great arsenal of democracy" also referred to America's obligation to fight for those whose freedom was under attack. The U.S. had access to an incredible amount of resources and was absolutely able to produce the kinds of weapons and ammo that could win the war.

    But, Americans also understood the value of freedom, and were willing to sacrifice their lives to help others get it, and also to help them keep it. Because that's just what America does.

  • What's Up With the Opening Lines?

    My friends:

    This is not a fireside chat on war. It is a talk on national security; because the nub of the whole purpose of your President is to keep you now, and your children later, and your grandchildren much later, out of a last-ditch war for the preservation of American independence, and all of the things that American independence means to you and to me and to ours. (1-2)

    Take a peek at the opening lines of FDR's "Great Arsenal of Democracy," and it's super-obvious how worried Americans were about potentially going to war.

    FDR started his speech by assuring the American people he wasn't going to talk to them about war. (Um, really? Really, Franklin?)

    His focus was on the national security of the United States, which was his number one priority as the president. His job was to create and preserve a safe place for all people, as well as future generations, to live freely and independently. That was FDR's priority, even as Germany was wreaking havoc all over Europe, and he wanted to be sure the American people knew that.

    Ahh. So by "not a chat on war," FDR means "not a chat on a war we're currently involved in." Semantics are everything.

  • What's Up With the Closing Lines?

    We have no excuse for defeatism. We have every good reason for hope—hope for peace, yes, and hope for the defense of our civilization and for the building of a better civilization in the future. I have the profound conviction that the American people are now determined to put forth a mightier effort than they have ever yet made to increase our production of all the implements of defense, to meet the threat to our democratic faith.

    As President of the United States, I call for that national effort. I call for it in the name of this nation which we love and honor and which we are privileged and proud to serve. I call upon our people with absolute confidence that our common cause will greatly succeed. (184-189)

    Like any good speaker, FDR closed his speech by reminding everyone what exactly it was he'd asked for. He expected the American people to dedicate themselves to the production of weapons and other supplies to help the Allies defeat Germany, because it was what Americans did freedom was at stake.

    But more than that, it was what Americans did because they loved their country.

    Citizens of the United States enjoyed all the privileges of democracy, but it's definitely a give and take relationship. The government would protect the rights of its people, but in return, the people needed to answer when called upon. That's what FDR was doing with his "Great Arsenal of Democracy" speech, and he was confident that love of country would inspire the workers to act quickly to produce the items necessary to end the war.

    Aww shucks. We're a little misty-eyed, we're listening to America The Beautiful right now, and we're not ashamed to admit it.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (4) Base Camp

    Take comfort, Shmoopers—this speech is pretty easy read. There are some $15 words (we're super attached to pelf and plan to use it everyday until the end of time) that may require a dictionary, and unless you're super up-to-date on your World War II history, you'll probably need to keep a timeline of events handy.

    Other than that, FDR keeps it simple. It's kind of what he was known for, after all.

  • Shout-Outs

    In-Text References

    Historical and Political References

    Fireside Chat (1)
    Banking Crisis (7)
    Jamestown (11)
    Plymouth Rock (11)
    Tripartite Agreement (12)
    Nazi Party (13)
    Adolf Hitler (14)
    Monroe Doctrine (26)
    Clipper Ships (38)
    Nonintervention Pacts (51)
    Appeasement (92)
    Incendiary Bomb (95)
    Concentration Camp (104)

    Geographical References

    Ireland (63)
    Azores (65)
    Hawaii (66)
    Austria (96)
    Czechoslovakia (96)
    Poland (96)
    Norway (96)
    Belgium (96)
    Netherlands (96)
    Denmark (96)
    France (96)
    Sweden (133)
    Russia (133)

    References to This Text

    Literary and Philosophical References

    Baime, A.J. The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm America at War.
    Hyde, Charles K., Arsenal of Democracy: The American Automobile Industry in World War II.

    Historical and Political References

    Robinson, Charles K. Time Magazine. 13 October 1961.

  • Trivia

    FDR marrying Eleanor gave a whole new meaning to "keeping it in the family." (Source)

    Ever heard of the film FDR: American Badass? We hadn't, either, but we're probably going to watch it on repeat for days. (Source)

    Buzzfeed tells it like it is: FDR's son was a hottie. (Source)

    According to The Reelz Channel (or Saturday Night Live), history got a couple things wrong about The Roosevelts. (Source)

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