Study Guide

The Great Arsenal of Democracy Quotes

By Franklin Delano Roosevelt

  • American Defense

    In other words, the Axis not merely admits but the Axis proclaims that there can be no ultimate peace between their philosophy of government and our philosophy of government. (18)

    The first rule you ever learned was to treat others they way you wanted to be treated, and that rule exists because everyone's different. Coexisting peacefully means accepting those differences and trying to find a middle ground—except that Hitler made it super clear he wasn't about that. He had no plans to tolerate any type of government he wasn't in charge of, and that put the U.S. in a position of having to prepare to defend itself.

    Frankly and definitely there is danger ahead—danger against which we must prepare. But we well know that we cannot escape danger, or the fear of danger, by crawling into bed and pulling the covers over our heads. (48-49)

    Hitler made it clear from the very beginning that, like some crazed supervillain, he had big plans for world domination. FDR totally understood why so many Americans were less than eager to involve themselves in the physical fighting, but he didn't approve of the way some people were choosing to ignore the problem in the hopes that it would go away. It doesn't work with homework, and it wasn't going to work with this mustachioed menace. The best way to ensure the safety of the United States would be to recognize the danger and start trying to figure out what can be done to stop it.

    Emphatically, we must get these weapons to them, get them to them in sufficient volume and quickly enough so that we and our children will be saved the agony and suffering of a war which others have had to endure. (120)

    Even at this early stage of World War II, lots of people had already died, and the bad stuff had just barely gotten started. If the American people wanted to spare their children the same fate, keep them from having to fight on the ground in Europe as had happened a generation before in World War I, then U.S. industry needed to dedicate itself to producing the weapons and munitions the Allies needed to put a stop to the conflict. And they needed to do it yesterday.

    We are planning our own defense with the utmost urgency, and in its vast scale we must integrate the war needs of Britain and the other free nations which are resisting aggression. This is not a matter of sentiment or of controversial personal opinion. It is a matter of realistic, practical military policy, based on the advice of our military experts who are in close touch with existing warfare. These military and naval experts and the members of the Congress and the Administration have a single-minded purpose: the defense of the United States. (134-137)

    Here's the thing about a conflict of this size, with a bunch of scary bad guys banding together—planning U.S. defensive strategy had to include the needs of the good guys doing the physical fighting.

    The first priority was to protect American lives, but in order to do that, Americans had to do their part to produce weapons and munitions in the hopes that the Allies would have what they needed to put a quick stop to the war. The Axis had to deal with the problems closest to them (Britain, Greece, France, China) before they could even think about making a play for the U.S. of A. 

    As planes and ships and guns and shells are produced, your government, with its defense experts, can then determine how best to use them to defend this hemisphere. (171)

    Even though it kind of sounds like FDR is asking American industry to press pause on production of luxury cars and shiny watches for the defense of the rest of the world, it's in the best interest of the United States, too.

    Dedicating all industrial resources to the production of munitions and other weapons will help Britain and China and all the other countries trying to stand up to the Axis, but rebuilding American military muscle will give the U.S. something to work with in case the war ever does come—and we know that eventually, it does.

  • Isolationism

    Some of our people like to believe that wars in Europe and in Asia are of no concern to us. But it is a matter of most vital concern to us that European and Asiatic war-makers should not gain control of the oceans that lead to this hemisphere. (24-25)

    You know your geography, so you're probably already aware that the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean act as pretty large natural boundaries between Europe and Asia. They're what have kept us safe from invasion throughout history, and they've also provided a way for us to keep our noses out of other people's business. That wouldn't be the case if the Axis had control over the oceans—we wouldn't be isolated from the problem anymore, and if it comes to that point, none of our allies would be left to help us out.

    (Psst: Philip K. Dick wrote a great novel about an alternate reality in which the Axis won World War II called The Man in the High Castle. Check it out.)

    Does anyone seriously believe that we need to fear attack anywhere in the Americas while a free Britain remains our most powerful naval neighbor in the Atlantic? And does anyone seriously believe, on the other hand, that we could rest easy if the Axis powers were our neighbors there? (30-31)

    World War II is known as "the last good war," because the fighting led to an increase in economic production and put a stop to the Great Depression. But more importantly, everyone was united against a common enemy, this power-crazy group of people who were determined to enslave entire populations and get rid of freedom and equality.

    All the good guys were fighting to prevent this from happening, so if one group fell—particularly the British, who were our strongest ally and the strongest power in Europe—the United States didn't stand a chance, so we couldn't really pretend what was happening didn't affect us.

    The American appeasers ignore the warning to be found in the fate of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Belgium, the Netherland, Denmark, and France. (96)

    As if Americans needed any further proof the Germans weren't messing around, they'd already wreaked havoc all over continental Europe. Millions of innocent people were displaced and hurt, and we know now that large amounts of Jews and other "inferior" populations were sent to concentration camps.

    FDR was trying to make it clear that these people—some of which lived in countries who placed high value on freedom and independence—were falling victim to the Axis agenda, and the Americans had a responsibility, both as the largest democratic country in the world and as human beings, to do something to help.

    I make the direct statement to the American people that there is far less chance of the United States getting into war if we do all we can now to support the nations defending themselves against attack by the Axis than if we acquiesce in their defeat, submit tamely to an Axis victory, and wait our turn to be the object of attack in another war later on. (115)

    Okay, people—FDR is very clear on the fact that avoiding U.S. involvement in the war is what everybody wants. And he's on board, at least to a degree. His goal isn't to send American troops overseas, but he does want U.S. industry to step up its game and get the Allies the supplies they need. It's the best way to prevent the United States from being part of the physical fighting. Complete isolation just isn't an option.

    The British have received invaluable military support from the heroic Greek Army and from the forces of all the governments in exile. Their strength is growing. It is the strength of men and women who value their freedom more highly than they value their lives. (179-181)

    The desire for freedom is universal—doesn't matter who you are or where you come from. If everyone wants that same thing, Americans have a responsibility as the largest free nation in the world to do whatever's necessary to help. The resistance is getting stronger, and that's because so many people, like the Greeks and other governments in exile, are coming together to fight. The U.S. needs to jump on the bandwagon and join the party.

  • Power of Industry

    But the width of those oceans is not what it was in the days of clipper ships.... Why, even today, we have planes that could fly from the British Isles to New England and back again without refueling. (38, 41)

    "It's A Small World After All" isn't just an annoying ride at Walt Disney World. As technology advanced, it became easier and easier to send people and information around the world in record time. When it comes to flying from JFK to Dublin in six hours, it's not such a bad thing.

    However, when you're facing a real war with a bunch of power-hungry dictators, the outlook isn't so sunny. FDR knew that, even without deploying American troops overseas, U.S. industrial capabilities would play a huge role in the outcome of World War II.

    And most important of all, the vast resources and wealth of this American hemisphere constitute the most tempting loot in all of the round world. (71)

    The U.S. is big. Really, really big—we're talking more than 3 million square miles, and that's a lot of land filled with tons of natural resources.

    Industry in this country has undoubtedly benefited from access to all that fun stuff, and it's what made the U.S. so capable of producing all the weapons and munitions the Allies needed to defeat the Axis. It also made the U.S. super attractive to the bad guys, who were dependent on other nations to get the supplies they needed, so FDR wanted to make sure the American people knew time was of the essence.

    Guns, planes, ships and many other things have to be built in the factories and the arsenals of America. They have to be produced by workers and managers and engineers with the aid of machines, which in turn have to be built by hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the land. In this great work there has been splendid cooperation between the government and industry and labor. (151-153)

    Especially at this moment in our history, with the Great Depression still super fresh in everyone's mind, FDR knew he needed to promise the American people that, if they gave their all in producing munitions and weapons for the war effort, the government would do everything possible to protect them. All people at all levels of industry and government need to work together, because that's what gave U.S. industry such an edge. FDR recognized the true power in manufacturing was in the workers and laborers who operated the machines, and he wanted those people to know they'd be taken care of.

    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. Manufacturers of watches, of farm implements, of Linotypes and cash registers and automobiles, and sewing machines and lawn mowers and locomotives, are now making fuses and bomb packing crates and telescope mounts and shells and pistols and tanks. (155-156)

    In other words, the time has come—this is the moment American manufacturing has been waiting for, the opportunity to prove just how innovative and powerful U.S. industry actually is.

    How will that happen? FDR is mighty glad you asked.

    All production of luxury goods—automobiles, watches, Linotypes, lawn mowers—will come to an end, and those factories and workers will dedicate themselves to making weapons of war. Everyone has to get their heads in the game.

    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. (166-167)

    Here's the thing about the United States that makes it so amazing: The American people always seem to rally together when the kitty litter hits the fan.

    FDR knew U.S. industry was capable of accommodating the increased production, and he knew the workers had the skills necessary to make it happen. But he also sincerely believed that what set his people apart from the rest of the world is their dedication to freedom, and their dedication to protecting all people everywhere from threats of enslavement and death. At this point, the best way the United States could do that was to revamp the goods being produced in the country, and FDR knew the people had what it took to get the job done.

  • Democracy

    I had before my eyes the picture of all those Americans with whom I was talking. I saw the workmen in the mills, the mines, the factories, the girl behind the counter, the small shopkeeper, the farmer doing his spring plowing, the windows and the old men wondering about their life's savings. (5-6)

    FDR was nothing if not a good public speaker. Remember, he did most of his talking over the radio, so people couldn't see the expressions on his face. It was all about his voice, his words, and the way those pieces fit together, and that's especially apparent when he talks about all these different people. A democratic government depends on farmers and workmen and shopkeepers, on the rich and the poor and everyone in between, to function successfully.

    For FDR's plan to work, he needed the American people to remember the nation had survived the Great Depression by working together, and they needed to prepare to do that again.

    Some of them even suggest that we should imitate the methods of the dictatorships. But Americans never can and never will do that. (88-89)

    Not only do the principles of a dictatorship disagree completely with American democracy, it's also just plain icky. People don't have any power, or the right to fight for things they disagree with. Freedom as we know it in the United States doesn't exist in a country ruled by a dictator, and FDR knew staying out of the war wasn't worth it if democracy was at risk of being compromised.

    They may talk of a "new order" in the world, but what they have in mind is only a revival of the oldest and the worst tyranny. In that there is no liberty, no religion, no hope. (106-107)

    The thing about Nazi propaganda is that everyone in the free world knew they were talking crazy. The Allies could plainly see that Germany had no intention of protecting the countries it invaded—instead, the Axis wanted complete control, and they were willing to do whatever it took to make that happen. There's no freedom or hope in a world like that, and it completely goes against American democracy.

    It is not a government based upon the consent of the governed. It is not a union of ordinary, self-respecting men and women to protect themselves and their freedom and their dignity from oppression. It is an unholy alliance of power and pelf to dominate and to enslave the human race. (109-111)

    Sidebar: pelf is a great word. It refers to money, typically earned in a less-than-honest way. We can all probably agree that FDR was no dummy in using that word to talk about the Axis. Honesty wasn't exactly high on their list of priorities, and they had zero interest in creating a government where the people had any real rights whatsoever. They wanted power, and FDR knew that as the leader of the free world, the U.S. couldn't just stand by and watch the bad guys win.

    We must be the great arsenal of democracy. (173)

    The U.S. started this whole crazy business of a government run "by the people, for the people," and therefore had a responsibility to stand up to blustery bullies who threatened it. In this case, FDR believed America's best weapon against the Axis wasn't manpower—at least not on the battlefield.

    The United States' great arsenal was its industrial power, the ability to produce tanks and shells and bombs, and to do it quickly. That's how the country would contribute to preserving freedom and putting a stop to the madness.

  • War

    For on September 27th, 1940—this year—by an agreement signed in Berlin, three powerful nations, two in Europe and one in Asia, joined themselves together in the threat that if the United States of America interfered with or blocked the expansion program of these three nations—a program aimed at world control—they would unite in ultimate action against the United States. (12)

    Check out the Timeline for more information on the Tripartite Pact, signed by Germany, Italy and Japan three months before FDR gave this speech. It was an agreement that created the Axis powers, and promised to attack "anyone" who tried to interfere with their plans for world domination—and by "anyone," they meant the United States.

    We should enter upon a new and terrible era in which the whole world, our hemisphere included, would be run by threats of brute force. And to survive in such a world, we would have to convert ourselves permanently into a militaristic power on the basis of war economy. (35-36)

    While FDR wasn't trying to get the American people to agree to deploy soldiers overseas, he was hoping they'd see how important it was to do whatever necessary to help the Allies, and to do it quickly. If the Axis gained too much power, or if Britain ever fell to Germany, the rest of the world would go straight to hell in a hand basket.

    The American appeasers ignore the warning to be found in the fate of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Belgium, the Netherland, Denmark, and France. (96)

    Adolf Hitler invaded Poland on September 1st, 1939, so in a little bit more than one year, all these countries fell victim to Nazi Germany. There's no reasoning with a country that's willing to roll in with guns blazing and oppress entire populations of people, and FDR wasn't going to let Americans ignore how bad things were.

    In a military sense, Great Britain and the British Empire are today the spearhead of resistance to world conquest. And they are putting up a fight which will live forever in the story of human gallantry. (125-126)

    FDR believed the Allies would win the war, and history would celebrate Great Britain and other countries who'd given their all to defeat the bad guys. They were fighting for the freedom of literally the entire world.

    For us this is an emergency as serious as war itself. We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice as we would show were we at war. (174-175)

    Here's the thing FDR wasn't ready to say to the American people quite yet: as far as he was concerned, it wasn't a matter of if the U.S. would go to war, but when. FDR wanted to inspire the patriotism and spirit of service that Americans are known for in times of conflict, so that when the day finally came when there did need to be boots on the ground in Europe, the U.S. would be ready.