Franklin Roosevelt's Iron Fist
January 14, 2010
by William P. Meyers

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In January 1929 Franklin Delano Roosevelt could have had little hope of becoming President. Herbert Hoover had just been elected President by a landslide. Despite the grip the Democratic Party had held on the Solid South since the civil war (maintained by denying African-Americans the right to vote), Hoover was so popular that he won several former Confederate states. He won the popular vote with 21,391,381 votes to Al Smith's 15,016,443.

Capitalism, however, came unraveled in 1929. The Depression led to a total reversal of fortunes. In 1932 Roosevelt, a former Governor of New York and Assistant Secretary of the Navy, took the Presidency with 22,821,857 votes to Hoover's 15,761,841.

Roosevelt is usually portrayed as the great American Good Guy President. He is credited with ending the Great Depression and winning World War II. If, however, you want to have a factual history and a sound knowledge of economics and politics, you have to consider whether everything Roosevelt ("FDR") did really was both effective and good.

In the short, sweet version of U.S. history, on December 9, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese military attacked the Philippines, then a "commonwealth," under the "protection" of the United States of America. Douglas MacArthur was in charge of U.S. troops there. They lost after putting up heroic resistance, but General MacArthur was transferred to Australia. As the U.S. military geared up, sailors and troops led by MacArthur eventually retook the Philippines from Japan. The Japanese surrendered after their cities were firebombed or nuked. The takeaway is: don't mess with the good guys.

The Devil is in the details. Recall that the Filipinos did not have an election and voluntarily join the United States. They had their own Revolutionary War to throw out the Spaniards. Just when they were succeeding, the U.S. "bought" the Philippines from Spain, and proceeded to murder the George Washingtons and Thomas Jeffersons of the Philippines, and about 500,000 Filipino soldiers and civilians. [See Philippines Conquest] Resistance to U.S. rule continue right on up to World War II, but for the most part the richer Filipinos found they made out well pimping for the U.S. The U.S. even promised the Philippines eventual independence, so most Filipinos in favor of independence decided patience was the better part of valor.

MacArthur, who at other times acted like a military genius, acted like a complete idiot in defending against the Japanese invasion. Roosevelt told MacArthur to hold on, help was on the way. But Roosevelt was lying. He had no intention of sending any help in time to save the U.S. and Filipino soldiers fighting the Japanese on the now-infamous Bataan Peninsula.

President Manuel Quezon, head of the commonwealth, had already tried to get Roosevelt to allow the Philippines independence before the war started. When he realized that FDR was not sending help, he again, with the backing of his cabinet, demanded independence. Since the Japanese had promised independence, Quezon believed the Philippines could become a neutral state. But Roosevelt said no. Fight to the death for America, Roosevelt said. And so many American soldiers and their Filipino comrades fought to their death to no point. MacArthur and Quezon skipped out to Australia.

It seems to me that Roosevelt's Iron Fist landed a solid punch on an oppressed, colonial people. If you look too closely at the details, you can see that U.S. war propaganda was just that, propaganda. The U.S. did not stand for democracy and freedom. The government of the Philippines did declare independence during the war. When American troops came back with General MacArthur, the U.S. asserted that the Filipinos had not, in fact become independent.

You might argue that this is a gray area, but the U.S. policy towards other Asian nations in general confirms that the policy towards the Philippines was no exception. With Japanese help, the Vietnamese declared independence from the French, the Burmese independence from the British, and the Indonesians independence from the Dutch (the Netherlands). They did not allow for an independent Korea. The U.S. promised Korea independence, then changed its mind and set up a puppet government in South Korea.

All of this is well documented. The facts about the Philippines in this case come straight out of William Manchester's highly acclaimed American Caesar, but can be found in multiple sources.

The more I look at Roosevelt, the more I see just another American rascal of a politician. I'll be documenting this more, over time, on my President Franklin Roosevelt page.

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