A Different Memorial for Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a time to remember those who fought for our country and are true heroes. Therefore, it might seem odd to be reflecting on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential memorial.

But war takes a big toll on both those who were  in combat and those who either support war or become its innocent victims. And while most are aware of the memorial’s controversy, whether to openly show or hide his wheelchair, few know of the arguments over the theme of World War II, specifically which quote to use from his many speeches.

These words were finally etched into granite: “I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded… I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed… I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.”

For those who have died in war, for those who are in mourning, and for future generations that want to escape the scourges of militarism, it is an appropriate saying.

It was actually construed by Roosevelt before World War II, even before a national address where he first used it during the Spanish Civil War.   The.”I hate war” phrase was inspired by his tour of the battlefields in France as assistant secretary of the Navy during World War I. But what enabled him to take on a much broader view of war than just that of soldiers killing other soldiers?

What forced him to recognize how war involved and influenced human communities that also had to have its horrors? Was it his intteraction with the working poor and homeless during his youth? Was it his own battle with polio?  Was it the Great Depression and New Deals, or seeing one-third of a nation ill housed?  It might have been his strong belief about the presidency. He always  had that “it is preeminently a place of moral leadership.”

Whatever it was he remained cautious in Americas entry into another world war. Then even when he did declare war he pursued a careful strategy. Many were critical for his repeated delays in opening a second front on the European continent. Also for his slow approach in the Pacific.   Not even  his war time presidency would be used to build some grand legacy.

When asked about how he wanted to be memorialized, he wanted a modest granite block the size of his desk. That was all he had asked for, and that is what he had received.