Two Days of Infamy - and the Chance to Lead

By Sperling, Godfrey | The Christian Science Monitor, September 18, 2001 | Go to article overview

Two Days of Infamy - and the Chance to Lead


Sperling, Godfrey, The Christian Science Monitor


I was sitting on a cot in an Army barracks in New Jersey back on Dec. 7, 1941, when I learned via the radio about the Pearl Harbor sneak attack.

It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was getting a little respite from training. That evening, I sat with about a hundred of my fellow trainees to hear President Roosevelt's solemn words: that this was "a date that will live in infamy" and that we Americans would always remember "the character of the onslaught against us." And we never did forget it - just as we will never forget the murderous attacks on New York and Washington.

What is sometimes forgotten, however, is that Roosevelt himself became such a different president after Pearl Harbor and our entry into the war. Yes, he had won the White House again and again since his landslide victory in 1932. However, he had been a controversial president, loved by the "have nots" but hated by most of the "haves." Furthermore, FDR's critics charged that his programs that helped the poor weren't putting an end to the Great Depression. And they were right: Historians now agree that the Depression's end came only with the stimulus of the war economy.

But the anti-Roosevelt feeling in this country that centered on his domestic programs was dwarfed by the anti-FDR fervor of millions of Americans who were opposed to US involvement in the war and were convinced that Roosevelt was dragging the country in.

Then came Pearl Harbor. Shocked and angry Americans rallied behind Roosevelt. It was a new day for him. Backed by a unified populace, he was able to be more effective, at home as well as in the war. We all know the story: a humanitarian president who moved to greatness as a war president.

This brings us to the terrorists' attacks on the US - and to President Bush.

I had just come out of a meeting with a pollster at a Monitor breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel when a colleague told me that a plane had rammed into New York's World Trade Center. …

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