A presidential visit, part two

Part two: World War II started in 1939 and ended in 1945. It was a worldwide conflict that cost approximately 50 to 80 million lives. The higher estimates include deaths from disease and famine, in addition to direct war-related causes. Regardless of which number is accurate, the fact is that the world engaged in a horrific level of violence that lasted for six long years. 

Terrible and cruel acts were committed by all participants in this brutal and bloody war. The effects of the war were felt for years to come and, in fact, are still being felt today. When I was on the walk for a nuclear-free future in 2010, I met a woman in Catskill, New York, who said that her father was drafted into the army in World War II. This gentle musician came out of the war with a bad case of post traumatic stress disorder. He was never the same again and, eventually, he committed suicide. 

The effects of the nuclear weapons that were used on Japan were felt far beyond Japan. In Japan, people died of radiation illness and cancer years after the war ended. One of those people was a girl named Sadako Sasaki. She was 24 months old when she was exposed to massive doses of radiation caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The toddler was actually blown out of the window when “little boy” struck. She survived that without injury but, later, developed leukemia, as did many who were exposed to high doses of radiation. Before she died in 1955, she folded more than 1,000 paper cranes to fulfill a legend that says that whoever folds 1,000 paper cranes is granted a wish. One thousand cranes, folded by Sadako’s friends, were buried with 12-year-old Sadako. She is considered to be a symbol of the death of innocents in war.

 In the Tuscarora territory in Lewiston, New York, buried waste that was generated from the Manhattan project (the project that created the atomic bomb)leached into the ground water. The results have been a variety of birth defects and cancers, including an atypical type of lung cancer that affects the lining of the lungs.

The killed and wounded in any war can be quantified but there is no way to assess the true human cost of war. Who among the civilians or soldiers who died might have done brilliant things? Who might have found a cure for cancer, composed a great symphony, written a great novel. Who among the dead might have been a brilliant and inspiring teacher, an artist, a religious leader, a loving parent, a good friend? Described in that way, the losses are beyond measure. We all become diminished with each person who dies in such a brutal way.

Today is veterans day, the day that we honor the veterans and the sacrifices that they made. Soldiers and sailors and other military personnel who survive the wars come home with wounds that are both visible and not visible. They too have lost too much. The holiday used to be called “armistice day,” the day that people celebrated the end of the war to end all wars, which unfortunately did not live up to its title.

Back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s story.

As the 1930s drew to a close, it became apparent that the world situation was becoming more and more unsettled. “Things were getting dark,” President Roosevelt said. Japan was threatening China, attacking it in 1932. Nazi Germany had become aggressive and was annexing territory. It occupied the Rhineland on March 7th, 1936, and Austria and Czechoslovakia in March 1938. When Nazi German took over Poland in September of 1939, war broke out. President Roosevelt talked of his antipathy to war: “I hate war. There will be no blackout of peace in the United States.”

Unfortunately, after Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese on on December 7th, 1941, there was a blackout of peace. Many people lost their lives on that day. On the USS Arizona, 1,177 sailors, many still asleep on their bunks, were killed.  President Roosevelt described it as an “unprovoked and dastardly attack, a day of infamy that will last forever.” President Roosevelt talked about the battles in the Pacific and in Europe. He talked about the generals. He sang the songs that were sung during World War II.

“I’ll be home for Christmas.
You can count on me.
Please have snow and mistletoe
and presents by the tree.

“Christmas eve will find you
where the love light gleams.
I’ll be home for Christmas,
if only in my dreams…”

President Roosevelt talked about the women working in the factories to help with the war efforts. My mother was one of those “Rosie the Riveter” women. “We could not have won World War II without the women of the United States.” President Roosevelt was a champion of women long before anyone else was. He was the first president to appoint a woman to a cabinet post. That woman was Frances Perkins. The men in the smoke-filled room said “nasty things to me, and I’m the president. I went in the smoke-filled rooms and pleaded with them. Then I told them, ‘In that case, you go out and tell Eleanor.'” Frances Perkins became Secretary of Labor.

At home, there was rationing, scrap drives, gas rationing, restricted travel, and victory gardens. At home, Japanese-Americans were taken away from their homes and placed in internment camps. Actor George Takei, who was famous for having portrayed Sulu in the original Star Trek, was sent to an internment camp with his family when he was just five years old. He said that the children ate bad food. After the war, his family relocated. They were given a one-way ticket to anywhere in the United States that they wanted to go, along with $20. They were shunned and rejected because they were Japanese. They could not find housing or employment. It was a shameful time in American history. When “President Roosevelt” asked if anyone had any questions, I asked about that shameful time. A member of the audience shouted something about remembering Pearl Harbor. 

Japanese-Americans were not responsible for Pearl Harbor. They fought bravely against the Nazis in Europe. They were loyal citizens who deserved better. They deserve an apology and restitution for their losses. Many people lost their homes, their farms, and their businesses when they were away in the internment camps.

“President Roosevelt” said that Eleanor would have agreed with me. She was a strong advocate for human rights.

In 1958, she said: Where after all do universal human rights begin? In small places, closes to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: The neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

President Roosevelt went to Yalta, Russia, in February 1945, to confer with Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin. President Roosevelt died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12th, 1945, in Warm  Springs, Georgia. 

One interesting tidbit about President Roosevelt was that, as governor of New York State, he had visited Grand Island in 1920, after being invited by Robert Moses. Governor Roosevelt had toured the locations of potential bridges to the mainland. At the time, there were no bridges, just ferries. He also visited Buckhorn and Beaver Island. 

Albert McFadyen with Grand Island resident Shirley Luther, who lived through the deprivations of the Great Depression and through the war years.

Albert McFadyen’s performance was informative, fascinating, and moving. It gave insight into a very difficult time in history: the Great Depression and World War II.  I am grateful to Adele Upton, who is in charge of programming for the Grand Island Historical Society, for inviting Mr. McFadyen to perform. It was a truly excellent program. 

1 thought on “A presidential visit, part two”

  1. This, like practically all of your writing, is interesting, straight-forward and informative, and goes far beyond the headlines of history and brings the people alive! Good for you, Alice!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top