On this day in 1941, then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared in a radio address to the American people that “the only we have to fear is fear itself.”
That wasn’t, however, the first time he made a reference to “fear itself.”
Paraphrasing Thoreau, his inaugural address as president in 1933, in his remarkably brief, 1,833-word, 20-minute-long speech he sought to outline his plans to pull the nation out of the Great Depression with a plan he referred to as the “New Deal.”
He would come back to the “fear itself” phrase time and time again, most famously in 1941.
His inaugural speech would have made an excellent primer for our approach to the coronavirus pandemic in the early days, to wit:
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”
To gain the support of the American people for his plan, he compared the Great Depression to a war that had to be won.
Roosevelt placed blame for the Great Depression on bankers and businessmen.
“[The] rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated.”
Perhaps in part because the world was far less prepared for a global pandemic than a global war – and there was no playbook left over from 1918 on how to respond to SARS-CoV-2 – and I would place blame squarely on the millions of people who put their heads in the sand and tried to go about their daily lives as if nothing was wrong.
(Photo: Accura Media Group)