On this day in 1940, in front of a roaring crowd of over 500 graduates and family members at University of Virginia, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt put the world on notice by proclaiming in no uncertain terms that the US would not adopt an isolationist policy during this time of great international turmoil. What exactly was the catalyst that led to such a definitive statement by our commander-in-chief? In a word: Fascism…A declaration of war by Italy against the already-compromised country of France was enough to spur the president on to not only strongly condemn the actions of the bully country, but to go even further and explicitly offer aid and resources to the struggling French people.
In response to the abhorrent actions of Italy, under the direction of Benito Mussolini, FDR had this to say:
“On the tenth day of June 1940, the hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor.”
He had not initially planned to speak such harsh words, but after giving it considerable thought on the train ride to Charlottesville, Virginia, he decided to insert the stinging words into his typewritten speech, and he did just that in his own hand. He was actually referencing earlier remarks made by the Premier of France, Paul Reynaud who minced no words when he said this about Italy: “This very hour, another dictatorship has stabbed France in the back.”
President Roosevelt’s pledge of support for France garnered not only rousing applause but also the spirited stomping of feet and even a few “rebel yells!”
Some may see it as pure coincidence that on the very day he was asked to speak at the graduation of his son, Franklin, Jr. from law school, he would end up making history with his rallying cry that sent out a clear message to the Axis powers that the US would now become fully engaged in supporting its allies. To the wise, it could only be seen as providential.