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
– Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933
When President Roosevelt spoke of “fear” during his first Inaugural Address in the stormy March of 1933, there was much to fear.
“Be very afraid; be VERY afraid,” seemed like good advice, and then as now, there were many eager to give and exploit it.
In 1933 the greatest war in human history was an event of the recent past. And the end of that war in 1918 had been followed by an influenza epidemic that killed more people than the war.
In 1933 Roosevelt’s America not only found itself facing the unemployment, breadlines and despair of the Great Depression, Japan had invaded Manchuria less than two years earlier and set up, as a launch pad for later aggression a puppet state called Manchukuo.
And that same January 1933, German President Paul von Hindenburg had named a new German Chancellor, named Hitler
Though Roosevelt, his administration, Congress and the American people sometimes succumbed to the worst of their fears, somewhere in the darkness and always in his rhetoric lurked the better angels of our nature.
Chastened by our failures, and soon to be made aware of the costs in lives and treasure and national honor by a new world war that eclipsed the first, we soldiered on.
Now, a decade and a half into the 21st century, we are still struggling, despite our relative insulation from the worst of the worlds problems, our command of the strongest military establishment in human history, wealth beyond all human imagination, and science and technology that promise to bring freedom from want, freedom of speech, and even freedom of worship closer to a truly global state of reality than at any point in human history.
Then, stage right, inevitably, the beast reappears: nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, trumped up at the expense of refugees, overwhelmingly innocent men, women and children fleeing poverty, oppression, death and worse.
These new manufactured terrrors breed both fear, and hate that, in turn, generate rhetoric, policies and behaviors that both harm and shame us.
Would-be leaders of a country founded, built and long defended by immigrants, call for walls, fences, moats, and religious tests that violate not only the spirit and letter of our laws, but the most decent of our instincts.
Refugees all over the world are, indeed, now as ever, in “crisis.”
The real crisis for Americans, however, lies in our response to those in need.
It is a crisis of conscience, decency, generosity, and courage . . . not theirs, but ours.
Some of our would-be leaders make Lincoln’s better angels weep.
Let us praise the others.