Regarding the linguistic skills of FDR...

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri May 8 14:13:27 UTC 2009

Just a little chat with Einstein…….

Roosevelt provided direct support.  He prerecorded a message to the
people of France and North Africa that was broadcast as the troops
came ashore.  In his accented but elegant French FDR noted his
personal familiarity with France (”I know your farms, your villages,
your cities”), his admiration for the Republic (”I salute again and
reiterate my faith in Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”), and the
historic bonds between France and the United States (”No two nations
are more united by friendly ties”).  He pledged immediate withdrawal
once the Germans were defeated, and evoked the image of French
grandeur.  Vive la France eternelle!……….

(578)  Following receipt of a letter from Albert Einstein in October
1939, Roosevelt had authorized preliminary research on a nuclear bomb.
 Einstein and FDR shared a long history.  When the scientist arrived
in the United States in 1933, the president invited him and his wife
to spend a night at the White House.  They dined with the Roosevelts
and conversed at length in German, which Einstein later recalled FDR
spoke very well.

As demonstrated by his language skills and time abroad, Roosevelt
understood how the world works and how  to deal with it to ensure US
interests.   He also knew how to work with non-Americans on a very
personal level to conduct critical diplomatic negotiations (on Tuesday
I mentioned that he was conducting critical negotiations with the
French military– in French– on Allied strategy during the First World
War).  But what really strikes me is how little a role the State
Department played during the Second World War.   For example, on the
major policy conferences, such as Tehran in 1943, FDR shut them out,
relegating them to note-taking duty and State was not given access to
the critical Churchill-FDR correspondences on Allied strategy.   The
President didn’t need them because he  had the ability to conduct  or
at least guide foreign policy on his own.

When was the last time a major  US politician (or even a Secretary of
State or Defense) was bilingual, not to mention tri-lingual?  Maybe
Kissinger and Kennedy?  Other than that, it has to be FDR.  Seems to
me that Roosevelt was a product of his age:  before WWII, the US was a
world power but not the world-power,  so elites (especially the East
Coast Harvard-types) were more humble about the US place in the world.
 They studied foreign languages not merely to put it on their resume
but because they actually thought it was important.  After World War
Two, however,  the mentality became “We are the  Top Dog”, so why
learn a foreign language?  If people want to communicate with us, they
can learn English.   I can’t see any other reason to explain why so
many elites in the first half of the 20thcentury were very competent
in foreign languages, yet the opposite is true today.  Even General
Patton, the most gung-ho of the US Generals in WWII,  was a hard-core


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