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Words of Wisdom

Franklin D. Roosevelt and the (Empty?) Promise of Ending War

Words of wisdom from the 32nd president of the United States: “More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginnings of all wars.” FDR’s words are inspiring, but are they feasible?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) was the 32nd president of the United States and longest-serving president, serving from 1933 until his death in 1945. He was president throughout much of the Great Depression of the 1930s and the United States’ involvement in World War II during the 1940s. He is also well-known for the New Deal, a set of programs for relief, recovery, and reform that expanded the U.S. government’s role in managing the economy.

The quote below is from a speech FDR was scheduled to give April 13, 1945. He died April 12:

“More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginnings of all wars.”
Prepared for April 13, 1945 (NPS)

We’re currently entrenched in year 15 of the Global War on the Boogeyman Terror. There are conflicts raging in the Middle East, Eastern Ukraine, and parts of Africa. It’s safe to say that FDR’s vision has not been fully realized.

The former president’s words necessarily lead to this question: “Is such a thing feasible?” Could the world one day be without war? More importantly, could the world one day be in a position where no one would ever even want to go to war?

To approach such a question, one must pinpoint what FDR meant by “the beginnings of all wars,” as well as gauge whether the range of rationales for conflict have evolved since his time. Knowing the major conflicts Roosevelt lived through, he would probably chalk the following up as main causes of war: Nationalism, regionalism, sectarianism, obtaining resources, global influence, maintaining economic dominance, colonization/annexation, internal revolution, civil war, and fighting off an oppressor.

Have any of those ceased to be the stuff that start wars? You could argue that our globalized world has made full-out war a less-desirable approach for achieving some of those goals. Yet taken altogether, groups of people are still taking up arms for many of the reasons above. 

To achieve an “end to the beginnings of all wars,” the world would need to do away with tribalism and hegemony. That’s not the sort of thing anyone should be betting their life’s savings on.

War is almost always a matter of power. One side has it and the other wants it. One side exercises it over another so the other fights back. One side has an important resource that another wants to manage, so the other invades.

Like it or not, these scenarios are part of what makes us human, and they’re not going away anytime soon.


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