The Democrat and The Dictator

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Bill Moyers traces the childhoods and early careers of FDR and Hitler and illustrates the paths by which they rose to respective pinnacles of power.



BILL MOYERS: I’m Bill Moyers. Two books arrived on my desk recently that have filled my spare time with thoughts about two of the most powerful figures of the 20th Century. One is a book on Franklin Delano Roosevelt, A First Class Temperament by Geoffrey Ward about the early days and the man Americans elected four times to the Presidency. The other book, Hitler, by Charles Bracelen Flood traces the path to power of the German dictator whose monstrous vanities and murderous dreams covered the world with blood. Like so many biographies of history’s movers and shakers, these two backlight the times we live in.

BILL MOYERS: His 100th birthday would have been this April so the world had occasion to think again about Adolf Hitler. Germany has been witnessing a resurgence of sentiment on the Far Right where Hitler’s fantasies took root. And, in America, we have been reading stories about a growing neo-Nazi movement. Just recently, two teenagers burned down a Jewish Synagogue here in New York. In Chicago, swastikas and Nazi slogans appeared on the windows of several stores owned by Jews. And, in San Jose, California a gang threatened to lynch a black woman if she didn’t pay a “nigger toll” to cross a footbridge into a public park — echoes of Hitler’s own virulent racist soul.

BILL MOYERS: Franklin Roosevelt’s legacy has been on our minds, too. There is a controversy in Washington right now over whether to build a multi-million dollar monument to F.D.R. in defiance of his own wishes that he be remembered, if at all, with a modest plaque that was indeed erected soon after his death in 1945. And the eight year reign of Ronald Reagan, so recently ended, was championed by some of his supporters as a counter revolution aimed at undoing the New Deal which F.D.R. launched in 1932. The past lives on. So it seemed timely to include in this retrospective a documentary which first appeared some years ago in my series A Walk Through the 20th Century. It was my effort to consider the coincidence of history and personality. It is called The Democrat and The Dictator.

LISTER HILL: I place in nomination that valiant American, Franklin Delano Roosevelt!

RUDOLPH HESS: The party is Hitler! But Hitler is Germany just as Germany is Hitler! Hitler, Sieg Heil!

CROWD: Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!

BILL MOYERS: I’m Bill Moyers. My first impressions of the 20th century beyond the intimate circle of childhood were of these two men, Franklin Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler. They came to power in 1933, one year before I was born. So as I was growing up, their voices and their pictures became second in familiarity only to my family and friends. I was seven when Germany and American went to war, and to a child in a small town in east Texas absorbed even then with news of the world beyond, there was no mistaking the matter. Nations were locked in a mighty struggle that somehow went beyond competing arms to diametrically opposed ideas about the human race. There were other faces and other voices. Stalin and Churchill, to mention two. But for all his enormous power so brutally employed, Stalin was rarely seen in public. And Churchill, while a hero, led a valiant but vulnerable nation. Hitler and Roosevelt were to me the charismatic figures.

On an old radio like this, my parents and I would listen every night for news of the war and for the speeches of the dictator who personified the strutting glorification of conquest and the democrat who rallied America to oppose him. I would in time realize that it was not alone in my youthful fantasy that they took on the shape of gladiators of light and darkness. They were for real. You only have to look closely and ask, what if the outcome had been different? What if it had gone the other way? Try if you can to imagine a world ruled by those who believed in a super race and invented wholesale genocide, who set out to murder an entire people. It’s conceivable. Even today, there are people who followed Hitler and regret only that he lost.

FRITZ HIPLER: I am convinced that Hitler was a very great man, and I am convinced that in about perhaps a century, this will be the meaning of the majority of mankind. His only fault was to get engaged into the war and to lose the war.

BILL MOYERS: That true believer is Fritz Hippler who served Hitler as a supervisor of film propaganda and still clings to his faith in the Fuhrer. We forget today that the great majority of the German people awarded Hitler veneration and unquestioning obedience. How many more would have followed him if his conquest had continued? So I can’t look at this century without thinking that the collision between the ideas of Adolf Hitler and Franklin Roosevelt represent its greatest turning point.

Look at these two again. Adolf, the dictator, had begun life in poverty and saw himself as a man of the people. But he meant to turn those people into a pure Germanic aristocracy goose-stepping to his beat and trampling others as they went. While across the ocean, FDR, a patrician from the landed gentry, was a democrat. Not simply a member of the political party of that name, but one who did, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, cherish the idea of the common folk and lead them to save the ideals of liberty and equality.

I’m oversimplifying, of course, to see these two men as characters in a morality play, but the odd parallels help to grasp what was at stake. They came to power within five weeks of each other. Each led his nation to become a world power, and their armies met in great battle to decide, for the moment, which view of civilization would prevail, the democrats or the dictators.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: This is more than a political campaign. It is a call to arms. Give me your help not to win votes alone, but to win in the crusade to restore America to its own people!

BILL MOYERS: The summer of 1932. Franklin Delano Roosevelt is nominated to run for president. In the midst of the Great Depression, he has something special, the confident smile and ringing tones of a winner. In November, he will sweep to victory, the first of four, and set out to lift the nation back to its feet.

That same November, in the German elections, Adolf Hitler’s party fails to win a majority in the Reichstag, but a series of backstage deals maneuvers Hitler into the chancellor’s office on January 30, 1933. He seizes emergency powers, wipes out his opposition, and within a year is master of the nation. Amidst economic and political chaos, the German people are ripe for leadership. But in a black parody of the democratic ideal, Hitler substitutes a solo for what should be a chorus. Under him, Germany will have only one voice, his own.

ADOLF HITLER: [SPEAKING GERMAN] This is where I differed: I realized that the consequences of this crime could only be attacked by learning from the mistakes of the past, and by learning, establish countermeasures.

BILL MOYERS: The crime against which Hitler railed was the Treaty of Versailles signed at the end of World War I. November, 1918, brought joy to the winners. But for the vanquished, it was a different story. Defeat in the field was one thing, but the Treaty of Versailles, one of the harshest in modern history, humiliated and impoverished the fatherland.

In this room, the Allies disarmed Germany, stripped her of valuable possessions and exacted reparations of billions in hard cash. A savage inflation — engineered, some said, to east the debt — wiped out the life savings of middle class Germans. When Hitler threatened vengeance, he spoke to the despair, and anger, the insecurity in millions of Germans. Fritz Hippler remembers.

FRITZ HIPPLER: The Treaty of Versailles was the cause of all which followed. That was the great inflation. That was the fact that more and more men got without job. Millions were unemployed. The general misery in the people. And thus, the sympathies of the German people were directed to one man, to a sort of savior.

BILL MOYERS: The man offering to restore Germany’s glory was this young, twice-wounded veteran of the Kaiser’s beaten army. Hitler had himself experienced the hatred and shame that gripped his nation and was learning to use them to build one great audience.

While Hitler was learning the politics of violence and hatred, across the Atlantic, this rich, young lawyer, an amateur sailor, was beginning to master politics of another kind. Politics was the love of Franklin Roosevelt’s life. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Woodrow Wilson and learned early that politics required both deals and ideals. His gaiety and personality, not to mention his skills, gained him the vice presidential nomination in 1920.

He lost, but by now was winning a personal following engaged by his charm and ideals. The sweaty realities of American pluralism were sweet to Roosevelt. He was learning to move crowds, woo votes, scratch backs, make compromises. Few men have so zestfully taken to the rituals of campaigning.

Hitler sharpened his political skills in turbulent, post-war Munich. When his voice rang out in beer hall arguments, frustrated veterans and discouraged young men put down their steins to listen. “It was,” Hitler said later, “a wondrous moment of discovery. I could speak.” It was the source of his power. At first, he enlisted the bullies, strutting and saluting in fancy uniforms while Hitler harnessed their anger and gave it thrust. Gradually, the Nazi ranks began to grow, for the grievances of Germany were many, and Hitler was their trumpet.

BILL MOYERS: Not at first did the walls come tumbling down. When an over confident Hitler tried to seize power by force at the end of 1923, his followers were scattered, and he was sent to jail. Some influential Germans who distrusted the country’s new democratic regime got him release within the year, but not before he had written a book. This book. Mein Kampf. My battle.

It is not Martin Luther King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” King reached out of his cell to touch a nation’s conscience. Hitler’s jailhouse diatribe presaged a carnage and barbarity beyond comprehension until unfortunately it had happened. You wonder what the 20th century might have been like if more people had read this, and read it as seriously as Adolf Hitler meant it. The venomous nationalism is here. The malicious racism. The search for scapegoats, Communists and Jews in particular. The appeal to self-sacrifice on behalf of a glorious Germany. Just listen.

“If with the help of the Marxian creed the Jew is victorious over the other peoples of the world, his crown will be the funeral wreath of humanity.” Or this — “The Jew stops at nothing, and in his vileness, he becomes so gigantic that no one need be surprised if among our people, the personification of the Devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.” Or this — “A state which in this age of racial poisoning dedicates itself to the care of its best racial elements one day will become master of the Earth.”

BILL MOYERS: How to explain it? Not many Germans read Mein Kampf at the time, but many believed the ideas in it. In Germany recently, I talked to a man who spent his life studying the career and times of Hitler. He said, you can’t understand the panic that seized the middle class, the burghers of Germany after World War I.

The Industrial Revolution had already uprooted the old cultural and moral values. They had lost the war. Now a Communist revolution had swept Russia and threatened Europe. The word spread that only the Jews could benefit from the chaos. After all, it was said, had they not survived change and upheaval through all of history? Well, Hitler seized upon the idea to create a villain, someone to blame, someone to hate. No “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” No Sonnets From the Portuguese. This is a hate book.

BILL MOYERS: The childhood of great men poses teasing questions. Who knows the thoughts of children? What’s the chemistry of inherited traits and the environment, that metamorphosis of time, place, and family by which a life begins like any other life and comes one day to terrify the world or inspire it? We have clothes our own images of Hitler and Roosevelt with our deepest personal feelings about authority and liberty, so it’s hard to remember that they were men before they were legends, and children before they were men. But when the child becomes the man, and the man becomes his nation’s leader, what characteristics of the child come to power with the man?

By his 18th yeah, Adolf Hitler was already turned in on himself, brooding and daydreaming. He had been born in a small Austrian village in 1889. His mother was apparently affectionate, but his father, a minor bureaucrat, was a strict disciplinarian, not loath to beat his young son. That may explain why Hitler was remembered as a moody schoolboy. He had few friends and spent much of his time alone, reading. Teachers found him lazy and undisciplined. But a talent for drawing and painting let him dwell in that inner world of the self which he alone could master and where he could live unmolested by any but his own fantasies.

His parents died when he was young, and Hitler moved to Vienna to pursue the artist’s life. By most accounts, a solitary life, and certainly in his case, cheerless and melancholy.

What a different story with Roosevelt. He started with a cradle of assets, including the expectation that he would become a country gentleman on this comfortable Hudson Valley estate in New York. His father too died early in his life, but Roosevelt’s mother lavished attention on the boy. She gave him toys to teach manly self-reliance. She made sure he went to the right schools. His good looks were a bit of luck, a gift that nurtured his natural buoyancy. This happy, handsome young man lived in a warm nest of people and memories, of distinguished kinfolk and clan reunions. His world was full of possibility and promise.

BILL MOYERS: Not so the world of Hitler. Life in Vienna started sourly for him. The Imperial Art Academy turned him down as a student. Rejected and lonely, he wandered the streets, scraping out a living by illustrating postcards. He was an outsider in what was then one of the brightest and most cosmopolitan capitals of Europe, the home of some of the young century’s best minds. But Hitler did see another Vienna, the Vienna of palaces and monuments, totems in stone to the Holy Roman Empire, that Reich that had lasted a thousand years.

And in Vienna’s opera house, there was music to match the monuments, music that set Hitler afire with the heroic German past, the music of Richard Wagner. Wagner wrote operas that crashed and rang and soared with heroism, sacrifice, and doom, the chords of a super race.

These haunting themes possessed the young Hitler. They would echo in his mind. They would feed his dreams of Germany again in empire, but this time not a holy nor Roman.

VOCALIST: [SINGING] Oh, Mr. Roosevelt, won’t you please run again, for we want to do it, you have to go through it again! Mr. Roosevelt, won’t you please run again, for you’re right in the middle of solving our riddle and then we’re ready to march to the

[INAUDIBLE] ta ra boomdeyay with a hullabaloo. There’ll be a band to welcome you — for you’re the hope of all American women and men! Mr. Roosevelt, won’t you do it again?

BILL MOYERS: For men of such different backgrounds — one a lonely youth and failed artist, the other a prosperous country squire and hail fellow well met, one early on rejected and abused, the other born to comfort and security, one wounded in war, the other stricken by a crippling disease — for all this, they had in common a powerful gift. Clear, unmistakable voices audible to the multitudes. There’s a canto by James Thomson which often comes to mind when I listen to a speech by Hitler or Roosevelt. It goes, “He ceased, but still their trembling ears retained the deep vibrations of his witching song.” So it is with both these men. They were virtuosos on the keyboard of human emotions.

By the time they came to power in 1933, the voice was magnified a hundredfold by 20th century technology, especially by film and radio. These two men were leaders constantly on stage, molding behavior with spoken appeals to reason and with symbolic appeals to the unconscious memories and images deep within us. I think Roosevelt had the more complicated time of it. We Americans like to think of ourselves as individualists, but most of the time we really don’t like to buck the will of the majority. So he had to speak to millions as if he were talking to one person at a time. He became a one-man pep squad for a new American majority.

BILL MOYERS: Hitler was not interested in majorities. He wanted a mass. His was a brilliant, stupefying creation, the modern totalitarian will expressed with an overpowering symbolic vocabulary of flags, uniforms, chants, and salutes. Those who would not speak this new language were crushed. Those who did were swept up in a mad music that deafened them to individual conscience and exalted the roar of the crowd. The secret, say those who remember, lay in the magic bond that was established as soon as the first sentences had been uttered between the speaker and the audience, so that the people, as if electrified, recognized themselves in him. Roosevelt the pragmatist mingled high-mindedness and corn in his shirtsleeve courtship of plain people. His attitude, his manner, his gestures gave emotional substance to what would have otherwise been stale phrases, like “my friends” and “your government.” He was president of the whole nation, but he made voters feel as if they were a friend of the family.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: Sitting down here next to me is Mrs. Roosevelt, my wife, and my granddaughter, Anna Roosevelt Dall on her lap. And then my daughter, Anna Dall, and Buzzie on her left. And then my mother. What’s our campaign slogan, Sistie?

CISSY: Happy days are here again.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: Good, that’s right.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: These Republican leaders have not been content with a tax on me or on my wife or on my sons. No, not content with that. They now include my little dog, Fala.


ADOLF HITLER: [SPEAKING GERMAN] This is not a figure of speech, it is a reality of blood and flesh.

FRITZ HIPPLER: He spoke to the masses not by too much intellectual means. He spoke to the heart, to the soul of the masses, and he moved the unconsciousness of the masses more than the intellect.

BILL MOYERS: To Hitler, the individual was only a cell in the body politic. He would seduce the youth of the land away from their mothers and fathers so that their true and only family might become the German race.

ADOLF HITLER: [SPEAKING GERMAN] My German youth, we want to be one people and you are now to become this people. Because you are flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood and in you lives the same spirit that drives us. You cannot be anything but one with us. Before us lies Germany — within us marches Germany, and after us comes Germany!

BILL MOYERS: Roosevelt took a different tone with young people.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: Is it on straight?


BILL MOYERS: Fellow members of the Boy Scouts of America. I haven’t been here for two years. All sorts of things have happened to us here in that time. And when you come right down to it, the NRA is based on the same fundamentals that scouting is based on. In other words, trying to do something for the other fella, and not trying to “do” somebody. It’s based on cooperation. You know what that means. It’s based on the spirit of service, and it’s going to work, just like scouting has worked.


BILL MOYERS: The sophisticate might say there’s something banal about those pictures of Franklin Roosevelt out among the folks, just one more reminder that politics is apple sauce. One rather huffily pompous nominator told and earlier political convention, “The fathers who gave us this government were not graduated from soapboxes.” Well, it’s true. But I don’t know anyone who has successfully adopted politics as a profession and lost that sense of play. I don’t think that’s so bad. For all the mischief, for the multitude of sins covered by the horsing around, there is a saving grace in the homespun frolics of American politics. It makes for humility.

After all, a little comedy prevents seeing everything as a matter of life and death. We’re not enjoined to take politics as our religion or to think of the state as a deity. God and Caesar in America are not one and the same, and our Caesars, whom we can replace at will, are just like us. We never stop telling them so.

But look at Hitler. Politics was all. The state was church, the Fuhrer God. Loyalty became a religious duty, even a religious passion. Christian symbols were transformed into icons of secular magic. Party members killed in street brawls were regarded as martyrs. And when Hitler touched their flag to those of his new Nazi disciples, he was laying on hands, passing on the spirit to a new generation of the faithful. Roosevelt’s fireside homilies were as the small talk of neighbors across a back fence.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: I am happy to speak to you from my home on a Sabbath day that has been observed in so many of your home communities as brotherhood day, a day on which we can dedicated ourselves not to the things that divide, but to the things which unite us. You people must have faith. You must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system, and it is up to you to support and make it work. It is your problem, my friends, no less than it is mine. Together, we cannot fail.

ADOLF HITLER: [SPEAKING GERMAN] I don’t believe that the opponents who laughed then still laugh today. We are a living guarantee that the age of corrupt party phenomena shall never return. From that day on, our flag has risen ever higher. As a symbol of the German people and its Reich.

BILL MOYERS: The power of ceremony Hitler knew well. He thrilled the Germans with parades that proved they had regained their strength and honor. Wrote one German poet, “He fastened the true symbol upon the people’s banner and leads through the storm and dreadful signs of the early dawn his loyal troop to the work of the watchful day, and plants the new Reich.” Americans on parade were as they had been since the days of the Minutemen, amateur warriors stepping along to a popular tune.


CROWD: [SPEAKING GERMAN] Heil, mein Feuhrer. Spades High! Spades Down! You are not dead, you live in Germany!

BILL MOYERS: Hitler was after total mobilization. It could be achieved only by destroying the will of any person or the loyalty of any organization that might mediate between the central power of the state and the individual. The Reich alone would make men of these boys.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: It’s very good to be here at these Virginia CCC camps. I with I could see them all over the country. I hope that all over the country they’re in as fine condition as the camps that I’ve seen today. I with that I could take a couple of months off from the White House and come down here and live with them, because I know I’d get full of health the way they have. The only difference is that they’ve put on an average of about 12 pounds a piece since they got here, and I’m trying to take off 12 pounds.

BILL MOYERS: We can see yet another difference between the dictator and the democrat in their treatment of the arts. I said earlier that while Hitler was a failed artist, he fancied himself an artist nonetheless. This is one of his original paintings, done while he lived in Vienna. I have to stop and think that the same A. Hitler who signed his name to this peaceful scene was the Adolf Hitler who inspired the madness, the malice, and the murder of Nazi Germany. This would be artist purged the museums of Germany of some 17,000 paintings, including the masterpieces by Gauguin and van Gogh. Many were sold, many were burned. To replace them, he opened in Munich a Nazi gallery and commissioned a new German art. Heroic, massive, yoked by blood and power to the service of the master race.


SUNG OVER NAZI ART: Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil! Sieg heil!

SUNG OVER WPA ART: We rise up so early each mornin’, all eager to start up the day. We get out our paints and our brushes, and we work for the WPA.

BILL MOYERS: Roosevelt commissioned artists, too, but with no strings attached. The Federal Arts Project kept artists from starving during The Depression and kept alive the carols of a Whitmanesque America.

SUNG OVER WPA ART: And you work for the red, white, and blue. All for art, all for art, that’s why we do what we do. We do! All for art, all for art when you work for the red, white, and blue. We’re trying to paint on the pittance they pay in the WPA. The fruit we’ll be eatin’ tomorrow is the still life we’re painting today. And so we persist on per diems. Each masterpiece comes from the heart. They may never hang in museums, but who is to say they ain’t art? It’s all for art, all for art, that’s why we do what we do. We do! All for art, all for art when you work for the red, white, and blue.

BILL MOYERS: Or consider the contrast between Hitler and Roosevelt and their choice of words to express what they wanted their countries to stand for in the eyes of humanity.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: First is freedom of speech and expression everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want, which translated into world terms means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear, which translated into world terms means a worldwide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor anywhere in the world.

ADOLF HITLER: [SPEAKING GERMAN] The moment lives, founded firmly as a rock. And as long as only one of us still lives, he will strengthen this movement and stand by it. And the command did not come from an earthly power but from the God who created our people. We shall think only of Germany, the people, the Reich, our German nation. To our German people: Hail Victory!

BILL MOYERS: Captains of enemy hosts, Franklin Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler. You could not have contrived in fiction two adversaries more suited to represent the great political division of the 20th century between tyranny and democracy. But neither man is a stereotype. Roosevelt was not universally beloved. To millions, he was “that man,” detested and reviled. Hitler, I’m persuaded, was an evil genius. I don’t buy that revisionist theory that we should give some men credit for their love of children and animals. With men like Hitler, only deeds count.

But we have to remember, painful though it is, that the majority of Germans profited from the first six years of Hitler’s rule. He harnessed a powerful tide of national feeling and carried the populace with him. With massive investments in public works and arms, he put idle Germans back to work and made their nation once more a great power in Europe. They loved him for it. Poets proclaimed him the greatest. Professors declared him infinitely wise, and clergymen, infinitely good. It’s true the brutality of his efficient system kept laggards in line, but even when war came, after the death and destruction had begun, the loyalty of many Germans to Hitler was patriotic and personal.

I’m often sickened at the thought that he would have gotten away with his crimes against the Jews and others if only he had not pushed his army, and his luck, too far. But he did, and that led Franklin Roosevelt to press for the arming of America. Roosevelt devoted the whole of his persuasive arts to warning our country that we couldn’t exist in a world half slave and half free.

When I watch Hitler and Roosevelt on screen, I’m struck with the way in which film enables us to live simultaneously in past and present. The words of the leaders are ideas incarnated in living breath, evocative and powerful as human speech can be. But the camera and the microphone arrest the moment so that while Roosevelt and Hitler are talking about specific events in time, we catch today meanings beyond the calendar’s grasp, visions of old that seem freshly minted.

ADOLF HITLER: [SPEAKING GERMAN] The most valuable thing on earth is one’s own people. And for this people we will strive and we will fight. We will never grow tired, never grow weary, never lose heart, and never despair!

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: We have under a common ideal of democratic government a rich diversity of resources and of peoples functioning together in mutual respect and peace.

ADOLF HITLER: [SPEAKING GERMAN] If the international Jews-of-finance in and outside Europe manage to plunge the world once again into war, the result will not be a Bolshevization of the earth and a victory for Jewry, but the annihilation of Jewish race in Europe.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: Frankly and definitely, there is danger ahead, danger against which we must prepare. We cannot escape danger or the fear of it by crawling into bed and pulling the covers over our heads.

ADOLF HITLER: [SPEAKING GERMAN] Only one part of a people always consists of truly active fighters. More is demanded of them than of millions of their countrymen. “I believe” is not enough. They vow, “I fight.”

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I’ve seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war!

ADOLF HITLER: [SPEAKING GERMAN] The German peace army is in place. A mighty German Air Force protects our homeland, a new power at sea our shores. Amidst a gigantic increase of our general production unequalled rearmament became possible. Every institution of this Reich is under command of the highest political leadership, bound by oath and united in will and determination to represent National Socialist Germany, and if needed, to defend it to the last breath.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: The Nazi danger to our Western world has long ceased to be a mere possibility. The danger is here now, not only from a military enemy, but from an enemy of all law, all liberty, all morality, all religion.

ADOLF HITLER: [SPEAKING GERMAN] It is our wish and will that this State and Reich shall exist for millennia to come. We can rejoice in the knowledge that the future is entirely ours. Heil!! Heil!! Heil, Heil!

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. All our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept, there can be no end, save victory.

BILL MOYERS: It would be nice if morality plays proceeded neatly along their paths, but unfortunately, they don’t. When we finally found cause to join battle with the Nazi enemies of all law, all liberty, all morality, all religion, it wasn’t over what they had done to their subject peoples, but because the Japanese made war on us at Pearl Harbor. Hitler, allied by treaty to Tokyo, honored his word for a change and joined them. Once in the fighting, we found ourselves allied with undemocratic regimes, chief among them that of Stalin, the other great tyrant of the 20th century. So much for neat historical schemes.

But all the same, let there be no doubt about it. We were fighting for something which even noble words convey imperfectly. We knew it when we saw it. And even then, we couldn’t speak it. We understood at the end what it was all about when our advancing armies pierced the heart of the darkness that was Hitler’s Germany. There are some things the tongue cannot utter which the eyes seeing can never forget. It was too late for the world to say, “We’re sorry.” There was only time to say, “Never again.” And that was the message Franklin Roosevelt expressed in his last address to the American people.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT: There can be no middle ground here. We shall have to take responsibility for world collaboration, or we shall have to bear the responsibility for another world conflict. And I am confident that the Congress and the American people will accept the results of this conference as the beginnings of a permanent structure of peace upon which we can begin to build under God that better world in which our children and grandchildren — yours and mine, the children and grandchildren of the whole world — must live and can live.

BILL MOYERS: Franklin Roosevelt died shortly thereafter, on April 12, 1945. When word reached Hitler of his foe’s death, he shouted, “Here we have the miracle I always predicted. The war isn’t lost. Roosevelt is dead.” 17 days later, shortly after 3 o’clock of another April afternoon, this time in a Berlin bunker, Adolf Hitler died by his own hand.

The democrat and the dictator remained in death what they were in life, archetypes of political thought as different as compassion from genocide. I wonder, all these year later, whether we really understand what was at stake in the conflict they embodied. Do we still share Roosevelt’s exuberant believe in the possibilities of democracy? Would another Hitler find a waiting pyre for a torch emblazoned with hate?

I’d like to think not, but walking down a main street in San Francisco not long ago, on one of those crisp and clear days when all is well with the world and the Earth seems indisputably a fair and wondrous place, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of a swastika crudely scratched on the marble facade in the center of a busy and pleasant street. A swastika, that twisted insignia of racial superiority and merciless military might. I remembered something a young German said recently. “This fellow Hitler,” he said, “I think he’s played a trick on us. He will be with us as long as we live.” I’m Bill Moyers.

This transcript was entered on June 24, 2015.

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