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What Were The Fireside Chats And Why Were They Important?

What Were The Fireside Chats And Why Were They Important?

World War 2

Franklin D. Roosevelt, also known as FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and served four terms in office from 1933 to 1945. He is widely considered one of the greatest presidents in American history for his leadership during both the Great Depression and World War II.

Roosevelt was born on January 30, 1882 in Hyde Park, New York. He was the oldest of four children and grew up in a wealthy and influential family — he was 5th cousins with President Theodore Roosevelt. FDR studied at history at Harvard University and was the editor of the Harvard Crimson daily newspaper. After graduation, he enrolled in Columbia Law School but did not complete his degree.

In 1905, Franklin married his distant cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt. The couple had six children together, but one died in infancy. Roosevelt had several extra-marital affairs, including with Eleanor’s social secretary Lucy Mercer, soon after she was hired in 1914, and discovered by Eleanor in 1918. The affair was so intense that Franklin contemplated divorcing Eleanor. Franklin and Eleanor remained married, and Roosevelt promised never to see Lucy again. Eleanor never forgave him, and their marriage became more of a political partnership. Franklin re-ignited the extra-marital relationship with Lucy Mercer in 1941.

In 1913, Roosevelt was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy by President Woodrow Wilson. He held this position until 1920, when he ran for Vice President on the Democratic ticket with James M. Cox. The ticket lost the election and FDR returned to private life. In 1921, FDR was diagnosed with polio, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. Despite this setback, he remained active in politics and was elected Governor of New York in 1928. In 1932, he was elected President of the United States and took office in 1933.

As President, FDR implemented a series of policies known as the New Deal, which aimed to address the problems of the Great Depression. He also led the United States through World War II and helped to bring about Allied victory. FDR was not a micromanager. The civilian secretaries of the Army and the Navy drafted and procured men and equipment, but the uniformed military developed the strategy. In 1942, Roosevelt formed a new body, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which made the final decisions on American military strategy. It was chaired by Admiral William Leahy. Other members were Admiral Ernest J. King as Chief of Naval Operations, General George C. Marshall as Chief of Staff of the US Army, and the Air Force, which in practice was commanded by General Hap Arnold. Roosevelt avoided micromanaging the war and let his top military officers make most decisions.

Roosevelt traveled to the Tehran Conference in November 1943 where he developed the Allied Strategy with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. They met again in February 1945 at the Yalta Conference in Crimea. FDR also met with Churchill in bi-lateral meetings in Quebec, Washington DC, and London.

FDR died in office on April 12, 1945 in Warm Springs, Georgia.

One of FDR’s Strength as a Wartime Leader:

As a wartime President, Roosevelt’s strengths as a leader was his communication skills:

FDR was an excellent communicator and was able to use his fireside chats to effectively explain complex issues to the American people in a way that could be easily understood.

Roosevelt customarily made his fireside chat rom the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House. He would arrive 15 minutes before air time to welcome members of the press, including radio and newsreel correspondents. NBC White House announcer Carleton E. Smith gave him a simple introduction:

“Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.” Roosevelt most often began his talks with the words, “My friends” or “My fellow Americans,” and he read his speech from a loose-leaf binder.

Moreover, each radio address went through about a dozen drafts. Furthermore, a presidential advisor commented that FDR used common analogies and took care to avoid dramatic oratory:

“He looked for words that he would use in an informal conversation with one or two of his friends.” 

Reviewing his speeches revealed that 80% of the words used were in the thousand most commonly used words in the English language.

The radio historian John Dunning wrote that:

“It was the first time in history that a large segment of the population could listen directly to a chief executive and the chats are often credited with helping keep Roosevelt’s popularity high.”

Although the fireside chats are often thought of as having been a weekly event. However, Roosevelt, in fact, delivered just 31 addresses during his 4,422-day presidency — an average of 2 chats per year. As FDR said:

“The one thing I dread is that my talks should be so frequent as to lose their effectiveness. … Every time I talk over the air it means four or five days of long, overtime work in the preparation of what I say.”

Fireside Chat, 1942

FDR’s most listened to chat was on December 9, 1941 when he talked to the American people about the attack on Pearl Harbor and the war (The United States had declared war on Japan at the time however didn’t declare war on Germany until December 11):

The sudden criminal attacks perpetrated by the Japanese in the Pacific provide the climax of a decade of international immorality.

Powerful and resourceful gangsters have banded together to make war upon the whole human race. Their challenge has now been flung at the United States of America. The Japanese have treacherously violated the longstanding peace between us. Many American soldiers and sailors have been killed by enemy action, American ships have been sunk; American airplanes have been destroyed.

The Congress and the people of the United States have accepted that challenge.

Together with other free peoples, we are now fighting to maintain our right to live among our world neighbors in freedom, in common decency, without fear of assault…

We are now in this war. We are all in it—all the way. Every single man, woman and child is a partner in the most tremendous undertaking of our American history. We must share together the bad news and the good news, the defeats and the victories—the changing fortunes of war…

So we are going to win the war and we are going to win the peace that follows.

And in the difficult hours of this day—through dark days that may be yet to come—we will know that the vast majority of the members of the human race are on our side. Many of them are fighting with us. All of them are praying for us. But, in representing our cause, we represent theirs as well—our hope and their hope for liberty under God.

Application

In conclusion, today, leader’s can talk to their team in a variety of ways — twitter, slack, emails, or town halls. However, how, like Roosevelt and his fireside chats are you making the conversation memorable? Are you putting the work into it? Is it resonating with the team? How frequently or infrequently do you have the conversations?

Conclusion

Furthermore, I published a book last summer on how to develop your perseverance and better accomplish your goals — Grow Your Grit, available for sale at Amazon.

Lastly, go on the offense in 2023 and become a great communicator like President Franklin Roosevelt and his fireside chats.

What Were The Fireside Chats And Why Were They Important?

World War 2