Public Diplomacy is much about communication, advocacy, and appeals. Public Diplomacy practitioners can learn this from textbooks, theories, and seminars, but the past opens another window.
America was keyed up on June 6, 1944, when President Franklin Roosevelt spoke to the nation. From fragmentary news reports – the wire services always monitored German broadcasts – most of the nation already knew the Normandy invasion had begun.
What better way is there for us, heirs to the peace, to mark this June 6 than to take a professional look at public communication on “The Longest Day.” The written record, photography, sound, and film provide enough material for a book, but for now we may focus on the President’s radio prayer, heard by as many as 100 million Americans the evening of June 6.
- Read it here:
- The President was a better stylist than his writers. Here’s his markup of the draft.
- Americans heard the President on the radio.
- Learn more of this American moment by watching a short clip from the Ken Burns documentary.
- And look at these photographs from New York City on June 6, captured by photographers from the Farm Security Administration.
- A fuller view of communication from the White House would include the President’s meeting with journalists and Eleanor Roosevelt’s column the next day, eloquent for how it addressed wartime anxieties on the Home Front in a plain style.
Spontaneous events were quickly organized. The Mayor of Philadelphia rang the Liberty Bell for the first time in more than a hundred years. Trading at the New York Stock Exchange paused for two minutes. Mayor LaGuardia led a rally in New York City. Houses of worship organized their own services.
More than seven decades later, it’s surprising that the President’s communication on D-Day was so overtly religious. It rubs against our contemporary understandings of American freedoms, and fewer public displays of religiosity show how America has changed in the succeeding years. FDR was President then, not now, however, and who among us now can question his judgment that the grave moment called for prayer?
The President said the war was “a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization.” It’s the “our religion” that stands out to this modern reader. The two words were not in the original draft, but the President added them in his own handwriting. “Faith” is a word that can stretch to include religious faith, democratic faith, or faith in a cause. “Our religion” suggests something more specific. One might wring a “civil religion” interpretation out of the words, but it seems more likely that the President thought of American in a Christian or Judeo-Christian way.
Use of phrases and words like “it has come to pass,” “faith,” “blessings,” “Thy grace,” “haven,” “sore tried,” “invoking Thy help,” “men’s souls,” “crusade,” “temporal matters,” “unholy forces of our enemy,” “into Thy kingdom,” “apostles,” “reaping the just rewards,” and “Thy will be done” helped create the effect. From American history came “rededicate ourselves” and “we shall return.”
The former Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Charlotte Beers, counseled that there can be a place for emotion in Public Diplomacy. The President’s speech reached beyond the presentation of facts and policies, beyond national pride and will. He sought a full engagement of the nation’s deepest values and religious emotions.
When the President spoke of “racial arrogances,” he no doubt was thinking of Nazi Germany and the concept of a pure race. After the war, however, many Americans could see the injustice of America’s own racial arrogances. Eleanor Roosevelt spoke out for civil rights, and we now acknowledge the war as one factor in shaping the American nation for a more equal future.
Of the President’s hopes for “a world unity that will spell a sure peace, a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men,” we can only say not all the President’s prayers were answered.
Donald M. Bishop is the Bren Chair of Strategic Communications in the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creativity at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. Mr. Bishop served as a Foreign Service Officer – first in the U.S. Information Agency and then in the Department of State – for 31 years.