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Saturday, February 26, 2022

FDR on Disinformation and Foreign Influence

The invasion of Ukraine summons echoes of the invasion of France.

Fireside Chat, May 26, 1940:
There are many among us who in the past closed their eyes to events abroad –because they believed in utter good faith what some of their fellow Americans told them — that what was taking place in Europe was none of our business; that no matter what happened over there, the United States could always pursue its peaceful and unique course in the world.

There are many among us who closed their eyes, from lack of interest or lack of knowledge; honestly and sincerely thinking that the many hundreds of miles of salt water made the American Hemisphere so remote that the people of North and Central and South America could go on living in the midst of their vast resources without reference to, or danger from, other Continents of the world.

And, finally, there are a few among us who have deliberately and consciously closed their eyes because they were determined to be opposed to their government, its foreign policy and every other policy, to be partisan, and to believe that anything that the Government did was wholly wrong.

To those who have closed their eyes for any of these many reasons, to those who would not admit the possibility of the approaching storm — to all of them the past two weeks have meant the shattering of many illusions.

The Fifth Column that betrays a nation unprepared for treachery. Spies, saboteurs and traitors are the actors in this new strategy. With all of these we must and will deal vigorously.

But there is an added technique for weakening a nation at its very roots, for disrupting the entire pattern of life of a people. And it is important that we understand it. The method is simple. It is, first, discord, a dissemination of discord. A group –not too large — a group that may be sectional or racial or political — is encouraged to exploit (their) its prejudices through false slogans and emotional appeals. The aim of those who deliberately egg on these groups is to create confusion of counsel, public indecision, political paralysis and eventually, a state of panic. Sound national policies come to be viewed with a new and unreasoning skepticism, not through the wholesome (political) debates of honest and free men, but through the clever schemes of foreign agents.

As a result of these new techniques, armament programs may be dangerously delayed. Singleness of national purpose may be undermined. Men can lose confidence in each other, and therefore lose confidence in the efficacy of their own united action. Faith and courage can yield to doubt and fear. The unity of the state (is) can be so sapped that its strength is destroyed.

All this is no idle dream. It has happened time after time, in nation after nation, (during) here in the last two years. Fortunately, American men and women are not easy dupes. Campaigns of group hatred or class struggle have never made much headway among us, and are not making headway now. But new forces are being unleashed, deliberately planned propaganda to divide and weaken us in the face of danger as other nations have been weakened before.

These dividing forces (are) I do not hesitate to call undiluted poison. They must not be allowed to spread in the New World as they have in the Old. Our moral, (and) our mental defenses must be raised up as never before against those who would cast a smoke-screen across our vision.