Did the WW II Memorial Makers Slight God?

Fact & Fiction

Mr. Pompeian is an HNN intern.

A bad combination of a flawed memory of a great speech and an ideological ax to grind has contributed to the birth of a myth concerning the National World War II Memorial and a quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Day of Infamy" speech.

The email focuses on the words inscribed in stone on the Pacific side of the World War II Memorial from FDR's famous December 8, 1941 war message to Congress. The claim is that the builders of the monument "left out the end of the quote" where Roosevelt says, "so help us God." A woman who visited the memorial is cited as verifying the mistake, insisting that, "I know I'm right," and asserting, "I remember the speech." She is in error, however. The line "so help me God" actually occurs further down in Roosevelt's speech and is not part of the line that is quoted.

Various Internet sites, including About.com and Snopes, have discredited the email message and exposed its faults. Snopes believes the email originated with an article published by the Washington Times on June 4, 2004. The author of the article apparently neglected to check the facts supplied to him by interviewees. As a result of this poor journalism, the mistake traveled the Internet and was disseminated as true by email.

As with many myths there are multiple versions. In the email found on About.com it's claimed that the original FDR quote featuring a reference to God can be found in James Bradley's bestseller, Flags of Our Fathers. The email reads: "But right there it was on page 58. Roosevelt's speech to the nation. It ends 'so help us God.' " Bradley's reference to the "Day of Infamy" speech in Flags of our Fathers does in fact include a portion of Roosevelt's speech which references God. However, it does not contain the same portion of the speech that appears on the World War II memorial.

The myth was debunked by the media this past summer after the memorial officially opened. World Net Daily published an exclusive in June citing an interview with Betsy Glick, the director of communications for the memorial. She explained, "The truth is that part of the speech [where God is referred to] does not appear anywhere on the memorial. We only picked one sentence from that entire speech, and it is included in its entirety. It's about four paragraphs above the sentence that ends with 'so help us God.' " Glick attributed the controversy over the "error" to a poor recollection of Roosevelt's speech.

The Cybercast News Service addressed the phony quote claim in an article published in July 2004 but went beyond World Net Daily to explain that the absence of a reference to God at the memorial has angered some people. The Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition has lobbied to add God to the memorial. "I do not think that we are stretching history to say that one of the critical factors in winning the war against Germany and Japan was the collective faith of our people and our leaders," he has said. In response to his criticism, the American Battle Monuments Commission (AMBC) commented: "We are proud of how the memorial honors the unity, courage and sacrifice of the American people during the Second World War."

Although the email has more than appropriately been discredited, HNN readers can judge the inaccuracy of the email for themselves. The Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia provides access to Roosevelt's December, 1941, "Day of Infamy" speech in its entirety in both an audio and transcribed format. To access the original speech in either format click here.


This is the version of the email HNN received:

The Omission From the New WWII Memorial

I don't care if you are a nonbeliever or not, one should not change the words of history. Today I went to visit the new World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. I got an unexpected history lesson. Since I'm a baby boomer, I was one of the youngest in the crowd. Most were the age of my parents, veterans of "the greatest war" with their families. It was a beautiful day, and people were smiling and happy to be there. Hundreds of us milled around the memorial, reading the inspiring words of Ike and Truman that are engraved there. On the Pacific side of the memorial, a group of us gathered to read the words President Roosevelt used to announce the attack on Pearl Harbor: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941-- a date which will live in infamy-- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked." One woman read the words aloud: "With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph." But as she read, she was suddenly angry. "Wait a minute," she said. "They left out the end of the quote. They left out the most important part. Roosevelt said "so help us God." "You're probably right," her husband said. "We're not supposed to say things like that now." "I know I'm right," she insisted. "I remember the speech." The two shook their heads sadly and walked away. Listening to their conversation, I thought to myself, "Well, it has been 50 years. She's probably forgotten." But she was right. I went home and pulled out the book my book club is reading. It's "Flags of Our Fathers" by James Bradley. It's all about Iwo Jima. I haven't gotten too far in the book. It's tough to read because it's a graphic description of the battles in the Pacific. But right there it was on page 58. Roosevelt's speech to the nation. It ends "so help us God." The people who edited out that part of the speech when they engraved it on the memorial could have fooled me. I was born after the war. But they couldn't fool the people who were there. Roosevelt's words are engraved on their hearts. WHO GAVE THEM THE RIGHT TO CHANGE THE WORDS OF HISTORY????????? Send this around to your friends. People need to know before everyone forgets. People today are trying to change the history of America by leaving God out of it, but the truth is, God has been a part of this nation, since the beginning. He still wants to be.... If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a soldier.

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More Comments:

Chris F Blythe - 5/22/2009

I would like to say that I have looked up the "Day of Imfamy" speech by Eisenhower and as I admit the e-mail is not entirely correct, neither is the article on hnn.us. Why? What I think is the issue is that the reference to God is not as far down as the article has indicated, but just a couple of lines down and being the undeniable fact that this nation was founded on God and His principles, it is kind of a slap in the face that the reference to God would not be included in the quote. The first part of the quote comes from the beginning of the speech, so why include the end of the speech also?

Seth Cable Tubman - 5/27/2006

Whatever your name is who wrote the original quotation, should have paid more attention in history class. Who are you to dictate what was in one of the most important speeches of the American 20th century? Actually read the whole bloody thing, and stop getting off on your right-wing wacko agenda of placing "God" where He doesn't belong. If He belonged in that part of the speech, FDR (who knew more about the speech than you, since he wrote the thing and you weren't even BORN yet)would have seen fit to put him in. Who in the world are YOU to decide what was/was not in the speech? Did YOU analyze the thing, line by line for your master's thesis in American history? I did. Stop pretending to be a psuedo-historian and leave history to those people who actually are experts in what they're talking about, and go help out your buddy DeLay.

Roger Johnson - 5/26/2005

God was also 'left out' of the Vietnam memorial. These things are about the soldiers who died, some of whom were non-believers

Bob Pool - 3/8/2005

This famously flawed email has been well-debunked, but the fact remains, God was in the presidents speech, and in almost all of his speeches during the war, and in Bob Dole's pleas for contributions, and even in the memorial service after the opening of the monument, but God was left out of the memorial.

michael eugene russell - 1/2/2005

Any reasoning mind can, with a little curiosity ( http://hnn.us/articles/7899.html ), learn.

A reply to the anonymous who spread this propaganda, yet do not have the courage to stand behind their arguments by letting their identity be known.

You are overreacting, nobody is trying to change history, except you. You obviously found the full quote, so history is properly preserved. Your ad hominem argument is designed to create a straw man, as you accuse those who designed the WWII memorial of historical revisionism, a truly serious danger, yet they are innocent which makes your attack ironically libelous.

I wonder, why didn't you take the time to quote the whole speech, and finish it completely? ( http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/fdrpearlharbor.htm ) Might it have hurt your cause to tell those you are attempting to influence the whole truth? Would it have drawn parallels between the Japanese Empire's attack on Pearl and the current administration's attack on Bagdad, and thus threaten an administration that would clearly like to institute their god (and perhaps yours) into our government?
(Imagine if Bush tried to do a weekly Fireside Chat like Roosevelt :)

The contemporary move toward a secular government is intended to protect EVERYONEs right to believe as they choose, including your own. The Roosevelt quote simply left out the irrelevant parts of the speech so as to speak with emphasis to the largest potential audience. Sophisticated people know that to invoke a god in the acts of men , lessens that god, and lends unearned authority to those who claim that god as their ally. The current state of affairs should prove that.

America is unique in that our history preserved the freedom of religion in law, that law wisely separates religion from government. Although, it is a shame that our leaders don't have the courage to proclaim the specifics of their faiths for fear of looking foolish and alienating even their own supporters. Doubly sad because they do own that very freedom which is their 1st Amendment Right, and if the average voter became mature enough to respect a man for his actions, tolerating his faith in kind, even our Presidents could honestly speak their minds. Instead they must speak in common language, using generalities, such as "so help us God", to pander and manipulate the common people. Such is the curse of our Democracy.

So, with all due respect, I ask you, please don't attempt to spread YOUR personal beliefs through the medium of our shared government and bring the United States back down to the level of our adversaries.

Michael Russell