For its 2017 Student Essay Contest, The National WWII Museum asked middle and high school students for their thoughts on America’s role as the "Arsenal of Democracy" in World War II and what they feel the nation’s role as the "Arsenal of Democracy" should be today.
When the term “Arsenal of Democracy” was first coined by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a Fireside Chat radio broadcast on December 29, 1940—promising military aid to the United Kingdom while the United States was still not yet at war—many Americans felt deeply divided over the issue of entering or avoiding the growing global conflict. A Gallup Poll taken just months prior to the broadcast found opinions almost evenly split over assisting the United Kingdom if it risked pushing the United States closer to war. However, with the United Kingdom facing defeat, Roosevelt announced to a national audience that American industrial power must be marshaled in support of its allies and that America “must be the great Arsenal of Democracy. For us this is an emergency as serious as war itself. We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice as we would show were we at war.”
More than 75 years have passed since Roosevelt’s speech. The United States and the world still face many challenges and uncertainties. When asked what they felt America’s role as the “Arsenal of Democracy” should be today, more than 900 students from 44 states, the District of Columbia. and Ramstein Air Base in Germany responded with ideas and concerns ranging from international security, homelessness, the strength of democratic institutions, confronting rogue nations, and the ongoing opioid crisis.
First-place high school essayist Baird Johnson from Stuyvesant High School in New York suggested the answer should be diplomacy, not military might:
We mustn’t take the word “Arsenal” (defined as a collection of weapons and military equipment stored by a country, person, or group) too literally. We are not democracy’s violent enforcement agency, nor are we simply a threatening pile of nuclear weapons. An integral part of the United States’s arsenal is diplomacy. The lack of diplomacy caused both World Wars. It was the Marshall Plan, not Little Boy, that forever changed geopolitics and allowed the world to heal.
Third-place high school essayist Daniel Coppinger from Simsbury High School in Simsbury, Connecticut, argues that America needs to remain active and vigilant in international politics:
We live in a world where many countries are still governed by dictators and terrorists who threaten people with imprisonment or death unless they convert to their way of ideological thinking, who deny women the right to vote, equality, or to an education, and who tell their citizens how they must worship God. The “Arsenal of Democracy” that Roosevelt talked about so long ago is still very much a tactical necessity. It is essential for our own national security, and it is ethically the “right thing to do.” In today’s globalized world, no nation stands alone. As Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”
Finally, Barsha Parajuli, a sixth grade student from Poplar Tree Elementary in Chantilly, Virginia, states that the role of the United States as the “Arsenal of Democracy” should first concentrate on elevating its own citizens:
“We fought against poverty, and poverty won,” announced Ronald Reagan on February 15, 1986. Ever since that war on poverty, we haven’t succeeded in many attempts to help the poor, because we haven’t focused on this critical issue. Some related issues that we should be addressing are low wages and unemployment. Most people who are poor work as much as they can to get out of poverty. Some people have little to no work on a continuing basis, but they are in much worse situations and tend to pass poverty from one generation to the next. The numbers in both categories are stunning, leaving 43.1 million Americans today in poverty. The US government has to take action, and let Americans be aware that this is a big issue that we have to start considering.
Thank you to all of the students who participated in this year’s essay contest and who took the time to consider the role of the United States in the 21st century, as well as their own place in the world as young Americans. Please enjoy reading all of the winning essays in their entirety at the links below.