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Ed Ruggero

Ed Ruggero

Ed Ruggero, author most recently of The First Men In, helps organizations develop the kinds of leaders people want to follow. His Gettysburg Leadership Experience teaches battle-tested leadership lessons that endure today.

From FDR's Pearl Harbor to Obama's West Point

Monday, December 7, is the sixty-eighth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Just before noon on December 8, 1941, with the nation reeling from news of the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt climbed into an open car for the short ride to the Capitol, where he would ask Congress for a declaration of war on Japan.

The president chose an open car because it was important for people to see him, to see confidence and resolve on his face as he rode to his grim duty. FDR knew that everything a leader does--from the clothes he wears to his facial expressions to how and where he stands--communicates something. Smart leaders use every tool available to explain their vision and persuade their followers.

Some of President Obama's critics objected to his giving last Tuesday's speech at West Point, where he was guaranteed a well-behaved audience of young cadets. Was the whole thing stage managed, as critics say? Of course it was; everything a president does in the public eye is orchestrated. Like FDR after Pearl Harbor day, such theatrics have played a key role presidential and wartime leadership.

In early 1783, for example, General George Washington learned that disaffected officers of the Continental Army, who had just fought a long and bloody war to establish the nation, planned to threaten a military coup to secure pensions promised them by Congress. Washington burst into a meeting of the disgruntled officers and read a speech denouncing their plot. The speech "bombed," writes John Ferling in his gripping history of the American Revolution, Almost a Miracle.

Washington was not a gifted speaker, and his script was mostly tired platitudes. Sensing that he was failing, Washington set aside his remarks and offered to read the rebellious officers a letter. He pulled some sheets from his pocket and unfolded them slowly, allowing the anticipation to build; then he stumbled in reading the first lines. He paused and reached into his coat to pull out spectacles. "The officers were astounded," Ferling writes. "None but those at headquarters had ever seen their hardy commander in chief wearing glasses." Washington looked up as if to apologize. "Gentlemen," he said, "you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country."

Washington's ploy worked. His men were nearly speechless, and many were in tears, their complaints forgotten in a sudden surge of camaraderie and affection for their commander. But it was all an act, a last-minute save by a clever leader who knew exactly how to make an emotional connection with his audience. Even the letter Washington drew from his pocket was a prop, random papers that he used as part of a gentle ruse. What would Washington's critics have said about his tactic? What should we make of it now?

In his West Point speech Obama faced a bigger challenge than FDR did in front of Congress on December 8, 1941. Roosevelt faced tremendous obstacles in 1942: he had to get the nation's industry on a war footing, find the right people to lead the armed forces, work with our allies, choose the correct strategy and see the whole endeavor through to an end that must have seemed terribly distant on that December afternoon. But one thing FDR did not have to do that particular day was be persuasive. Up until the Japanese bombs and torpedoes started falling on that Sunday, there had been a sizeable peace and isolationist movement in America. All those doubts were dispelled by the attack; Roosevelt's speech before Congress was a formality. The entire Senate and all but one member of the House voted for war.

We experienced a remarkably similar unanimity in 2001, when, as Obama reminded us last week, the entire Senate and all but one member of the House voted to authorize the use of military force "against al Qaeda and those who harbored them." That clarity and shared vision are long gone, lost in the dust of a back-burner war against an elusive and shifting cast of enemies.

In contrast to FDR, one of President Obama's main tasks last week was to be persuasive. He invoked Roosevelt several times, thinking perhaps of the support FDR had, at least on that Monday in December 1941. "It's easy to forget," Obama said, "that when this war began, we were united -- bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear." Then, because he is a leader and it's his job to lay out a vision and try to get us to see it, too, he continued, "I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we...can still come together behind a common purpose." Creating that sense of common purpose may be the biggest challenge Obama faces. We should expect to see him use all the communication tools at his disposal.

In examining how a leader communicates, we find evidence of his or her character. There's an iconic photograph of Eisenhower visiting with paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division on June 5, 1944, just before the D-Day invasion of France. Ike had spent months visiting the troops during the lead up to the invasion, checking on their training and readiness, but the paratroopers noticed something different this time. Eisenhower, on whose shoulders the success of the entire endeavor rested, was looking uncertain; he wanted to steel his own nerves by tapping into the confidence of his men. The soldiers told Ike that he needn't worry; the 101st was on the job.

But the troopers couldn't know just how worried Ike was. Eisenhower's staff had predicted that the paratroopers' risky mission would incur 70 percent casualties -- that meant nearly 8,000 young men killed, wounded, captured, or missing. But canceling the airborne operation would so diminish the Allied effort that the entire invasion might fail. So in spite of the dire prediction and potential massacre, Ike directed that the paratroopers' mission go forward.

Such tough calls are the lot of generals. What stands out in this D-Day story is that Eisenhower went to meet his men face-to-face. He could have stayed in his headquarters, insulated from the troops he was sending into battle, satisfied that he'd done his duty by overseeing the meticulous planning and months of rehearsals. Instead, he went out to look them in the eye, to make human contact with his men, many of whom were seeing their last sunset.

After his speech at West Point last week, Obama waded into the crowd of cadets, shaking hands and posing for pictures. Was it a stage-managed moment, a photo-op? Of course it was, as was Eisenhower's allowing his photograph to be taken with his paratroopers. But Obama, like Ike, could have stayed away. Instead, he made the nobler choice to look into the eyes of the men and women who will do the heavy lifting in this mission, just as George W. Bush did on his visits to the combat zones. That willingness to step forward and touch people, literally and figuratively, is something we should both demand and respect in our leaders, no matter how he or she chooses to communicate.

Ed Ruggero wrote previously on Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Ben Franklin's town-hall advice.

By Ed Ruggero

 |  December 4, 2009; 11:59 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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You are so far removed from reality it is troubling.

Has Obama ever uttered the words "I apologize on behalf of the USA"?

If you think he has then please find me such a quote. You can't because it only exists in the fear-mongering spin put out by FoxNewsEntertainment. He has acknowledged failings as any capable leader would. But he has apologized for nothing. Yet the hyper-simplistic, Obama-is-destroying-America narrative that you and many others subscribe to will have none of reality on this one.

Interestingly enough, try to google "Bush apology" and see what comes up. George W Bush once APOLOGIZED on behalf of America to the King of Jordan in a Rose Garden press conference! Did you ever even once hear about that ACTUAL PRESIDENTIAL APOLOGY when watching Fox, listening to Rush, or surfing your favorite right wingnut blogs? Why do you think that event has been ommitted from your revisionist version of history?

By the way, Obama has often spoke of his great uncle who was among the troops that liberated one of the concentration camps in WWII with awe and admiration. Do you really think deep down he is "sorry" for his uncle's service to his country in WWII? Just like you probably believe he was born in Kenya and is just waiting for the right time to declare communism the law of the land.

Posted by: Shadow9 | December 7, 2009 11:42 PM
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ravitchn wrote: "Had we stayed friends with Japan in the 1930's and not with the decadent and backward Chinese there would have been no Pearl Harbor."

So after the rape of Nanking you would make friends with the Japanese? What type of a human being are you?

ravitchn wrote: "Had we given Mussolini some of what he wanted he would not have joined with Hitler."

What did he want that he did not get? Even the pope recognized him as being sent by God. He wanted to ally with Hitler who eventually saved his life. What overtures did he make to the allies that we ignored, driving him into Hitler's hands?

ravitchn wrote: "Much was done that was wrong or ill-advised."

You can't argue with good results, the defeat of fascism, a free Europe that is now united. However Bush let Afghanistan fester and even pulled resources out to send to Iraq, allowing that war to drag on for 8 years. He never cared about Mullah Omar or bin Laden, the people who were responsible for attacking us killing thousands. That has changed now that Obama has reminded us just who the real enemy is. I can't understand how conservatives with their love of country fascade allowed Bush to withdraw forces from Afghanistan to attack a country that never attacked us. But that is the nature of conservatives, they feel they don't have to explain themselves but are more than happy to explain the actions of others.

Posted by: Fate1 | December 7, 2009 10:39 PM
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Leadership? His speech was interrupted only three times with applause. How dare you compare Opeasement to FDR or Eisenhower. Did FDR take a year to declare war on Japan? Did Eisenhower tell the trops I support the war in the Pacific but not in Europe. This low life told our fighting men and women he opposed the war in Iraq where some will serve and be put ih harm's way.

What Propagandistic Tripe.

Posted by: djfeiger | December 7, 2009 9:47 PM
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Obama Is Toast But He Doesn't Know It...Yet!

Mr. President, do you remember us, the American people? We don't have to "defeat" a rag tag, illiterate, dope dealing, "army" that trains on monkey bars, to make America safe from another 9-11, do we?

McCrystal tells us that we have to train the Afghan army and teach them how to shoot a rifle and march in a straight line before we can leave. Why is such training necessary? The Taliban (Afghans) have managed to train themselves without the U.S. and, they have been doing a pretty good job of kicking our ass over the last eight years.

So, what is our mission? Are we supposed to clean up the corrupt and dysfunctional government of President Karzai?

Mr. President, you are making the biggest mistake of your life and you and George W. Bush will go down in history as our worst presidents. And to think, they gave you the Nobel Peace Prize.


Posted by: Rubiconski | December 7, 2009 8:42 PM
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How can you possibly draw a parallel between what Ike did as an army general when the world was at war and what obama did in front of cadets who may not see action in Afghanistan? Puleeese.

Posted by: anti-danyboy | December 7, 2009 6:02 PM
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Dateline: White House December 7, 2009

President Obama marked the sixty- eighth anniversary of the "unfortunate incident" at Pearl Harbor to apologize to the Empire of Japan, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

Noting that it should be remembered that the Japanese navy was mainly a peaceful organization, the President indicated we should not focus on the few extremists who unfairly gave the whole organization a bad name.

Of course, the biggest apologies were for Italy and Germany. Neither attacked the US, but US the military invaded both countries before Japan. The President attributed this misplaced aggressiveness by the US to a combination of Roosevelt's and Churchill obsessive desire for "regime change" and world hegemony at their secret meeting on a naval vessel in 1942 and a conspiracy of Euro centrists organized by George Bush's grandfather, whose world view was overly centered on the imagined importance of Europe.

Finally, President Obama reminded the world that most of the unnecessary destruction in Japan, Germany and Italy would have been avoided, if only the US had implemented his 18 months and out plan.

"I think I can speak for all civilized Ivy league professors in saying that 18 months would have been sufficient to make the point that the US was perturbed about the Pearl Harbor incident," President Obama remarked.

Posted by: jfv123 | December 7, 2009 5:13 PM
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Had we stayed friends with Japan in the 1930's and not with the decadent and backward Chinese there would have been no Pearl Harbor.

Had we given Mussolini some of what he wanted he would not have joined with Hitler.

Much was done that was wrong or ill-advised.

Posted by: ravitchn | December 7, 2009 4:42 PM
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Does Mr. Ruggero really believe this drivel? BO went in front of men and women he just might send to Afghanistan and told them he was planning on bringing everybody home in 18 months, whether we win or not. In effect, he told them that they might get hurt or dead for nothing. BO wants to bring the troops home in 2011 solely so he can say in his re-election campaign that he brought the troops home.

Such complete disrespect for our men and women in uniform is why the cadets were ordered to show respect. If there had been any real respect for the Narcissist-in-Chief, such staging would not have been necessary.

Posted by: rocks1 | December 7, 2009 4:14 PM
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who would equate an open top car ride through a city street with a speech in front of West Point cadets who were ordered to be enthusiastic and present?

Only an idiot!

Posted by: tru-indy
Who would make a claim that the cadets were *ordered* to be enthusiastic? Only a right-wing dingbat who sees nothing wrong with accusations having absolutely no basis in fact as long as they support their preconceived notions.

Posted by: st50taw | December 7, 2009 2:01 PM
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BTW, why does Mrs. Obama need 22 people on her staff when the most any other First Lady had were 3 (that was Hillary). Why didn't Mrs. Obama accompany her husband on his tour through Islamic countries? Let's see what kind of boilerplate answers you can give for those.

Posted by: Baltimore11
With regards to the first question, your premise is false. Right-wing dweebs should be required to certify they've checked with snopes.com before they're allowed to post anything.


As for your second question - WHO CARES?

Posted by: st50taw | December 7, 2009 1:57 PM
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All very true but don't expect a single mind to be changed from the radical right. There entire ideology is invested in demonizing Pres. Obama and all Deomocrats for that matter as unamerican marxists no matter what they do. They're a waisted trip. Just listen, nod your head and ignore their insanity.

Posted by: kchses1 | December 7, 2009 1:39 PM
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who would equate an open top car ride through a city street with a speech in front of West Point cadets who were ordered to be enthusiastic and present?
Only an idiot!
Posted by: tru-indy

To see an idiot, look in the mirror. Cadets are required to be respectful of the CINC, but they didn't have to crowd around the President for a photo op. Cadets cannot be "ordered" to be enthusiastic.

Regardless of whether or not the cadets like or respect President Obama he looked in the eyes of the men and women he will send to Iraq. That's even more difficult when one feels the crowd may be less than admiring.

George W. Bush, like Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin, only went to venues where he could be guaranteed an enthusiastic reception. Who do you think shows more courage?

Posted by: arancia12 | December 7, 2009 12:52 PM
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Thanks for this post. I was a bit dismayed by the cynical media criticism of Obama's venue (funny, those voices were all silent during the Bush Administration's use of the military as props).

The fact of the matter is that the people who Obama addressed were the ones who were to be most personally affected by what Obama had to say. To suggest that it was inappropriate is to continue to play the neo-com game of looking at war as an abstract rather than acknowledging the actual personal lives that are on the line. Bravo and kudos to Obama!

Posted by: hohandy1 | December 7, 2009 12:41 PM
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Eisenhower wasn't a politician on June 6, 1944. He was a General supporting and encouraging his fighting men. This was an honest and heart-felt gesture on his part. He did not go into politics until long after WWII.

Politicians and their families, on the other hand, are totally stage-managed theatrics. They have speechwriters to put words into their mouth. They have staff to make them look good. BTW, why does Mrs. Obama need 22 people on her staff when the most any other First Lady had were 3 (that was Hillary). Why didn't Mrs. Obama accompany her husband on his tour through Islamic countries? Let's see what kind of boilerplate answers you can give for those.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | December 7, 2009 11:44 AM
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who would equate an open top car ride through a city street with a speech in front of West Point cadets who were ordered to be enthusiastic and present?

Only an idiot!

Posted by: tru-indy | December 7, 2009 11:16 AM
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