Seventy-five years ago, on the night of June 6, 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke on the radio to announce the success of the D-Day invasion, not with a jubilant proclamation of victory, but with a humble request for the anxious nation to join him in prayer. “Almighty God,” he began. “Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.”
President Trump repeated those words this week when he read portions of FDR’s D-Day prayer to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the great event.
To contemporary ears, these words may sound surprising, even shocking. FDR, liberal hero that he was, acknowledged that part of the war’s purpose involved a desperate battle to save “our religion.” What did he mean by that phrase? He knew that Americans did not share a common religion: aside from the crucial Protestant-Catholic divide, US military forces included hundreds of thousands of Jews, and other non-Christians. Talking about “our religion” I believe Roosevelt invoked a shared faith in America as an instrument of divine Providence “to set free a suffering humanity.”
At the end of his brief remarks he said: “And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee, Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade.” If Americans could only affirm that common faith in the midst of our current travail, the divisions that characterize our moment in history might not disappear, but they would certainly subside, to the great benefit of the Republic.