Found in the Archives

June 10th marks the anniversary of FDR’s famous “stab-in-the-back” speech, delivered June 10, 1940 at the University of Virginia commencement. The speech originally was to be a typical commencement address, made more special by the fact that FDR’s son Franklin Jr. was graduating with his law degree. Although war had broken out the previous year, the conflict had entered into what was known as the “Phony War” because there was very little actual fighting in Western Europe during the winter of 1939-1940. But on April 9th, the German Blitzkrieg began, and Nazi troops quickly overran Denmark, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, and swept into France, pinning British and French troops against the English Channel.

On June 10th–the day FDR was to deliver his University of Virginia address–Italy entered the war for the first time and invaded France, dealing a death blow to that nation. The speech was being finalized as the President traveled by train south from Washington DC to Charlottesville, and en route an additional five pages were typed and inserted into the text referencing the latest events. Thoroughly outraged by Italy’s act of treachery, though, FDR in his own handwriting inserted into his reading copy the phrase “On this tenth day of June 1940, the hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of his neighbor.” He delivered the line with sharply focused anger, and the speech marked a turning point in Roosevelt’s foreign policy: from then on there would be all-out aid to the democracies and an unprecedented build-up in America’s military preparedness.