Address on Armistice Day, Arlington National Cemetery.
Veterans of the Army and Navy of the United States:
On this day which commemorates the end of fighting between human beings in a World War, it is, I think, permissible for me to search far back in the history of civilization in order to visualize important trends.
On the Great Seal of the United States which, for a century and a half, has reposed in the loving care of a long line of Secretaries of State of the United States, there appear these words:
"NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM"
which means: "A new order of the ages."In almost every century since the day that recorded history began, people have thought, quite naturally, that they were creating or establishing some kind of "new order of the ages."
But in the scheme of civilization from which ours descends I suppose that we can recognize that in approximately 2,500 years there have been only a very few "new orders" in the development of human living under a thing called Government.
Without question, the philosophy of orderly Government in Which the governed had some form of voice in a civilized society goes back to the days of ancient Greece. We must remember, however, that while the philosophy of democracy was there first expressed in words and on paper, the practice of it was by no means consistent, and was confined to a relatively small number of human beings and to a relatively small geographical area.
We came to the age of Rome—an age of a strange admixture of elections and laws and military conquest and personal dictatorship. It was an age which extended the civilization of the period to the greater part of the then known world. It was an age which forced its own conception of laws and ways of life on millions of less civilized people who previously had lived under tribal custom or centralized direction. Definitely, Rome was an age.
With Rome's collapse and with the overrunning of Europe by vast population movements from farther east, orderly progress deteriorated for a number of centuries, and the sword drove learning into hiding. That dark period could hardly be called an age because it was essentially an interim between ages.
Then, with the reawakening of a thousand years ago, with the Crusades, the Feudal System, the Guilds, the Kings and the Renaissance, that age which immediately preceded our own was born and grew and flourished. It was an era of enormous distinction—arts and literature and education and exploration-marching armies, barons and empires. Human security was still non-existent- democracy was not permitted.
But toward the close of that great age, the appearance of tiny movements in tiny places, led by tiny people forecast the next vast step forward—what we like to think of as the era of 1776, the age in which, thank God, we still live.
It is true that those small beginnings originated in the old world among the philosophers, among the seekers of many kinds of freedom that were forbidden by those who governed.
Those beginnings found their freest development in the colonies that were organized along the seaboard of North America. There, by the processes of trial and error, democracy as it has since been accepted in so many lands, had its birth and its training.
There came into being the first far-flung Government in all the world whose cardinal principle was democracy—the United States of America.
We must accept that as fact because, truly and fundamentally, it was a new order. Nothing like it had ever been seen before. We must accept it because the new order spread into almost every part of the civilized world. It spread in many forms, and over the next century almost all peoples had acquired some form of popular expression of opinion, some form of election, some form of franchise, some form of the right to be heard. The Americas, all of the Americas in that century, and the British Isles, England and Scotland and Ireland and Wales, led the world in spreading the gospel of democracy among peoples, great and small.
And the world as a whole felt with much right that by that time it had discarded feudalism and conquest and dictatorship.
People felt that way, within the memory of many of us who are here today, until 1914, when a definite effort was made in a part of the world to destroy this existing settled "new order of the ages"—to destroy it after its relatively short trial, and to substitute for it the doctrine that might makes right. That attempt failed with our help twenty-two years ago.
You and I who served in the period of the World War have faced in later years unpatriotic efforts by some of our own countrymen to make us believe that the sacrifices made by our own nation were wholly in vain.
A hundred years from now, historians will brand such efforts as puny and false.
A hundred years from now, historians will say rightly that the World War preserved the new order of the ages for at least a generation—a full twenty years—and that if the axis of 1918 had been successful in military victory over the associated nations, resistance on behalf of democracy in 1940 would have been wholly impossible.
And so America is proud of its share in maintaining the era of democracy in that war in which we took part. America is proud of you who served—and ever will be proud.
I, for one, do not believe that the era of democracy in human affairs' can or ever will be snuffed out in our lifetime. I, for one, do not believe that mere force will be successful in sterilizing the seeds which had taken such firm root as a harbinger of better lives for mankind. I, for one, do not believe that the world will revert either to a modern form of ancient slavery or to controls vested in modern feudalism or modern emperors or modern dictators or modern oligarchs in these days. I, for one, do believe that the very people under their iron heels will, themselves, rebel.
What are a few months or even a few years in the lifetime of any of us? We, alive today, live and think in terms of our grandparents, and our own parents, and ourselves, and our children—yes, and our grandchildren. We, alive today, not in the existent democracies alone, but also among the populations of the smaller nations already overrun, are thinking in the larger terms of the maintenance of the new order to which we have been accustomed and in which we intend to continue.
Time has marched on. We recognize certain facts of 1940 which did not exist in 1918: a need for the elimination of aggressive armaments, a need for the breaking down of barriers in a more closely knitted world, a need for restoring honor in the written and spoken word. We recognize that the processes of democracies must be greatly improved in order that we may attain those purposes.
But over and above the present, over and above this moment, we recognize and salute the eternal verities that lie with us in the future of mankind.
You, young men of 1917 and 1918, helped to preserve those truths of democracy for our generation.
We still unite, we still strive mightily to preserve intact that new order of the ages founded by the Fathers of America.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address on Armistice Day, Arlington National Cemetery. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/209352