Press Releases, vol. IX, p. 380
Address Delivered by President Roosevelt at Washington, December 28, 1933
"Comprehension must be the soil in which shall grow all the fruits of friendship." Those words, used by President Wilson in the Mobile speech in 1913, can well serve as a statement of policy by the Government of the United States. That policy applies equally to a comprehension of our internal problems and our international relations.
Woodrow Wilson was a teacher, and when he used the word "comprehension" he meant it not in terms of the statesmen and political leaders and business executives and financial kings; he meant it rather in its application to the peoples of the world, who are constantly going to school to learn simple truths in order that they and their neighbors can live their lives more safely, more happily, more fully.
In every continent and in every country Woodrow Wilson accelerated comprehension on the part of the people themselves. It is, I believe, true that the events of the past 10 months have caused a greater interest in government, the problems of government, and the
purposes of government than in any similar period in our history; and yet this recent interest and comprehension would have been impossible for the American people had they not had from Woodrow Wilson the original stimulus and the original understanding of which he spoke 20 years ago.
In that speech in Mobile, President Wilson first enunciated the definite statement "that the United States will never again seek one additional foot of territory by conquest." The United States accepted that declaration of policy. President Wilson went further, pointing out with special reference to our Latin American neighbors that material interests must never be made superior to human liberty.
Nevertheless, and largely as a result of the convulsion of the World War and its after effects, the complete fruition of that policy of unselfishness has not in every case been obtained. And in this we, all of us, have to share the responsibility.
I do not hesitate to say that if I had been engaged in a political campaign as a citizen of some other American republic, I might have been strongly tempted to play upon the fears of my compatriots of that republic by charging the United States of North America with some form of imperialistic desire for selfish aggrandizement. As a citizen of some other republic I might have found it difficult to believe fully in the altruism of the richest American republic. In particular, as a citizen of some other republic, I might have found it hard to approve of the occupation of the territory of other republics, even as a temporary measure.
It therefore has seemed clear to me as President that the time has come to supplement and to implement the declaration of President Wilson by the further declaration that the definite policy of the United States from now on is one opposed to armed intervention.
The maintenance of constitutional government in other nations is not a sacred obligation devolving upon the United States alone. The maintenance of law and the orderly processes of government in this hemisphere is the concern of each individual nation within its own borders first of all. It is only if and when the failure of orderly processes affects the other nations of the continent that it becomes their concern; and the point to stress is that in such an event it becomes the joint concern of a whole continent in which we are all neighbors.
It is the comprehension of that doctrine—a comprehension not by the leaders alone but by the peoples of all the American republics, that has made the conference now concluding its labors in Montevideo such a fine success. A better state of feeling among the neighbor nations of North and Central and South America exists
today than at any time within a generation. For participation in the bringing about of that result we can feel proud that so much credit belongs to the Secretary of State of the United States, Cordell Hull.
In the wider world field a chain of events has led, of late, away from rather than towards the ultimate objectives of Woodrow Wilson.
The superficial observer charges this failure to the growth of the spirit of nationalism. But in so doing he suggests a nationalism in its narrower, restrictive sense, and a nationalism of that kind supported by the overwhelming masses of the people themselves in each nation.
I challenge that description of the world population today.
The blame for the danger to world peace lies not in the world population but in the political leaders of that population.
The imagination of the masses of world population was stirred, as never before, by President Wilson's gallant appeal to them—to those masses—to banish future war. His appeal meant little to the imagination or the hearts of a large number of the so-called statesmen who gathered in Paris to assemble a treaty of so-called peace in 1919. I saw that with my own eyes and heard that with my own ears. Political profit, personal prestige, national aggrandizement attended the birth of the League of Nations, and handicapped it from its infancy by seeking their own profit and their own safety first.
Nevertheless, through the League directly, or through its guiding motives indirectly, the states of the world have groped forward to find something better than the old way of composing their differences.
The League has provided a common meeting place; it has provided machinery which serves for international discussion; and in very many practical instances it has helped labor and health and commerce and education, and, last but not least, the actual settlement of many disputes great and small among nations great and small.
Today the United States is cooperating openly in the fuller utilization of the League of Nations machinery than ever before.
I believe that I express the views of my countrymen when I state that the old policies, alliances, combinations, and balances of power have proved themselves inadequate for the preservation of world peace. The League of Nations, encouraging as it does the extension of non-aggression pacts, of reduction of armament agreements, is a prop in the world peace structure.
We are not members and we do not contemplate membership. We
are giving cooperation to the League in every matter which is not primarily political and in every matter which obviously represents he views and the good of the peoples of the world as distinguished from the views and the good of political leaders, of privileged classes, or of imperialistic aims.
If you figure the world's population at approximately one billion and a half people, you will find it safe to guess that at least 90 percent of all of them are today content with the territorial limits of their respective nations and are willing further to reduce their armed forces tomorrow if every other nation in the world will agree to do the same thing. Back of the threat to world peace lies the fear and perhaps even the possibility that the other 10 percent of the people of the world may go along with a leadership which seeks territorial expansion at the expense of neighbors and which under various pleas in avoidance are unwilling to reduce armament or stop rearmament even if everybody else agrees to non-aggression and to arms reduction.
If this 10 percent can be persuaded by the other 90 percent to do their own thinking and not be led, we will have practical peace, permanent peace, real peace throughout the world. Our own country has reduced the immediate steps to this greatest of objectives to practical and reasonable terms.
I have said to every nation in the world something to this effect:
1. Let every nation agree to eliminate over a short period of years, and by progressive steps, every weapon of offense in its possession and to create no additional weapons of offense. This does not guarantee a nation against invasion unless you implement it with the right to fortify its own border with permanent and non-mobile defenses; and also with the right to assure itself through international continuing inspection that its neighbors are not creating nor maintaining offensive weapons of war.
2. A simple declaration that no nation will permit any of its armed forces to cross its own borders into the territory of another nation. Such an act would be regarded by humanity as an act of aggression and as an act, therefore, that would call for condemnation by humanity.
3. It is clear, of course, that no such general agreement for the elimination of aggression and of the weapons of offensive warfare would be of any value to the world unless every nation, without exception, entered into the agreement by
solemn obligation. If, then, such an agreement were signed by a great majority of the nations on the definite condition that it would go into effect only when signed by all the nations, it would be a comparatively easy matter to determine which nations in this enlightened time are willing to go on record as belonging to the small minority of mankind which still believes in the use of the sword for invasion of and attack upon their neighbors.
I did not make this suggestion until I felt assured, after a hardheaded practical survey, that the temper of the overwhelming majority of all men and women in my own country, as well as those who make up the world's population, subscribes to the fundamental objective I have set forth and to the practical road to that objective. The political leaders of many of these peoples interpose and will interpose argument, excuse, befogging amendment—yes, and even ridicule. But I tell them that the men and women they serve are so far in advance of that type of leadership that we could get a world accord on world peace immediately if the people of the world spoke for themselves.
Through all the centuries and down to the world conflict of 1914 to 1918, wars were made by governments. Woodrow Wilson challenged that necessity. That challenge made the people who create and who change governments think. They wondered with Woodrow Wilson whether the people themselves could not some day prevent governments from making war.
It is but an extension of the challenge of Woodrow Wilson for us to propose in this newer generation that from now on war by governments shall be changed to peace by peoples.