Department of State Bulletin, vol. II, p. 494
Address Delivered by President Roosevelt at Washington May 10, 1940
All of the men and women of this Pan American Scientific Congress have come here tonight with heavy hearts. During the past few years we have seen event follow event, each and every one of them a shock to our hopes for the peaceful development of modern civilization. This very day three more independent nations have been cruelly invaded by force of arms.
In some human affairs the mind of man grows accustomed to unusual actions if they are oft repeated. That is not so in the world happenings of today—and I am proud that it is not so. I am glad that we are shocked and angered by the tragic news from Belgium and the Netherlands and Luxemburg.
The overwhelmingly greater part of the population of the world abhors conquest and war and bloodshed—prays that the hand of neighbor shall not be lifted against neighbor. The whole world has seen attack follow threat on so many occasions and in so many places during these later years. We have come, therefore, to the reluctant conclusion that a continuance of these processes of arms presents a definite challenge to the continuation of the type of civilization to which all of us in the three Americas have been accustomed.
I use this Pan American Scientific Congress as one of many similar illustrations. It is no accident that this meeting takes place in the New World. In fact, this hemisphere is now almost the only part of the earth in which such a gathering can take place. Elsewhere war or politics has compelled teachers and scholars to leave their great calling and to become agents of destruction.
We, and most people in the world, believe in a civilization of construction and not of destruction. We, and most people in the world, believe that men and women have an inherent right to hew out the patterns of their own individual lives, just so long as they as individuals do not harm their fellow beings. We call this by many synonymous terms—individual liberty, civil liberty, democracy.
Until now we permit ourselves by common consent to search for truth, to teach the truth as we see it—and by learning a little here and a little there, and teaching a little here and a little there to allow the normal processes of truth to keep growing for the well‑being of our fellow men. In our search and in our teaching we are a part of a
great adventure‑an exciting adventure‑which gives to us a larger satisfaction even than did the adventure of settling the Americas give to our Founding Fathers. We feel that we are building human progress by conquering disease and poverty and discomfort, and by improving science and culture, removing one by one the cruelty, the crudity, and the barbarism of less civilized eras.
In contrast, in other parts of the world, teachers and scholars are not permitted to search for truth lest the truth when made known might not suit the designs of their masters. Too often they are not allowed to teach the truth as they see it, for truth might make men free. They become objects of suspicion if they speak openly, if they show an interest in new truth, for their very tongues and minds are supposed to be mobilized for other ends.
This has not happened in the New World. God willing, it shall not happen in the New World.
At the pan‑American conference at Buenos Aires, and again at Lima, we discussed a dim and unpleasant possibility. We feared that other continents might become so involved in wars brought on by the school of destruction that the Americas might have to become the guardian of western culture, the protector of Christian civilization.
In those days it was merely a fear. Today the fear has become a fact.
The inheritance which we had hoped to share with every nation in the world is, for the moment, left largely in our keeping; and it is our compelling duty to guard and enrich that legacy, to preserve it for a world which must be reborn from the ashes of the present disaster.
Today we know that until recent weeks too many citizens of the American republics believed themselves wholly safe—physically and economically and socially—from the impact of the attacks on civilization which are in progress elsewhere. Perhaps this mistaken idea was based on the false teaching of geography—the thought that a distance of several thousand miles from a war‑torn Europe gave to us some form of mystic immunity which could never be violated.
Yet, speaking in terms of timetables, in terms of the moving of men and guns and planes and bombs, every acre—every hectare—of the Americas from the Arctic to the Antarctic is closer to the homes of modern conquerors and the scenes of attacks in Europe than was the case in historic efforts, to dominate the world in bygone centuries. From the point of view of conquests, it is a shorter distance from the center of Europe to Santiago de Chile than it was for the chariots of
Alexander to roll from Macedonia. to Persia. In modern terms it is a shorter distance from Europe to San Francisco than it was for the ships and legions of Caesar to move from Rome to Spain or Britain. Today it is 4 or 5 hours from the Continent of Africa to the Continent of South America, where it was 4 or 5 weeks for the armies of Napoleon to move from Paris to Rome or Paris to Poland.
You who are scientists may be told that you are responsible because of the processes of invention for the annihilation of time and space, but I assure you that it is not the scientists of the world who are responsible, because the objectives which you have had have looked toward closer and more peaceful relations between all nations through the spirit of cooperation and the interchange of knowledge. What has come about has been caused solely by those who would use, and are using, your inventions of peace in a wholly different cause—those who seek to dominate hundreds of millions of people in vast continental areas—those who, if successful in that aim will, we must now admit, enlarge their wild dream to encompass every human being and every mile of the earth's surface.
The great achievements of science and even of art can be used to destroy as well as create; they are only instruments by which men try to do the things they most want to do. If death is desired, science can do that. If a full life is sought, science can do that also. Happily for us that question is solved—for in the New World we live for each other and in the service of a Christian faith.
Is this solution—our solution—permanent or safe if it is solved for us alone? That it seems to me is the most immediate issue that the Americas face. Can we continue our peaceful construction if all the other continents embrace by preference or by compulsion a wholly different principle of life?
Surely it is time for our republics to spread that problem before us in the cold light of day, to analyze it, to ask questions, to demand answers, to use every knowledge, every science we possess, to apply common sense, and especially to act with unanimity and singleness of purpose.
I am a pacifist. You, my fellow citizens of 21 American republics, are pacifists.
But I believe that by overwhelming majorities you and I, in the long run and if it be necessary, will act together to protect and defend by every means our science, our culture, our freedom, and our civilization.