Department of State Bulletin, vol. 11, p. 683
Address Delivered by the Secretary of State at Harvard University, June 20, 1940
I am deeply conscious of the honor which was conferred on me this morning. I am happy to visit this magnificent campus. From it, throughout our country's national existence, generations of leaders have gone to every corner of the land bearing the torch of truth and of humanity. There is no more fitting site from which to survey the great problems and issues that now confront this Nation.
These are black days for the human race. These are ominous days for us in this country.
There are at work in the world today powerful forces the significance of which no individual and no nation can ignore without falling into a position of the gravest danger and of the utmost jeopardy. These forces are not new in the experience of mankind. They rose on many occasions in the past and, for varying periods and with varying intensity, held sway over human affairs. They spring today from the same source from which they have always sprung in the past—from godless and soulless lust for power which seeks to hold men in physical slavery and spiritual degradation and to displace a system of peaceful and orderly relations among nations by the anarchy of wanton violence and brute force.
Fortunately, these forces have not triumphed in every instance in which they have challenged human freedom and interrupted the advance of civilization. There are times in the lives of individuals and of nations when realization of mortal peril, far from making men recoil in horror and defeat, strengthens and ennobles the soul, gives indomitability to will and to courage, and leads to victory through suffering and sacrifice. History records many heartening instances when in this manner the forces of conquest, violence, and oppression were hurled back, and the onward march of civilized man was resumed.
Never before have these forces flung so powerful a challenge to freedom and civilized progress as they are flinging today. Never before has there been a more desperate need for men and nations who love freedom and cherish the tenets of modern civilization, to gather into an unconquerable defensive force every element of their spiritual
and material resources, every ounce of their moral and physical strength.
We, Americans of today, have behind us a century and a half of national existence, to which we point, with justifiable pride, as a successful experiment in democracy and human freedom. That experiment began when a resplendent generation of Americans resolved to stake on its success their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. With unshakable faith in their cause and an unswerving determination to make it prevail, they risked their all for the creation of a nation in which each citizen would have—as his inalienable rights—liberty under law, equality of opportunity, freedom of thought and of conscience. Those Americans believed unreservedly that in a nation founded upon these great principles, the people could enjoy individually a far greater measure of well‑being and happiness than is possible under any other form of political and social organization, and could achieve collectively a degree of internal strength and unity of purpose necessary to insure for the Nation itself the inalienable right to manage its own affairs solely by the will of its own people.
A century and a half of active and, at times, tumultuous history have vindicated this faith. The Nation which that generation of Americans founded lives today and has grown great and powerful beyond the fondest dreams of its founders. This has come about because, through the stresses and strains of internal adjustment and external conflict, succeeding generations of Americans have never faltered in their devotion to that faith and have rededicated themselves to it, freely and reverently; because in each generation there was sufficient resoluteness of spirit, tenacity of purpose, moral and physical courage, and capacity for unselfish sacrifice to accept individual and collective responsibility for the preservation of the principles upon which this Nation was founded and upon which it has built its way of life.
Our American history has not been achieved in isolation from the rest of mankind; there is no more dangerous folly than to think that its achievements can be preserved in isolation. It has been a part of a vast movement—in the Old World, as well as the New—which has opened new vistas in the destiny of man; which has carried human progress to new and exalted heights; which has, through scientific attainment, lessened the tyranny over man of the blind forces of nature; which, as never before, has expanded for the human race as a whole the opportunity for freedom of mind and of spirit. To this, great stream of new ideas, new attainments, new cultural values, we have made our contribution; and we ourselves, in turn, have been nourished by it.
The massed forces of lust for tyrannical power are directed today against the very bases of the way of life which has come to be the cherished ideal of a preponderant majority of mankind—against the moral, spiritual, social, political, and economic foundations of modern civilization. Nation after nation has been crushed into surrender, overrun and enslaved by the exercise of brute force combined with fraud and guile. And as the dismal darkness descends upon more and more of the earth's surface, as its menacing shadow falls blacker and blacker athwart our continent, the very instinct of self‑preservation bids us beware.
We have the power to meet that menace successfully, if we, at this time, face the task which is before us in the same spirit in which former generations of Americans met the crises that confronted them in their times. We need material means of defense. These means we are determined to create, and we are creating them. But more than that is needed.
Men will defend to the utmost only things in which they have complete faith. Those who took part in the struggle by which freedom was won for this Nation would have found its hardships unbearable if they had not been imbued with transcendent faith in the things for which they fought. The task of preserving and defending freedom requires at times as stern and determined a struggle as the task of achieving freedom, and as firm a faith.
No more vital test has ever confronted the American people than that which confronts it today. There are difficult and dangerous times ahead. Our national independence and our cherished institutions are not immune from the challenge of the lust for power that already stalks so much of the earth's surface. Unprecedented effort and heavy sacrifices will be required of us as the price of preserving, for ourselves and for our posterity, the kind of America that has been fostered and preserved for us by the vigilance, courage, and sacrifice of those who preceded us. We shall succeed if we retain unimpaired the most precious heritage which they bequeathed us—an unshakable faith in the everlasting worth of freedom and honor, of truth and justice, of intellectual and spiritual integrity; and an immutable determination to give our all, if need be, for the preservation of our way of life.
Without that faith and that determination, no material means of defense will suffice. With them, we need fear no enemy outside or within our borders.
In times of grave crises, there are always some who fall a prey, to doubt and unreasoning fear; some who seek refuge in cynicism and
narrow self‑interest; some who wrap themselves in the treacherous cloak of complacency. All these are dangers that lie within us. All these impair the faith and weaken the determination without which freedom cannot prevail.
Each and every one of us must, search his mind and his heart for these signs of fatal weakness. The stern realities of the crisis which is upon us call, as never before, for vision and for loyalty. They call for all the strength of hand, of mind, and of spirit that we can muster. They call for self‑reliance, for self‑restraint, for self‑imposed and freely accepted discipline. They call for the kind of national unity that can be achieved only by free men, invincible in their resolve that human freedom must not perish. They call for unselfish service today if we are to win through to a secure and bright tomorrow.
A responsibility seldom equalled in gravity and danger rests upon each and every one of us. Neglect or delay in assuming it, willingly and fully, would place in mortal danger our way of life and the sacred cause of human freedom. Were we to fail in that responsibility, we would fail ourselves; we would fail the generations that went before us; we would fail the generations that are to come after us; we would fail mankind; we would fail God.
I am supremely confident that we shall not fail. I am certain that in the minds and hearts of our people still—still—lie welling springs inexhaustible and indestructible—of faith in the things we cherish, of courage and determination to defend them, of sacrificial devotion, of unbreakable unity of purpose. I am certain that, however great the hardships and the trials which loom ahead, our America will endure and the cause of human freedom will triumph.