Department of State Bulletin, vol. III, p. 331
Address Delivered by the Secretary of State at Washington, October 26, 1940
It is with no light heart that I address you and any others who may be listening tonight on the subject of our international relations. I should be lacking in candor if I did not emphasize the gravity of the present situation.
Only once before in our national existence has as grave a danger from without threatened this Nation as the danger which looms today on the international horizon. That was in the stirring days when the founders of this Republic staked everything on their unshakable conviction that a nation of free men could be established and would endure on the soil of America. Theirs was a struggle and a victory the fruits of which have been the proud inheritance of succeeding gen‑
erations of Americans for more than a century and a half. These generations, including our own, have enjoyed this inheritance in a world where human freedom, national independence, and order under law were steadily becoming more and more firmly established as a system of civilized relations among nations and among individuals.
Today that system and all peaceful nations, including our own, are gravely menaced. The danger arises out of the plans and acts of a small group of national rulers who have succeeded in transforming their peoples into forceful instruments for widespread domination by conquest.
To understand the significance of this danger and to prepare to meet it successfully we must see clearly the tragic lessons taught by what has occurred since the protagonists of conquest began their march across the earth. I ask you to review with me the whirlwind developments of one of the saddest and most crucial decades in the history of mankind—that of the nineteen‑thirties.
The opening years of the decade were filled with ominous rumblings of impending disaster. Profound economic dislocation had spread rapidly to every part of the world. It had disrupted international economic relations and was causing untold distress everywhere. The structure of international peace was still intact, but a dangerous breach was opened in it by the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931. That act, universally condemned at the time, proved to be only the beginning of an epidemic of callous disregard of international commitments‑probably unparalleled in the annals of history. International discussions for the reduction and limitation of armaments, begun much earlier, were dragging along. Their failure to result in effective agreements was adding to the general feeling of apprehension and insecurity.
These developments were bound to create grave difficulties and grave dangers for our country, as well as for the rest of the world. The problems which they presented imperatively demanded on our part vigorous initiative and leadership in the promotion and defense of the national interest.
Accordingly, in the conduct of foreign policy, this Government directed its efforts to the following objectives: (1) Peace and security for the United States with advocacy of peace and limitation of armament as universal international objectives; (2) support for law, order, justice, and morality and the principle of non‑intervention; (3) restoration and cultivation of sound economic methods and relations;
(4) development of the maximum measure of international cooperation; (5) promotion of the security, solidarity, and general welfare of the Western Hemisphere. These basic objectives of a good‑neighbor policy represented a sound and practical middle course between the extremes of internationalism and isolation. They have been consistently pursued throughout. The sweep of events has, of course, required the focusing of our attention at different periods upon different problems and different geographic areas.
In the early thirties; the relations among the American republics left much to be desired. Elements of mistrust, apprehension, and disunion had to be eliminated if a good‑neighbor policy was really to prevail on the American Continent and provide a foundation upon which 21 free and independent American republics could establish peaceful and mutually beneficial relations among themselves and with the rest of the world.
The Seventh International Conference of American States, meeting at Montevideo in December 1933, offered an opportunity for a far-reaching move in this direction. There, a solid foundation was laid for a new structure of inter‑American relations built on lines so broad that the entire program of principles was of universal application. At that meeting, the American republics took effective action for the maintenance of inter‑American peace, agreed upon non‑intervention, and adopted an economic program of common benefit based on the rule of equal treatment. During the years which immediately followed, the United States gave tangible proofs of its determination to act in accordance with the newly created system of inter‑American relations.
At the same time we inaugurated a new policy in the sphere of economic relations. In the summer of 1934, this country adopted the reciprocal‑trade‑agreements program, designed to restore and expand international commerce through the reduction of unreasonable trade barriers and the general reestablishment of the rule of equality of commercial treatment. This program proved to be the greatest constructive effort in a world racing toward economic destruction.
In the meantime, other phases of international relations were undergoing further and rapid deterioration. Efforts to achieve international security through the reduction and limitation of armaments were unsuccessful. The long and weary conferences at Geneva during which plan after plan failed of adoption showed that the world was not ready to grasp an opportunity for action which, had it been
taken, might have prevented subsequent disasters. This and the notice given by Japan in December 1934 of her intention to terminate the Washington Treaty for the Limitation of Naval Armaments opened the way for a new armament race.
At this juncture, Italy announced her intention to secure control over Ethiopia—by force of arms, if necessary. While there was still a possibility for an amicable settlement of the, difficulties between Italy and Ethiopia, the attitude of the Government of the United States was made clear on September 13, 1935, in a statement which read in part as follows:
"Under the conditions which prevail in the world today, a threat of hostilities anywhere cannot but be a threat to the interests—political, economic, legal and social—of all nations. Armed conflict in any part of the world cannot but have undesirable and adverse effects in every part of the world. All nations have the right to ask that any and all issues between whatsoever nations be resolved by pacific means. Every nation has the right to ask that no nations subject it and other nations to the hazards and uncertainties that must inevitably accrue to all from resort to arms by any two."
During the summer of 1935 under the influence of these rapidly unfolding developments threatening the peace of the world the Congress enacted a statute known as the Neutrality Act of 1935. The purpose of this act was to reduce the risks of our becoming involved in war. Unfortunately, it contained as its principal feature the provision for a rigid embargo on export of arms to belligerents. This provision was adopted under the influence of a fallacious concept temporarily accepted by a large number of our people that this country's entrance into the World War had been brought about by the sale of arms to belligerents and the machinations of so‑called "international bankers".
It was clear then, and has become even clearer since, that a rigid embargo on export of arms might have an effect the opposite of that which was intended. On the occasion of the signing of the act, the President pointed out that "history is filled with unforeseeable situations" and that conditions might arise in which the wholly inflexible provision for an arms embargo "might drag us into war instead of keeping us out". I myself repeatedly pointed out that in addition to the unforeseeable consequences of the provision itself reliance upon that concept might mean the closing of our eyes to manifold dangers in other directions and from other sources.
By 1938, there was no longer any doubt that the existence of the arms embargo provision was definitely having the effect of making wide-
spread war more likely. Accordingly, early in, 1939, the executive branch of the Government urgently recommended to Congress the repeal of that provision. That was finally accomplished, after the outbreak of war in Europe, at a special session of Congress called by the President for that specific purpose.
The Italo‑Ethiopian war and its attendant circumstances left, in an already shaken Europe, a new condition of intense bitterness and unsettlement. Into that situation, Germany, after three years of intensive military preparation, flung, early in 1936, her first serious challenge to world order under law. The German Government tore up the Treaty of Locarno, into which Germany had freely and voluntarily entered, and proceeded to fortify the Rhineland in violation of the express provisions of that treaty. In the summer of that year, a violent civil conflict flared up in Spain, and that unfortunate country became a battleground of newly emerging power politics.
During this period, the President and I on numerous occasions emphasized the .gathering dangers in the world situation. In June 1935, I made the following statement
"We witness all about us a reckless, competitive‑building up of armaments, a recurrence of the mad race which prior to 1914 led the nations of the world headlong to destruction. If persisted in, this course will again plunge the world into disaster."
Tragic indeed is the fact that, from the end of 1935, the voice of reason became increasingly drowned by the rising clangor of the furious rearmament by nations preparing for conquest.
We continued our efforts for peace. We continued to carry forward our program of economic restoration through the trade‑agreements policy. We intensified the process of strengthening our naval armaments and of improving in other ways our means of defense. Speaking for the Government, I pointed out that we would not serve the cause of peace by not having adequate powers of self‑defense; that we must be sure that in our desire for peace we would not appear to any other country unable to protect our just rights.
In view of the imminence of an impending world crisis, we proposed to our sister republics of the Americas; in January 1936, an extraordinary conference to consider the best means of safeguarding the peace of this hemisphere. At this Inter‑American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace, convoked at Buenos Aires, the 21 American republics, building on the foundations laid down at Montevideo,
adopted for the first time the great principle that a threat from without the continent to the peace of any of them should be regarded by the American republics as a threat to each and every one of them. They established in contractual form the obligation to consult together whenever the peace of the Americas is menaced whether from within or from without.
During the year 1937, while the cauldron of European politics seethed dangerously, the focus of world events again shifted to the Far East. In the summer of that year, Japan struck a further and more extensive blow at China. This new threat to the peace of the world rendered appropriate a restatement of the fundamental aims and principles of the foreign policy of the United States. In a statement issued on July 16, 1937, I set forth those principles. We urged upon all nations the acceptance and observance of those principles. We repeatedly offered to be of assistance toward composing the Chinese‑Japanese conflict in accordance with those principles. We participated—and Japan refused to participate—in the Brussels conference of the signatories to the Nine Power Pact, convoked for the purpose of bringing about a peaceful solution of that conflict.
During the year 1938, the focus of events returned to Europe. In March of that year, the armed forces of Germany passed beyond that country's borders, and the annexation of Austria marked the first forcible alteration of the frontiers established in Europe by the treaties of peace. This was followed, within a few months, by an intense crisis, culminating in the Munich conference and the first dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. The darkening shadows of an approaching war deepened over the fields and homes of the European Continent.
It is not necessary for me to dwell in detail on the kaleidoscopic events of the anguished year that preceded the outbreak of the European war, nor of the 14 months we have since lived through. All of us recall the feverish activity in Europe which became a prelude to war and our repeated attempts to influence the contending nations to adjust their differences by pacific means on the basis of justice, equality, and fair‑dealing, without recourse to force or threat of force. The tragic and the heroic developments of the war months and the brutal invasion and ruthless extinguishment of the independence and freedom of many countries are too vivid in the minds of all of us to need recapitulation.
The appalling tragedy of the present world situation lies in the
fact that peacefully disposed nations failed to recognize in time the true nature of the aims and ambitions which have actuated the ruler of the heavily arming nations. Recoiling from the mere contemplation of the possibility of another widespread war, the peoples of the peaceful nations permitted themselves to be lulled into a false sense of security by the assurances made by these rulers that their aims were limited. This continued even as succeeding events left less and less room for doubt that, behind the screen of these assurances, preparations were being made for new attempts at widespread conquest. To mask still further this monstrous deception, these rulers and their satellites attempted to brand as "war mongers" and "imperialists" all who warned against the clearly emerging dangers, and poured upon them vituperation and abuse.
The United States, together with most other nations, has stood firmly for the basic principles underlying civilized international relations‑peace, law, justice, treaty observance, non‑intervention, peaceful settlement of differences, and fair‑dealing, supported by the fullest practicable measure of international cooperation. The advocacy of these principles has won for us the friendship of all nations, except those which, vaguely describing themselves as the "have‑nots" and claiming a superior right to rule over other peoples, are today on the march with great armies, air fleets, and navies to take by force what they say they need or want.
The rulers of these nations have repudiated and violated in every essential respect the long‑accepted principles of peaceful and orderly international relations. Merciless armed attack; unrestrained terrorization through slaughter of non‑combatant men, women, and children; deceit, fraud, and guile; forced labor; confiscation of property; imposed starvation and deprivations of every sort‑all these are weapons constantly used by the conquerors for the invasion and subjugation of other nations.
They adhere to no geographic lines and they fix no time limit on their programs of invasion and destruction. They cynically disregard every right of neutral nations, and, having occupied several such countries, they then proceed to warn all peaceful nations that they must remain strictly neutral until an invading force is actually crossing their borders. They have as a fixed objective the securing of control of the high seas. They threaten peaceful nations with the direst consequences if those nations do not remain acquiescent, while the conquerors are seizing the other continents and most of the seven seas of the earth.
Let no one comfort himself with the delusion that these are mere
excesses or exigencies of war, to be voluntarily abandoned when fighting ceases. By deed and by utterance, the would‑be conquerors have made it abundantly clear that they are engaged upon a relentless attempt to transform the civilized world as we have known it into a world in which mankind will be reduced again to the degradation of a master‑and‑slave relationship among nations and among individuals, maintained by brute force.
The hand of crushing assault has struck again and again at peaceful nations, complacent and unprepared in their belief that mere intention on their part to keep peace was an ample shield of security.
There can be nothing more dangerous for our Nation than for us to assume that the avalanche of conquest could under no circumstances reach any vital portion of this hemisphere. Oceans give the nations of this hemisphere no guaranty against the possibility of economic, political, or military attack from abroad. Oceans are barriers but they are also highways. Barriers of distance are merely barriers of time. Should the would‑be conquerors gain control of other continents, they would next concentrate on perfecting their control of the seas, of the air over the‑seas, and of the world's economy; they might then be able with ships and with planes to strike at the communication lines, the commerce, and the life of this hemisphere; and ultimately we might find ourselves compelled to fight on our own soil, under our own skies, in defense of our independence and our very lives.
These are some of the governing facts and conditions of the present-day international situation. These are the dangers which must be recognized. Against these dangers, our policies and measures must provide defense.
We are in the presence not of local or regional wars, but of an organized and determined movement for steadily expanding, conquest. Against this drive for power no nation and no region is secure save as its inhabitants create for themselves means of defense so formidable that even the would‑be conquerors will not dare to raise against them the hand of attack.
The first need for all nations still masters of their own destiny is to create for themselves, as speedily and as completely as possible, impregnable means of defense. This is the staggering lesson of mankind's recent experience.
To meet that need, we are bringing our military, naval, and air establishments to maximum practicable strength. Production of military supplies is being brought to a greater and greater pitch of
speed and effectiveness. Wherever necessary for the carrying out of the defense program, export of essential materials is being stringently regulated. Arrangements are being carried forward to provide military and technical training for the youth of this country. We intend to continue and intensify our effort in all these directions.
We are taking measures toward dealing with subversive activities in this country directed from abroad. The experience of many other countries has brought us the shocking realization of the manner in which, and the extent to which, such activities are employed to undermine social and .political institutions and to bring about internal disintegration and decay in the countries which they plan to make their victims. We intend to act in this field with unremitting vigor.
We are seeking to advance by every appropriate means the spirit of inter‑American solidarity and the system of continental defense. In conformity with the procedure set up at Buenos Aires and Lima, the Panama Consultative Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the American Republics adopted important measures to safeguard the national and collective interests of the American nations, their peace, and their economic, security. Last summer they met again, at Habana, to consult with regard to several threats to the peace and security of the Americas, the danger of which, they unanimously agreed, existed. To ward off these threats, they took positive‑steps to prevent any transfer of sovereignty in the Western Hemisphere from one non‑American nation to another, embodied in an international convention and in the Act of Habana. They also agreed upon procedures for combating subversive activities in the American nations and they adopted measures of economic defense and collaboration.
We have concluded an arrangement with Great Britain under which we have acquired long‑time leases of eight strategically located naval and air bases which will enable us to create a protective girdle of steel along the Atlantic seaboard of the American Continent—bases which will be available for use by all of the American republics. We are engaged in defense consultations with our neighbors to the south, and we have created facilities for such consultations with Canada. In all these fields, we intend to continue vigorous effort.
We have sought in every appropriate way to discourage conquest and to limit the area of war. We have followed consistently the policy of refusing recognition of territorial changes effected by force or threat of force. We have taken every opportunity to express our concern over threatened changes by force in the existing political status of colonial possessions, disturbance of which would extend the area of hostilities. We have placed under license the funds of invaded coun‑
tries. In these respects, too, we intend to continue our activities. We believe that the safety and the primary interests of the United States must be upheld with firmness and resolution—supported by the speediest and fullest possible armament for all defensive purposes. In view of the unprecedented character of menacing developments abroad, we have frankly recognized the danger involved and the increasing need for defense against it. As an important means of strengthening our own defense and of preventing attack on any part of the Western Hemisphere, this country is affording all feasible facilities for the obtaining of supplies by nations which, while defending themselves against barbaric attack, are checking the spread of violence and are thus reducing the danger to us. We intend to continue doing this to the greatest practicable extant. Any contention, no matter from what source, that this country should not take such action is equivalent, in the present circumstances, to a denying of the inalienable right of self‑defense.
In our democracy the basic determination of foreign policy rests with the people. As I sense the will of our people today, this Nation is determined that its security and rightful interests shall be safeguarded.
The dangers with which we are confronted are not of our making. We cannot know at what point, or when, we may possibly be attacked. We can, however, be prepared, first, to discourage any thought of assault upon our security and, if any such assault should be attempted, to repel it.
The people of this country want peace. To have peace, we must have security. To have security, we must be strong. These are times that test the fiber of men and of nations.
Our system of defense must, of necessity; be many‑sided, because the dangers against which safeguards are imperatively required are manifold. Essential to effective national defense are constant and skilful use of political and economic measures, possession of military weapons, and continuous exercise of wisdom and of high moral qualities. We must have planes and tanks and ships and guns. We must have trained men. We must hold to the ideal of a world in which the rights of all nations are respected and each respects the rights of all; in which principles of law and order and justice and fair‑dealing prevail. Above all, we must be a united people—united in purpose and in effort to create impregnable defense.
Thus can we maintain our inheritance. Thus will we continue to
make this country's high contribution toward the progress of mankind on the roadway of civilized effort.