Department of State Bulletin, vol. IV, p. 491
Address Delivered by the Secretary of State at Washington, April 24, 1941
FELLOW MEMBERS AND GUESTS OF THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF INTERNATIONAL LAW : On the occasion of this our thirty‑fifth annual meeting I shall undertake to discuss briefly certain acute phases of the world situation which are of vital interest to all of us.
We are in the midst of desperately serious days which involve all peoples and all nations. Unfortunately, many people fail to grasp the nature of this world‑wide crisis and its meaning to our country.
Too many people assume that the present struggle is merely an ordinary regional war, and that when it comes to an end the side which is victorious will collect indemnities but otherwise leave the defeated nations more or less as they were before the conflict began.
This assumption would prove entirely erroneous should the aggressor powers be the winners. As waged by them this is not an ordinary war. It is a war of assault by these would‑be conquerors, employing every method of barbarism, upon nations which cling to their right to live in freedom and which are resisting in self‑defense.
The would‑be conquerors propose to take unto themselves every part of every conquered nation: the territory, the sovereignty, the possessions of every such nation. They propose to make the people of each conquered nation into serfs; to extinguish their liberties, their rights, their law, and their religion. They systematically uproot everything that is high and fine in life.
Such is the movement which is extending rapidly throughout the world.
If experience shows anything, it shows that no nation anywhere has the slightest reason to feel that it will be exempted from attack by the invader, any more than, in a town overrun by bandits, the wealthiest citizen might expect to be free from attack.
Every thinking man can answer the question for himself by simply calling the roll of the wretched victims of world‑aggression who are
now in a condition of semi‑slavery and whose every hope of again enjoying the blessings of civilization depends only on the defeat or failure of the movement of conquest. So it is in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Albania, Luxemburg, France, Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia. Many right‑thinking people have not been able to conceive that this would happen. To them it has seemed incredible. Yet the physical facts are now before our very eyes, and the agony of the period through which the world is passing is marked by the most terrible events. As the armies of invasion move on, they bring with them blasted houses, families driven out to starve, civilian dead in the fields. When fighting is over, the administration of the invader offers no relief. Homes are plundered; families are separated; churches are closed; food is denied; semi‑slavery is introduced. Military frightfulness is merely replaced by civilian terror. Every resource of organized fiendishness is set to work to subjugate and cow the individual and to use the conquered territory as a springboard for new aggressions.
The conclusion is plain. Now, after some 15 nations have lost everything that makes‑life worth living, it is high time that the remaining free countries should arm to the fullest extent and in the briefest time humanly possible and act for their self‑preservation.
Some among us, doubtless with the best of intentions, still contend that our country need not resist until armed forces of an invader shall have crossed the boundary line of this hemisphere. But this merely means that there would be no resistance by the hemisphere, including the United States, until the invading countries had acquired complete control of the other four continents and of the high seas, and thus had obtained every possible strategic advantage, reducing us to the corresponding disadvantage of a severely handicapped defense. This is an utterly short‑sighted and extremely dangerous view.
Events have shown beyond possible question that the safety of this hemisphere and of this country calls far resistance wherever resistance will be most effective. In my judgment our safety and security require that, in accordance with the declared policy of the legislative and executive branches of the Government, aid must be supplied without hesitation to Great Britain and those other countries that are resisting, the sweep of the general conflagration. This policy means, in practical application, that such aid must reach its destination in the shortest of time and in maximum quantity. So ways must be found to do this.
You and I are familiar with the questions sometimes raised when we speak of aid to other nations. Why, it is asked, should we interest
ourselves in the defense of other countries? Surely the answer is terribly clear.
Those nations that are making resistance are primarily seeking to save themselves, their homes, and their liberties. Great Britain for instance is acting primarily for her own safety. The United States, both in its direct defense effort and in the aid which it extends to the resisting nations, is likewise acting primarily for its own safety. As safety for the nations that are offering resistance means security for us, aid to them is an essential part of our own defense. Every new conquest makes available to the aggressor greater resources for use against the remaining free peoples. Our aid to the resisting nations is not the mere crusading of a world-benefactor. It is based on the definite knowledge that every free nation anywhere is a bastion of strength to all the remaining free peoples everywhere.
Sometimes the same confusion of thought is expressed in a different question. Why, it is asked, should we care who wins? Is not this merely the traditional and recurrent struggle for power? Does it make any difference to America? What difference does it make to America?
It makes a fateful difference. In a world which was, in the main, devoted to the cause of peace and in which no nation had designs upon the Western Hemisphere, we could, perhaps, take a detached attitude. But evidence has been piling up over several years which makes it perfectly plain that one group of powers actually does have designs both upon the New World and upon the principles, the possessions, and the way of life that are ours. All the military movements and official acts and utterances of these powers have confirmed the knowledge that we too are included in their plans for world domination. Our freedom and our wealth inevitably make us magnets for their machine of force.
Yes, it makes a difference who wins—the difference between whether we stand with our backs to the wall with the other four continents against us and the high seas lost, alone defending the last free territories on earth, or whether we keep our place in an orderly world.
Again, it is asked, How are we in danger? Are not these idle fears? Since one warring nation cannot successfully invade Britain across 20 miles of the English Channel how can any nation invade us from across three thousand miles of the Atlantic?
The reason why the English Channel has not been successfully crossed is that the British have maintained control of that Channel.
Forty million determined Britons in a heroic resistance have converted their island into a huge armed base out of which proceeds a steady stream of sea and air power. It is not water that bars the way. It is the resolute determination of British sea power and British arms. Were the control of the seas by the resisting nations lost, the Atlantic would no longer be an obstacle—rather, it would become a broad highway for a conqueror moving westward. Our protection would be enormously lessened.
Those Americans who, in effect, are saying that a British defeat would not matter to us, signally overlook the fact that the resulting delivery of the high seas to the invader would create colossal danger to our own national defense and security. The breadth of the sea may give us a little time. It does not give us safety. Safety can only come from our ability, in conjunction with other peace‑loving nations, to prevent any aggressor from attaining control of the high seas.
Some, hoping that this crisis may end, ask whether some sort of peace cannot be made—a peace that will end the struggle in Europe and that will permit us to resume our normal life. I wish this were possible. But one obstinate fact stands in the way. One of the contending groups not only does not wish peace, as we understand peace, but literally does not believe in peace. That group uses the word, it is true—as it was used by the aggressor at the time of the Munich arrangement in 1938. Peace to that group is merely a convenient cloak for a continuing undeclared, under‑cover war, as France and many other nations to their misery have discovered. Behind the deceptive protection of the word "peace" the rulers of that group accumulate vast striking‑forces. They infiltrate shock troops disguised as peaceful travelers and businessmen. They set up organizations for spying, sabotage, and propaganda. They endeavor to sow hatred and discord. They use every tool of economic attack, bribery, corruption, and local disturbance to weaken the countries with which they are at "peace", until a military movement can easily complete the task of subjugation. That kind of peace is nothing more than a trap—a trap into which many nations fell in earlier phases of this movement for world conquest when its true nature was not understood. Indeed; the dictator nations make no secret of their plans. They scornfully state their ideas, arrogantly confident that the law‑abiding nations will not take them seriously—until it is too late successfully to resist them.
Finally, there are those who sometimes wonder whether aid to freedom‑loving nations and a vigorous policy of defending our
interests will not irritate some aggressor into attacking us. This theory assumes that a lawless invader will become "irritated" if its intended victim dares to defend itself at the most effective stage. Under this theory, the only way to avoid giving such "irritation" is to submit.
No nation is going to attack us merely because it is our policy to defend ourselves. Neither, for that matter, are any aggressors going to let us alone merely because we attempt to placate them. In the philosophy of the conquerors, an attack is justified whenever and wherever it looks easy and convenient and serves their purposes. There is no possible safeguarding our security, except by solid strength, placed when and where it is most effective.
The best, indeed the only way, of allaying the fears and doubts and questions of those who are in anxiety is for us, one hundred and thirty millions of Americans, to rise in our might and proceed as one man in the Herculean task of equipping this Nation to the fullest for its self‑defense. These preparations should not be for a month or for a year, but they must continue as long as our safety is threatened.
The countries that have set about to impose their rule upon the world have turned their backs upon all the ordinary peacetime ways of work and living. They dreamed of force, they have created force, and they are now using it to the full. In their preparations and in their warfare they have demanded everything of their peoples. Ordinary family life, leisure, personal enjoyment, pursuit of private interest—all of these have been swept aside. Everything has been given over to the creation and use to the utmost of force.
For us, the task of safeguarding our security requires the full, continuous, patriotically inspired effort of each and every one of us. The energies of those who control the operation of our factories and their machines, together with the labor of those who make and operate the machines, must be devoted to the attainment of maximum production. Each and all must work with a sense that what they do or do not do is important in determining whether this country shall be secure. Every part of our vast productive machine that can serve to produce military supplies must be put to that purpose. The desire to continue ordinary ways of business must yield to the needs of the crisis. Individuals and groups have no right at this time to think or act primarily in terms of their personal interest to the detriment of the general national good.
What we do in the production of the fighting instruments needed by ourselves and by the free countries of the world now becomes a measure of our intelligence.
There are those who are too easily discouraged when the news is temporarily unfavorable. Powerful propaganda machines endeavor to spread that discouragement. It is not the tradition of those who love liberty to yield to discouragement. That is not the American tradition. Our country owes its place in history to the fact that the people become more resolute and determined as danger and difficulty increase.
There can be no temporizing with lawlessness or with disregard for the elemental rights of nations and peoples.
Although the task is huge, though time is pressing, and though the struggle may continue for a long time, I am confident that at the end there will come a better day. We are at work not only at the task of insuring our own safety but also at the task of creating ultimate conditions of peace with justice. We can help to lay a firm foundation for the independence, the security, and the returning prosperity of the members of the family of nations. I have absolute faith in the ultimate triumph of the principles, of humanity, translated into law and order, by which freedom and justice and security will again prevail.