Industry's Stand Against War


By C. M. CHESTER, Chairman, General Foods Corp, and Chairman, Finance Committee

"National Association of Manufacturers Broadcast over the Columbia Broadcasting System, September 20, 1939

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 41-42.

THESE are days when you and I and our neighbors must put our heads together . . . we must do some of the clearest thinking we've ever done. If we shirk our duty now to the only land that we call Home, we may be guilty of wrecking this great industrial democracy which our pioneer fathers and mothers and all of us together have built in a little over 150 years.

In a hurricane—and the world is in a hurricane!—you have your choice: You can just drift upon the rocks; or you can try hard to save the ship, the passengers, crew, and cargo. What is to be your decision?

The war storms rage around us. We're being bombarded by fears and hate, propaganda and passion. It has been aptly said that "truth is the first casualty of war."

At the risk of shocking some, I say—let's be cold-blooded about this war! Let's work for American peace, if only because war is bad business.

With bowed heads we may recall the eight and a half million sacrificed in the last war. As parents of sons of military age, we must instinctively hate war.

But for a moment, let's put aside our natural human horror of war. Let's also understand why American industry, for sound economic reasons, urges you to unite in insisting that America remain a citadel of peace and sanity in the midst of chaos.

We fought once, but what good did it do?

Not only as a human being, but also as a businessman, I hate war.

War is the greatest menace to industry. War destroys what industry builds. The last war cost 337 billions of dollars. It cost nine million dollars an hour—215 million dollars a day . . . millions and billions irretrievably lost later on in payrolls and dividends, in farmers' earnings and household needs! No! Business does not want war!

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Let me digress for a moment. Here and there, we hear someone say: "Business is going to 'cash in' on a war." Another, cynically, thinks that American business itches to acquire exorbitant profits.

Now, let's see eye to eye on this!

Of course business needs profits, if it is to contribute tothe three-fourths of our population dependent upon business and industry for their well-being; if its taxes are to be the chief support of local, state and national government; if it is to finance our colleges and scientific developments and social progress.

Of course business wants sales activity, if it is to meet payrolls and yield investors a fair return.

Of course business leaders are eager to see their factories humming at capacity.

But war isn't the answer.

Enlightened business knows today that high prices and excessive profits are a boomerang. Profiteering is an evil bird that eventually comes home to roost on the doorstep of the profiteer . . . and not only that! It hurts all industry.

The trend has been the other way . . . toward lower prices to the consumer, while improving quality through research.

In other words, the ambition of modern business is to increase its efficiency and lower costs so that more and more people can buy more of the products of industry. We know that our employees are also our customers, and we are self-interested in striving for an ever higher national purchasing power.

That, to our minds, is good business.

It's good for 130 million Americans.

Profiteering is suicidal . . . as suicidal as war. We who are in business—and who want to be in business at the same place tomorrow—are as opposed to one as to the other.

As the National Association of Manufacturers stated today: "No sensible person believes that profit can come out of the wreckage of human life and economic dislocation." The Association's officers have strongly urged the membership to sell goods at prices related equitably to production costs.

Even if a few should profit from war materials—in the end they too must succumb to the torrent of post-war debt. Only the gambler dares take a chance on war. And the management of business dares not gamble! They feel that they have too much responsibility to employees, to shareholders, and customers—not to mention their own families—-to risk even a single spin of the roulette wheel.

We American businessmen would prefer to stay out of that game . . . the game in which everybody loses!

I have tried to avoid any emotional appeal tonight. We are all inclined to be emotionally wrought up over this ghastly war and its threatening implications here at home, as well as its tragic havoc wrought upon European civilization.

Rather, I have tried to touch briefly upon the economic dangers close at hand. We can keep them from becoming a reality . . . but not with confused emotionalism. This is, I think, the time for freedom-loving, peace-loving America to take a clear-headed view of its destiny, and to unite on a program of peace for the common good.

We are a democracy, aren't we? We—alone today among the large nations—have the time and the opportunity to determine our course of action. We need not—we must not! drift.

After all, we are one people. Like the members of a family, the threats from outside must bring us together for mutual protection.

In this grave hour—in the graver hours that might come— it is not asking very much that business and labor and farmer and government and all Americans overlook the real or imaginary faults of this or that group, bury the past, and without regard to selfish profit or personal ambition, unite as we can unite for the preservation of our common country.

In all sincerity, I believe that the American business world will not be untrue to the highest ideals of unselfish patriotism.