The Embargo Should Be Repealed
WE OUGHT TO CONFORM TO THE PRECEPTS OF INTERNATIONAL LAW
By KEY PITTMAN, U. S. Senator from Nevada
Before the United States Senate, Monday, October 2, 1939
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, p. 16-21.
IN my opinion no such grave situation has threatened the world in all history. The rapidly multiplying tragic events in the world today are appalling and arouse a feeling of fear and distrust in the minds of all people. The inconceivable developments in the European controversy strike with palsying force on the minds of even the most astute statesmen, confusing reason and delaying action. There is not cause for fear now that we will be drawn into the brutal and widening conflict, and yet, Mr. President, we as the representatives of a peace-loving, democratic people, have no right to refuse to take into consideration that such war, or a war that develops out of it may not some day be brought to the gateway of our own country. There would seem to be, fortunately, no sufficient grounds for fear of being drawn into this war as we were forced into the World War, so long as we conform to the admitted precepts of international law and prevent our citizens from subjecting themselves to destruction in the mad war raging in Europe.
It is not the destruction of property that arouses a war spirit in our people. It is the illegal destruction of the lives of our citizens. This was the cause asserted by Woodrow Wilson in his war message to Congress before our entry into the World War.
Unfortunately, we had no domestic law at that time granting sufficient restraint upon our citizens and upon American vessels and their cargoes. We stood firmly on international law as recognized by belligerents and by neutrals in their conduct toward each other. We discovered that the law of elf-defense, the law of existence, superseded the international aw during the War insofar as the belligerents were concerned. Some able statesmen contend today that we were ragged into the War by our citizens granting too large credits to some of the belligerent powers. That cause might have affected the desires of some to enter the War. I deny that such alleged cause had any effect upon Woodrow Wilson; I deny that any such alleged cause had any effect upon the members of the United States Senate. I do not believe that there was a man so unpatriotic and so inhuman that he would vote for the entry into that annihilating war, with its inevitable death and destruction on account of the destruction of property or for the purpose of collecting debts for anybody.
I lived through the conditions leading up to that War and the post War conditions. As a Member of the United States Senate, and as a Member of the Foreign Relations Committee and the Committee on Naval Affairs of the United States Senate, I do not call attention to this fact for the purpose of intimating that I know more about the history of that War than can be known by anyone else who studies the history; I mention it solely for the purposeof asserting that it was the inhuman and illegal killing of our seamen on the high seas in March, 1917, that impelled me to vote for the War resolution.
I do not desire to take the time to quote from the able speeches delivered by members of the United States Senate and the House of Representatives on the War resolution to confirm this assertion. Let me, however, quote a few lines from the address on the War resolution on April 4, 1917,by the distinguished Senator from Idaho, Senator William E. Borah, who, we are happy to say, is still giving his great services in this body to the United States Government. Senator Borah in that great speech said:
It was not mere selfishness; it was not base and in-considered fear; it was not a pusillanimous contemplation of sacrifice or the forfeiture of ease that drove our thoughts back upon ourselves and sent the mind in search of a policy which would best conserve and perpetuate our happiness and the welfare of our people. That charge has been laid at our door, but it is unjust. It was rather, in my belief, the inestimable and, I trust, the imperishable principle and feeling of nationality; it was the love of home; it was devotion to our own; it was the passion of patriotism, the most sublime passion which stirs the heart of man, save that which binds him to his Maker.
Those eloquent remarks made just before the Senate cast its vote on the question of our entering the World War should cause to bow their heads in shame and humility those public men who today attempt to influence the minds of the people of this country by accusing Woodrow Wilson, by accusing the Senator from Idaho, by accusing every great man who was impelled to vote for that war resolution, of having been influenced by the manufacturers of arms and ammunition, of having been influenced by some to whom debts arising from the war were due. My God, I hope that never shall our country be slandered in that way in the future.
Let me read a little more from that great speech:
Actuated, therefore, by the hope—by the just and righteous hope—that our people might be spared participation in this war, and in harmony with the strong and universal passion of our people for peace, we drew back in every way from the contest. We announced that we intended to be neutral and desired peace. We were even chary in urging the ordinary rights which belong to a neutral power. We were conciliatory in everything save our desire for peace. We appealed to old historic incidents to revive the memory of friendly days, and to old friendships that present friendships might be prolonged. We did everything that a self-respecting nation could do. We did more than any other nation of prestige and of power ever did to remain out of the conflict and to signify to the world our desire for peace.
Look about us for a moment, listen to the warning which comes to us from every quarter as to what lies beyond in case we pursue this policy of indifference to our rights. May I recur for a moment to the fact that more than 500 of our citizens, men and women, have been assaulted, ravaged, murdered, or assassinated within the very sight of the flag, within the call of the Stars and Stripes and within hearing distance of our own border? We have submitted in patience. A few years ago we went to war with that same country for territory. Shall we now be charged with impatience if we serve notice now, when our citizens have beenslain, that when the challenge comes or the right is invaded the American Republic will protect its own?
Our commerce has been destroyed; our ships have been driven from the ocean; our people have been drowned or left to perish upon the midnight sea. What more could a people do to evidence to the world their desire for peace than to do what this Nation has done for the last few years? I repeat that, whatever may be said in justification of the course which has been pursued in the past, it must be evident to every mind that a different policy is not only essential to the protection of our people but is of itself the best guaranty of peace.
We have at this time not only no division, in my judgment, among the great rank and file of our citizens, but fortunately we have no division in our country. There is no longer any North or South or East or West, but one United country, meeting, as fully understand a perilous and tremendous situation. We enter this war, therefore, not disunited, not discordant, but as men who believe that their rights have been invaded, their privileges assailed, their Government attacked, and who are willing to meet the situation, not as they have made it, but as others have made it for them.
We are a united country! As President Woodrow Wilson said in his war message, it was not the destruction of property, it was the destruction of the lives of our citizens, and the continued destruction that impelled us to take the action we took. Yet we hear men in high places charging today that Woodrow Wilson led us into that war. I take the evidence of the Senator from Idaho as absolutely refuting that charge. The country took the Congress along with it, and the Congress of the United States had the power to declare the war. Mr. President, never again let it be said that we were brought into the last war because of such selfish causes as have been alleged.
That speech is similar to every speech that was made for the adoption of the War resolution. It expresses the impelling reasons of every Senator who voted for that War resolution for our entry into the World War; and, therefore, I am impatient with the arguments which attempt to convince the people of our country that the debts that were owed to our citizens by the belligerent powers or their nationals were the selfish cause that led us into the War. I think that the statements of Senator Borah at the time of the adoption of the War resolution absolutely deny that we took the position that we did take by virtue of any selfish cause. Prior to March 12, 1917, while Germany, as Senator Borah said, had taken the lives of a number of our citizens, still Germany was attempting to provide safety for the lives of our seamen in the submarining of our merchant vessels. However, on March 12, 1917, Germany commenced to put into effect her proclamation of unlimited submarine warfare. She had proclaimed that after February 1 she would sink every vessel without notice, neutral or belligerent, neutral dealing with neutral or with belligerent, in an unmarked zone on the high seas hundreds of miles from shore, including practically every port in Europe.
From March 12 until April 2 when the President delivered his message requesting a declaration of War, six of our vessels were sunk, with the loss of 63 of the lives of our seamen. That was the end of three long years of patient submission to Germany's illegal destruction of the lives of our citizens.
In 1937 our Government determined to suspend some of its rights under international law, during widespread war. We placed restrictions upon our citizens and upon their property, and upon American vessels, such as had never before been enacted in this country or any other country in the world.
We did not abandon those rights under international law, we simply suspended them during the War rather than to fight for them, reserving the right, however, to demand reparation after the war for any illegal acts committed against our citizens or their property. We placed an embargo on the export to belligerent powers of certain things that we defined as arms, ammunition, and implements of war. The list of articles defined in the Act as subject to embargo consists of only a few manufactured articles, being chiefly guns and the ammunition for guns, and war vessels and the guns and ammunition for war vessels and aircraft, and injurious and destructive gases.
The embargo list cannot be enlarged because it is defined in the Act of Congress. By name it purports to include instruments of war, and yet it does not include oil that propels the battleship and the submarine, or gasoline that makes it possible for the airship to fly; it does not include cotton from which gun cotton, one the highest explosives, is made; it does not include copper or copper tubing, out of which the shells for guns are made; it does not include scrap-iron, steel, iron, lead, zinc, or any other raw material used in the manufacture of those things in the list of arms, ammunition, and implements of war. And yet we know from the contraband list of Great Britain and Germany that all of these materials not contained in such embargo list will be seized or destroyed by belligerent powers if they believe that such material is moving to their enemy. And is there any doubt that if Germany, under its contention that it cannot safely rise to the surface and search and seize contraband on a merchant vessel, will eventually pursue exactly the same policy as it pursued in March, 1917? Is there any doubt that if the War lasts long enough and the situation of countries becomes desperate enough, they will resort to any form of destruction of contraband and vessels carrying contraband to their enemy?
How are citizens protected by prohibiting the export of a few manufactured articles, while we permit the export to any of the belligerent powers of all the other things that are designated by the belligerent governments as instruments of war?
It seems to me that the strong and almost fanatical zeal of some of our Senators in treating these particular goods as distinguished from other instruments of war and retaining them on the embargo list, is actuated, even if unconsciously, by pride of past attitudes. Even some distinguished Senators contend that it is the symbol of neutrality. Just another catch word that leads the American people to believe that the repeal of the embargo list is the repeal of all neutrality legislation. Yes, the Swastika was originally the symbol of the National Socialist Party of Germany. Today it is a symbol of a different character of government. There is no doubt a strong sentiment in the minds and hearts of the people of this country against engaging in mass murder that attends war today. Many of them believe that by prohibiting the export of what are defined as arms, ammunition, and instruments of war will entirely eliminate us from any part in the destruction of human lives during war. How mistaken and unfounded is this conception! We are participating in mass murder by the Japanese in China today. Japan imports from us a proportionately small quantity of manufactured arms, ammunition, and implements of war listed in the embargo provisions of our law. She purchases from the United States 80 per cent of the gasoline used to propel her airplanes that carry the death-dealing bombs to the civil as well as the military populations of China. She purchases most of the scrap-iron in the United States with which she manufactures the bombs that airplanes drop on the people of China. She purchases our cotton for the purpose of makinghigh explosives. She purchases all of the metals and other raw materials used in the manufacture of arms, ammunition, and implements of war.
I introduced in the Senate a resolution which would grant to the President the power to embargo the export of such materials to Japan. The Foreign Relations Committee delayed action upon such resolution for fear it might violate a treaty of commerce and amity that we have with Japan.
If an embargo is necessary to keep us out of war, then let us place an embargo on all of the instruments of war and on all of the materials that enter into the manufacture of all arms, ammunition, and instruments of war. I do not consider that such embargo is necessary for such purpose. I do not think it is so much the character of goods that we permit to be exported, but rather the use of our American vessels in the export to belligerents of any material declared by the belligerents to be contraband of war. There has been no stronger supporter of international law in the United States Senate, nor is there a stronger supporter now than Senator Borah. And yet he knows that under the recognized and accepted principles of international law which have governed the conduct of both belligerents and neutrals during the period of war that any belligerent had the right to purchase any and all kinds of goods from neutrals. The embargo provision of the existing law is in my opinion the only departure from international law. The other provisions in our existing neutrality act and in the proposed substitute are domestic in their nature and in no conflict with international law.
It has been charged by Senators and other able men throughout the United States that to repeal the embargo provisions of our neutrality act and place them in the same category with all other instruments of war and all other goods listed as contraband by the belligerent nations would be a discrimination in favor of Great Britain and France, and injurious to Germany. We might put it the other way and say that the maintenance of such embargo is a discrimination in favor of Germany because it prevents Great Britain, which is surrounded by water, from purchasing in our market arms, ammunition, and implements of war, whilst Germany, being a land power, has access to arms, ammunition, and implements of war that may be manufactured in Russia, Italy, Rumania, Yugoslavia, and other countries.
There might have been some foundation for the argument that the repeal of the embargo act would discriminate in favor of Great Britain and France because such countries are supposed to have control of the sea, before the recent changed events in Europe. Now, we find Italy neutral and, therefore, not subject to our embargo act. Italy can legally import from the United States any arms, ammunition, and implements of war because the embargo act only applies to belligerents. Can these goods, or substitute for these goods, be transferred to Germany?
It may be said that the embargo states that it shall not be exported to a neutral for reshipment to a belligerent. Isn't it obvious that under the espionage system and the censorship that exists in belligerent countries in Europe today that we could never get proof during war as to what was done with the arms and ammunition imported into a neutral country? To attempt to obtain such information would be considered an unfriendly act by the neutral. And if the United States Government should refuse to give a license to export to Italy under the belief that the goods was being exported into Germany, would not that arouse in the minds of the Italian people a feeling of hatred against our Government and our people? But if Italy should import arms and ammunition from the United States and did not export them to Germany would there be any law against
Italy transferring her own manufactured arms and ammunition to Germany, and keeping our products in lieu thereof? Does not the same situation exist today with regard to Russia? Russia is a neutral country. Not even Great Britain and France have declared that Russia is in a state of war. Russia can import our goods by way of both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Rumania can legally import all of the arms, ammunition, and implements of war she seeks, because Rumania is a neutral and the embargo act doesn't apply to Rumania. And yet we know that Germany has forced a treaty upon Rumania compelling Rumania to permit Germany to import from Rumania any articles and materials she sees fit. As a matter of fact, this treaty grants to Germany absolute domination over the industries and transportation of Rumania.
Italy is a neutral and Russia is a neutral, but we know that there is an alliance between Italy and Germany. We know that they have agreed to cooperate. We know that there is an agreement between Russia and Germany through which they are cooperating. Isn't it evident that those who established and those who have maintained international law with reference to neutrals maintaining open markets were founded in wisdom, and that this alone constitutes neutrality?
Isn't it evident that we cannot through voluntary, artificial laws with reference to imports by belligerent countries maintain either neutrality or equity?
As between having a law that prevents Great Britain and France from receiving arms, ammunition, and implements of war, and that permits Germany to receive implements of war indirectly through those countries she dominates and through those with whom she has treaties, I would rather that there should be no embargo law, because if there were no embargo law Great Britain and France could get arms and ammunition, subject to destruction by submarines, and Germany could get arms and ammunition and implements of war through the ports of Russia, Rumania, and Italy. That would certainly be fairer.
I contend that any such laws will have changing effects from time to time, and in the end must arouse the enmity of many governments and many people. Unfortunately, the people of this country, through the wording of polls made by various institutions asking the question, "Are you in favor of the repeal of the neutrality laws?" and through the careless speech of public men, have been led to believe that the issue now before the United States Senate is as to whether we will maintain the present neutrality laws or repeal them. The Foreign Relations Committee are not only opposed to repealing the present neutrality legislation but they propose to re-enact it in a very much more mandatory and restrictive manner. We have re-enacted the section of the old law which expired on May 1, 1939, by its own terms as to the requirement that the title and possession of property before it is exported shall be divested by the American citizen.
We have strengthened this provision by adding thereto that any loss incurred by any citizen, either in the sale or transfer of the property shall not be a basis for a claim to be made by the United States Government. In other words, the law prevents the United States Government in any case, whether legal or otherwise, from attempting to collect any damages that may be suffered by an American citizen in the sale of property to a belligerent or to a national of a belligerent.
I venture to assert that substantially all of the Senators who are opposing the proposed substitute are in favor of such strengthening of that provision of the so-called "cash and carry" law. But your Committee, in reporting the substitute, have gone much farther than that. The old law with regard to "carry" which expired on the first day of May, 1939, vested in the President the discretion to determine whether American vessels should be prohibited from carrying any articles and materials to belligerents, except the few manufactured articles listed in the existing law as arms, ammunition, and implements of war. In my opinion, this is the most important legislation that has ever been proposed to Congress or ever enacted into law for the purpose of keeping us out of a European war. If our vessels cannot carry on commerce with belligerents and the belligerent powers know it, there will be little excuse, if any, for the destruction of American vessels on the high seas with the inevitable loss of the lives of our seamen. Certainly the peace-loving Senators who oppose the proposed substitute are in favor of such mandatory legislation.
I have every confidence in the President of the United States. I have confidence in the declaration that he intends to do everything in his power to keep us out of war. I have confidence that if granted the discretion with regard to prohibition of our vessels from engaging in commerce with belligerents that he would exert such discretion. However, the policy of our Government is vested in the Congress of the United States, and it should not, in my opinion, delegate such authority, where it is unnecessary, to the President or any other single man or group of men. We know that the delegation of such authority is not only unnecessary but unwise.
I fully realize that such provision may be injurious to some extent to our merchant marine. I fully realize the value of the merchant marine to the United States, not only in time of peace but in time of war. I doubt, however, if our merchant marine will be seriously injured by such prohibition. We remember that during the World War substantially all of the vessels of every country left the Pacific and the South Atlantic for the purpose of engaging in the very remunerative if dangerous trade with the belligerent countries. The owners of vessels at that time felt that they could risk the dangers by reason of the high freight rates they received and the fact that their vessels were insured. Yes, the owners of the vessels, in consideration of the extremely high profits on transportation, could take a chance of losing their vessels; but how about the American seamen that traveled on those vessels? No one could adequately insure their lives, and, in fact, I know of no case in which their lives were insured. The vessel and the cargo might be compensated for, but there was no adequate compensation for the loss of the American citizens on board such vessels.
We do not intend that American seamen shall be subjected to such dangers. It may be that our American vessels will have to engage more or less in the trade on the Pacific and the South Atlantic, abandoned by the vessels of other countries. This in the long run may be a great benefit, not only to our shipping interests but to our exports. It will permit us to establish a trade firmly and permanently in places where we now are finding great difficulty in promoting such trade in competition with the vessels of other countries.
I saw recently a statement attributed to a member of the National Merchant Marine Board in which he confirmed to a large extent the views that I have just expressed, and in addition, in this same statement it was reported that the Merchant Marine Board was preparing to build a large number of additional American vessels. Certainly this board of experts would not have prepared to build additional vessels if they thought it was possible that there would not besufficient cargoes for the present vessels in our Merchant Marine.
And yet, no matter what the effect may be on our merchant marine, it is the most essential proposed law to the preservation of the lives of our citizens and the peace of our country, and therefore no patriotic citizen will oppose making such sacrifice, and if a great sacrifice is made it is better that our Government as a government should assume such losses than that our merchant vessels should be permitted to engage in commerce with belligerents. This commerce must and shall be discontinued during war.
There is another provision in the proposed legislation that is a subject of some controversy, not only in the Senate but throughout the country. I refer to Section 7 of the proposed substitute joint resolution, entitled "Financial Transactions." The objection appears to be not what is in the existing law but rather to an addition to the existing law made by the Foreign Relations Committee. Mind you, the existing law is just the same. Here is what is added; it is an addition to the proviso giving the President discretion to permit short-time credits and usual commercial transactions. The committee felt that the existing law, in giving the President the right to permit the extension of credit for short-time loans without defining what a short-time loan was or customary credits without saying what are customary credits, was not sufficiently definite. So this is what the committee added to that proviso:but only if such credits and obligations have maturities of not more than ninety days and are not renewable. If any government, political subdivision, or person to which credit has been extended pursuant to the authority vested in the President under this subsection is in default in whole or in part upon any obligation to which such extension of credit relates, no further extension of credit to such government, political subdivision, or person shall be made or authorized under this subsection during the period of such default.
Now we hear it said by some, "We are opposed to 90-day credit transactions, drafts payable 90 days from date instead of at sight." They are opposed to it, and yet they oppose the substitute which places the greatest conceivable restrictions on foreign governments in its efforts to make them pay their 90-day accounts. The proposed provision is more effective in time of war than a penitentiary sentence. Any government knows that if it does not pay its 90-day obligations it cannot get any more credit.
The existing law, adopted May 1, 1937, is copied identically in the proposed substitute, except as to the matter added by the Committee limiting the discretion of the President, in the proviso to said section of the existing law.
Now it is strange, in fact incomprehensible to me, that 63 Senators voted for that section of the existing law, and only 6 against it at the time such bill was being acted on in the United States Senate. Far greater discretion is given to the President in existing law than is proposed in the substitute now under consideration by the Senate. There is little doubt as to how the President would interpret the existing law under his discretion, because a similar restriction upon the purchase, sale, or exchange of bonds, securities or other obligations of governments in default to the United States with regard to any debt is carried in the so-called Johnson Act. The Johnson Act, however, did not contain any proviso such as is found in the existing law granting to the President the discretion to except from the operations of the Johnson Act ordinary commercial credits, and short time obligations in aid of legal transactions, and of a character customarily used in normal peacetime transactions. TheJohnson Act was passed on April 3, 1934. It became necessary for the Treasury Department to make rules and regulations to carry out that Act.
A conference was called at the Treasury Department between the representatives of such Department, the State Department, and other Departments of the Government, The Attorney General of the United States was called in. He gave an opinion on the subject on May 5, 1934. This opinion is found in Vol. 37 on page 506, "Opinion of Attorney General." I quote from that opinion:
This, I think, is indicative of a purpose to deal with such 'bonds' and 'securities' and with 'other obligations' of like nature, observing the rule of e jusdem generis— that is, obligations such as those which had been sold to the American public to raise money for the use of the foreign government issuing them—not contemplating foreign currency, postal money orders, drafts, checks and other ordinary aids to banking and commercial transactions, which are 'obligations' in a broad sense but not in the sense intended. It was obviously not the purpose of the Congress to discontinue all commercial relations with the defaulting countries.
I understand that Senator Johnson, the author of such legislation, was present at the conference. In any event, the rules and regulations adopted for the administration of that Act, so I am informed, provided for the purchase of such goods with checks and drafts and other securities in accordance with the customary and normal peacetime transaction. I will have the rules and regulations so prescribed set out in full at the end of my address. I am informed that drafts and checks payable ninety days after date are in accordance with the usual practices with regard to export trade and are considered as cash payments. Certainly it cannot be meant that goods that may be legally purchased are to be paid for at the time of purchase with actual money, unless checks and drafts are deemed to be actual money. We know that in the United States at least 95 per cent of our commercial transactions are conducted through checks and drafts and bank credits. In the very nature of things it requires some time for a draft or a check upon a foreign bank received by an American citizen to be transmitted through banking channels to the foreign drawee before the seller can get actual credit for the money due him.
It must be understood that the provision added by the Committee on Foreign Relations to existing law is a mandatory limitation upon the President of the United States. He is not compelled to permit any extension of credit to a belligerent government with regard to any transaction. He will undoubtedly be extremely cautious in permitting any such extension of credit. This is not an extension of credit by the Government. It is only permission of the President for the seller, the American citizen, to extend credit to the belligerent government buying such exports. Yet if the President in any transaction permits such extension of credit it cannot exceed 90 days, and if such government is in default such government cannot receive an extension of credit with regard to any transaction. It would seem that this mandatory restriction upon the extension of credit would impel every belligerent government to meet such obligations on every transaction.
The proposed legislation has imposed many stringent restrictions upon our citizens, upon their property, and their commerce. Restrictions have been imposed beyond those ever imposed by any government of the world, so far as I can ascertain. Our citizens are compelled to make great sacrifices under these proposed laws for the purpose of protecting the lives of our citizens, and the peace of our country. We must be careful not to further obstruct or oppose our exports.
The condition with regard to industry and labor in this country today is so deplorable that further obstructions to our exports would bankrupt large sections of our country. Even today Departments of our Government which have had to take over large quantities of cotton and wheat are resorting to various methods to find an export market for such articles. The Congress of the United States can know on January 1st all the facts with regard to all of our exports, not only to belligerent countries but to nationals of belligerent countries, and the neutral countries and their nationals.
The Committee in its proposed substitute has amended the Act with regard to the National Munitions Board. In addition to everything that is required of exporters in the existing Act, it is now provided that those seeking a license to export must state, in addition to other facts required, the name of the foreign purchaser and the terms of sale. And remember, that the President has the authority to include in the list of those things which an export license shall be required for, every commodity, article or thing. And, again, such Act has been amended by requiring the National Munitions Board to report all of the facts in their possession with regard to exports, to the Congress of the United States on the first day of January, 1940, and every six months thereafter. If Congress, after examining that report, finds there is any necessity for any greater restriction upon exports, they will have the facts upon which to base such legislation. Let us obtain a little experience with regard to these matters before we enact permanent legislation.
There are only three other important changes in the existing law. Section 1 of the existing law, which I shall try to describe very briefly, with reference to the proclamation that a state of war exists in some country, now provides that the President* must not only find that a state of war exists, but that it is necessary to promote the security or preserve the peace of the United States, or to protect the lives of the citizens of the United States, before he is required to issue a proclamation that a country is in a state of war. In other words, if a state of war did exist as between two small countries in the interior of a continent, it would be obviously unnecessary to put in force and effect as to those two countries all our neutrality laws.
It would seem wholly unnecessary in such circumstances to bring the whole Neutrality Act into effect, there being no danger to our peace or to any citizen. There is a check on that which is not in existing law; that is, if the President of the United States in such a case did not find that there was any necessity for the issuance of the proclamation because the war was between two small countries, far isolated, but the Congress of the United States had a different opinion, then the Congress by concurrent resolution, which would not, of course, have to be approved by the President, could itself proclaim that a state of war existed. Then the President would have to put into force and effect the rest of the act with regard to belligerent states.
Again, I think the existing law is quite ineffective in another particular. It granted the President of the United States authority with regard to vessels carrying munitions to belligerents, but the penalty for the violation of that law was so insignificant that many a vessel owner would take a chance on conviction. We have made the penalty for violation of the law the same as in the case of financial transactions in the existing law; that is, the fine is not to exceed $50,000, and there may be incarceration in the penitentiary not to exceed 5 years upon conviction. Again, we have extended the same penalty not only to the shipowner, but, if the ship involved is owned by a corporation, to the officers and directors of the corporation.
I think there is only one other provision to which I willhave to refer; that is, the authority granted the President to establish combat areas. If Senators will read the section relating to that matter, they will find that it is covered by the same expression of the intent of the Congress of the United States that the President shall first find that the peace of this country or the lives of our citizens are being endangered. Then he may establish a combat area at the point of danger, into which no American vessel may enter; that is, subject to such exceptions and under such rules and regulations as the President may make.
It is essential to allow the President to make exceptions and rules and regulations, because this provision has to do solely with our vessels dealing with neutrals, dealings with belligerents being covered under section 2 (a), which absolutely prevent our citizens from carrying on commerce with belligerents.
There must be in the President power to make exceptions, because an emergency might arise in which it would be absolutely essential for a ship to go through a combat zone for the purpose of carrying emergency officers, or people on relief missions, or things of that kind. It may be absolutely necessary, perhaps, for Army and Navy observers to go on a ship into a combat zone. An exception could be made in such a case. The committee feels that that provision has value. They believe that the time may come, if the war lasts sufficiently long, when the heat of battle will grow, and desperation and fear will increase, and there will be acts of retaliation, until some of the belligerents may start sinking neutral vessels, vessels going to neutral countries, on the theory that those vessels are carrying contraband to neutrals adjacent to an enemy which is reaching the enemy. It will be inevitable that belligerents will sink vessels which are going to neutrals under these and other conditions.
If such things should occur, there would be only one of two remedies our country might take. We would either have to fight for our right to have our vessels deal with neutrals, or we would have to prevent our ships from going into such danger zones. There is only one way to stop them from going into the danger zones, and that is by giving discretion to the President to prohibit vessels from entering such zones. They may never develop. We do not know about that. One may develop and last only a few weeks. It may develop as to one neutral and not as to another. But under the theory that it was the destruction of the lives of our citizens that led us into the last war, and that the same thing might happen from the destruction of the lives of our citizens now, the committee is determined that every power that may be necessary shall be exercised to keep our vessels away from the danger of destruction when dealing with belligerents, or even with neutrals adjacent to belligerents. That is the reason for that provision.