The Embargo and European Power Politics


By WILLIAM E. BORAH, U. S. Senator from Idaho Delivered in the Senate in opposition to proposal to amend the Neutrality Act. October 2, 1939

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol VI, pp. 21-23.

MR. PRESIDENT, when this nation solemnly resolved and wrote into its laws that it would never again furnish arms, munitions and implements of war to any nation engaged in war, it was almost unanimously believed that, not only here but abroad, we had marked an epoch in the cause of peace, that we had offered a challenge of the reign of force which would in time break its hold on the peoples of the world.

When 130,000,000 people—taken as a whole the most enlightened in the world—with their code of a free press, free speech, and personal liberty, not in groups but to all, incorporated in their code of freedom and humanity the pledge never again to furnish warring nations the instrumentalities of mass murder, it was hoped, and by millions believed, that the cause of peace had received a most substantial and permanent advance.

The only question was: Could we hold our ground? The only element of doubt among those who realized how soon and how powerful our policy would be assailed: Could we maintain our position in time of test of trial? When we, as a nation, took this position and declared our policy, there was great unanimity among all our people. The Congress and the Executive and the people were practically in accord to the effect that we would close our market to all who sought arms.

Why was this law enacted? What was it which gave support and direction to its enactment? Doubtless, different reasons appealed to different people. Two outstanding reasons held sway with practically all of our people. First, we wanted to keep out, to remain aloof from the controversies, embroilments, and the wars of Europe. We had had our experience.

We had suffered greatly in the European cause and from the highest motives and without accomplishing anything substantial in the cause of peace. We had observed that after the Great War Europe had slipped back, as evidenced by the Versailles Treaty and as evidenced by the current history of Europe, to the ways and the deeds of Europe through centuries.

Do what we might, it seemed clear, it seemed conclusive, that it was not within our power to right the wrongs of that Continent, to wipe out its racial bitterness, its religious persecutions, to adjust with satisfaction its boundary lines, to bring happiness and contentment to the masses, as had been hoped and prayed for, when we entered the World War.

Our task was upon the Western continent, to maintain liberty, freedom and free institutions here. By doing so, we could render a greater service to humanity everywhere than by joining in their wars and taking part in their everlasting imperial contests. We felt that a step in this direction was to embargo arms, to give neither encouragement nor help nor moral approval.

Arms are the source of conflict. They are the symbol of war, the cause of fear and hatred. We were not to place ourselves in a position where bitterness and retaliation might be engendered or where millions might be slaughtered by means of instruments furnished by a nation professing peace.

There was another moving cause, a cause which permeated our legislative halls and doubtless had its effect upon our Executive Department. It was that deep humanitarian sentiment against manufacturing and selling arms to warring nations for profit.

At any rate, we passed the law. The embargo against the sale of arms became our national policy. There was noreason in international law, no principle of international law, and no equity, as you might say, in the moral situation which in any way prevented our passing an embargo act. No nation has a right under international law or in conscience to ask another nation to furnish it arms or to manufacture and sell material which it needs in war. It was in a sense purely a domestic question as to whether we would adopt such a policy.

Why are we asked to repeal this law? Why are we here in special session and in apparent haste asking for repeal? Did the cry for repeal originate, or does it spring from, the people of this country? Did the voice of labor initiate the agitation for repeal? Did the call for a rejection of this policy come from the farm, from the pulpit, or the pew, from the homes of America, from the families of America? Did it come from the young men who are just now hoping to enter business or a chosen profession? Where did the call come from? It came from the war hounds of Europe!

We passed this law in the name of peace. Does the sale of arms, munitions, and the implements of war contribute to peace? Does the refusal to sell them contribute to war? Does the furnishing of arms, munitions and implements of war to belligerent nations make for peace while the refusal to sell makes for war? Our Secretary of State, Mr. Hull, has declared:

"The Neutrality Act of last August in embargoing exports of finished war commodities to belligerents was to keep us out of war."

That was the purpose of all these embargo acts. Why their repeal?

What is the purpose of repealing the law? What is the intent? Whom do we hope to aid, to benefit?

Arthur Krock, the well-known editorial writer of The New York Times, declared, back at the beginning of September, that the object of repeal was to help the Allies; that the technical ground on which the arms embargo is opposed by the Administration was so and so. But the "actual reason why the Administration wants the embargo removed" is because of the aid and benefit it gives to the Allies.

"There has been little official concealment," said he, "that this is the real reason for the recent unsuccessful attempt to eliminate the ban. It is the actual rather than the technical reason which engages the opposition."

This, I venture to say, is a clear, fair summary of the reason for repeal, known to all the world. That which is found in Mr. Krock's article may be found in editorials, speeches, public interviews for weeks and weeks and weeks throughout this country.

Mr. President, we have been discussing the effect upon public opinion, particularly in the belligerent countries, of the sheer fact of repeal and of substituting therefor a law which permits sale and, in practical effect, favorable to one of the belligerents. Let us digress for a moment and discuss the effect of the cash-and-carry under present conditions upon the American taxpayer. I am speaking now of cash-and-carry as it relates to arms, munitions and implements of war.

Cash! In speaking of cash I make no point at this time of the fact that we are extending credit for ninety days. That may be discussed later. I mean cash at any time or at all. We are basing our whole theory upon the proposition we will get cash from nations now in the most deplorable economic and financial condition, nations which, though the war is only six weeks gone by, are already through taxation digging into the food and the necessities of life even of those already impoverished beyond description.

We are dealing with nations which cannot pay the interest, much less the principal, upon the debts incurred in the last war, many of which debts are now due to the Americantaxpayer, not in sums of millions, but of billions. Do you really expect to get a dollar out of munitions, except as that dollar is ultimately furnished by the people of the United States?

The munition maker will get his compensation. He will make his profits. Business will have to move. But where will the buyer, the nation buying the stuff, get the money to pay the munitions maker? He will, in my opinion, in the last analysis, get it where he got the money to pay for the war material purchased during the World War, and that is, from the American taxpayer.

If you say to me: The Congress has written into the law that when the governments cease to pay, those governments will get no more goods, my answer, reflecting upon no one nor his sincerity, is that such writing will be a blank slip of paper as against the demands of that hour. The law, and the Congress which made the law, calling for cash, will hastily write the law extending credit.

And I wish to say that if I believed in going into Europe at all, if I believed in furnishing arms and munitions at all, I would unhesitatingly vote to extend credits. And if I believed that this was a war to save democracy, a war to save civilization and we were justified in furnishing arms, I would not stop with credits, I would say munitions and implements of war were little enough for us to contribute to such a cause, give it to them.

You cannot be a national benefactor and a shylock at the same time. I want to say that if it is intended in good faith to furnish arms, munitions and implements of war to those belligerents that democracy may survive, you will have to furnish these arms, munitions and implements of war on credit and, finally, you will give them to them.

Mr. President, the question which I have from the beginning asked myself and which with great deference I submit to my colleagues and to the people of this country, is this:

Can we under the program we are now adopting and the reasons for adopting the same, stay off the battlefields of Europe with our young men? Having changed our laws and our policies that we may, as openly and repeatedly declared, send there in aid of the Allies our arms because of their urgent call, will we, can we, in the hour of greater need, should that hour unfortunately come, refuse to send our armies? Having put our hand to the plow and declared the reason therefor when the furrows are comparatively smooth, will we turn back when we come to the roots and stumps of impending defeat?

I do not see how we could. I doubt most seriously if we would. The only way I see that we can stay out of this war, having taken the first steps and the reasons for taking them, is for the war to end before we get there. Hearing and heeding the Macedonian cry for arms, will we in a more critical hour turn a deaf ear to the Macedonian cry for armies?

When they tell us that those democracies, this civilization which you furnished arms to help preserve, are now on the verge of destruction, that arms and munitions are not sufficient to save them, will we deny them the use of manpower? Having acknowledged and declared the basis of the war, what will cash-and-carry amount to? When we are told that munitions, as we are already told by able military men now, will not do the job, you must have men, what will we say?

Any one who would mention munitions and cash under such circumstances would be sent to jail under an espionage law, as loyal American citizens were by the hundreds sent to jail for declaring less offensive things during the World War. And Woodrow Wilson was a true friend of peace and verily believed he could keep us out of the war, even if we showed favors to Great Britain.

For myself, and for myself only, I look upon the present war in Europe as nothing more than another chapter in the Woody volume of European power politics—the balance of power which John Bright, the great commoner of England, once declared as the curse of any possible European peace. Yes, it is power politics! It is the old question of the balance of power.

Was it anything more than the balance of power when the democracies of Europe, in "blessed accord," stood over the dismembered body of Czecho-Slovakia, the only real republic in that portion of the world? Was it anything but power politics, the balance of power, when the Premier of Great Britain, holding aloft an agreement of settlement between the Premier of Great Britain and the Premier of Germany, told the people of Great Britain and all the world that there was peace, and peace with honor, that the master of Germany could be trusted?

Was the cruel and brutal and volting creed of Naziism any different at Munich than it was at Warsaw? Was civilization of the democracies any less under challenge when Czecho-Slovakia fell at the hands of the combined assassins than when Poland was threatened? Was it anything but power politics when Germany and Great Britain excluded Russia from the Munich Conference, but both sought industriously to secure her aid in the controversy relative to Poland?

When the men at Munich reached the consummation of their awful deed, did they not turn over to the unlimited control and tender mercies thousands of a race whose presence excites the mortal wrath and vengeance of the one to whose control they assigned them? Was that humanity? Was that civilization? Was it democracy, or was it sheer division of power, a distribution of territory?

Have the hideous doctrines of the dominating power of Germany been any different during all the years in which the democracies, or some of them, have been conniving and consenting to the upbuilding of the naval strength and military power of the authors of the creed? Whatever there may be in the ideologies in parts of Europe which are abhorent to us all, I declare, and I declare it in the language of the Premier of Great Britain. I read:

"I do not pretend for one moment that ideological motives do not exist. They remain unchanged. But I do declare that whatever may be those ideological differences, they do not count in a question of this kind." That is the question of conflict with Germany. Whatever may be the philosophy of Naziism, however abhorrent we may write it down, it is not an issue in this conflict and its cure is not war. It is not an issue which willbe settled by this conflict, and I venture to say that the treaty of peace, if it ever comes, will have nothing in it about the ending of Naziism or its teachings or of communism or its teachings. It will devote itself, as did the Versailles Treaty, to the unquenchable imperialistic appetites of those who sit around the table. And if the American boys take part they will sacrifice their health and their lives that this or that nation may gratify its desires for territory and for power.

But that, I am fully aware, is not the view of many, if any, of those who support repeal. That is not the basis upon which they are sending arms to Europe for the benefit and aid of the Allies. Our law is being changed and our policy modified and our arms and munitions and implements of war are being sent to the Allies because it is claimed, and no doubt by many believed, that the democracies of Europe are in peril and must be saved, because civilization in Europe is being threatened and must be maintained.

These arms are being sent because it is claimed that powerful forces which foster and feed upon racial hatred and religious persecution must be checked. Well, let us accept this thesis. And suppose the war goes on a year, or years; suppose it goes on even for six months, and the tide runs heavily against the Allies, what then?

Suppose Russia and Germany tighten their relationship and the Allies call for men to save the situation. Suppose they say to us, as they said once before: We need your young men. What will be our answer? Suppose they say to us, as has been said by men already near Downing Street, that arms without men is but trifling with an awful subject. What will we say? What will we do?

Will we say: We realize that democracy is on the verge of destruction, that the very foundations of society are breaking up? We have said as much many times and published it throughout in our journals, spoken it from our platforms and declared it in effect officially.

Will we say: We can do nothing for you without the cash? We cannot help you without the money. We will only furnish munitions and we will only furnish munitions when you pay for them. Our contribution to the salvation of democracy and the preservation of civilization, our defense of liberty, of race and religion is measured in dollars and cents. Hitler may reign supreme, as you verily declare he is on the verge of doing. But the extent of our sacrifice, our contribution, is measured by cash.

No, you will do no such thing. You are Americans. If you believe what is now being preached throughout this country and indirectly supported by this measure you will send munitions without pay and you will send your boys back to the slaughter pens of Europe.