The Gravity of the World Situation


By FRANK KNOX, Publisher, Chicago Daily News

Delivered at the annual meeting banquet of the National Association Legions of Honor

At Cleveland, Ohio. April 13, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 418, 420-422.

IT is impossible to exaggerate the gravity of the world situation at the present time. Certainly not in the last five hundred years has civilization, as we know it, and live it, been so threatened. The struggle now in progress is not merely a renewed attempt at conquest of the weak by the strong—although that is a part of it. It is not solely a fresh attempt to change, or correct, the balance of power in Europe, although that too is not absent. It is not primarily a contest over control of trade routes and the possession of colonies—although this frequent cause of war has played its part. Fundamentally it is a clash between two irreconcilable systems of living and governing, which apparently cannot exist in the same world, peaceably. This is what makes this a different kind of war than most wars that history deals with. And this is why it will be fought to a conclusion, without compromise. It is as impossible to end the war in Europe by negotiation, as it was to end our war between the states—and for the same reason. The world, now so closely knit together, cannot continue to be half slave, and half free. It will either become all slave, or all free. This can only mean a long war, a war of fearful costs, and fearful suffering, a war of exhaustion, leaving in its wake economic bankruptcy for the victors, and indescribable chaos for the vanquished.

And while more than ninety per cent of our people sympathize with the democratic powers, in their fight against the dictator nations, and hope for their success, there is in the present situation little upon which to build confidence in Allied victory. Thus far, the advantage has all been to the dictator. Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and now Denmark have fallen successively to German might. Finland has yielded to Russia's legions. Japan has overrun North China. The dictators have done all the scoring. In Europe, Germany still maintains supremacy in the aid and has a greater capacity for the production of airplanes than Britain and France combined. The Allied blockade has been, thus far, only partially effective, and German engineers are swiftlyreorganizing Russia's methods of production and transport as an aid to Germany's economic resistance. It is fair to say that no sure prediction of the outcome can be made with safety today. It is actually giving the Allies the best of it to say that, on the basis of operations to date, they have a fifty-fifty chance of winning.

It is when we here in America contemplate the possibility of a totalitarian victory that alarm blazes up over our state of preparedness against such a contingency. A very simple statement suffices to illuminate the reasons for our fears. Suppose Germany conquers Britain and France, could we contemplate German control of British and French possessions in the Caribbean area, commanding approach to the Panama Canal? Merely to state the question is to deny it.

We cannot shut our eyes to the brutal fact that we live, at the present time, in a world where force, and force alone, reigns and where safety is only found in a sufficient state of defense to veto aggression at our expense. This is why I come to you tonight to talk about our nation's defenses in a war-mad and war-torn world.

But before we can intelligently discuss a satisfactory defense policy, we must define in general outline what our policies with respect of other nations are. We have long lacked a realistic definition of just what we want to promote in international relations, but it seems to me that one is slowly emerging under the stress of world-wide conflict-both military and ideological.

Nearly a hundred years ago we enunciated the doctrine which bears the name of President Monroe. We have successfully enforced acceptance of this policy by the rest of the world. Since its promulgation no overseas power has acquired territory, or political dominance in the western hemisphere. The Monroe Doctrine then constitutes a specific plank in our foreign policy. As we shall see later its enforcement has very real implications for those who seek an adequate national defense.

As a matter of national policy we covet no additional

possessions anywhere. We have no aspirations for territory beyond our present boundaries. This definite attitude on territorial expansion also affects our defense program since it means that our military policy is one of true defense, since it is non-aggressive with respect of other nations. We will never fight an aggressive war. We will act on the offensive only when that serves as our best defense against aggression initiated by others.

These two features of an American foreign policy may be regarded as well established. There is yet another policy which may be said to be now in process of incubation. It has the support of an unquestioned majority of our people, regardless of party lines, but can hardly be regarded yet as an acknowledged part of our foreign policy. This is the policy of reciprocity in trade relations. It contemplates the lowering of trade barriers, and the promotion, progressively and aggressively, of international exchange of goods and services. We steadily tend toward acceptance of this doctrine because, as a people, we are peace-minded, and we believe international trade promotes peaceful relations. Also since we have become a creditor nation we have been compelled to reorient our attitude toward tariffs and trade outside our own borders. Pursuit of this policy also has a direct bearing on national defense. Now I am frankly indulging in a forecast of future foreign policy which I believe is by way of speedily becoming a part of our international attitude and, as such, will play an important part in determining the character of our defense policy. The most casual observer can see that the world is torn in conflict between two types of government, and two schools of economy. Broadly speaking, one kind of government is totalitarian and autocratic, and the opposing sort is individual and democratic. One school of economy is that of state socialism and the other is that of the full enterprise system.

In this struggle there cannot be a vestige of doubt as to where both our interests and our sympathies lie. In our thinking and in our personal attitudes, we are overwhelmingly on the side of those who fight for freedom from dictatorship, and for the preservation of free enterprise. There is already in evidence, in official quarters in the United States, a disposition to align this country, in its relations with others, with those who may be said to be devoted to the promotion of four freedoms! Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. Freedom of religious belief. Freedom from fear.

You may say these are generalities, more applicable to domestic than to foreign policies. But don't overlook the fact that the world is at war, basically, upon the question of the destruction, or the perpetuation, of these principles which underlie all human liberty. If that is true then, incontestably, these four freedoms are involved deeply in the relations between nations. We will instinctively cooperate with those who fight for them, and as instinctively oppose those who would destroy them. In the not distant future an American spokesman, to the applause of the whole American people, will enunciate a doctrine expressive of our views on these fundamentals and thereafter there will remain no doubt as to where we stand as between human slavery and human freedom—wherever the issue is drawn.

Here we have then the outlines of an American foreign policy: (a) The Monroe Doctrine. (b) No conquest of other countries by force of arms. (c) Promotion of reciprocity between nations in trade relations. (d) Cooperation with those who defend human freedoms and opposition for those who would destroy them. Around such a definition of American foreign policy let us turn to the particulars of a defense program that would effectually implement it. In any realistic appraisal of the future security of theUnited States two factors must be given first consideration: the insular geographic position of this country; and the swift development of modern sea and air power. Beyond all others these two things must have weight in planning our national defense. Reduced to its simplest terms, this means that we must take full advantage of our wide separation, by intervening oceans, from any possible enemy, or combination of enemies; and provide against successful attack by sea, or air. Any land attack upon us is impossible so long as mastery of sea, or air routes to our shores remains in our hands. This fundamental of effective security, obviously, puts the emphasis of a system of national defense first, upon a high seas fleet that can by its fire power, its strength of armor, and its speed, meet and destroy any enemy; and second, the creation and maintenance of an air force that will intercept and destroy air raiders whether launched from trans-oceanic bases, or from the decks of enemy carriers. This rationalization of our defense plans excludes the need of creating a huge army for the purposes of protection. After our experience in the last world war it is simply unthinkable that we will ever again send overseas a great expeditionary force of armed men. Consequently all grandiose plans for a whole nation making war, with millions of soldiers in the field, and other millions engaged in production of arms and supplies for these great armies, can be dismissed as unnecessary for our defense. A program for an adequate army against any aggression aimed at our peace and security would envisage a regular professional army of not more than 300,000 officers and men, and a national guard of rising 400,000 officers and men, both of which are provided for in our present National Defense Act.

Clear definition of our directives in providing national security can be summarized thus:

1. Taking maximum advantage of our insular position.

2. The swift construction of a high seas fleet, big enough and powerful enough to bar approach to our shores by any enemy, or combination of enemies.

3. The creation of a reasonable air force made up of the latest and best models of all classes of aircraft, but of even greater importance than this, the expansion of the aircraft industry to enable it to turn out ships of the very latest models in large numbers when danger threatens.

4. The expansion of the regular army and the national guard to the full quota for each under the present law, and the swift equipment of both regulars and guardsmen with modern fighting and mechanized material.

This constitutes a program of national defense that will keep us safe from attack, that will not involve expenditures that will cripple our efforts to reduce taxes and encourage a return of prosperity, and it does not invite any disruption in domestic production, or the complete regimentation of the lives of our people.

I have given priority in my outline for a national defense program to the immense advantage which we enjoy because of our insular position. England, many years ago, achieved security from attack by her enemies by building sea power sufficiently strong to prevent possible invasion. It was only after the invention of the airplane that this insular security of Great Britain was impaired. England, however, was separated from possible enemies in Europe only by the English Channel, easily spanned in force by air power. We, on the contrary, enjoy a security on both sides that wideoceans alone can give. The only attack by airplanes of sufficient significance to be considered must come from planes launched from the deck of naval airplane carriers. This means that an enemy attacking us from either Europe or Asia could not deliver an attack of serious dimensions unless he at first established control of the sea. Sea power then, must be our principal bulwark for security. With a high seas fleet strong enough to meet and defeat any possible enemy, an attack upon us will be so unpromising as to be scarcely attempted.

Of course, we must supplement the high seas fleet with an adequate air force as an auxiliary to the fleet and for the protection of our coasts against possible air raids. With these two arms of our defense—a navy and an air force—ready for any emergency, we can count ourselves safe, without the necessity of a huge standing army. Under such circumstances as I have just described, our land force could be, with safety, confined to a small regular establishment of professional soldiers of the size authorized in the present National Defense Act, supplemented with a National Guard at its authorized strength of 420,000 officers and men. If these two components of the land forces are supplied with modern, mechanized equipment and organized for high mobility as well as great fire power, we shall have supplied all of our needs so far as land armed forces are concerned.

There are vital details about all of these proposals which must not be overlooked. First, we cannot regard our insular position as giving us security unless we recognize, as a unit for common defense, the entire western world—the Western Hemisphere as a whole. It would be futile and fatal to content ourselves with preventing the approach of a potential enemy to the actual shores of the United States, and leave him free to establish bases in Canada, Mexico and Central or South America. Under modern conditions of warfare, the existence of nearby bases for the maintenance in a state of fighting efficiency of warships, including submarines and airplanes, is absolutely vital. This consideration compels us, whether we wish to do so, or not, to include in our plans for defense the entire region of North and South America. This means a close collaboration in a military way with all of the independent nations that make up the Western Hemisphere. With substantially all of them, we already have a military alliance for the purposes of common defense.

Another physical feature which has a tremendous bearing upon the efficiency of our high seas fleet is the Panama Canal and its continuous uninterrupted operation. The existence of this canal, which cuts through the narrow waist of the Western Hemisphere, literally makes possible the functioning of one grand fleet of overwhelming power, no matter from whence danger may come; instead of two fleets in widely separated oceans. It is the accepted strategy of the American Navy to customarily station that fleet at San Diego on the California coast. From that point, the fleet may move toward the point of danger whether it comes from the west or from the east and arrive before the enemy. If it comes from the east, the fleet can cross the Isthmus through the Canal and meet it in full strength before the enemy is halfway across the Atlantic. If it comes from the west, the fleet can steam from San Diego to Hawaii and arrive there long before the enemy can reach that outpost of American naval power. It will be seen, therefore, how vital the Canal is to our safety. Its continuous operation is of such critical character that we cannot afford to leave anything to chance. The Canal, hemmed in on either side by an impenetrable jungle, is immune from any serious attack by land forces. Its coast defenses are so powerful, and have so long a range, that an attack on the Canal by a surface navy is out of the question. The sole danger to the continuous operation of theCanal will come from the air. To achieve complete safety from air attack at the Canal, we need air bases many miles distant from the Canal approaches. On the Atlantic side, we are establishing such bases on islands in the Caribbean. We lack similar measures of safety on the Pacific side, and we should waste no time in acquiring possession, peacefully, from Ecuador and Costa Rica, of the Galapagos and Cocos Islands, from which both airplanes and submarines may operate against any enemy approaching the Canal from that direction. We have already taken every precaution on the Canal itself that military skill can devise. These additional safeguards should be provided without delay.

We already have a magnificent fleet, the equal of any in the world. We are now adding to it additional units which when completed will give us the greatest fleet on the high seas. Such pre-eminence in sea power must be maintained in the future if we are to keep the western world secure.

Let us turn now to the question of air protection. For us air power is second only to sea power as a means of safety from attack. If the types of fighting planes had been stabilized to the degree which is true of surface ships, we could proceed with our present productive capacity to turn out an air fleet in sufficient numbers to maintain air supremacy over any possible enemy that might attack us in the air, but it is not as simple as that. Aeronautics is a new science and the methods of war in the air are constantly changing. We could readily turn out thousands of ships of an accepted model today, only to find when attack came, the whole fleet was helpless before a much smaller number of superior ships. It seems to me that a wise program of air defense would provide for a moderate number of war planes of the various types of the very latest present models, and the prompt establishment and expansion of research laboratories and experimental flying fields which would constantly add to our knowledge and skill in air warfare. Along with this, by every legitimate means, we should do as we are doing— encourage the manufacture and sale of airplanes to other nations to the end that our productive capacity for planes would be increased rapidly and steadily. Under these circumstances, under the threat of possible danger, our entire productive capacity in airplane manufacture could be turned to production in large numbers of the very latest models of air-ships. Today, we excel all other nations in the quality and efficiency of our air-ships. We have no reason to doubt that we could maintain this supremacy. We are rapidly developing the productive capacity to turn out ships in great numbers, and the swift growth of private aviation insures that these plants will be kept busy, even if war should cease.

The ideal then, with respect to air defense, is the maintenance of an air fleet of reasonable proportions, the constant training of pilots, and the encouragement of increased capacity for production by airplane factories. If we do this, we shall be safe against any foe from the sky.

With respect to land forces, our safety requires the maintenance of large garrisons of picked troops at Hawaii in the Pacific, and at the Panama Canal. That portion of the regular army stationed in the United States should be concentrated in a small number of strategic points, for two reasons: First, for training purposes to enable high ranking officers to be trained in the command of large bodies of troops, and second, in order to provide for swift mobilization and prompt transfer to any point of danger, A very considerable portion of the continental army of the United States should be organized into a highly mobile army of sufficient size to cooperate fully with the Navy in its mission of protecting any portion of the entire Western Hemisphere from enemy occupation. The present system of small garrisons scattered over the entire country should be abandonedand the troops concentrated, for the reasons that I have assigned above. The Indian wars which produced this curious dispersion of the army ended long ago and only local politics has prevented its correction. Politics must yield to national safety.

Let me at this point destroy a popular bogeyman. In order to provide us with security against attack, it is not necessary to create a military force of great size requiring large numbers of men. Such a navy as I have described, adequately manned, would not require a personnel—commissioned and enlisted-—of more than 300,000 men, including the air forces of the navy. A regular army of 300,000 men would also include the officers and men, of an adequate army air force. Thus there would be withdrawn permanently from productive activities the meager total of only 600,000 men, out of something like 50 million wage earners. About 1 per cent of our man power. The National Guard of 420,000 men are not properly soldiers at all. They are patriotic civilians who devote their leisure time to training as soldiers. They are only withdrawn from active civilian life when war actually threatens. There is then, no possible reason for the assumption of a need of vast armies comprising millions ofmen, in the field, and other millions of men and women engaged in providing the munitions and the supplies for the soldiers. Even less necessary would be the proposed arrangement for a complete regimentation of business and people in a time of emergency. The business of protecting our country against military attack from abroad need not conjure up visions of an entire nation under arms. We can be safe without it. Providence has given us the means to keep our enemies at arms length. If we will exercise common prudence and common sense, and never be deluded by pacifist clamor into weakening our sea power, or emasculating our air force, or failing to provide our small, professional array with the very latest and best equipment to be had, we can always be safe and we can live our own lives, under our own pattern, practicing those freedoms for which our scheme of government was devised, and maintaining the integrity of our institutions in the face of any powerful enemy that may challenge us.

I give you a United States devoted to peace, not covetous of any other nation's possessions, enjoying the liberties God meant man to enjoy, but withal, strong enough, in a world where might rules to make our rights respected.