Keep Politics Out of Our Defense Program



Over radio, May 27, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 520-523

I WISH to talk to my countrymen tonight upon national defense. The increasing dangers in the world make it imperative that we be better prepared. But equally the time has come when the American people must insist that adequate organization be set up within the government which will produce this defense. It must be an organization directed by men of outstanding experience in production management and labor unhampered by partisan politics.

Today we are onlookers at the most tremendous human tragedy of centuries. We are horrified at each gigantic scene. Scene after scene is so great and so terrible that even across three thousand miles of ocean our people are filled with sympathy, with indignation, with hopes and with fear. Our people are justly alarmed for our own safety. And some of them are more panicky than the people in Paris and London.

Urges Cool Judgment

Whatever our feelings of outrage are, now is the time to keep cool. We need cool judgment if we are to make secure our own defense. The President has stated that a flight of hostile planes over Omaha, Kansas City or New York could take place from enemy air bases in the Western Hemisphere. But before operating from a base in the Western Hemisphere an enemy must first capture that territory. Such an enemy must fortify that base. He must transport thousands of airplanes, hundreds of thousands of troops, thousands of machinists, with shops and vast stores of weapons and materials.

And he must get all of that past the American fleet which is twice as strong as the combined fleets of Europe, omitting the British. That is a job that will take time even if it were possible. There is no occasion for panic. There is need for speed.

It can be argued that warmakers from over-seas have no reason or intention to attack the Western Hemisphere. Reasons can be advanced that this war cannot reach American shores. Whatever the outcome in Europe may be, or whatever the intentions of European warmakers may be, that is not the problem I wish to discuss. What America must have is such defenses that no European nation will even think about crossing this three thousand miles of ocean at all. We must make sure that no such dangerous thoughts will be generated in their minds. We want a sign of "Keep Off the Grass" with a fierce dog plainly in sight.

I was born and raised in that religious atmosphere which for three hundred years has never varied in its extreme devotion to peace. Yet I know that peace comes in the modern world only to those nations which adequately prepared to defend themselves. The European Allies are now paying in blood and disaster for their failure to heed plain warnings. With adequate preparedness they might have escaped attack.

Unpreparedness Causes Shock

The anxiety and alarm which in recent years have gripped our people have not been all due to the rise of a new systemof government in Europe which does not hesitate to overrun innocent neutrals. It is not all due to the new character of mechanized armies. It is not all due to the barbaric use of these weapons against peaceful people and against women and children. It is also due to alarm and shock oyer the disclosure of the inadequacy of our preparedness plans and our defense.

The Congress had hugely increased appropriations for national defense, steadily for the last five years. The expenditures upon the Army and Navy have more than doubled from about $550,000,000 in 1934 to over $1,000,300,000 this year. Now the chief of staff tells the Congress that we are not organized to wage modern war—that our arsenals are not equipped to produce the guns we should have; that it will take until June, 1942, to obtain the necessary new rifles for our present force; that we are woefully behind in anti-tank guns; in anti-aircraft guns; in coast defense, and in tanks.

Congress was told that we could only put 75,000 men into the field as a mobile force at the present time, and that these would not be fully equipped. Further, that it would take eighteen months at least to equip our present army and reserves of 450,000 men. We are told we do not even have sufficient clothing for this army.

And the Chief of the Air Corps comes before the Congress and says that none of the Army's airplanes can be regarded as modern. Asked how many of our 2,700 military airplanes "can be modernized" the Air Corps Chief replied: "Off-hand, I should say a half dozen." And perhaps most disheartening of all was his statement that the whole production of military airplanes even under the impulse of Allied orders is only about 340 per month. And this contrasts with a sudden statement that we need 4,000 per month.

Partisan Flavor Seen President Roosevelt in his address last evening implied that previous administrations had been derelict in providing national defense. These statements have a partisan flavor. I could challenge the implications of Mr. Roosevelt's figures. For instance, despite the number of ships commissioned or not commissioned, the statistical abstract, published by Mr. Roosevelt's administration, shows we had available fighting ships to a total of about 1,100,000 tons when he took office, against about 1,350,000 tons today.

Of far more importance, however, national defense is a relative thing. It is relative to the military menace in the rest of the world. No government has the right to impose unnecessary burdens on all those who toil.

For fourteen years after the great war and up to the end of the last Administration, the face of the civilized world was kept turned toward peace. All major nations were in agreement limiting their navies and these agreements were being observed. Germany was limited by the treaty of Versailles to 100,000 men and not much navy. Agreement to limit land armament among other nations was making progress.

Methods for settlement of disputes by peaceful means was becoming stronger. During this time we in the United States spent about $700,000,000 a year on our Army and Navy. President Roosevelt considered the outlook throughout the world for peace and disarmament was so promising that he in 1934 himself reduced this rate of expenditure by about $100,000,000.

The peaceful democratic government of Germany collapsed into dictatorship under Hitler two months after. Mr. Roosevelt was elected. It was in Mr. Roosevelt's administration that Europe began to rumble with aggression and armament. The German Army grew to 2,500,000 men. Their navy expanded. Great Britain, France, Russia and Japan and all others at once expanded their expenditures 400 per cent. The total of sixty nations increased expenditures from four billion in 1932 to seventeen billion in 1938. The suggestion that we should have armed against menaces that had not been born seems overdone.

During this last five years we have had warning time and again, publicly and privately. The Congress has increased appropriations year by year since 1934. It even permitted relief funds to be used for defense. We obviously have not gotten preparedness.

New Organization Needed

Did we wish to engage in criticism we could point out that for years as officers responsible for national defense we had a Secretary of the Navy too ill to attend to his duties. Then he was replaced by a temporary appointment. For three years the differences between the Assistant Secretary of War and his superior have been public knowledge. The recommendations of wise men for organization and co-ordination of industry have been rejected. It all proves the stark need of revolutionary change in method of organization for the future.

What we are interested in now is not recrimination. What we want is to be prepared.

The first step in adequate preparedness must be made right in Washington. Our governmental machinery must be made capable of producing preparedness.

In the ten years prior to 1934, when the face of the world was turned toward peace, our expenditure for munitions and constructions was under 150 million a year. Such organization as was necessary to make these purchases and bring about their manufacture could be carried out under the War and Navy Departments. We are confronted with a much larger and more complicated problem. The Congress is just passing an appropriation of 3 and a third billion; a large part of it to be used to manufacture planes, tanks, guns and ships. That is a problem of gigantic industrial production. That requires another form of organization if we are not to fail again.

Before that organization is created we must answer the question as to what kind of preparedness we want. My own view is that we need first a strong navy. We need a skeletonized but more flexible army. We need large additions of skilled personnel in our reserves, air pilots, tank drivers and gunners. And we need equally the organization of our industrial capacity to produce our weapons and supplies. It is in that organization where we are weakest.

Plane Obsolescence Rapid

We do not want 50,000 planes put away in hangars. These planes would be obsolete in a year. I do not suppose that this is the President's proposal. In the face of constantly advancing science and invention it would be folly to have 50,000 airplanes in peacetime. It would require a half million men to look after them and to fly them. It would require more billions of dollars a year to support them.

What we need is organization in Washington capable of bringing about a co-ordination in American industry that can produce 50,000 airplanes in a year if they were called to do it. If we could demonstrate that we could supply the Army and Navy with 4,000 planes during a single month that would be ample notice to the world to keep off our grass. Likewise we need an organized capacity to produce tanks and other arms.

We need much larger research to constantly improve these machines.

The test of preparedness is not to be found in words or blueprints. The test is the capacity and the ability of our factories to turn out quickly and effectively—guns, airplanes, tanks and whatever we require. And the proof to these things lies in an adequate organization in the government that will permit these things to be produced by industry.

The magnitude of this problem of producing 4,000 airplanes a month contrasts vividly with the present capacity of 340 military planes a month.

Preparedness Problem

In the last twenty-five years the governments of the world have been confronted, as never before in history with the problem of creating governmental organizations capable of making their national preparedness function. During that time it has been my duty to observe and to deal with these organizations on the economic side in a score of governments. I have seen their successes and their failures. During the last war I was constantly in contact with the governmental organizations behind the lines in France and Germany and Great Britain. I saw these organizations emerge from national muddling by politicians. I saw them develop into extremely efficient agencies under the leadership of competent men. At one time I examined these organizations at the request of President Wilson. Later on I sat in our American War Council and participated in organizing this country's industrial resources when we entered the Great War. While in the White House I had part in preparing plans for organization against a time of emergency for defense of our country.

This experience of the whole world leads to certain definite and specific conclusions as to organization of preparedness in industry when governments are under strain.

First and foremost: This is a business requiring expert knowledge of manufacturing, industry, labor and transportation and agriculture. The lesson of the whole of the last World War and every step in the present war is that the procurement of munitions in any large volume must be separated from the Army and Navy establishment. It must be done by an organization separate and independent of either department. It is an industrial job—a manufacturing job, a mass-production job for management and labor. It requires that thousands of factories be co-ordinated to do their part.

The profession of our soldiers and sailors is to make war. They are not trained as production and financial executives. And neither are the politicians nor bureaucrats. This is a job for businessmen and labor.

Nor is it a job that can be done any better by political coalitions. This is no question of political unity. It is a question of hard-headed practical business organization in which for the security of the nation there is no politics at all.

The second lesson learned over and over again out of all these recent years is that such operations cannot be controlled by boards or councils or conferences.

They must be controlled by a single-handed, trusted and experienced man. Every nation in Europe in the last war started in to organize industrial production of war materials through boards. And after muddling for months and the sacrifice of the lives of hundreds of thousands of men and the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars every government fighting in that war finally created a munitions department, headed by a single man. When we entered the Great War we failed to profit by that experience. We set up the War

Industries Board in an advisory capacity to the Array and Navy. It was supposed to co-ordinate the activities of those departments with industry. It occupied itself largely with futile debates. We lost precious months by the fuddling of this board. After these months of muddling we came to a tardy realization that the experience of the nations might be worth while, and we made one man, Mr. Bernard Baruch, responsible. And then the industrial machine began to hum and munitions to arrive.

The efficient production of goods involves the same problems and techniques, whether they are produced for private or public consumption, whether they are for war or for peace.

Foolish to Set Up Board

The whole genius of the American people has demonstrated over 150 years that when we come to executive action, including the office of the President of the United States, we must have single-handed responsibility. It is just as foolish to set up a board to conduct munitions business as it would be to set up a board to conduct the Presidency of the United States.

Centralization of executive responsibility for the production of munitions does not require clothing any man with autocratic powers. This form of organization can and should be based upon organized co-operation. The American people have the highest sense of co-operation of any nation in the world. We proved that in the last war. We shall prove it again if the government organizes in such a way as to instill confidence in the people.

The third lesson taught by experience is that we must get these vast expenditures of money out of politics—get them out of sectional pressures and out of group pressures. We must get them focused into one place where the whole nation can look at it and watch the spending. That is the only way we can prevent profiteering. It is the only way we can eliminate waste and assure efficiency. We must not blind ourselves to the sectional pulling and log rolling that goes on in our country. We know too well the use that can be made politically of favors to localities and to individuals in the expenditures of such large sums of money.

It is a sorry thing that the American people have to learn these lessons over and over again every time necessity knocks at our doors.

Essentials of Organization

Therefore, what are the essentials of this organization if we want real preparedness? It requires:

1. That a munitions administration be created in Washington.

2. That it should have a single-headed administrator with assistant heads for labor, agriculture, and industry.

3. That administrator should be an industrialist and not a politician.

4. That he should have authority to appoint a non-partisan advisory board representing the Army, Navy, labor, transportation, manufacturing and agriculture.

5. That the whole of the purchasing and manufacturing for the Army and Navy from private industry should be done by this administrator. The business of the Army and Navy is to state what they want. It is for the munitions administrator to deliver it.

6. That a research organization should be created to constantly improve these products.

7. That all appropriations for such work should be made to this organization.

This is a form of organization that will get speed and economy. Urgency, speed and economy are not bureaucratic virtues.

Creation of such organization would be only the first step in meeting the task before us.

Preparedness in a nation is not alone the ability to manufacture arms, or even the number of soldiers or warships or airplanes. It lies in the moral strength and the resolute will of the people. It also lies in economic strength and prosperity of a people. I do not wish to dwell upon the fact that today we have ten million unemployed, that we have eighteen million destitute people on relief; that one-third of our population is living at sub-normal standards; that agriculture is kept afloat only by government subsidy; that our national strength for defense has been weakened by the huge increase of our national debt and taxes in time of peace.

Business and industry have been palsied with fear, hesitation and lack of confidence. In consequence our industrial efficiency has even decreased in the last eight years. That can be proven. A recent census of the machine tools in the United States showed that while only 52 per cent were over ten years old in 1932, there are 70 per cent of them over ten years old today. That means our industrial plant has slipped backward in its vital equipment.

Call for Production

Today our call is for industrial production to defend the nation. To get that we must have more than efficient government organization. We must change the attitude of government toward industry. If we are to be prepared for the supreme test of national defense there must be regeneration of the springs of economic life in our people. We must restore confidence and thus employment. We truly need national unity for this most fundamental part of life and national defense.

France is today paying in blood the penalty for a government of similar economic attitudes under the government of Premier Blum.

We have no good reason to be discouraged or fearful. We have the largest resources in the world. We have the greatest mechanical genius. Our men are courageous and our women inspired in fortitude. The whole world knows the capacity of the United States in initiative, in execution, in creation and performance. Once we convince the world that our capacities are organized no nation will have any desire to establish bases on the Western Hemisphere or make any attack upon us now or any other time.

Human liberty may need take refuge upon this continent. We must efficiently be prepared to defend it as the last hope of the world.