War or Peace in America?


By JAMES D. MOONEY, Vice President, General Motors Corporation, in Charge of Overseas Operations

Address at the Fifty-Fifth Alumni Reunion Banquet, Case Alumni Association, Case School of Applied ScienceUniversity Club, Cleveland, Ohio, June 1, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 542-544.

I RECEIVED your invitation to speak here today on my recent return from Europe after an eight months' journey in the belligerent countries. It occurred to me that you would like me to speak to you on the subject that is close to everybody's heart—The European War—with its threat of drawing America into its great catastrophic whirlpool.

Further, perhaps I could satisfy your interest most bycussing the European war in relation to the vital question, "Shall we have war or peace in America?"

I made my first trip abroad in 1918. I had been out of college for ten years at that time, and away from my old Ohio home, but by a spin of the old roulette wheel of life I was assigned to the 159th Field Artillery Brigade, of the 84th Division, just as this Division was leaving Camp Sherman, Chillicothe, Ohio, for France.

A year after the war was over, and by another spin of the roulette wheel, I went over to Europe on a business trip. And I have been spending half of my life over there ever since.

During this past quarter of a century, I have had a front-row seat at the long series of political dramas that have been staged in Europe. Naturally, I know something about European politics—but not enough, I warn you, to have any ready-made, pat answers to the many complicated problems over there.

Observations on the European Situation

However, my years of experience and observation in Europe and particularly my travels throughout the belligerent countries during the first eight months of World War number II make it possible for me to present to you the following observations:

1. The war is a colossal tragedy for Europe.

2. Normal economic life in Europe is already badly disintegrated.

3. During the past winter, the very first winter of the war, there were already millions of hungry and freezing people in Europe.

4. Europe is living and doing business on paper money. Public debt is piling up in every country at a staggering rate. This rapid increase in debt is badly weakening the paper moneys; the "black bourses" operating under cover everywhere are already placing heavy discounts on the nominal values of the various paper moneys of Europe. As the war goes on, we shall witness successive waves of currency devaluations, and finally, a complete collapse of the credit and currency structures of the various European countries.

5. If the war were to come to an end tomorrow, it would take from five to ten years to re-create the ordinary processes of production and the normal channels of distribution.

6. If the war continues for another year or two, Europe is doomed for twenty years to far worse poverty than the present generation has suffered during the past twenty years as a consequence of World War number I.

7. The war is making a shambles of Europe. The war is creating the background for increasing the millions of starving men, women, and children in the belligerent and neutral countries. Hungry bellies are powerful generators of social disorder and revolution. If the war goes on very long, we shall have some shocking internal political disturbances in the various European countries.

8. During my recent eight months' experience in Europe, I did not find a single man, from brass hat to taxi-driver, who did not consider the present war a colossal mistake in international politics, and the consequence of a long series of political and economic blunders.

9. No general emotional background existed in Europe to support the undertaking of the war; memories and griefs from World War number I were still too vividand poignant. The disillusionment that followed the other war made people everywhere inert and unresponsive to the illusions and slogans projected by the propaganda artists whose job it is to generate hysteria and hatred.

10. If the war continues to gain in military momentum, there will ensue the slaughter of millions of men and the creation of millions of widows and orphans. The frightful tragedy in the situation arises out of the fact that this colossal sacrifice will add nothing valuable to human experience. Nor will the continuation of the destruction of Europe move forward one single step the acceptance of any political principle to enable men and nations to live in a more friendly, neighborly way with one another.

11. Tens of millions of families throughout Europe, men, women and children are praying to God every day that He will put some good will into the hearts of their political leaders and inspire them to declare an armistice. Peace would bring a general delirium of joy, a universal escape from fear, terror, horror, despair, and material and spiritual misery and devastation.

The Fundamental War Aims

The time is too short to sketch here the war aims of the belligerents. But at the risk of seeming to make it all too simple, I shall state the fundamental causes of the war as follows:

Germany and Italy have felt that the power and control exercised by England and France over the commodities, raw materials and trade of the world subjected their countries to the unendurable condition that food for their people and materials and markets for their industries had been throttled. Germany and Italy rearmed to eliminate this fear that their food supplies and commerce would be cut off.

England and France have had a growing fear of the military power of Germany and Italy and a growing fear of the challenge of this power to their own security.

England and France are fighting for their lives. Germany and Italy are fighting and striving to keep from being starved to death.

War Throws Democracy Overboard

These aims of the belligerents, as you see, have nothing to do with making the world safe for democracy. Each country is strengthening its governmental organization and structure in every way that will insure a more efficient conduct of the war. I need hardly remind you that in time of war a nation moves very rapidly in the direction of a highly centralized form of government—a dictatorship if you want to call it that—for the duration of the war. The ordinary peace-time privileges of democracy are very quickly thrown overboard.

We Are Drifting Into the War

The isolationists want us to stay out of the war. But during the past 23 years, beginning with our declaration of war on Germany in April, 1917, we have very often taken an aggressive position in world politics and particularly in European politics. We have "blown hot", and, later, we have "blown cold" and abandoned our position.

Some of the positions we have taken, particularly in the field of international trade and finance, have had a great deal to do with causing the impoverishment of Europe— and, in turn, the present war.

We have had no compunction at all during the pasttwenty years about playing with matches in the house of international affairs. Now that the house is in flames, we can't run out and turn our backs on the whole affair. Americans have too proud a tradition as fighters to endure a national policy that would brand Americans as men who run away from anything.

Isolationism would serve our material interests best, but it is probable that we cannot and will not stay out of the war. Our general drift at the present time is certainly not in the direction of staying out.

We are already conducting an undeclared "economic war" on the countries we have identified as our potential enemies. We have just embarked on a stupendous increase in our armaments. As time goes on, the general hysteria will be increased in our country by the war news and propaganda, a war psychosis will have been generated, and eventually some dramatic incident will be seized upon to precipitate us into the war.

Another Course—Compel the Definition of the Peace

What else could America do about this colossal catastrophe that is degrading and destroying Europe? I propose to you now another course open to our country. I propose that before we accept the inevitability of the war in Europe continuing—and the inevitability of our eventually going into the war—we consider another course of action for America. This course contemplates neither the improbable solution of "staying out" nor the emotional and catastrophic course of plunging immediately into the war, I propose to you that we consider the possibility of using America's enormous economic and potential military strength to compel a discussion of peace.

Now that we as a nation have authorized another huge increase in our national defenses, it would be extremely useful to clear the air by establishing exactly what it is that we are preparing to defend.

If we intend to go to war then we ought to publish the conditions that will provoke us into the war.

We ought to quit telling the world that we won't fight under any circumstances. Americans are fighters too, and in this present situation we ought to begin immediately to discuss what we will fight for and why. If we are to fight because we crave a more peaceful and more orderly world, what are the conditions on which a peace will be negotiated and what terms of peace will insure this more orderly world?

In 1917, when we went over to Europe to fight, we were told that we were taking part in creating the basis for a brave new world. When our sons eventually leave for Europe to fight, can't we be more honest with them? Can't we give our sons a more definite idea of what the brave new world will be like?

Are we sure that our sending men and guns to Europe to help shoot up the place will have anything to do with constructing a more orderly Europe? Is there still an opportunity for us to make it plain that before we join the fight we would like to know what the fight is all about and what the terms of the peace will be when the fighting is finished?

America has a tremendous potential military and economic strength. Before we decide suddenly to add this strength to the forces that are destroying Europe, at least we ought to take one last look at the possibilities of using this strength in the international situation to compel a discussion of the basis for the Peace.

War for America Means Catastrophe Too

I have told you that the war is a colossal catastrophe forEurope. The catastrophe there arises principally out of the economic disorder that existed in Europe at the outbreak of the war and which is being spread and intensified with every day of war.

We have economic disorder in America too. The South is staggering under the unsolved cotton problem. Because our productive industries in all parts of the country are strangled from one cause or another, we have several million men still out of work. We have slums and frightful housing conditions all over the country. We are continuing our drift into rising prices and inflation because of the rapid rise in our public debt.

Do you think our entry into the war will do anything but make these problems a hundred times worse? Can you escape seeing that when our sons return from the battlefields they will be confronted by a reconstruction problem that will make the social, economic and political disorder of the past ten years look like a pink tea?

A Negotiated Peace Would Be Difficult

Negotiating a peace at this time, of course, would be extremely difficult. Peace makers who interpose themselves between belligerents usually find themselves in the most thankless of jobs. This would be particularly true in the present situation.

It is evident that a formula providing security for the English and French, and removing the threat of starvation for the Germans and Italians, will be very difficult to construct and make acceptable to both sides.

A negotiated peace would require vast patience and persistence to effectuate. Once accomplished it would necessarily contain compromises on both sides that would make it subject to criticism by some of the politicians in the various countries.

But all these difficulties that can be charged against a negotiated peace can be compared with the terrors of a rough, cold sea that a man might be challenged to jump into from a burning ship. The sea is terrible, yes; but staying on the ship means suicide.

America Cannot Escape the Impact of the War

The present war in Europe is suicide for the political, economic, and social order there. The war is dooming the present generations in Europe and their new-born children to long years of unthinkable poverty and social misery.

That America can remain unscathed or unaffected by this appalling misery of her neighbors and her blood kin in England, Germany, France, and Italy is an absurd assumption. The war will make us suffer too, not only in a material way but in conscience for such of the responsibility as rests on our shoulders for the deep underlying political and economic causes of the war.

The European war fascinates us, and worries us. And we shall not sleep well as long as the war burns with a bright flame.

America's Opportunity for Peace

Some opportune moment will come when all of the belligerents will welcome the proposal of an armistice by a neutral country.

Only America with her great economic and potential military strength can act as mediator and facilitate such a discussion of Peace.

It will take courage and coolness to seize an opportunity to stay the destruction of Europe. I know you will join me in praying that America will not fail to accept such a challenge in behalf of peace.