National Defense Now


By HANFORD MacNIDER, formerly Assistant Secretary of War and former Commander of the American Legion

Over Columbia Broadcasting System from Chicago, June 6, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 562-563.

I AM just a plain run-of-the-mine, tax-paying American, trying to support a family without government aid, living on a farm out in Iowa. Like most other Americans, I am not looking for trouble with anyone, but I am deeply perplexed and perturbed by developments overseas,and the reactions to them here at home. I have but one burning ambition; I want no interference from any man, here or abroad, in its fulfillment. I want my children to grow up as Americans.

No man, no matter how great a mania he may have fora place in history or as a re-designer of maps, is, if I can help it, going to endanger my sons, nor the heritage of American citizenship which their Mother and I want to leave to them.

I believe I speak for a lot of other Americans who were sent off on a map-making expedition some twenty odd years ago, when I say they feel the same way. We have fought for this country once before. If necessary we will fight for it again.

Last time we marched out under the colors to save democracy. Remember? It was a great adventure for those of us who came back whole and fit, tough for those who must live that war the rest of their lives; heartbreaking for the families who gave and lost. The worse of it is that we are not at all sure now that we did anybody any good. We helped win a war, it is true, but apparently we did not do much for the cause of world peace. We ended that adventure by standing guard in a prostrate and exhausted Europe while a great and generous American ideology was written into what was supposed to give us a new, reapportioned and happy world. You know the rest of the story. It is tough to admit that we may have contributed to this present world disaster. I do not say that we did. But I do not know the answer to that accusation.

Now the world has blown up in our face again. Those entrusted with our national safety have suddenly discovered that we are helping to meet the emergencies of a savagely war-torn world. Blitz Kriegs burst all over Europe, and fill the headlines of our papers with sad news of helpless peoples crushed under the juggernaut of dictatorships. Blitz Kriegs of our own go hurtling out over the air waves of America to warn us of our impoverished national defense which, in the midst of a riot of wild spending for everything imaginable, has not been kept in shape to protect us. We had suspected this ourselves, and wondered whether provocative speeches and the waving of fists at power-drunken dictators were exactly in order. Suddenly the sentry entrusted with our safety wakes at his post, and cries out in alarm.

Whatever our dangers may really be, however eminent, threats against the American continent and our way of life, there is no question but that the American people want our house put in order, and that such defenses as may be necessary be erected, and at once.

Back in the days of Calvin Coolidge, there was inaugurated a sound plan of industrial mobilization. I know something of it. As the Assistant Secretary of War under President Coolidge, I played a modest part in its development. It may not have been perfect, but it is still there, ready to be put into use without the use of bureaucratic guns at the heads of every individual and business in the land. It was sound then. I believe it is sound now. It did not aim at tyranny. It called for a free effort upon the part of a free people, to arm themselves against aggression.

The greatest—and perhaps the only lasting contribution— we can make to world peace is that which may be offered by a nation, which proves that where human liberties exist, there is no need to use the bayonet, the bomb, the concentration camp. Let such a program be put into high.

The President has asked for billions, for blank checks, for unity of purpose. He will get them, but we have the right to know if there is a plan and what it is. Snuggled down among the last words of a recent message to the Congress, between stupendous figures which we cannot question if what he tells us is true, the President has made an extraordinary request: He wants the Congress to turn over to him the right, at his own instance, to call the National Guard of the several states into the active service as part of the Army of the United States. By inference he sends the Congress home. He, and he alone, will deal with the greatemergency. He will take charge of our citizen soldiery. Meantime, let the Congress run back to their election districts, while he directs the use of men and arms. That is the stuff of which dictatorships are born.

If the emergency is so great that men must be dragged from their jobs, their families and their fire-sides, then the emergency is too grave for the President to face alone. He should want the advice, counsel and help of the representatives of the people. He should demand that the Congress stand by and if he does not, we should demand it for him. The greatest program of defense expenditure in our peacetime history needs more than the heads of an administration which, up to now, has shown no interest in a business-like and constructive attitude toward industry which must be depended upon to fulfill our preparedness needs.

Why does the President want the National Guard with no Congress on hand to say when and where it shall be used? Are we committed to action here or over seas? We have the right to know.

Meantime, let's have action on a program of real defense. Decisive action; swift action, and, most important of all, a guidance that will allow our people to contribute intelligently, because without them no such program can succeed. We have a right to know what it is, and how we can best serve the national good.

To those who feel that the present Administration has little or no regard for the policies which have made this the greatest nation on earth, there is little assurance or comfort in the personnel of the Commission newly appointed by the President to advise the Council of National Defense. Three businessmen, experts in their own fields, are out-numbered and out-voted in advance by four Roosevelt intimates, each a welfare worker of sorts and apparently dedicated in thought and purpose to a continuance of the present setup. None is fitted by any experience of which we know to advise a Cabinet, equally unfitted, at least in background or known accomplishment, to direct any such gigantic national endeavor. We can but hope for the best until the not-far-distant day when, as still free citizens of this Republic, we can express ourselves at the polls. Any suggestion from anywhere or anyone to postpone or tamper with that privilege is treasonable, and should be treated as such.

I am not accusing any man, let alone the President of the United States, of wanting to take us to the wars. But I do say this: that his administration, like the Wilson administration of which it is the heir, apparently has long harbored the illusion that it can cure the ills of a troubled world. Our first job is to cure a troubled United States. We have our own house to put in order.

We cannot have a sound national defense with our credit impaired and a constantly-increasing national debt. We cannot have it with a people divided among themselves by campaigns to set up an ugly, un-American class consciousness. We cannot have it by coddling and wet-nursing subversive and destructive elements which, like the treacherous fifth columns abroad, might well break down our effort and our faith. We cannot have it by the vicious pursuit of American business and industry through punitive taxation and discouragement.

We must re-Americanize America. And it is time that it is done.

If we have leadership that will not, or cannot, give us a sound national strength, we must change it while there is yet time. That is for the American people to decide. In the meantime, no man, no measure, no other program can be allowed to stand in the way of rebuilding and revitalizing America, that it may be ready to meet the world, resolute —strong and unafraid.