It's Time for Sane Thinking
WE HOPE AMERICA IS AWARE OF THE DANGERS IT FACES
By RAYMOND J. KELLY, National Commander of The American Legion
Broadcast from Board of Trade Post of The American Legion Banquet, June 10, 1940
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 564-565.
THE chief question occupying the people of our Nation this evening is what to do about the war in Europe and the peace that must some day follow. None of us, I think, can prophesy with any great degree of certainty the ultimate outcome of the wars now raging. All of us, I think, are in agreement when we discuss the horrible rape of individual liberties and the destruction of small nations which have come from the spread of the totalitarian powers.
We have seen clearly what can happen when nations neglect their defenses, when pseudo-liberality is encouraged, when the fifth column is tolerated. We know now what occurs when communism, nazism, and fascism are placed at the controls.
The question is whether you and I are willing to accept our individual responsibilities in shaping the course the United States will follow. Nothing, I believe, is to be gained from taking a hysterical view of the situation. Keeping first things first we must root our course in sane thinking. The time for wishful thinking is past. Vain boasting about our undeveloped but potentially great military strength will avail us little. Loose talk about our neighbors will butter no parsnips.
Within the past few days I have addressed a written message to the more than one million members of The American Legion. In it I have called their attention to the soundness of the position of the Legion. Every great danger now troubling the people of our country heretofore has been the occasion for discussion and action by The American Legion.
These dangers, as I see them, are wrapped in a now familiar package. They include the things in store for us if our Nation abandons its neutrality completely; the plight of our National defense unless there is complete unity in strengthening our army, our navy, and our air forces; the weakness arising from continued failure to accept the principle of universal service in time of war; what may come from continued complacence in handling the enemy within who never ceases to work for the spread of alien ideologies; how we will fare if there is any slackening of the individual effort to unite for the common defense to show the world that our republic within a democracy can meet any emergency.
In my message to the Legionnaires, speaking as their National Commander, I have presumed to speak with some degree of authority because consistently—in the past—the Legion called the turn and pointed the way of sanity for handling many of these problems now confronting the United States.
For twenty-one long years the Legion raised its voice to the highest pitch in the effort to rouse the Nation to the need for an adequate national defense. Few listened to us.
Since 1922, the Legion has had a definite program looking toward universal service. In the event this country ever becomes involved in another war our plan would deprofitize such a conflict, leaving special privilege for none, equal service for all.
Knowledge of the existence of subversive influences, apparently just now penetrating the public consciousness under the modern description of fifth column, is neither new nor novel to the Legion. It is only lately we have had public acceptance of the dangers from such influences.
The definite complacence of America in a world rapidly becoming an armed camp with high explosive potentialities has occasioned dismay in the Legion for many years. Few heeded our warnings.
The 1939 Chicago national convention of The American Legion demanded that Congress stay in session during the emergency. The emergency is even more grave now than it was at the time of the Chicago convention. In my message to the Legion I stressed the importance of having our senators and representatives stay in the nation's capital so long as national and international affairs are on a 24-hour basis. We are hopeful the country will join with us in asking Congress to remain where it can give constant attention to the needs of the hour.
In my belief the most menacing factor to the safety of the United States arises from within our borders rather than without. Our house must be set in order. But the neglect of years cannot be corrected in a few short minutes, hours, or days. What must be done will be done—if a determined and united Nation sets its will to the task.
Let us face the fact that communazi conspirators seeking to undermine and destroy our institutions are fanatics. The truth as we know it is not in them. Reasonable treatment has no effect upon them, and but serves to embolden and encourage them in their efforts.
We have been told that far-reaching suppressive measures against flourishing domestic ideological conspiracies might injure innocent people. In my belief the good of the whole nation compels summary action to be taken by our properly constituted federal, state, and local authorities to stamp out in their entirety the activities of these subverters. Such action is needed irrespective of what may happen to their fellow-travelers or innocent bystanders. This is no time for quibbling. We must pull no punches.
Good, law-abiding American men and women who enjoy and cherish their civil liberties do not follow the policy of shouting about them. In many cases those who clamor the loudest about the dangers of losing such liberties bear the most watching. All too frequently what they fear most is the loss of their opportunity to work for the destruction of our form of government. There are more than 600 communazi organizations flourishing in the United States. Many of these are Trojan Horse and Fifth Column groups. They have no rightful place here among us.
The second place where we are woefully lacking is in our national defense. For two decades national defense preparedness has lagged. Within the past two weeks the first new United States battleship in 19 years has been launched. In every other element of preparedness we have been equally complacent.
We must appreciate that the hurried building of our defenses to the point needed may not make for the most efficiency. Errors will be made and the ball will be fumbled, but the characteristic of a great pitcher is that he pitches over his errors and goes on to win. I am confident we are a Nation of thoroughbreds, neither to be upset nor deterred from our purpose by such mistakes.
There is no change in the official position of The American Legion with regard to the neutrality of the United States. We believe the protection—at all hazards—of the free peo-
pies of the Western Hemisphere is our primary obligation. While our Nation is ill-equipped to provide even a minimum of protection for the Monroe Doctrine, it is idle to consider the feasibility of intervening in the great conflict across the Atlantic.
With what would we intervene? Though some progress has been made in giving educational orders for material and equipment, and in providing for the needs of an expanded air corps, we do not have on hand today the needed planes, weapons, and materials to train properly the extremely moderate armed forces we are able to put in the field.
How, then, would we make our potential strength felt, short of two or three years? Fast moving, aggressor nations have no intention of allowing us to select our own time and place for exerting the might of a rearmed America.
In my written message to the members of the Legion I have also told them the safety of our Nation transcends any political issue. I have cautioned them to avoid the danger of subjecting such safety to the fear generated through hysterical approach to the handling of our problems.
In my public utterances as National Commander I have stressed the importance to American Legion organizations of assisting and working through recognized agencies of the government. I have told them that only rarely when there is a collapse of recognized authority as in times of great natural disasters is it our job to do what we can independently.
In recent years many of our Legion Posts have prepared disaster relief plans to become effective at the onset of such catastrophes. In other words, the machinery of Legion support for law and order is already established with a fair degree of efficiency. Posts without plans are being urged to form them now. Such plans should be integrated with existing government authority in every community where there is a Legion Post.
State Departments of the Legion can well initiate and urge the adoption of state emergency councils. In several states this has been done already with the support and consent of the State Governors.
Official representatives of the national organization of The American Legion are now engaged in conferences and discussions with proper agencies of the Federal Government. These conferences look toward utilization of Legion organization and membership in the most effective manner possible in the event of any conceivable emergency developing. Such perfected plans will be ready for immediate use when conditions warrant their invoking.
The American Legion is working to make this a Nation geared to go. We recognize it as a blue chip game in which we are engaged. We advise playing them close and playing the cards to win.
Our members regard this situation as another call from the Nation. It is not a call to the armed forces where once we served, though we will not shun such a call if it comes. Rather it is a call to develop sanity superseding hysteria; to remove all doubt about the strength of our national defense whatever the cost; to have all of us individually willing to bear the heavy price of the defense which must be paid to assure peace for our people.
For 21 years The American Legion called the turn. It is confident its judgment in the present situation will coincide with the safety and well-being of our beloved Nation.
For God and Country we have associated ourselves. We pledge again our loyalty to that creed. We extend the hope that America now is awake to the dangers we face. Resolutely we pledge our organization to work with those who are for the preservation of our national unity that thus we may safeguard the glory of our ideals, our principles, and our institutions.