Keeping Out of War


By GENERAL HUGH S. JOHNSON, Political Commentator and Formerly Director, N.R.A.

Delivered over the Columbia Broadcasting System, from Washington, June 22, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, 596-597.

I THANK Columbia Broadcasting for this opportunity. It is the first time I ever requested radio time. I do it for a sufficient reason. We are being bum's-rushed toward a fateful choice between immediate involvement in war by our own warlike acts or keeping out of war as long as we can and taking every moment of that precious respite to get ready to defend ourselves.

We are utterly, tragically unready for war or defense today. Until we are ready, acts of war committed by us can force an attack on us whether a probable future enemy desires it or not—or desires it now or not. Many recent acts of ours are acts of war. They are not prudent statesmanship. They are a sort of reckless shooting craps with destiny for the stake of our democracy.

It is said that in such an hour we need unity. That is truly said. But we have unity on every dreadful issue save one. That we should re-arm for defense—arm to the uttermost—arm without stint or limit and regardless of cost? We are 100 per cent united on that. Selective universal service and training? Yes, with few dissenting voices. A sufficient mechanized and motorized army of as many armored divisions as we can get together? Yes, almost unanimous. As many war planes as we can put in the sky? Yes, as quickly as we can get them. Air and naval bases from Greenland to the bulge of South America and from the Galapagos Islands to the Aleutians and a navy strong enough to defend that whole far-flung battle line in both oceans? I know of no single intelligent and experienced observer who dissents. On all this our country is united as never before oil any question. The only disunion is on a further question which is more technical and professional—more coldly military and naval than political or emotional.

We do not have these defenses. It takes time to get them. The question is as to what we should do in those circumstances. There are two answers. One is to aid Hitler's enemies by sending them warlike supplies. Even on that there is no disagreement as to permitting them to buy from our industries whatever those industries can make and sell. But it is now proposed to aid them by sending them the ships of our navy, the war-planes of both our inadequately equipped Army and Navy, the artillery and small arms of our army.

What is the difference between aid of the first kind and aid of the second? Simply this—in the whole development of international law it has always been recognized that any nation, not at war, may permit either of two belligerents to buy in its markets without committing itself to war. But it has been equally recognized that for any nation as such to furnish either belligerent with troops, war-craft, ammunition, guns or money is an act of war against the other belligerent.

There is not the slightest doubt in the world that Mr. Roosevelt is committed to the hilt to this course of war now. There is no doubt that both Col. Knox and Col. Stimson advocate this course. Col. Stimson has already declared for far more offensive acts of war—American naval convoys for shipments of unconditional contraband of war, the donation of use of American naval and air bases for British ships of war—and even the sending of troops. As Secretary of State, Mr. Stimson was for the use of American force in China to oppose Japan. He is clearly war minded.

Mr. Roosevelt's selection of these gentlemen as Secretaries of War and Navy is an indication of his own belief and policy so clear that it leaves no doubt. It has been called a move to coalition and solidarity as between two parties. It is no such thing. Coalitions are alliances between men of divergent views except on the single purposes of defense in war. This is not a Democratic-Republican coalition. It is solely and simply a coalition of war-minded men.

The voice of this country is not for war. The voice of the Republican party is not for war. It is doubtful whether 15 per cent of our people want us to invoke war by committing acts of war now when we are tragically unready. No, this is a coalition of war-frenzied men to lead, or bulldoze or trick the 85 per cent of us who want no war now into prompt involvement regardless of the wishes of the boys who will have to fight and perhaps die, the mothers who bore them, or the opinion and temper of 85 per cent of our people.

Now let us, in all fairness, concede the complete patriotism, sincerity and conviction of Frank Knox and Henry Stimson. They are typical, honorable and distinguished Americans. They highly and honestly believe something like this. That we have relied upon England and the British fleet to resist thrusts at us across the Atlantic, that this reliance is now threatened and that therefore we must get in on the side of that fleet and that it is better to do that now at all costs than to wait until we must fight alone.

It is true that they say they don't want to help with war —but with methods short of war. Those are simply words. Taking warships, war-planes and guns away from our weak defenses and sending them to fight abroad are not methods short of war. They are war itself. Furthermore, this Administration has gone just as far as Congress and the country would let it go and in some cases further. With the slightest release of popular resistance they would go all the way—and on their principles they should go all the way. For, let us face the fact boldly—there is neither morality nor sound military sense in their present course. If we rely on England to that extent, in morality we should not confine our help to clever little schemes for a sleazy bootlegging of a few arms in violation of both our own and international law. We ought frankly to declare war tomorrow.

Of course in a practical sense that would be madness. We have nothing with which to fight that kind of war. Whether we declare war or continue in our present blind-pig, undercover furtive war, nothing that we now have to send can affect the immediate outcome of this battle.

But I do not agree that we do rely or can rely on England to protect America. Therefore I deny that we have any moral obligation in this bloody matter. If we have relied and so remained disarmed and now find ourselves as helpless as a toothless, clawless and rheumatic lion, it was a folly for which somebody should answer. We did not learn the lesson in the terrible trimming and kicking we got after our last adventure in 1918 but there is no hope for us if the past terrible two years hasn't taught us. Look at the European countries that relied on the strength and promises and guaranties of others—ten of them from Czecho-Slovakia to France—hanging like the slaughtered corpses of Bluebeardwives in Hitler's bloody closet. In this double-crossing, welching, treaty-breaking, lying world, no country—and especially ours—can risk its existence on any other nation. We have only one reliance but if we use it properly and wisely it is enough. It is the strength of our own right arm and the courage, patriotism and loyalty of our own people.

We must arm with ten times the rapidity and skill with which we are doing it now. We must make ourselves so strong that no nation will mediate or attempt an assault on us across our ocean barriers.

I know the answer of the war minded men to that. Hitler won't give us time. After England we are next. Let's get in now. Get in with what? It is military madness. But the men who say that are sincere. They just don't understand war. Napoleon said, "Empires die of indigestion." Hitler has bitten off more than any conqueror can chew for a long time. He has a tremendous task of coordination, mopping up, reconstruction and repair. An overseas operation against a country of 130,000,000 who are three thousand miles away and possessed of the richest potential military resources in the world and one of the world's greatest navies is a matter very different from Blitzkrieg mechanical war against neighboring nations.

There is some element of gamble in this conclusion. But it is a good gamble with the odds all in its favor. The contrary course of attacking Hitler now would do us no good in preparation. It would create and perpetuate a New Deal dictatorship. It would force Hitler, if he conquers Europe,not to wait but to attack us now, which he almost certainly would not do otherwise.

Let's use the sense that God gave geese. Let's stay out until we are ready to get in. If we get sufficiently ready we shall never get in.

There is only one force in America that can keep us out of war. That is the force of popular opinion. No leader can take this country into war if it doesn't want to go. If by some rash and aggressive action any leadership attempts to put us into a war against the public will, he will doom us to defeat and destruction.

We seem headed toward that pathway now. Let's not permit it. Thank God Congress is in session. Let's keep it there. That means not merely that we can see what's being done but that we can affect and influence what it is proposed to do. As never before in our history our fate depends on the existence and the proper working of our democratic institutions. As never before they depend on the vigilance and assertiveness of the American people.

Every man and woman should watch Washington constantly. Every American should keep in touch with his representatives in Congress. At every sign or step in the direction of the bloody conflagration in Europe express yourself to Congress. Every faltering in our preparations for defense cry havoc. In coming elections cast your vote and raise your voice for peace and preparedness. That is the best watchword for America today "Complete defense and no war now."