A State of War Exists


By WILLIAM H. STANDLEY, Admiral, U. S. Navy

Delivered over the Columbia Broadcasting System, August 10, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 688-689.

ON JUNE 10 last I, with some 30 other American citizens, signed a statement urging that this country "immediately declare that a state of war exists between this country and Germany", The reason for that action was briefly but concisely put forth in the accompanying statementówe said that because of the German drive against civilization in Europe we believed Nazi Germany to be "the mortal enemy of our ideals, our institutions, and our way of life". That because of this belief the United States had embarked upon a program of national defense "designed to repel any German attack on our territory, or any invasion of our vital interests." That "in the German view the American defense program means that the United States has already joined with Great Britain and France in opposing the Nazi drive for world dominion." That "what we have, what we are, and what we hope to be can now be most effectively defended on the line in France held by General Weygand."

That "if the British navy is destroyed or taken over, if the French army is defeated in final action, we shall have to face our job alone. We shall have to aid South America single handed, in the presence of triumphant and hungry aggressors, operating across both oceans."

That "Therefore all disposable air, naval, military and material resources of the United States should be made available at once to help maintain our common front." That "such resources cannot be made available fast enough to hold the German army in check on the European Continent or to prepare for the eventual attack on American interests so long as this United States remains legally neutral." That "nationwide endorsement of the defense program shows that the American people has ceased to be neutral in any other sense." That "For that reason alone and irrespective of specific uses of our resources thereafter, the United States should immediately give official recognition to this fact and to the logic of the situationóby declaring that a state of war exists between this country and Germany."

Since that time the situation for our country is far more serious than when the above statement was issued. Germany has conquered and overrun France and is now literally hammering at the gates of England, and today the only thing standing between us and the ire of German power is the British fleet.

We are told that if the Axis powers are victorious we are in no danger from a direct attack by them. The truth is that even if we are not on Hitler's time table for direct attack, we are in line for his pincers. For Europe must continue to have the raw materials of the Western Hemisphere.

Our trade freedom depends entirely upon seapower. With this seapower in their hands let us see what would happen if the dictators decided to wage a war of strangulation instead of a war of land, sea, and air movement against us.

In the first place, we should soon find that our goods would be driven from the markets of the world. Our trade would diminish. Our standards of living would decline beneath anything we had ever known. The welfare and happiness of every man, woman and child in this country would be affected. If we consented to live under this form ofeconomic tyranny, we would find that the least effort on our part to live in any degree of Political or Religious Liberty would bring down upon us the specter of starvation or the threat of direct attack. The choice will not be ours.

Recent events indicate only too clearly how hard pressed has been the British fleet which is the spear-head of sea power, and what a toll has been, and is being taken, by the submarine and bombs from the air.

In the narrow waters between England and the Continent, large warships cannot operate safely, in peril from the air, from underseas, from land batteries and from speedboats. You have all read about, seen pictures of, the epic of the evacuation of Dunkirk. More than three hundred thousand men, saved by small boats, protected by light warcraft, mostly destroyers. Some of those destroyers were sunk, others were damaged. Many further losses have been suffered since by the British destroyer fleet. And remember, the French light craft are no longer by the side of their old comrades. Over that same Channel, where passed the rescued of Dunkirk, the invader plans to come. Large ships, it is probable, cannot be fought in those waters. The British must depend in great measure upon destroyers to guard their homes from war. And to convoy the merchant ships upon whose cargoes their lives depend. And the enemy knows this only too well, and bomb and torpedo take their daily toll.

There are notóno, I will not say that . . . there may not be, enough British destroyers for the work they have to do, when the day of wrath and testing comes. And so, the British have asked for some of ours. Not for our new destroyers built to operate with our battle fleet. They have only asked for old world war craft, surplusage for our own purposes, until they were recently recommissioned, in view of the declared limited emergency.

And what emergency can be greater than the one which now calls them to active service against the enemy of the human race?

An emergency for the British, yes, I can hear it said. But why for us? Why should we send our ships? I promise to try to answer that question. It would be easy to say, "If cannon, if rifles, if airplanes, then why not ships?" But there is a better answer than that. Before I give it to you, let me deal with the law of 1917 that is said to forbid their transfer. Would I violate that law? No, I would violate no law. I would have Congress declare a national emergency and give the Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces full powers, including whatever disposition of our army, navy and air force is called for by the public interest. This would settle that and all other legal questions. Am I advocating war? Call it what you like. If what we are doing now is Peace, then words don't mean what they meant when I went to school.

We should send ships to help the British if they need our ships, and they have told us they do, to prevent the possible loss of the British Isles and their whole fleet. We should do this, that is, if we still hold that it is our main objective at this time to keep the British fleet in being, while we prepare, as best we can and as fast as we can, to protect ourselves and our friends in our own hemisphere from the attack that we know must come if the British cannot hold out. Our would be isolationists prate of the protection furnished usby the 3000 miles of Atlantic Ocean. True, this is our protection so long as the control of that ocean remains with us or our friends. When that control passes to an enemy, that moment this ocean becomes a broad highway by which the enemy can throttle and destroy us. But can we spare these destroyers? If the British are likely to be beaten anyway, hadn't we better keep them at home to defend ourselves? This argument is based on a profound misconception of the nature of naval warfare. Warships are not built to be hoarded in little packets away from the main theatre of action but for use. I would not consider this in the light of "sparing" our ships. These shipsóour fleetówas built and maintained to keep the enemy from our shores and in the face of the emergency that threatens us today I would abort that menace by using them for the purpose for which they were built and maintained, óto keep the enemy from our shores.

The British might need more help, and still more? Then give it to them. All we can, without stint or limit. And if the British homelands are lost, open our ports to their ships and continue the battle until final victory. Most of you know in your hearts that you can't appease Hitler. A small investment now may at the worst gain us time and some of us as we look about, wonder whether we aren't already living on borrowed time.

Profound disillusionment with the last war, however caused, has led to a weakening of the moral fibre of our people upon which Hitler is gambling for the greatest stakes in history. There is present among us the absence of the will to prepare. We cannot buy security; for as has been well said, who will cash our billion dollar checks? We must havemen to operate the machines we hope to make; peace-minded as twenty years have made us, let us pull ourselves together and call into existence a truly national register of our entire manhood, and throw into the face of the would be enslaver of mankind the defiance of forty-five million Americans, each willing to serve in army, navy, air force or industry, as he can best contribute to the salvation of his country and the cause of freedom for all this earth.

Anyone with a grain of sense knows that we cannot defend ourselves with machinery alone. Every naval and military man from the Commander-in-Chief to the newest recruit knows that we can never hope to create the vast reservoir of manpower that we so desperately need under the present system of voluntary enlistment.

Now let us drop all pretentions and subterfuge. Let us stop talking in terms of limited emergency when we are really in a state of war.

Let us openly and courageously declare that a state of national emergency exists and give the President full powers to take all necessary measures for the total defense of America, including the mobilization of our entire national strength and whatever disposition may be required of our land, naval and air forces.

Let us have total defense and have it now.

What a magnificent gesture that will be to give pause to these devil men, new hope to our friends who still stand proudly erect before the common enemy, and to those equally our friends who wait with longing hearts for the deliverance for which, under the Providence of God, they shall not wait in vain.