America is in Danger
OUR FATE DEPENDS ON WHAT EACH ONE OF US DOES NOW
By WILLIAM C. BULLITT, Ambassador to France
Delivered at the Invitation of the American Philosophical Society in Independence Square, Philadelphia,August 18, 1940
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 683-686.
FELLOW Citizens of my Country; Men and Women; Americans: There are times, rare and infrequent, when a man feels he has a right to ask his fellow citizens to hear him. Here tonight, in my own city, in this Square where our Republic was created, I feel I have that right. For nearly four years I have served as ambassador of our republic to the French republic. That republic, like our own, followed the gleam of liberty, equality and fraternity for all men and all races. That republic, like our own, strove for peace. I have seen the French republic destroyed. As your emissary, as the representative of American democracy, I have witnessed the acts which destroyed the French democracy. I know of my own knowledge what blows were struck, what devices of intrigue and treachery and force were employed. I know who are the enemies of freedom because I have seen them at their work. I know how dangerous they are and by what means they are dangerous.
Because I have seen these things and know them of my own knowledge, I know that dangers beset free institutions everywhere, and I know what those dangers are. The strategy of destruction by which the free nation of France was overthrown is the strategy of destruction by which the enemies of freedom hope to overthrow liberty in this, the greatest of the nations that freedom has created. Because I have seen these things with my own eyes, heard them with myown ears, and felt them in my own body, I ask you, my fellow free Americans, to hear what I feel it my duty to say. America is in danger.
It is my conviction, drawn from my own experience and from the information in the hands of our Government in Washington, that the United States is in as great peril today as was France a year ago. And I believe that unless we act now, decisively, to meet the threat we shall be too late.
The dictators are convinced that all democracies will always be too late. You remember Hitler's statement: "Each country will imagine that it alone will escape. I shall not even need to destroy them one by one. Selfishness and lack of foresight will prevent each one fighting until it is too late."
Control of Government by public opinion is the essence of democracy. And it has always been our belief that free speech and a free press and free education would enable us to form and express our opinions sufficiently swiftly not only to permit but to compel our Government to act quickly and effectively. But the problems of world affairs have become so complex, in this day of volcanic change, that the average citizen has the greatest difficulty in understanding them and judging what is best for his country before it is too late.
The dictators have developed a strategy of attack that is based on this difficulty. To prepare the way for military attack on a democracy they employ every possible variety of agent and propaganda to befuddle the public so that thedemocracy will not prepare in time. They succeeded in befuddling public opinion in France and England to such an extent that they were able to conquer France in a few days and are now striving to conquer an England which awakened late.
They are not yet in a position to attack America by military means; but their campaign of befuddlement, their preparatory assault, is following the same lines in America that it followed in France. Do not imagine that the French citizens was less intelligent or cared less about his country than the American citizen. The honest French patriot did his best, but he just could not see through the smoke screens of bribery, propaganda, lies and threats which the dictators spread in his country. For every Frenchman who acted as the conscious agent of a foreign dictator, there were a thousand who, with good intentions and high patriotism, unwittingly played the dictators' game.
How many Americans today are playing the dictators' game without knowing it?
In France, as in the United States today, there were many honest pacifists. There were many because after 1918 every Frenchman became in one sense a pacifist. The French wanted no more war. And when the German propagandists told the French that they could buy peace with Germany by making one concession after another, the French believed them.
The French, who were much stronger at the time than were the Germans, let the Germans reconstruct an army, a navy and an air force, let them reoccupy the Rhineland and the Saar, then Austria, then the Sudeten areas of Czechoslovakia, then the whole of Czecho-Slovakia. After that the Germans said that the price of peace was Danzig and Poland's outlet to the sea. By that time the French had learned that the lie, the solemn pledge given and broken, had become Germany's normal weapon in international affairs. Yet today there are Americans who argue that we should believe the dictators when they say that they have no intention of extending their conquests to the western hemisphere and certainly not to the United States. France believed. Where now is France?
There are also Americans who argue that if Hitler should conquer Great Britain he would be content to stop there, and that the United States would be able to cooperate happily with the Hitler Empire of Europe. To believe this is to misunderstand the entire nature of the Nazi system. It is not organized to develop an empire in peace. It is organized as a dynamic military machine. The ruthless hold of the Nazi leaders on the German people is based on the gearing of all energies for the sacrifices necessary to wage war. The continued sacrifices by the great mass of the people which the Nazi system demands cannot be obtained except by maintaining a supercharged war temperature. The German nation has been made a predatory army of assault. Its organization is military. Its military operations have enormous momentum. It cannot stop in its tracks. It can only be stopped.
Were Germany to try to resume the ways of peace, the military discipline which is the very foundation of the Nazi hierarchy would crumble. In order to continue in power that hierarchy must continue to lead Germany on new predatory adventures. The Third Reich cannot change its objectives and methods without changing its entire organization and leadership.
The Americans who believe that the Nazis will not have to be stopped but will stop of their own accord are indulging in the fatal vice of wishful thinking. They want to believe this. Therefore they believe it. There is no otherbasis than their wish for their conclusion that the Nazis suddenly will become peace-loving men.
The men and women who tell you that the dictators will not attack the western hemisphere may be honest, wishful thinkers or they may be agents of the dictators; but in either case, by lulling you into a false feeling of security and retarding your preparations for defense, they are keeping the way clear for an assault on America by the dictators. They are enemies, consciously or unconsciously, of our country and our liberties.
In France there were high-placed and influential German agents who circulated in what we called society, and argued, because Hitler had said he loved France; that Germany would never so much wish to invade France as to attack the Maginot Line which was estimated to be such a tremendous obstacle. Today, we hear Americans of the same stripe arguing that the dictators will never so wish to invade the Americas as to cross the Atlantic which is regarded as such a tremendous obstacle. They ask us to ignore the fact that the Atlantic is an obstacle only so long as the European exits to the Atlantic are controlled by a nation which is genuinely friendly to us. We can remember, however, that in the past when those exits have been in the hands of a power unfriendly to us, the Atlantic has become a broad highway for the invasion of the Americas. By way of the Atlantic our own land was invaded twice: during our Revolution and the War of 1812—and that with sailing ships. By way of the Atlantic, Mexico was invaded during our Civil War.
The truth is that the destruction of the British Navy would be the turning of our Atlantic Maginot Line. Without the British Navy, the Atlantic would give us no more protection than the Maginot Line gave France after the German troops had marched through Belgium. The soothing words: "Maginot Line," were the refrain of a lullaby of death for France. The soothing words: "Atlantic Ocean" are being used now by the propagandists of the dictators in the hope that they may become a lullaby of death for the United States.
The French knew that they were outnumbered two to one by the Germans, and that all Germans,—men, women and children,—had been mobilized for war. They knew that Great Britain was unprepared for war and that little help could come to France from England. When they thought hard, therefore, they knew that every French man, woman and child ought to be working for the national defense. The French had, of course, universal military training for the army. Even the French priests were trained to fight, and they fought at the front like other good soldiers and would not have been respected if they had not. But when the question arose of mobilizing the whole nation for national defense by compulsory national service, even as a temporary measure to save the liberties of France, the French found it more comfortable to listen to the voices, some sincere, some bought by the dictators, which told them that their individual liberties were sacred and must not be sacrificed for a moment even to save the liberties of the nation; that it was more important for the individual to work only forty hours a week than for his country to have enough airplanes; that the voluntary acceptance of national service as a temporary measure would be an imitation of the dictatorships. Thus, in the name of the preservation of individual liberty, the national liberty of France was condemned in advance to destruction.
Recently, in this country, we have heard men and women arguing that we ourselves would be imitating the dictatorships if we should create through conscription an army adequate to defend our country. They too are playing the dictators' game.
Then there are many in France, some honest, some agents of the dictators, who argued that since airplane design was changing rapidly, France should have good models but should not manufacture planes in great quantity until after the outbreak of war. They were prominent and powerful. As a result, at one time French plane production was allowed to sink to thirty-seven a month while Germany was producing a thousand a month!
Have we been wiser during the past years? Have we built the planes or trained the aviators to man them? Have we prepared the tanks or the men to drive them? Have we trained and equipped even infantry for our national defense? Are there not among us many who think and talk as did the Frenchmen who opposed adequate preparations? Recently I heard a Senator who is as good an American as any of us state that while he would favor conscription the moment we should be attacked, he would oppose conscription until after we should have been attacked. The ruined homes of France, the women and children starving on the roads, cry out to him, and to everyone of us, that wars are won or lost by the preparations made or not made before they begin; that untrained soldiers are not opponents but merely victims for trained men with tanks and planes. The dictators, who are confident that all democracies will always be too late, count not only on their agents to befuddle American opinion but also on honorable men like that Senator.
What stands today between the Americas and the unleashed dictatorships? The British Fleet and the courage of the British people. How long will the British Fleet be able to hold the exits from Europe to the Atlantic? I cannot answer that question nor can any man.
You have heard the appeal of General Pershing for aid to the British Fleet. You have heard the appeal of Admiral Standley. You have heard the appeal of William Allen White and his associates'. If you let those appeals go unanswered and the British Fleet goes under, do you realize what that would mean to you, to all of the people of this country? Great Britain and Ireland, along with the whole continent of Europe, would be organized into one economic unit directed from Berlin; a unit which would be far stronger in productive capacity than the United States, which would have five times our capacity to produce warships; a unit whose trade would be controlled by one trading trust directed from Berlin. No country of North or South America would be able to trade with Europe except on such terms as might be pleasing to the dictators. Those conditions for many of the countries of South America would be the acceptance of a greater or less measure of Nazi control.
For us, since we would not accept Nazi control, they would mean the cutting off of our markets for cotton, tobacco and other export products. That would be so fatal to the economy of certain sections of our country that we should face the gravest economic crisis in our history; a crisis which it would be the task of Nazi and communist agents to exploit.
In the Pacific would be the Japanese Navy, cooperating with the dictators, which would be able to cut us off from our supplies of rubber and tin and would compel us to leave a large part of our fleet in the Pacific to defend Hawaii and the west coast. In the Atlantic would be combined fleets of the dictators which would be so close to our own fleet in strength that they would be able to cut us off from all commerce not only with Europe but also with Africa, and would endanger even our communications with the southern portion of this hemisphere.
Are you sure that under those circumstances the powerful Nazi and communist movements which already exist in various countries of South America would not be able to seizepower and would not invite the European dictators to organize air forces on their territories, and that those air forces would not move northward with dive bombers to the Panama Canal and then move against this country? Are you sure that our existing fleet and air force would be able to defend even the northern route to the United States by way of Greenland, Newfoundland and Canada?
It is as clear as anything on this earth that the United States will not go to war, but it is equally clear that war is coming toward the Americas.
The agents of the dictators are already here preparing the way for their armies. They are preparing the way in the same manner in which they prepared the way in France.
In France much of the most terrible and traitorous work was done by the fascists and communists working together. Many honest French democrats and liberals had been snared by communist propaganda and argued that, because the communists called themselves a political party and pretended at the time to be in favor of democracy, it would be undemocratic to deny to the communists the rights of any other political party. The honest French patriots and democrats who protected the communists did not discover until too late that the communists were acting as spies and agents of the dictators, that the communist party was merely camouflaged as a political party and was in reality a conspiracy to commit patricide at the direction of a foreign dictator. They discovered too late that the communists were traitors who were claiming the protection of the state which they intended to destroy only in order the better to prepare for its destruction.
When the German invasion began to sweep into Belgium and France, there were communist and Nazi agents of Germany in each town and village who produced panic among the civilian populations by spreading fantastic tales of murdering by the German troops of men, women and children. By this means ten million civilians were harried in fear from their homes and clogged all the roads, so that the French, British and Belgian Armies could not maneuver, so that transport of supplies became almost impossible, and a magnificent fighting force became a clotted mass of men and material, a perfect target for bombing and machine-gunning from the air.
At the most critical moment of the fighting in Belgium, other German agents, this time communist railway men, stopped all traffic on the Belgian railways so that there was no transport by train for the French, British and Belgian Armies.
Throughout France, especially in Paris, there were hundreds of communist and Nazi agents of the dictators with extremely short-wave portable radio transmitting sets in their hiding places. They kept the Germans fully informed of the movements of the French Army and of the intentions of the French Government. Since they could change their hiding places daily, the French were never able to track down more than one-tenth of these spies.
The French had been more hospitable than are even we Americans to refugees from Germany. More than one-half the spies captured doing actual military spy work against the French Army were refugees from Germany.
Do you believe that there are no Nazi and communist agents of this sort in America?
On the tenth day of last May, the people of France were as confident as are the people of the United States today that their country could not be conquered. Three days later, on the thirteenth day of May, the Germans had smashed through the center of the French Army and France was doomed.
The way had been prepared by spies, agents and propagandists but it was the strength of the German Army and the skill of its leaders that enabled Germany to strike the
fatal blow. The blow was struck just where the French did not expect it. The attack was made by a new method that the French had never imagined. Waves of bombing planes preceded waves of tanks with perfect coordination maintained by radio. The tanks cut through the French lines, then wheeled and lopped off piece after piece of the French Army.
The French soldier fought as courageously and magnificently as any soldier has ever fought. Division after division, cut off from supplies of all sorts, fought on until there were no more shells for the cannons or cartridges for the guns, then charged with the bayonet. The courage of the French was magnificent but of no avail against the tanks and planes of the Germans. And, make no mistake, the German infantrymen were as brave as the French.
The entire western world has been lulled by stories of the inferiority of German equipment. I have seen, myself, hundreds of thousands of German soldiers with all their motorized and mechanized equipment. I have never seen one piece of that equipment broken down.
The German military machine today is without question the most powerful that has ever been created. It has been used with consummate skill. And you may be sure that, if the Nazis have an opportunity to turn it against us, it will be as strong or stronger than it is today and will be used in the most unexpected manner.
I cannot tell you where and when the attack will come, any more than the French General Staff could have told you that the German attack would be made at Sedan on the thirteenth of May; but I am certain that if Great Britain is defeated, the attack will come, and that all the strength of this nation will be needed—mobilized, organized, equipped and ready—if we are to parry it and save the independence of our country.
Why are we sleeping, Americans? When are we going to wake up? When are we going to tell our government that we want to defend our homes and our children and our liberties, whatever the cost in money or blood? When are we going to give the lie to those who say that the people of the United States no longer care about their liberties, that they look on the United States just as a trough into which to get their snouts and not as the greatest adventure in human freedom that this earth has known?
When are we going to let the world know that in spite of all the efforts of all the propagandists who call their propaganda "debunking" and try to teach us to fear even truth, we still know that when anyone tries to debunk the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, he prepares for himself hell in this world and in the next?
When are we going to let legislators in Washington know that we don't want any more politicians who are afraid of the next election and scared to ask us to make the sacrifices that we know are necessary to preserve our liberties and our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution? When are we going to tell them that we want to know what are our duties, not what are our privileges? When are we going to say to them that we don't want to hear any longer about what we can get from our country but we do want to hear what we can give to our country. When are we going to stand before God and say that we know a human being is worthy of freedom only when he serves the ideal in which he believes?
Do we want to see Hitler in Independence Hall making fun of the Liberty Bell? NO!
Then here, in this Square, where Washington walked with Jefferson, where our independence was declared, where our Constitution was framed, I ask you and all other Americans who hear my voice tonight to join in the fight to keep our country free.
Write and telegraph to your Senators and Representatives. Write to your newspapers. Demand the privilege of being called into the service of the nation. Tell them that we want conscription. Tell them that we back up General Pershing.
If you belong to great patriotic organizations, make them act. If you want to make your will felt but do not know how to make it felt, write to me and I shall try personally to put you in touch with the men and women who know how you can help most effectively in your own home towns and villages.
Our defense against the enemies who are already within our country has still to be organized. Nearly all our defense against the enemies that are still outside our country has still to be organized. If we won't act, our Government can't. It is up to us.
The fighting line of the war for the enslavement of the human spirit is nearing our shores. For every American "there is no discharge in that war." An American is a free man or he is nothing. Our fate and the fate of our children depends on what each one of us does—now.