The Citadels of National Defense


By H. W. PRENTIS, JR., President, National Association of Manufacturers

Delivered at Annual Convention of the American Petroleum Institute, Chicago, Illinois, November 14, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol VII, pp. 144-148.

AS President of the National Association of Manufacturers I have had the privilege this year of addressing more than twenty thousand American businessmen regarding the function that free private enterprise performs as an indispensable support of individual and national freedom. Certainly no industry better typifies the achievements of free enterprise than yours. Hence I am truly happy to have the honor of appearing before you this afternoon.

The year 1940 will he printed in black letters in the history books of the future since it will be regarded as a turning point in the life of the American republic. Four seventy six A.D., the year of the fall of Rome; 1066 the year of the Norman conquest; 1215, 1492, 1776, 1861, 1940:—it is hard for us to realize that here, right in the midst of our prosaic individual lives, we are actual participants in the ago-old struggle of the Anglo-Saxon race for personal freedom that began when our British forebears wrung reluctant acquiescence to Magna Charta from old King John on the green island of Runnymede in 1215. The doughty barons that bearded their imperious sovereign on that memorable occasion seven centuries ago were impelled to act in defense of what they deemed to be their rights as free men. Today we, their descendants, are called to defend our hard-won liberties not only from potential foes without, but from far more immediate and dangerous enemies within. So, it seems to me that there could be no more pertinent subject for me to discuss this afternoon than the citadels of national defense.

So far as human beings are concerned, the world empties and fills very rapidly. Men come and men go; "dust to dust, ashes to ashes." Things connected with our physical existence change too. New comforts and conveniences are constantly conjured out of the alchemy of free private enterprise. Our environment perpetually alters its complexion. Administrative techniques change. But the concepts that determine the course of our existence remain firm and immutable. The principles under which men can associate themselves to enjoy permanently the blessings of political, economic and civil and religious freedom are the same today as they were in the days of the Athenian republic twenty-five hundred years ago. The disregard of those concepts create tyranny and despotism just as surely now as in the fateful days of the fall of the Roman Republic. Popular elections do not alter basic principles one jot or tittle. Sound principles crushed to earth will rise again, even though their resurgence be accomplished only after years, or even generations, of sweat and tears andblood. It is our bounden duty as patriotic Americans to accept in good spirit the results of every election. However, that vital and necessary spirit of democratic cooperation must never be permitted to relax our militant advocacy of those concepts that are essential to the permanence of the American Republic. Principles that were sound two weeks ago are equally sound today. In fact, the citadels of our national defense—as I employ that phrase—are the same yesterday, today and forever.

Let us consider first the citadel of physical defense. American industry abhors war. The National Association of Manufacturers has asserted its stand on that point on repeated occasions, notably in its pronouncement early in September, 1939, at the outbreak of the present conflagration in Europe. For many years the Association has gone on record again and again in favor of adequate physical preparedness for national defense. So, when it speaks in respect to these grave issues, its voice is not that of the tinkling cymbal and sounding brass of insincerity. Its position today represents the measured conclusions of a generation of American manufacturers.

Industry is opposed to war not only on humanitarian but one economic and patriotic grounds as well. It thrives on the arts of peace. In very truth it would beat "swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks" because it knows that all war is waste. Only through the production of more peacetime goods and services can the returns of industry be increased, and the fundamental objective of industry be attained—the elevation of the standard of living of all our people to higher and higher levels.

But with madmen running amuck in the world, American industry knows also the vital part it must quickly play if the tidal waves of war now overwhelming Europe and Asia are to be kept from the peaceful shores of the Western Hemisphere. Twentieth century war is not primarily warfare between men. It is the combat of iron men—warfare of machines and mass production. The Germans, it is reliably reported, conquered all of western Europe with only 300,000 soldiers actively engaged, of whom but 40,000 were killed. Machines, not soldiers, create and support the modern prototypes of those ancient scourges of God—Genghis Khan, Alaric and Attila. Fortunately for us now, it was the genius of American free private enterprise that created mass production and the same genius that invented it can, and will excel in its use in the production of defense armament-given a fair chance.

No private business enterprise would consider for a moment operating on the basis under which the patriotic members of the National Defense Advisory Commission are now forced to function. An executive head with real authority to coordinate the work of the Commission, to enforce its decisions, to cut through government red tape, to standardize specifications, and thus make possible the full benefit of mass production methods, should be appointed at once. This has been repeatedly urged by the National Association of Manufacturers and by other interested organizations, but all pleas thus far have fallen on deaf ears—and meanwhile the thunder of Armageddon rolls closer and closer!

So far as industry is concerned, what more can it do? It has cheerfully pledged and given its support to government. It has taken a definite stand against profiteering. It has supplied its best administrators. Despite the mouthings of demagogues, American industry could not be drafted. It had already volunteered!

Today with the defense emergency upon us, industry asks from government a fair deal instead of the shabby deal of recent years; faith instead of suspicion; active governmental sympathy and support instead of demagogic criticism; statesmanship instead of politics. Do you remember what Demosthenes, the old Greek statesman of the fourth century before Christ had to say about statesmanship? Well, here is his definition:

"To discern events in their beginnings, to be beforehand in the detection of movements and tendencies, and to forewarn his countrymen accordingly; to fight against the political vices from which no State is free; of procrastination, supineness, ignorance, and party jealousy; to impress upon all the paramount importance of unity and friendly feeling, and the duty of providing promptly for their country's needs."

In other words, statesmanship in the present crisis dictates that behind the guns and ships and planes and tanks, there must be created unity and friendly feeling—a strong national economy, physical, intellectual and spiritual. The binding ingredients that hold any nation together are weak and tenuous at best. The centrifugal forces of social disintegration that would tear us apart are always stronger than the centripetal forces that bind us together in national unity. The centrifugal forces of disruption are cynicism, lethargy, selfishness, class hatred. The centripetal forces of integration are mutual good will, social stewardship, and faith in the principles of the American republic and our highly developed economic system. That faith has been tragically weakened in the past generation—particularly during the past decade—by laziness and neglect of our duty as citizens; by failure on the part of our educational system to inculcate knowledge of and faith in our free institutions; by loss of the sense of personal responsibility—the vital quality of Christianity; and last but not least by calculated action on the part of those who believe in the socialized state, regardless of whether they call themselves socialists, communists, Fascists, Nazis or New Liberals.

Old Thomas a'Kempis, you will recall, used to say: "In judging others man usually toileth in vain. For the most part he is mistaken, and he easily sinneth. But in judging and scrutinizing himself he always laboureth with profit." So let us examine ourselves for a moment. Take our attitude as American citizens: How many of us have ever made a really serious effort to study and understand the philosophic and religious principles on which our system of government, of economics, and of civil and religious liberty, is based? How many of you have ever read Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan," John Locke's "Essays on Government," Montesquieu's

"Spirit of Laws," Milton's great essays on freedom of speech and freedom of the press, the Federalist Papers? Be honest, now: How many of you have ever devoted even one full day of your time to governmental problems? How many of you have ever interested yourselves directly in politics—the devising of policies, the selection and election of good men to represent you in public affairs? How many of you, if called upon to mount a platform with Earl Browder, Norman Thomas or Henry Wallace, right now could offer even a sketchy explanation and defense of the principles on which the American republic is based?

I mention Mr. Wallace because he has for years been advocating what he calls a "cooperative society," which, for all I can make out, is just a honeyed term for state socialism. Only a few weeks ago in St. Louis he inveighed against those "who shout 'give us free enterprise' and 'take government out of business'." In his book, "Whose Constitution?" he discusses the governmental ideas that, in his opinion, should dominate the future as contrasted with our present system of checks and balances. To quote his own words:

"These checks and balances have been of such nature that we have found it necessary to throw them overboard in every time of great emergency. Only a very rich nation singularly strong and singularly isolated can maintain its unity in triumph over so many checks and balances . . . Our system employed by any great mature nation in Europe would result in very rapid disaster."

Moreover, Mr. Wallace continues with this very significant and portentous statement:

"We in the United States should eventually be prepared if necessary to work out . . . a mechanism which would embody the spirit of the age as successfully as the Constitution mirrored the philosophy of the 18th century. We hope that such action can be taken as bloodlessly as the Constitution was enacted."

How many of you are familiar with "Whose Constitution?" Get it and read it. It is enough to make the chills run up and down the back of every American who believes, as I do, that our national and individual freedom depends on the combined support of three inseparable factors—the tripod of freedom: representative constitutional democracy; free private enterprise—with reasonable government umpiring to insure fair play; and civil and religious liberty. We have seen that tripartite structure of freedom destroyed in Italy and Germany. Shall we permit anybody—no matter how well intentioned—to destroy it in America?

But let us go on with our self examination. How many of you have ever investigated what your children are being taught in school and college? For a generation now our free institutions and the heroes of the American republic have been derided and debunked by a host of puny iconoclasts, who destroy since they cannot build. It is true that the more intelligent among them stand aghast today as they witness the fate of the great universities in Germany; of public education in Russia which is now no longer free; and of the whole state of civil and religious freedom in totalitarian states. For example, the Reverend John Haynes Holmes of the Community Church in New York, in a sermon entitled, "Why Liberals Went Wrong on the Russian Revolution," said some months ago:

"What can we learn from this ghastly experience—not only we liberals but everybody? That immoral means can never lead to moral ends! That power invariably corrupts and ruins those who use it arbitrarily and unrestrictedly for however good a cause. That democracy and freedom are the indispensable condition of all human progress."

But meanwhile the subtle undermining of the faith of the rising generation in the American way of life goes steadily on in thousands of communities. Take the text books written by Professor Rugg of Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, for example. They are used today, I am told, in 2500 school systems throughout the United States, some 25,000 or 30,000 schools altogether. Time does not permit my going into much detail, but let me give you just one illustration of how by inference and innuendo the faith of the rising generation in our American institutions is being destroyed: The Constitutional Convention in 1787 Professor Rugg says, "was made up chiefly of prominent leaders from the more well-to-do and prosperous classes. . . . The fathers of the Constitution . . . wished to guard against the dangers of too much democracy. How did they do it? . . . They worked out a plan by which the three parts of the government should act as checks upon one another. . . . In other words, they made it difficult for the mass of the people to get new laws passed in a short time. . . . Thus the fathers of the Constitution provided for a strong, stable government that would not change rapidly. They gave us one that would protect property, one that would not grant too quickly any sudden desire of the mass of the people."

How perfectly this mode of presentation fits the Communist Party line, as revealed in the 1928 platform of the Communist Party in the United States, which contains this paragraph:

"The Constitution contains a whole series of notorious 'checks and balances' for the sole purpose of making it impossible for a majority antagonistic to the ruling class to make its will effective. The members of the House of Representatives are elected every two years, the President every four years, and the members of the Senate every six years, so that a complete change of government can be made only through elections spread over six years. The elections are not at the same time, because the Fathers of the Constitution wanted to give a chance for the 'cooling off of any mass discontent which might express itself in the elections."

Of course the primary purpose of the system of checks andbalances—the whole idea involved in making the Constitution difficult to amend—was to protect the sacred rights of religious bodies, of racial groups, of helpless individuals from mob passion. That is why the men who set up this government of ours put constitutional limitations upon the power of the temporary majority to enforce its unbridled will on the minority. How important such protection is to everybody is strikingly illustrated by the fact that the change of one vote in eighty-nine in the election last week here in Illinois would have turned the present majority into a minority.

Now do not misunderstand me: I am not suggesting that the businessmen of America should set themselves up as censors and attempt to tell the public school authorities what text books may be used in our schools; but I do maintain that every patriotic American citizen has the right, in fact, the duty to insist that if collectivist doctrines are to be taught our children in their formative years, the truth be told about such doctrines, and that equal opportunity be given them to learn at the same time the eternal principles on which the American republic was founded.

"The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small." For fifty years now the philosophy of collectivism has been insinuating itself into the thinking of the American people. In recent years class consciousness, I shudder to say, has been purposely engendered to serve political ends. The dragons' teeth have been sown. Can we expect any other harvest than the class hatred evidenced bythe tomato and egg throwing of recent months? And the tragedy is that representative democracy simply cannot exist long in the face of acute class cleavage. It is high time that we bestir ourselves and insist that the rising generation be thoroughly grounded in the roots of liberty and good will that have made America great. Dictatorship spawns in the stagnant pools of civic lethargy.

Again take our attitude toward religion: I am not speaking as a pietist when I point out what every American used to know, namely, that every one of the three supports of our individual freedom rests on a religious principle common to all of our three great faiths—Judaism, Catholicism and Protestantism—the sacredness of the individual in the eyes of God—a principle which all of the collectivists deny. Only the other day in Kansas City, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church made this significant statement:

"The Christian Gospel proclaims the eternal worth and dignity of every human soul. The recognition of this is not only the reasonable foundation for our faith in democracy but is likewise indispensable to the progress and highest good of people under any form of government The Gospel, by its very nature, abhors all regimentation, all totalitarian schemes of mass control."

The vestigial remnant of the religious faith of the founders of this republic remains today in the inscription on every coin our government mints: "In God We Trust." We must revive that faith as an essential citadel of national defense.

"For heathen heart that puts its trust
In reeking tube and iron shard—
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And, guarding, calls not Thee to guard.
For frantic boast and foolish word,
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!"

The voluntary performance of social obligations—a religious principle—is the keystone of liberty. So we businessmen must recognize that we are literally our brothers' keepers in the closely knit industrial world in which we live, and keep before our minds constantly the social significance of every business decision that we are called upon to make. If free private enterprise is to be preserved, and the tripod of freedom is to remain standing in America, we must faithfully discharge our full responsibility of social stewardship.

And finally take our supine attitude toward those who wittingly or unwittingly weaken the American republic by inoculating it with the virus of state socialism. Their formula has always boiled down to this: Seize a time of great political and social unrest. Discredit the industrial, banking and governmental leadership of the preceding era of prosperity. Under guise of emergency enact legislation that will make it difficult, if not impossible, for private industry to expand its productive facilities and for enterprisers to embark on new ventures. Then, having undermined confidence in the future—the only basis on which private industry can function—challenge industry to restore prosperity.

Unable to command the necessary venture capital from frightened investors, industry finds itself powerless to meet the challenge. Thus, its detractors are placed in position to say to the unthinking public, as they do today: "We are sorry to find our republic in such a plight, but inasmuch as industry will not accept our challenge and restore employment and prosperity, government itself must perforce do so by active intervention in industry, commerce, agriculture, and banking." In this fashion many of industry's critics, who started out originally merely to effect certain social and economic reforms, or to maintain their political power, now find themselves lending tacit support to an extremist groupwhich has always wanted to change the fundamental principles of our governmental and economic system.

Lenin, I think it was, who said in substance years ago, that the way to undermine the economic foundations of any system such as ours was to give the masses the impression that government itself could provide them with jobs or the means of living. Then, he said, the demands of the people would soon become so insatiable that the financial structure of government could not withstand them. Inflation would eventually follow and finally financial chaos, social disorder and the fall of government would inevitably ensue. We can already see that deadly process at work here in America.

How, I ask you, can this nation have a strong internal economy—the foundation of national defense—when the sense of individual responsibility is being corroded and the moral fibre of great masses of our population is being weakened; when the vital underlying principle of representative democracy is concurrently undermined, namely, local responsibility for local affairs closely correlated with local taxing power? We all know how the federal debt is piling up. It amounts now to approximately fifty billion dollars and constitutes a hidden mortgage of more than 40 percent on the average American home. But do we realize when we speak so glibly of a billion dollars that it would take 1,000 men earning $5 a day—week in and week out—more than 547 years to earn total wages of one billion dollars? Meanwhile the juggernaut of creeping collectivism rolls merrily on with the U. S. Treasury sending checks to 12 million individuals!

The advocates of creeping collectivism from time immemorial have always sung their siren song to the theme of physical plenty. Occasionally it is true they do refer to the abundant life in terms of the intellect and the spirit but usually it is of economic abundance that they sing so stridently. In their approach to the problem of government, our forefathers stressed the responsibility of the individual citizen, the sacrifices that the patriot should be willing to make for his country. But today the common approach is, "What can I get out of my country whether I deserve it or not?" How typical of the twentieth century pseudo-patriot is this sentence that I cull from an article in the current issue of a leading magazine:

"You may call it what you please—democracy or anything else—but if it has not contrived a politico-economic system that affords content to the great majority of its people, those people will flatly refuse to support it in a crisis."

What implications of selfish materialism this places on the patriotic sacrifices of our national heroes! Was it a politico-economic system that contented him, that led Nathan Hale to sacrifice his life on the scaffold? Was it merely a politico-economic system that contented them that led thousands of men to die on the field of Gettysburg? Was it merely a politico-economic system that contented them that led 50,000 American boys to lay down their lives in France 20 years ago? After all, thank God, there are motives that appeal to the mind and heart, as well as those that appeal to the stomach. There is nothing more thoroughly disproved by history than Karl Marx's theory of economic determinism, namely, that men are motivated solely by selfish economic considerations. No American can be allowed to starve. We all want our fellow human beings to enjoy just as many of the good things of life as possible. Industry thrives on a high standard of living. But you and I know full well that if we could rub Aladdin's wonderful lamp today and feed, clothe and house every American citizen to the maximum of his heart's desire, by tomorrow afternoon there would be new appetites, new discontents and new problems.

It is not economic plenty alone that creates the blessings of freedom. It is freedom with its release of intellectual and spiritual power that produces economic plenty.

State socialism—national planned economy—is a very alluring picture when looked at as an abstract principle. What could be finer than to be told that for the remainder of one's life he would enjoy under such a system three square meals a day, a good house to live in, plenty of clothing and the means to enjoy life generally—all without any emphasis being placed on what the individual must do in return for all these blessings? The planners of course never stress that someone has to produce all these things nor do they tell us that, when all is said and done, the men who produce these blessings will be none other than ourselves. They do not tell the gullible public that people who do not work voluntarily will be forced to work. The planners do not explain that if they make mistakes, as they certainly will, it is the common man who will suffer far more than they will. They do not point out that the individual citizen will take what he gets rather than that which he may want. Neither do the planners tell how they will measure the worth of one individual's labor against that of others. And, last but not least, they never stress what will happen to the individual citizen who criticizes their programs. They never explain that the carrying out of their long-range plans necessarily must not be hampered by such things as organized religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press or freedom of assembly. In other words, they do not dare to make clear what is actually true, namely, under national planned economy— state socialism—the government must control every opinion-forming agency—newspaper, radio, movie, school and church. Then what becomes of the third leg of the tripod of freedom—civil and religious liberty? It is undermined and destroyed. We have seen that process at work in Germany, Italy and Russia. We want none of it in America.

The same magazine writer to whom I referred a while ago also says: "It is the fact that free enterprise under capitalism is definitely sunk." Of course it is sunk if the American people do not soon arouse themselves from their lethargy and regain something of the spirit of intellectual inquiry and patriotism that actuated the men who established this republic and gave us the priceless heritage of freedom that we enjoy today. What more striking object lesson could we have than the piteous state of France at this very hour.

In the critical period following the fall of the "Popular Front" Blum government, and prior to the outbreak of the war, former Premiers Daladier and Reynaud made this report to the French Government:

"Actually that part of the French population which creates wealth, which labors for the future, is continually diminishing, while that part which, directly or indirectly, lives on the state is constantly growing. . . . There is a steady fall in the number of Frenchmen who are ready to bear the risks of enterprise and creation. . . .

"That everyone should work more and that the state should spend less—for ourselves we see this as the only formula for salvation; it is elementary but it is inescapable. . . .

"In every field where activity might be reborn, enterprise has been restricted and discouraged. The creative spirit and the willingness to take risks have been weakened. This—let us not fear to say it!—is the root of the evil, for it adds a sort of moral abdication to the material difficulties. . . .

"The state must do its utmost to restore the doctrine of risk and profit as well as that of work and output. . . .

The conclusion of this gloomy survey is that for several years our substance has been melting away. . . ."

The other day in clearing away the debris of a bomb in an English countryside the workmen uncovered a sundial. On that sundial was an inscription—a warning to all who would defend human freedom: "Traveller, it is later than you think!" Can we not learn before it is too late?

Our citadels of national defense—as we have seen—involve more than physical armament. Men will fight only for principles in which they believe. Principles underlie all facts and ultimately determine the whole course of our existence. If our Freedom in America is to remain firm and secure in the midst of a world gone mad, we must renew the faith of our fathers in the minds and hearts of the American people.

In a book by Owen Wister, giving the story of his long friendship with Theodore Roosevelt, the author recounts the following incident which took place in 1895:

"'How long do you give the government in Washington to last?' I asked Roosevelt and (Henry Cabot) Lodge as we sat lunching. Those two students and writers and makers of history, well versed in the causes which have led to the downfall of the empires, kingdoms, and republics that have had their day and gone into the night, were both silent for a moment, then one of them said: 'About fifty years,' Which of the two set this limit, I do not recall; I remember only that the other did not contradict him."

Forty-five of those fateful fifty years have elapsed. What do the next five hold? The answer will be found in how many real patriots are left among us; how many men who are willing, not only to give their lives if need be, but who will labor unceasingly and unselfishly with mind and heart and tongue to preserve our precious American heritage of freedom.

In common with many of you, I have had the stirring privilege of visiting the great temple of Karnak in upper Egypt and looking across the Nile at the scattered ruins of the proud capital city of Thebes, which flourished 3,500 years ago. I have stood also at the east portal of theParthenon and gazed down from the Acropolis on the remains of the theatres, the market places, and the temples of ancient Athens. I have sat for hours in the Forum at Rome. In all three places I have tried to recreate in my mind's eye the throngs of well-dressed, intelligent business and professional men, educators and politicians, who lived and moved and had their being among what were then the pulsing centers of those great civilizations. As I did so, I wondered what they were thinking about in the days when, as we know, their governmental and economic systems were being slowly but surely undermined. Had they realized sooner the subtle processes of decay that eventually brought disaster, might not their actions have changed the course of history? There is no sure answer. But we do know that the eminent archaeologist, Sir William Flinders Petrie, who studied many dead and buried civilizations, asserts that they all ran the same cycle: Despotism bore down on the people until they turned on the autocrat and destroyed him and set up some form of popular government. They hedged their democracy about with various safeguards but finally in every case democracy consumed itself through the waste of public money until financial collapse and social disintegration ensued. Then to bring order out of chaos, men submitted themselves once more to autocratic rule and the cycle began again. The German philosopher, Spengler, asserts in somewhat similar fashion that democracy leads inevitably to liberalism, socialism and bolshevism. Accustomed as we are to overcoming obstacles, do we Americans intend to bow—even to the inevitable—without struggling to the limit to preserve our republican institutions?

"God give us men! A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith, and ready hands;
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honor; men who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue
And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking;
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty and in private thinking."