Aid to the Allies
THE DECISION IS MOMENTOUS
By JAMES B. CONANT, President of Harvard University
Delivered over a nation-wide hook-up of the Columbia Broadcasting System on a program under the auspices of the William Allen White Committee from Boston, Mass., November 20, 1940
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol VII, pp. 148-149.
I AM speaking tonight as a private citizen of this republic—a private citizen deeply concerned with the present foreign threat to our nation's future. I am one of those who believe that our free way of life can be secured only by a defeat of the Axis powers. The opinion is growing among qualified judges that such a defeat is possible only if American people without reservation will pledge the country's resources to that end. Are we willing to go so far? This is the fundamental question which must be now debated.
I know there are many loyal and intelligent citizens of the United States who think such a pledge both unnecessary and unwise. They think we can prosper as a nation even if Hitler and his allies dominate the continents of Europe,Africa and Asia—provided that we in turn dominate this hemisphere. Such people argue that a stalemate in the Battle of Great Britain with a compromise peace would be the best possible outcome of the present war. I wish I could agree. But those who hold such views, it seems to me, neglect entirely the time required for an effective rearmament of this country. More important still these same people, in my opinion, fail to understand the true nature of our peril. They fail to realize that we today are witnessing an event in human history analogous to the sweep of Mohammed and his followers thirteen centuries past. The inhabitants of Christian countries at that time, if they wished to preserve their own culture, their way of life, were forced to take up arms and be prepared to fight. In those
days many communities became alarmed too late. They did not understand the real menace of a fanatical and effective military power. Unprepared, they failed to withstand the onslaught. For the inhabitants of these conquered nations there were then three choices: death, or servitude, or conversion to the new religion. Is it different on the continent of Europe at this very moment?
I speak frankly. For at this time, we must all of us assess the future as best we can, and attempt neither to hide nor to exaggerate our fears. Many experienced observers of the recent European tragedy have sounded the alarm for the United States. Each one of us, all the citizens of the country, must decide to what extent we as a nation should heed the warnings. We must balance the probabilities. We must weigh the consequences of action or inaction. And though time is pressing, we must come to our decision by the process of free debate. For in a democracy no drastic step can be taken with hope of ultimate success unless public opinion registers strong approval.
It seems clear that a large majority of the country is determined to give material aid to Great Britain. But we must now answer a fundamental question which lies deeper. Do we as a free people agree that the Axis powers must be defeated? If we answer yes, then the words, "all possible aid to the Allies" mean exactly what they say. Then there are no reservations in our pledge. It then becomes a matter of strategy and strategy only when, if ever, material aid must be supplemented by direct naval and military assistance. It then becomes purely a matter of strategy whether at some later time active belligerency is required. Having settled the fundamental issue we must be ready to follow the advice of those military experts who have access to all relevant information. But until the fundamental question has been answered, military experts cannot settle those detailed problems which now disturb the country.
The citizens of 1940 are the trustees of the future of these United States. We shall be rightly condemned by posterity if we needlessly become involved in war and squander life and treasure. But we shall be yet more guilty in the eyes of our descendants if we fail to preserve our heritage of freedom—if we fail because of timidity or lack of far-sighted resolution. The decision is momentous. Those who feel as I do believe the future of human liberty is at stake.