The Gigantic Task America Faces


By OTTO D. TOLISCHUS, Former Berlin Correspondent of the N. Y. Times

Delivered before Detroit Automobile Manufacturers at the Recess Club, Detroit, December 12, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 233-235.

I AM particularly glad to speak in Detroit for this reason: The present war, whatever other kind of war it may be, is primarily a war of motors. Detroit is the cradle and the center of the world's greatest motor industry. Therefore, Detroit also holds the trump card that will probably decide this war.

It is, perhaps, one of the ironies of history that the modern motor, developed by free American and capitalistic enterprise, should be used today as the principal weapon to destroy the system which produced it.

For, fundamentally, that is what the present war is all about.

We have always had wars with us and will continue to have them until the end of time. The known history of man records 3,118 years of war, but only 290 years of peace, and the average age of some 8,000 supposedly "eternal" peace pacts has been computed at only two years before they were broken. Perhaps things will improve when all men become angels, but the poet's vision, based on the poet's deep insightinto the nature of all things, has seen war even among the angels, so I wouldn't be so sure about that.

However, there are wars and wars. Most wars have been for feeding grounds, or raw materials, or markets, or empire, and to a large extent that applies even to the last war. But at rare intervals, mankind faces wars far more fundamental, whose outcome determines the further course of civilization. Such was the war between the Greeks and the Persians decided at Marathon and Salamis, which made our civilization western instead of Oriental. Such was the war between Rome and the Germanic barbarians swooping down on it from the north, which destroyed the first attempt to unify the world in one empire. Such was the war between the Mohammedan Arabs and the Franks which saved western civilization. And such is the present war.

Hitler himself has just announced that this is a war between two worlds, between two philosophies of life, and that one of them will break asunder. And he expressed himself as quite confident that he can lick the world, militarilyor economically. Well, gentlemen, it is largely up to you to say whether our world or his will break asunder, whether his world or ours will prevail.

Now Hitler, as you know, has always complained that Germany has been cheated of her proper share of the world's riches and has been pushed among the have-nots. But you also know, that in contrast to this complaint, as so often proclaimed by other Nazi spokesmen, Germany is already one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world. She is the second biggest industrial and the third most important trading country in the world, has one of the finest merchant marines which, before the wars she started, sailed the seven seas unmolested, and her average standard of living is the highest on the European continent. Nobody has tried to keep her down. On the contrary, after the last war, the world, under the leadership of America, poured altogether 32,000,000,000 marks or $8,000,000,000 into Germany in loans and investment which permitted her to modernize her industrial plant until that was ready to give birth to the new German war machine, and you gentlemen of the motor industry in particular, in your German branch plants, taught the Germans American mass production methods and furnished them with the models for their army and airplane motors.

But all that was not enough. Germany has always played for the biggest stakes; it's been always all or nothing with her, world power or downfall. And so it is today. That is the meaning of the whole "world revolution" which Hitler has proclaimed and which is founded on the proposition that the Germans are the master race of this world, and that therefore they are entitled to the earth and all that's in it, and that all other nations are to be reduced to drawers of waters and hewers of wood for the German masters. That is the other side of the Nazi racial doctrine, which has been nurtured on the oppression of one people for the oppression of all people, and has been so indoctrinated into the German people that even anti-Nazi Germans, in their less lucid moments, have come to believe that there might be something in it, and will surely believe in it if Hitler succeeds.

Now, this dogma is no mere propaganda, but stark reality. In practice, it means, as Hitler himself declared, that the democracies, or as he calls them, the pluto-democracies, and the capitalistic system which is the economic foundation of democracy and without which democracy cannot survive, must be wiped from the face of the earth, and must be replaced by a totalitarian world order and a totalitarian economy because only such an economy can assure the Germans that economic domination of the world which will permit them to live in a style fit for a master race. In this economy, based on "blood, not gold," that is on military might, not money, which replaces the so-called "tyranny of gold" with the tyranny of the tyrant, Germany proposes to monopolize the world as her own exclusive Lebensraum in which she will become the new workshop of the world, selling her manufactured wares, paying the highest wages, at her own prices, to subject peoples who will provide her with food and raw materials, until the whole world is turned into a German colony.

Or, to put it in other words, Germany proposes to organize the world, or as much of it as she can conquer militarily or economically, into her own world-wide monopoly trust which does business on a subsidized barter basis, and for which trade is merely a weapon for further conquest or "peaceful penetration." And I submit, that against such a trust, even the biggest American corporations become rather small, and, doing business on a private profit basis, as they must, are unable to compete. And anybody who stillthinks of doing business with Hitler himself, is, I fear, doomed to disappointment, as has been everybody who made such attempts in the past. But that means that America looses all or most of its foreign trade and foreign investments, not to speak of its gold hoard, and I leave it to you to speculate on the political, social and economic consequences of such a development.

Peculiarly enough there are quite a lot of people in this country, who, often from completely opposite premises, have accepted Hitler's fundamental thesis that democracy and capitalism are doomed and must give way to some kind of "socialized" or "planned" economy. That is Hitler's first great success in this country, for once you accept that thesis, your determination to defend our world against Hitler's world is well nigh-broken. But I assure you, there is nothing in any totalitarian country comparable to the standard of living that capitalism has produced here, and that applies even to the poorest in our midst—even those on relief. Furthermore, the bright minds that foresee the doom of capitalism have overlooked one important fact, namely that the totalitarian system is not a product of the older capitalistic countries, where according to the theory of economic determination, capitalism should have first outlived its usefulness and give way to new forms, but has been deliberately created by the youngest capitalistic countries as a weapon of total war with which they propose to displace the older capitalistic countries—if these are really "soft" enough to let them do so. Nazi totalitarian economy has been fed on sky-rocketing governmental armament expenditures and must still prove its ability to survive the war. And as for Communism, even Stalin is accused of having "betrayed" it.

Now how does Hitler propose to smash our world and to enthrone his own. Why, by power. In one respect, Hitler, to my mind, is right. The world always has been and always will be ruled by power. Power is an essential element of social control, and where legitimate power breaks down, other power factors assert themselves. In international affairs as well as at home. And that is the point, where, to my mind, the democracies have misread the lessons of history. Nobody would dream of abolishing the police at home. But after the last war, the democracies came to depend almost exclusively on the power of the written word as embodied in contracts and treaties, and neglected to create power to put teeth in them. They embarked on a disarmament race which broke their military power, and almost their military spirit. And they continued on that course even after it became evident that Hitler was rearming Germany—even after the war broke out. Not only that; as I pointed out before, they helped Germany to rearm with financial and technical aid. And while Hitler was teaching his youth to sing: "Today we own Germany, tomorrow the whole world," we appointed Senate committees which proclaimed to the world that we entered the last war only because of the machinations of munition makers and international financiers and would never, never do so again. And lest we be tempted, we tied our own hands by neutrality laws which I surrendered the freedom of the seas and immobilized even our financial power.

But Hitler knew the role of power in world affairs and acted accordingly. From the very moment he came to power he embarked on the greatest rearmament program known to history so far. While the democracies were creating power vacuums, Hitler was creating the greatest power center in the world, and abhorring the vacuums, he entered them.

America has now also embarked on a powerful armament program, and yet I wonder whether we quite realize just what that means. We try to continue our normal peace-time ways, and merely superimpose our armament program onour peace-time production. Considering our vast industrial resources, we can, perhaps, accomplish everything we want in time. But I'm afraid that the next weeks and months are the critical weeks and months of this war, and that unless we can speed up production and supply Britain with what she needs to hold off Hitler's might, we might suddenly find ourselves facing Hitler alone, and unprepared.

I need not tell an audience such as this that armament is primarily a matter of industrial production. So much so, in fact, that henceforth only industrial nations can be military powers, for the agricultural countries have no longer any chance.

Much has been said and written about the causes of the French collapse. But to my mind, one of the primary causes is this: between 1932 and 1938, Germany raised her industrial production from an index figure of 54 to 130.5, at which peak it remained. But France's index of industrial production dropped from 75.6 in 1932 to 67 in 1938. And much of that still went into normal, peace-time production.

In Germany, on the other hand, everything was completely subordinated to the one task of arming the Reich. The Nazi regime decreed an all-out total mobilization of the entire nation—military, economic, moral. The moral mobilization was carried out by complete regimentation of all instruments shaping public opinion—the press, the radio, the school, art, literature, the theater, and even the church, all of which were enlisted in Nazi propaganda. The economic mobilization was carried out by a total conscription of capital and labor, the farmer, and the consumer, in the name of a military economy which could be converted intowar economy by simply pressing a button. And this economy was put under complete government control. The government fixed wages and prices, limited profits and directed capital investments in more armament plants. It tied workers to their jobs and outlawed strikes, but it also tied the industrialists to their jobs, told them what to produce, at what prices, and fixed their allotment of raw materials accordingly. And though it left a margin for private initiative, it did not hesitate to step in if private initiative fell short of requirement, as in the case of the Hermann Goering Iron Works, which took over all the profitable iron mines of private industry. Finally it compelled industry to invest heavily in huge plants for Ersatz products, and to revolutionize industrial processes to utilize these Ersatz products in conformity with the Four Year Plans, designed to bring about the greatest possible self-sufficiency in order to make Germany blockade-proof.

With that as a basis, Hitler began to create the German war machine. And the size of that machine is evident from the fact that, according to Hitler's own figures, he spent 90,000,000,000 marks on it before the war broke out. That is, at nominal exchange rates, approximately $40,000,000,000 and according to American experts it would take at least $100,000,000,000 to duplicate that machine in the United States.

Now this machine was built on the following principles:

1. Total conscription of man power, either for military service, or for labor service in the factories.

2. Mass production of arms, even at the sacrifice of the

last technical perfections, because the Germans held that mass counts more than the largest gadgets which may be too complicated to be fully utilized under the stress of battle anyhow.

3. Specialization of both arms and men. In respect to men, for instance, the young men were put in the storm battalions for actual battle, the older men, especially veterans from the last war, who knew how to dig in, were utilized for defense positions, and—the tanks were manned mainly by short but stocky men who wouldn't be too cramped within them. Moreover, the army was exclusively a combat army which did the fighting and nothing else. All the special duties that often sap the strength of an advancing army, like police duty, transport, road and bridge construction, were delegated to special police, labor and transport units created for their specific tasks. And that is one secret of the high morale and efficiency of the German army.

4. Complete co-ordination of production under an economic general staff, and of the specialized units under a military general staff, both of which, under Hitler's own supreme command, mobilized all energies of the nation and worked out new and daring tactics that took the enemy completely by surprise.

Now we have heard much about the mechanization of the German army until the impression has been created that the entire German army is just one mechanical monster. That is far from the truth. As a matter of fact, the German army never had more than 20 mechanized divisions, or 10 per cent of its total fighting strength. But these included some 12 tank divisions, each equipped with about 500 tanks ranging from 7 to 40 tons, which means that Germany went into the war with some 6,000 tanks, to which must be reckoned perhaps another 3,000 tanks in reserve. The rest were so-called mechanized "fast divisions" consisting of specially trained and equipped rifle men. But these 20 divisions, operating in perfect coordination with the artillery and the airfleet, and hurled in mass against one point, were able to achieve the spectacular initial victories that we saw in Poland and France, and to hold their initial gains until the regular troops could be brought up.

Nevertheless, the bulk of the German army still marched on foot. Even the artillery and the transports were 50 per cent horse-drawn. But the infantry was almost a self-sufficient army in itself. It carried along no less than 12 separate weapons instead of the two or three with which it went into the last world war, and, having been trained from early youth to cover long distances, it marched, amid constant righting, between 25 and 40 miles a day, keeping well up with the mechanized units themselves. However, in the view of the outcry here that so many of our drafted young men are unfit for military service, I might mention here that the German army also rejected about 25 per cent of its conscripts.

This summary must necessarily be brief and incomplete, but I hope it gives some idea of the gigantic and complicated task America faces in its armament program. And I am certain that once we realize what we are up against we shall know how to handle the situation—as we always have in the past.