America's Present Emergency


By BURTON S. WHEELER, U. S. Senator from Montana

Delivered over the radio, December 31, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 203-205.

THE views I express to you tonight are not the views of The Washington Evening Star, which has generously afforded me an opportunity to speak to you. They are not the views of any international banker, nor are they dictated by interventionists or war-mongers.

The thoughts I am about to express are not based upon any fear of wild boasts of American conquest by Stalin, Hitler or Mussolini. I know that neither they nor their ideologies will capture the people of the United States or our imagination to the point that we would adopt fascism, communism, or nazism as an American doctrine.

You and I are Americans—and as Americans, of course, we are interested in the well-being of the people of all the world. Coming, as we do, from the four corners of the earth, we know that our business, our race, and our religion, color our reaction to any European war. We know that today wars in Europe or Asia affect us economically, politically and emotionally.

We sympathize with the oppressed and persecuted everywhere.

Stresses Problems at Home

We also realize that we have great problems at home, that one-third of our population is ill-fed, ill-housed and ill-clad, and we have been told repeatedly, upon the highest authority, that unless and until this situation is corrected our democracy is in danger. I fully subscribe to this view.

Believing, as I do, in this thesis, I cannot help but feel that we should settle our own problems before we undertaketo settle the problems of Asia, Africa, Australasia, South America and Europe.

As Americans, interested first in America, what is our present stake? Our stakes are our independence, our democracy and our trade and commerce. Every red-blooded American would fight to preserve them.

What is the best way to preserve them? There are two schools of thought. One group feels, as they felt before the last World War, that England is our first line of defense, and that we must go to England's aid every time she declares war, and that some European dictator is after rich loot in the United States, perhaps our gold buried in the hills of Kentucky.

This group wants to repeal our Neutrality Act and the Johnson Act. They want to loan our ships, our guns and our planes, even though it may involve us in the European conflict. They profess to believe it is necessary for the preservation of our country, our religion and civilization.

We were told the same things in almost the same terms before the last war.

Defense Group Is Considered

The other group feels that we should build our defenses to meet any emergency that may arise. But we do not believe that the preservation of the American people or our democracy depends upon any foreign nation. It is hard for us to visualize a nation of 130,000,000 people so weak that we cannot defend ourselves when our forefathers in the

thirteen original colonies, poor, divided and weak, were not only able to conquer an army already in our midst but to build the greatest democracy the world has ever known.

Just as I love the United States so do I dislike Hitler and all that he symbolizes. My sympathy for the British is both deep and genuine and is exceeded only by the depth and sincerity of my Americanism. No anti-British feeling dictates my opposition to the evasion or repeal of the Johnson and Neutrality Acts.

I am opposed to American convoy of British ships. I oppose all these because they lead us down that road with only one ending, total, complete and futile war. And Mr. William Allen White, chairman of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, agrees that the convoying of British ships by American vessels and the repeal of the Neutrality and Johnson Acts would mean war for us.

Refers to President's Speech

Remember, if we lend or lease war materials today, we will lend or lease American boys tomorrow. Last night we heard the President promise that there would be no American expeditionary force, but we received no promises that our ships and sailors and our planes and pilots might not at some time within the near future be cast into the cauldron of blood and hate that is Europe today.

Our independence can only be lost or compromised if Germany invades the Western Hemisphere north of the equator. This would be fantastic, as it would require the transportation of at least 2,000,000 men, with planes, tanks and equipment, in one convoy across the Atlantic. This would require two or three thousand transports plus a fleet larger than our Navy, plus thousands of fighter-escorted bombers.

Such a fleet cannot possibly be available. Certainly it cannot be trained efficiently before our two-ocean Navy is ready. It is not possible for the German Navy to prepare an effective plan for such an invasion which our Navy and Army with our air force cannot defeat. Remember, Hitler has already been seven months in vainly trying to cross twenty miles. If Hitler's army can't cross the narrow English Channel in seven months his bombers won't fly across the Rockies to bomb Denver tomorrow.

A Union of Nations Denounced

The only threat to our independence would be to join in some "union of free nations," so-called, in which we would be but a unit and out-numbered and out-generaled by our good neighbors across the sea.

Democracy! We cannot hold our democracy except by prosperity and improvement in the mechanics of democracy. This will not be aided by joining the war.

The cost of this war will come out of the millions of poor people, the common folk of the world who will toil for generations to pay the cost of the destruction.

War inevitably means back-breaking debt, blighted lives, bedeviled futures. War means the end of civil liberties, the end of free speech, free press, free enterprise. It means dictatorship and slavery, and the things we abhor in nazism, communism and fascism. It means Stalin or Hitler will have achieved their boasts for a totalitarian world without conquering America.

The President, in his speech last night, ridiculed the idea of a peace in Europe. Conceding all that he so eloquently said about "outlaws," the "concentration camps" and the "servants of God in chains," what about Russia and Joseph Stalin's communism? And have we not recognized Hitler and Franco? Did we not at least acquiesce in Mussolini and all his works?

If we follow the logic of Mr. Roosevelt then we ought immediately to break off diplomatic relations with Russia, Italy, Germany, Japan and other nations whose domestic and foreign policies we abhor.

Eventual Peace Is Visualized

And where do we go from there?

Regardless of when or who is proclaimed victor in the present war, it cannot last forever. Peace, fleeting though it may be, will eventually come to Europe. At some time in the future representatives of England and Germany will sit around a table. Some time they will agree upon peace, and until that day the world suffers. Each of us, from the President of the United States to the most humble citizen, should exert his every effort for peace now.

Removal of Hitler, even the defeat of the German armies, will not destroy that which Hitler symbolizes. Hitlerism can be destroyed and banished from Europe only by destroying that which caused or maintains nazism.

Ask yourselves who and what were responsible for the real birth and growth of Hitlerism.

Lord Lothian, until his recent death, wartime Ambassador from Great Britain to the United States, said of nazism (I quote him):

"In great measure it was rebellion against the discriminations of the treaty of Versailles."

That wasn't some Nazi sympathizer, that was your friend, Lord Lothian, speaking.

I firmly believe the German people want peace just as any people prefer peace to war. And the offer of a just, reasonable and generous peace will more quickly and effectively crumble Hitlerism and break the morale of the German people than all the bombers that could be dispatched over Berlin.

Peace Linked to Belligerents

A just peace is difficult, if not impossible, to abstractly define while war rages. It is too completely dependent on the attitude of the belligerents.

A working basis for a just peace might involve among other factors the following::

Restoration of Germany's 1914 boundaries with an autonomous Poland and Czecho-Slovakia.

Restoration of independent France, Holland, Norway, Belgium and Denmark.

Restoration of Alsace-Lorraine to France.

Restoration of German colonies.

Protection of all racial and religious minorities in all countries.

Internationalization of the Suez Canal. No indemnities or reparations. Arms limitation.

The United States is no longer trudging along the road to war. We are running. Some feel that we have gone so fast and so far that there can be no stopping—no return to complete peace except via war. But we are at peace and we can remain at peace if either one of two lines of action is pursued. First, Americans in greater number must firmly resolve and express themselves that we will fight no offensive war. And, secondly, we can remain at peace if the horrible European debacle of death and destruction ends in the near future.

Though today we stand as close to the brink of war as we stood in January of 1917, some people still oppose a European peace. War-mongers, sordid romanticists, reckless adventurers and some whose sympathies and sentiments are stronger than their reasoning powers would plunge this nation into war. Plunge us into a war from which wecould gain nothing. Plunge us into a war that would destroy democracy, that would bring deep harrowing anguish to millions of hearts. And how would they bring this to pass? They would take us in today as they did in 1917.

The Right Hon. Sir Gilbert Parker, writing for Harpers Magazine of March, 1918, said of American entry into the last war, quote: "Practically since the day war broke out between England and the Central Powers I became responsible for American publicity. * * * We established connection with the man in the street through cinema pictures of the Army and Navy, as well as through interviews, articles, pamphlets, etc.

"We had reports from important Americans constantly, and established association, by personal correspondence, with influential and eminent people of every profession in the United States, beginning with university and college presidents, professors and scientific men, and running through all the ranges of the population.

"We had our documents and literature sent to great numbers of public libraries, Y. M. C. A. societies, universities, colleges, historical societies, clubs and newspapers. It is hardly necessary to say that the work was one of extreme difficulty and delicacy."

Attacks Educators' Action

Do Sir Gilbert's words in any way explain the war-mongering telegram to the President urging greater aid to Britain? Has British propaganda again reached the college and university professors? Twenty-nine educators signed the highly publicized wire that urged steps that would take the United States into war on the side of Britain.

And have you and I, "the man in the street," felt the insidious force of war propaganda through the movies?

Is there another Sir Gilbert Parker in the United States? Perhaps not, but there are a lot of foreign slackers, European royalty, princes and potentates, and their idolaters, who, instead of being wined and dined in high places in Washington and urging us to go to war, ought to be home fighting the battles for liberty and Christianity they so glibly tell us about. Poor things! As usual, they were forced to leave their country while their subjects had to remain to do the fighting.

My friends, it is this satanically clever propaganda that appeals to the Christianity, the idealism, the humanity and the loyalty of the American people that take us to war. It is this that we must resist. It is this that we must cast aside if we truly love our country and democracy. We must remain at peace and dedicate ourselves to effecting peace for a war-torn world.

Demands Free Speech Right

We have reached a strange situation in America when those who advocate peace, who do not follow the party line, are branded appeasers or unwitting tools of the dictators. This still is a democracy, and American citizens whose beliefs vary from those of the Government ought not to be howled down or intimidated by threats of the FBI. Free speech still belongs to all the people, not to just a few at the top.

I do not believe that the great majority of our people are eager to be embraced by war and I call upon them not to be afraid to say so. I, for one, believe the policy advocated by the interventionists is insane because it will lead to total war, and war is insanity.

I say so now and I intend to continue to say so, even if at the end I stand alone.

Americans! Do not let yourselves be swayed by mass hysteria. No not travel again the road that you took in 1917. You hanged Bob La Follette in effigy because he opposed war—and lived to repent your action and put him in the hall of fame. Fifteen years after the war, when the secret treaties were exposed, you realized that you had been duped. Has history suddenly changed?

Urges Appeal to Congress

Are the facts of yesterday no longer facts? Has this war a sweeter odor than the last? Don't let yourselves be misled by the so-called notables. Numerically they are few—a few hundred—even though they command the newspaper headlines. But they do not speak for the mass of Americans. They do not represent labor, the farmer, the youth, the mothers or the fathers of America. The great mass of our people are inarticulate, but it is time you were heard. You must not be driven like sheep to the slaughtering pens.

There is a war that I call upon you to enter—a noble war which the royalty of Europe and our Tory friends at home are unwilling to face—a war to end economic inequality and poverty and disease in this the richest land in the world,America's war ought to be a war against industrial unemployment and low farm prices.

Whether the stroke of twelve will usher in a really happy New Year tomorrow night depends upon you—and upon your sincere loyalty to Christian ideals. "Peace on earth to men of good-will" is a sacred cause for which we should pray and work. Let your representatives in Washington know that you have not surrendered the independence of America to war-mongers and interventionists, and God will bless America.