The Doctrine of Fear


By PHILIP M. LaFOLLETTE, former Governor of Wisconsin

Delivered over a nation-wide hookup of the National Broadcasting Company, January 6, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 263-264

SEVEN years ago tonight I was in London. In the lofty, ornate room just off the Horse Guards Parade—the same room from which Sir Edward Grey looked out that August evening in 1914 to watch "the lights go out all over the world!—in that same room I listened to one of the finest minds of Europe. He predicted with terrifying accuracy all that has since come to pass. Largely through his insight, when I arrived in Germany two weeks later, I was on the watch for coming revolution.

I was there when it came. I saw hundreds of fine people wringing their hands and wailing with anguish because they had done nothing to prevent it. I saw people everywhere—people just like you and me—shuddering under the first impact of the Hitler lash. I walked through blood-smeared streets to hear the last Chancellor of the German Republic explain what had produced this devastating upheaval, and to warn even then, of the dangers to Britain, France, and ourselves across the Atlantic.

There, in the Nazi-dirtied streets of Berlin, I formed a deep resolve that, however small my contribution might be, I would give all I had to help keep brutalitarianism out of the United States and the Western Hemisphere. When I returned to the United States in the Spring of 1933, I offered my judgment that the same hour of danger would come when Hitler protected his rear by allying with Russia, and with that protection, move against Western Europe.

I recall this not to convince you of my prophetic powers—for, after all, my judgment was based on what I had been told—but merely to remind you that as long ago as 1933 there were warnings of dire things to come—warnings which the ruling class of both Britain and France chose to ignore.

Out of that turbulent Germany that I saw in 1933 has come a new kind of human strength—distorted and evil—but tremendously effective strength, as we have seen in the last year. We may hate it and curse it and spit on it but wecan't talk it away. And the thing we have to remember most of all is that we can't lick it in the easy, inexpensive way. We can't buy our freedom with somebody else's blood. We can't hire Hessians to fight and die for us. The freedom of every inch of America was decided not by battles in Europe, but by the courageous pioneering of men and women who left Europe because they wanted no more of the endless bloodshed and interminable wars of the old world.

Seventy-five years ago Abraham Lincoln pointed out that unless freedom survived in the United States "government of the people, by the people and for the people" would perish from this earth. But freedom did not perish in America. It lived and flowered across three thousand miles of earth, because the people of America, and nobody else, willed it so.

And there we come to the great tragedy of the war party in America today. The war party, those who see our real defense against aggression in the Royal Air Force, the British Army, and the British Navy, have no faith in America. They whimper constantly that Hitler and his slave-ridden, hungry population can lick us whenever they get around to it—that America cannot stand on her own feet—that we must hide in the shadow of the "sun that never sets on the British Empire." If that be the future of America—if forever and a day we must thumb a ride on the British fleet—then it isn't the kind of America that men and women will give up their lives to defend.

I should like to speak a word to our President. What a grand job you did for us in 1933 in banishing that "fear of fear." We had gone through that last World War—that "war to end war"—and wound up with a depression which—shook this nation to its very foundation. And then you did something for us. It was no single law—no combination of laws that lifted us out of the depths. It was your sublime faith in America, in the capacity of the American people to work and sweat their way out of depression, that won you the everlasting gratitude of the plain people of this country.

But now, after eight years in office, you no longer talk of banishing the "fear of fear." Today, Mr. President, you did something no other President has ever done. You preached the doctrine of fear. Sentence after sentence, you battered at America's faith in herself. You told us that this great nation which won and kept her freedom by herself—that this nation is huddled behind the battered British fleet—that our fate is being decided in Europe. More, you told us eighty million Germans—because you certainly aren't afraid of Mussolini—that these eighty million people are going to conquer and hold in subjection the four hundred millions of Europe—then conquer Africa—dominate Asia—then cross thousands of miles of ocean and take on 140 million Americans—15 million Canadians—not to mention the millions to the south of us.

Do you of the War Party mean that our free American farmers—the best in the world—can't do a better job than Hitler's enslaved peasants in Europe? Do you mean that American workers in factories and offices—the most skilled in the world can't outdo the whip-lashed workers of the dictators? Do you mean that American businessmen—the most ingenious and adventurous anywhere in the world—can't compete with the bureaucracy-police-ridden manufacturers of totalitarianism? Do you mean that the youth of America, given a stake in the nation which proves it has a place for them, aren't as good as the goose-stepping youth of the dictators? Do you mean we have grown so weak and flabby that we must prop up and be propped up by the British Empire?

Is this what you of the War Party mean when you try to frighten us into a war four thousand miles away? Haveyou no faith in America—in our capacity to deal boldly and intelligently, with our good neighbors to the South, to the end that we may force a common defense for the safe-guarding of our mutual interests and the preservation of freedom here in the West?

I have nothing but admiration for the superb courage the British display as they pay this awful price for the blunders, stupidity, and the selfishness of their ruling class. Let us not make the same fatal mistake—the mistake of expecting other nations to fight our battles and protect our freedom. Nobody gave us our liberty. We fought and won it. Nobody guarded it for us this century and a half—we did it ourselves. Nobody is going to protect it for us in the years ahead. There will be a free America only so long as we, and we alone, have the stuff it takes to keep us free.

Mark this, if we go to war to save democracy in Europe, we shall wind up by losing democracy at home. Worse than financial bankruptcy, worse even than the loss of life, is the fact that such a war would be followed by the worst era of demogogues the world has known. Every scoundrel, sowing the seeds of racial, religious and class hatred, would find a thousand-fold increase, in the fields he can till, if we make hatred respectable, by joining in war.

The other day, when this session of Congress convened, the Speaker of the House, magnanimously observed that the aisle which traditionally divides Republicans and Democrats, meant no division for the 77th Congress of the United States. Instead, he indicated this new session of the Congress was to mark a unity of feeling between the two old parties, ostensibly because a national emergency demands it. And today I thought I caught almost a note of elation in the President's message over the fact that the American people had had no chance to voice their convictions on this vital issue in the last election. Yes, perhaps the old party division is gone or going. Perhaps that aisle no longer divides Republicans and Democrats. But today that aisle ought to divide those who are weak and those who are strong, and those who believe in America and those who believe in hiding behind the British Empire.

The day is coming, and faster than most of us suppose, when we shall have to stop sticking pins on the map of Europe, and buckle down to the problems at home here in America and the Western Hemisphere. If we accept the counsel of defeat and despair of the War Party, then there is no real defending of America. Such a course is only a pathetic hitch-hiking on a British man-o'war.

That isn't the American way. That wasn't the Roosevelt way in 1933.

Every American who feels deeply the need for action—every American who feels that, above all else, this last great citadel of democracy must not be involved in other people's wars, should enroll today in the crusade to keep America out of war.

Write, better still, wire the America First Committee right now—yes, right now—offering your help in this fight for peace and freedom. Send a wire to the America First Committee, Board of Trade Building, Chicago, Illinois. If you can't wire, write anyway.

And remember that no man of good will denies that it is good sense and real humanity to lend your hose to a neighbor when his house is burning. But remember, too, that no man of good sense would burn his own house to the ground because his neighbor's fire might spread to his house.

Americans: Don't follow these preachers of fear and doubt, who would take you down the disastrous road of France and Britain—Lift up your eyes—see America—as she can be—as she is—not the arsenal of a dying Europe, but the arsenal of a living fighting, free America.