The Defense of the Republic
WE CANNOT FOREVER BE THE DARLING OF THE GODS
By THOMAS W. LAMONT, Banker
Delivered at the Luncheon Meeting before the Merchants' Association of New York Hotel Astor—New York, January 28, 1941
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 261-264
THE Merchants' Association of New York has for almost half a century been an important factor in the commercial and industrial life of this city. It has been a pioneer in worthy causes without number. Only last July you formed under strong leadership your committee on national preparedness. So perhaps it is especially appropriate that I say something to you today on the subject of the defense of the Republic.
In this country public opinion as to the war has undergone a vast change in the last year. That change has been due primarily to the tragic march of events in Europe and to the new threat from Japan. It has been immensely sharpened by the President's two appeals of December 29 and January 6. Those were a rallying cry to America to wake up. Now we have before us the Lease-Lend Bill to implement full material aid to Britain. Whatever amendments may be essential Congress should formulate speedily and then pass the bill. In this world crisis it would be a misfortune for us to give the appearance of a country divided against itself.
I do not believe we are so divided. All Americans loathewar and a vast majority of us hope to avoid it. At the same time there is overwhelming sentiment for all material aid to England and her allies. For most people these sentiments in no way clash because they realize that the one possible way for us to keep out of conflict is to give full aid to Britain and so help her win the war.
Hitler Will Decide
To my mind there is not much use in arguing whether this or that step will lead us into war. We Americans love peace. But we are not going to keep out of war just because we say we are going to keep out. The issue rests, not with us, but with Hitler. He makes war when he pleases, how he pleases, and against whom he pleases. Czecho-Slovakia, Poland, Norway, Denmark, the Low Countries, and in truth, England and France—they all longed for peace and believed in it, and where are they now? The lesser countries overrun, France crushed, and England fighting for her life. We cannot know just what we shall do, nor what will be done to us. But we must be ready for anything—peace, we ardently hope, but also withan impregnable defense against the enemy, if war be made upon us. If we are forced into it—which God forbid—it will be because free America cannot remain free in a world dominated by Germany.
Business and Appeasement
At the outset today let me say I am bothered by some of the current talk to the effect that business favors "appeasement". As a business man I believe I represent the great consensus of our community when I say: Businessmen are dead set against any efforts towards appeasement. Appeasement today means surrender. Appeasement would mean a prostrate England, a new lease on life for Hitler; an America unprepared and threatened with war on two oceans; burdened by prodigious armaments, our national economy completely regimented.
Though opposed to "appeasement", business as always fears and detests war. If business is to live it must have a reign of law. A world in which engagements are kept, promises fulfilled, and pledges redeemed—where plans can be made based upon good faith of men and nations. That is why we businessmen and bankers are so strongly against the dictator policies. We want a free world, free enterprise, free speech, free religion—everything that America and England stand for, everything that Hitler is fighting against. We can look for no working basis with a government whose word is worthless, its promises empty air, its pledges broken as soon as made. In such a world business and labor together perish.
The Problem of Our Defense
Now what about this matter of our Defense? Our effort must be immense and immediate. Production must be stepped up on a huge scale. Our contribution will mean long hours for everyone, heavier taxes for all who can pay them, and sacrifice for all in a thousand ways. Our task bristles with problems so complex that many patriotic people declare that we shall be unable to solve them unless we become combatants; that our people will never be willing to forgo the luxuries, to accept the sacrifices which efficiency requires. I entirely disagree. For us deliberately to enter the war now is neither necessary nor desirable. Industry knows what war is, and will work better without the confusion of a country at war. I see no slackers in industry. Everybody is eager to render 100 per cent service. But certainly our great manufacturers should have close and constant contact with the Defense Commission in its plans for the production of essentials and on any such vital questions as plant expansion.
Attitude of Labor
The same remarks apply to labor. Its constant counsel and cooperation are vital. From the acquaintance that I have with several of the labor leaders, I shall be surprised if they show any lack of broad-minded cooperation. I hope and believe they will refuse to remain engrossed in personal or organizational rivalries. They are men big enough to look far beyond tomorrow's petty triumphs in labor politics, to the lasting welfare of their great constituency. Employees and employers—all are patriotic Americans together, all alike ready to undertake their share.
The Lag in Production
As to progress in the defense plan, perhaps we have to recognize that democratic governments are never thoroughly efficient. We Americans like democratic rule because itlacks the ruthless qualities of totalitarian efficiency. It still leaves us our intellectual freedom, our right to live our own lives. But any serious "lag" in production at this stage may be disastrous and even fatal. I have no personal knowledge of the facts, but some of those immediately concerned, like Mr. Knudsen of the Office of Production Management, have declared that in various vital directions plans have been slow in development. The President in his January 6th message made similar allusion. You and I know that in the crisis confronting us today the country is not in a mood to brook undue delays. The urgent need is to speed up. Hitler seems surely preparing to try for a knock-out blow at England before we can render her vital aid.
An Example from the World War
As to the organization for defense, it is clear that the Administration's every move to integrate the personnel for production and to give it more authority meets the country's warm approval. Certainly there has never been anything but commendation for President Wilson's action, even though belated, in February 1918, in appointing as head of the Council on National Defense Mr. Baruch who took hold with such ability and vigor. Let me recall also Britain's striking experience in the World War because in it there may be a useful lesson for us. Up to the middle of 1915, production of munitions over there was at sixes and sevens. There was complete lack of co-ordination. It was a critical juncture for Britain. At that moment David Lloyd George was drafted from Chancellor of the Exchequer to become Minister of Munitions. He changed the picture completely overnight. Technically he knew nothing about munitions. But he had great drive and sound, shrewd common sense. He sought the best advice. Then he made prompt decision as among the various claims of the army, navy, air, Allies, etc. It is not too much to say that it was that new Lloyd George set-up that then saved the war.
Co-ordinating Authority Essential
Certainly any move by the President towards further co-ordination will be hailed by the country with great satisfaction. And to attain the results in an immense work like this, is it not true that a job of super-planning is necessary, quite beyond the limits of the tasks already wisely entrusted to perhaps the best production specialist in the country, acting in harmony with a labor leader of statesmanlike quality?
This is not merely a matter of priorities. Our own history and England's in the World War show that this emergency again calls for a civilian co-ordinator, experienced, competent, prompt in decision, able in this case to study the needs of both Britain and our own country and to determine finally what shall be done, able to short-circuit all political pleas, and then to demand results from the most available sources. Such a co-ordinator, no matter what title he had, would be able to survey the entire field and avoid a vast amount of confusion and delay.
The President has called for ships, ships, and more ships. That means the construction of new shipyards on a vast scale on various seaboards. Naval vessels of all types and cargo ships on a great scale are wanted. How can the greatest amount of useful tonnage be built in the shortest time? Again the idea of a national co-ordinator of shipbuilding, just as I understand we have one in national housing, might well commend itself to the powers that be.
Substance, Not Form, Important
As to the Lease-Lend Bill now before Congress I do not regard as of prime importance the form of bookkeeping tobe adopted, be it lend, lease, or gift, or all three. Nor do I share the fear expressed by some that Washington will fail to utilize all British resources that can wisely be availed of. I am certain this country is against stripping England of her liquid assets. You and I know as businessmen that the last thing we want to do is to cripple our best friends and customers. We all look forward to a post-war world in which Great Britain will be our prosperous friend, not another depressed area. She must be kept a going concern. The only hope of a final, enduring peace is the restoration of world prosperity. In that great post-war work of reconstruction America—whether we like it or not—may have to take the lead. With any realization of her responsibilities as a world power, she will want to take the lead. In the economics of such a mighty effort America must have a partner. Thus Britain's continued economic stability and co-operation are essential to us and to the world.
Socialism Is Not Coming
And now a word about all this talk that England after the war will become completely Socialistic. People were saying the same thing in England when I was there in 1917. Of course the changes in the social structure following such a crisis as England is going through may well be of substantial and even sweeping nature. Every day, and in every progressive nation, our social values are being altered. But the British people have the great knack of keeping abreast of the tide. They change the substance here and there but not the form. Or again it may be the form but not the substance. But always, even after a necessary period of strict governmental regulation, the English take back their liberties. They always preserve the virtues of private enterprise.
And in this connection suppose we ask ourselves these questions: What are the British people fighting for? What is behind the extraordinary heroism that they are showing? Why, of course it is the determination to preserve their individual liberty that has been the watchword of the nation for a thousand years since Runnymede. Can it be anything else? Can we for a moment imagine that they mean to gain that freedom and then destroy it by clamping down on it a rigid state system such as Germany is attempting to force upon the world? Their very unity and determination, their effective public opinion expressed every day and every hour of the day show the British spirit of democracy.
No, we need have no fear that England will infect us with totalitarianism in any form. When British Labor leaders take charge and have the responsibility of government they become the most real of the realists. This they have already proved. Philip Snowden, that great and trusted leader of the Labor Party, was for example the most individual and conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer that I have known.
Britain's War Aims
I note that many thoughtful people are demanding that Britain immediately set forth her war aims. When somebody has you against the wall with a dagger at your throat, it is not so easy to be contemplative and philosophic. Your first war aim is to beat off your assailant. If and after you have overcome him then will come the time for future plans. I do not see that we could ask for anything better in general terms than what Lord Halifax, Britain's new Ambassador at Washington, said yesterday. Primarily, he said, Britain's peace aim contemplates reconstruction on political, social and economic lines, in such a way that there will not be another war. That would be the only way back to worldhealth. In that work obviously every civilized country must take a share.
Who Will Win the War?
Who is going to win the war? My answer is this: Even though Britain is in dire peril, provided we furnish her full and speedy aid, she will certainly win. I am impatient with all this talk that Britain at best can never defeat Germany. I say that Germany can be beaten, she is being beaten, and she will be beaten. What has happened to Hitler of late? Why has he deserted Italy and left her soldiers fugitive and desolate on the thirsty Libyan sands? And harried and broken on the highlands of Albania? Why no help to Japan pursuing her solitary and inglorious course of non-conquest in China? What is Hitler doing with those 20,000 airplanes that Colonel Lindbergh said Germany could produce in 1938? Why should any of us cling to that blind worship of German mechanical efficiency and believe it to be invincible? Why ignore entirely the weighty economic factors? Even more important are the moral and spiritual forces that move the universe. Those latter, I tell you, have wings of hope and strength and courage that carry them far beyond the outermost flight of 10,000 airplanes.
There are many people in our country today who say they are eager for aid to England, but keep repeating that "of course she cannot beat Germany." They are the unconscious defeatists. They are, without intent, putting a brake on our country's supreme effort. There is no sound reason for their gloom.
Germany's Failure Up to Now
For seven years Germany had been preparing for this struggle, turning out on a gigantic scale planes, tanks, and every conceivable device for war. Yet with thousands of planes at her command, Germany has got nowhere in her assault against an England that had hardly started to prepare until after the tragic fall of France. Plane for plane and man for man Britain has shown herself superior. Hitler—like Napoleon—may have gazed across at the white cliffs of Dover, at that "precious stone set in the silver sea". Yet to date for him, it has been thus far and no further. Has not that magic wand of his begun to waver and to cease weaving spells?
England's Chance for Victory
Even so, doubters interrupt to say: "What of it? Even suppose England repels Germany. She can never defeat her." That is where they are wrong. Mr. Winston Churchill and the British military staffs have the answer. What is it? It is this: Once let England, already master of the sea, gain, with thousands of American planes, mastery of the air, and she will drive Germany from the Channel ports. That will be the beginning of the end. With the Channel ports gone, the bases of her air and submarine operations, Germany's hold on France vanishes overnight. Then and at that moment spring into life all the latent forces of France, that country bound to us for generations by such ties of affection, and of the Low Countries,—millions of brave, freedom-loving men on the Continent who were overwhelmed by sudden disaster and who, seething and unreconciled, have been held down with an iron hand. Those are the men whom, with our material aid, England will inspire to overturn the despots. What they look to us for is to speed into action for Britain all the pent-up and willing energies of our people, and the immense economic resources of our own country.
The After Effects of Victory
My good friend, Colonel Lindbergh, remarks that neither side ought to have victory because of the ensuing devastation that would result on the Continent of Europe. Certainly the people there face an appalling period in any event. But under English victory restoration will, with America's cooperation, come quickly. Under a German victory not only will the Continent of Europe remain an area of semi-slavery, but the whole world economically will be set back for generations. The hand of progress will be stayed, the standard of living will drop. And as for America, under a Hitler victory, we should find ourselves in the midst of a country-wide depression so deep and so prolonged as to make the worst of the last ten years here look like a happy and bountiful time.
Despite British Blunders
All this that I have been saying about the changes of British victory, made possible by means of America's great material help, is wishful thinking, you may say. It is more than that. Certainly the foregoing analysis reflects the fixed purpose and confident belief of the British people today. And I want to have you understand that, although England is still in deadly peril, we are not backing up a lost cause, but rather an exceedingly competent outfit, now that they have once got going. And what a people they are! They have, as Hitler admitted, that sublime quality of not knowing when they are licked. I can grouse with any one about the faults of the British, about the blunders that they have made, hideous mistakes in statecraft if you please, inexcusable lack of preparation for war. But are not we all just alike? Do not we wake up just before it is too late? Do not we Americans, warm hearted, human beings that we are, ever make mistakes?
Some Responsibility for America
Despite the business depression and the hardships of millions of our people in the last ten years, we are nonetheless still almost untouched by this world cataclysm. In such aworld as this we cannot forever be the darling of the gods. Is it not high time we shoulder our share of the burden of defeating the despots who threaten our way of life? Be as tough and as self-centered as you like about it, still you come to the same end. The salvation of England is for us a matter of self-preservation. Where should we be, what would the world be like with an England gone? What would America face with England dead? Can anything, too, that we may be called upon to do compare with the heroic sacrifice that is ennobling the common man in the torn and tortured streets of London and of those other ancient British cities? And if that life-giving power of freedom affects us with anything like the courage and confidence that it does the British, we shall know that, sustained by our adequate and speedy help, a British victory may come sooner than we now even dare to hope.
America Must Give the Answer
So again—and I cannot say it too often—in all this effort for final victory, America, with our economic energies unloosed, with our people awake and eager to help save our world, with all our boundless energy and ingenuity given free play,—America's contribution is going to be the final answer. To order then these mighty tasks that lie ahead of us we must take ourselves in hand as never before. In this way, and in this way only shall we, at the end of our toil and sacrifice, find America a great fortress of freedom, a great leader in her own might and in the strength that she has been able to bring to a tottering world.
I have been a life-long Republican, and in the late campaign I was strongly against the third term. But the campaign is over. We are in the midst of a world crisis. As a nation we cannot and must not be divided. I am doing everything in my power to help the present Administration, and I will continue to do so. And so again, I urge national unity in support of the President and of the plans for material aid to England and for our defense. And in all that effort I urge an awakened and watchful public opinion that will not tolerate confusion, delay, or politics.