Let Us Keep Out of Foreign Wars


By ARTHUR CAPPER, U. S. Senator from Kansas

Delivered over the Radio, February 7, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 293-296

IN the early days of this Republic we had a definite foreign policy. It was based upon the principle that America's interests could best be served by a policy of strict neutrality; by maintaining peaceful relations with all countries, but having political or military alliances with none of them. That was our rule of conduct in dealing with foreign governments and was adhered to regardless of our sympathies.

Today our foreign policy is based upon the shifting sands of sentiment, of liking for one country, of dislike for another. Our decisions are determined too much from the standpoint of their effect upon other countries rather than their effect upon our own. This philosophy has permeated unofficial life as well, and there are various organizations for the purpose of aiding other countries.

But in all of these things no voice is raised for America. Where do her interests lie? What effect will these actions have upon her? We are somewhat like the well-meaning mother who spends her time at missionary meetings sewing for the heathen while her own children are neglected and go ragged.

Millions upon millions of dollars have been raised by private subscription to send overseas for relief, while hundreds of homes have opened their doors to war refugees—and this does credit to the generous heart of America. But what of our own refugees, those from the great Dust Bowl of the Middle West? They may be seen by anyone traveling through the far West, camped along a stream or the suburbs of some small town, in tents and covered wagons, eagerly hunting for such temporary work as may be had, anxious to find an opportunity to get a start again on the land.

Haven't we plenty of trouble right here at home?

What of our sharecroppers, starved, and hopeless, their children afflicted with the diseases that go with malnutrition? What about the children of the slums who play about in the hot filthy alleys of the great cities? And what aboutthe great army of the unemployed, millions strong, tramping endlessly, hopelessly, in search of the work that is not to be found? Are not all of these people worthy of our attention, our sympathy? These things challenge our civilization and our way of life more than do the ideologies of foreign governments.

Yet money has been poured out like water to arouse public sentiment for American intervention in favor of one foreign nation which is at war with another foreign nation.

Those of us who object to being drawn into European quarrels have watched with growing apprehension the parallel between the march of events now and those which preceded our involvement in 1917—the same sophistry, the same propaganda about our duty to civilization, the same intolerance and unneutral attitude that leads toward involvement.

After the last war, weary and disillusioned, we wrote the Johnson law forbidding loans to governments in default of their payments. We supplemented that by the Neutrality Act, saying we would not even sell ammunition to warring nations. These were to be our safeguards of peace, our pledge to the children of the future that we would not hand down to them a heritage of war; that they would not be called upon to bear the burden of uncounted millions of debts, nor suffer the curses that follow in the train of war for generations.

Where are those safeguards today? The Neutrality Act lasted only until the conflict started in Europe. It was repealed by a special session of Congress, called for the express purpose of making our laws fit the needs of one of the belligerents. It was not claimed that this law was working an injury to our people, but that it did not operate to the benefit of those nations with which we were in sympathy, and therefore it must be repealed. It is not, of course, our duty to equalize among other nations the effect of a law which has been passed for the guidance of our conduct in safe-guarding our interests. Nevertheless we hastened to repeal it, and since that time have turned this country into an arsenal for the benefit of the Allies. So great has been the flight of munitions from this country that we are practically carrying out a disarmament program for ourselves. Today we are feverishly adding further billions to our national debt to buy armaments, partly for our own use but mostly to arm England.

Now we are beginning to hear agitation for the repeal of the Johnson law in order that England may be further assisted. This in the face of the fact that England still has some $2,000,000,000 of credits in this country, and far-flung colonies from which to draw resources. But English spokesmen, with persistent assurance, have notified us that we must be prepared to assist them financially within a short time, and this, of course, means the repeal of the Johnson Act. When that is done, almost the last step has been taken toward full participation in the conflict. For once having entered the war to the extent of financing it we shall not be able to withdraw when men are demanded.

For over a hundred years we were content to work out our destiny on this continent in the way laid down by our forefathers. Under this policy we became the greatest democracy, the most powerful and the most prosperous in the world. We were at peace with the world and we had the friendship of all nations.

It was not until 1917 that we deviated from that doctrine. Then we were told, by those who had their own ends to serve, that America had a high mission, a rendezvous with destiny, and that she should forsake her splendid isolation and do her duty toward humanity. We won the war but lost the fight for democracy. After we had thrown our boys into the battlefields of Europe, after we had sacrificed our blood and treasure for high ideals, we discovered that our Allies, for whose interests primarily we had essayed this strange adventure, were dishearteningly indifferent to lofty idealism. They were more interested in colonies, reparations, boundary lines, and balance of power. Our then President spoke feelingly of the rights of small nations, of the protection of minorities, and urged a peace based on justice. All to no avail. The war had been won. And that winning, which to us had meant a victory for democracy, to them meant only an opportunity for more power, for more gain. So the victorious nations sat around the peace table and divided up the spoils. They shifted colonies here and there and redrew the boundary lines of Europe. And when they finished they had enriched themselves to the extent of more than a million square miles of territory and had fastened upon the vanquished nations a crushing treaty, which ex-President Hoover pointed out contained the dragon's teeth of another war. Now, that war is upon Europe in all its devastating fury, and we are again told that it is our duty to come in.

But if the last war taught us anything, it should have taught us the truth and wisdom of the old policies under which we came to greatness. We do not speak the language, in word or deed, of the Old World politicians. Our ideals are not the same. We do not seek world power, colonies, or subject peoples. We have nothing in common with the so-called democracies of Europe, which are really empires bent on more conquest. England controls nearly a quarter of the globe. France, until her recent collapse, had colonial possessions equalizing in size a territory one and one-third times the size of the United States.

It seems to me if we are ever to place ourselves in a position where we will be free to work out our domestic problems, we shall have to rededicate ourselves to the MonroeDoctrine. It is sometimes overlooked that this doctrine, besides specifying that Europe shall not meddle in our affairs, also provides that we shall not meddle in Europe. This latter provision is as important as the other. One part cannot be defended without the other. Indeed, Jefferson placed that requirement first when he said, "Our first and fundamental maxim should be never to entangle ourselves in the broils of Europe; our second, never to suffer Europe to intermeddle with affairs of this continent."

President Monroe very wisely and clearly foresaw that we could not interfere in Europe and at the same time keep Europe out of America, so he did not concern himself with the internal questions of other countries.

Washington boldly announced that we would stand alone, and succeeding Presidents continued and have successfully carried out that policy.

We are in a more advantageous position now than we were then. Our great Republic extends from ocean to ocean. The European countries have been practically driven out of the Western Hemisphere. And, despite modern methods of warfare, all military and naval authorities are agreed that a vast stretch of salt water is still a most formidable defense. In fact, experience has shown that under modern conditions it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to land an enemy from water on to a hostile shore. Hitler, with the greatest military machine in history, within easy bombing range of London, with his bases of supplies close at hand, has so far been unable after months and months of struggle to cross 22 miles of water and land his forces in England. So we may list as extremely important assets in our national defense the 3,000 miles of salt water that lie between us and Europe, and the 5,000 miles between us and the Orient.

The Senate Committee on Naval Affairs investigated the whole matter of defense recently. And it came to this conclusion: That while we haven't the means nor the power to police Europe and prevent wars there, we do have the means and power to prevent Europe from bringing her wars here, for this country can be made impregnable with proper defense. We must prepare and maintain that adequate defense. Europe must not be permitted to return to the Western Hemisphere, nor must we allow unwise leaders to take us into the Eastern Hemisphere. And we must not be lured from our position of safety by indulging in love for one country or hate for another, nor by any fatuous idea of making the world safe for democracy.

Whether we like it or not we should make up our minds that we probably have to live in the same world with Stalin, Mussolini, and Hitler or their successors. Twenty years ago we chased the kaiser out of Germany in the sublime belief that if we got rid of him all would be well with the world. But another kaiser has arisen, only we call him Hitler. And if we succeeded in liquidating him there would be his successor. So it would seem the part of wisdom to get along with these nations as peaceably as we can, though we may disapprove of their form of government. There is no reason why we should not have peaceful relations with the world, if we cease playing the role of international meddlesome Mattie and confine our activities to our own proper sphere. Furthermore, we have urgent domestic problems to be solved and we cannot solve them if we devote our energies and our resources to the problems of foreign governments. So I say, let us not undertake to police the world.

Let us come home and stay home. Let us work out a domestic problem to rehabilitate America and establish and maintain by whatever force is necessary a foreign policy that is an American foreign policy, made in America, not aBritish, a German, a Russian, nor an Oriental foreign policy.

I tell you this lease-loan bill is not a bill to keep the United States out of war. It is a war bill. It is a bill which will take the United States into the European war, in spite of everything we can do.

Frankly, in my 22 years in the Senate I never have been so concerned about the future of my country, never so deeply interested in any legislative proposal before Congress, and never have I been more deeply convinced that I am right than today when I oppose participation by the United States in the war, the latest of 20 centuries of wars, now raging in Europe.

I hate war. And when I say I hate war, I mean that I hate war. I always have hated war, and as long as I live I shall do everything in my power to keep the United States out of war, and especially out of wars that are not our wars.

That does not mean I would not fight if necessary. If any foreign nation attempts to attack or invade the United States, I say the United States should go to war to drive that foreign nation back where it belongs.

We should protect this country against all possible invasion, but if we go to Europe and undertake to settle their difficulties nobody can tell where we will end.

I want to help England, but I am not in favor of an aggressive foreign policy that will take the United States into actual war. The bill as we now have it before the Foreign Relations Committee, of which I have been a member 18 years, it seems to me is a complete surrender of the responsibilities given the Congress by the Constitution and sets up a dictatorship for the President. The only branch of the Government that can legally declare war is Congress. I am opposed to taking that power away from Congress as the lend-lease bill attempts to do. If we pass the lend-lease bill there is little need of the Congress staying in session. The President will be able to do about as he pleases.

The bill gives the President a blank check on the American taxpayers' money to be used for the defense of Britain or any other country, with no safeguards or checks. Let me say, incidentally, if we are to throw open the doors of our Treasury to Britain, we ought to know more about the extent of British resources in this country.

Under this lease-loan bill as now being considered by the committee, the President can sell, lend, lease, or give away our entire Army and Navy, except the men. If the President would not use such power why give it to him.

So I say I am against any measure which gives away any part of the United States Navy or the United States air forces without congressional consent.

I am for helping Britain in any reasonable way, but firmly believe in protecting America first. I think our foreign policies should be set up in America, not in Britain or any other country.

I am in favor of giving England all the aid we can spare, but we must keep our American boys out of the firing line. We must also keep our naval forces out of foreign waters.

I am in favor of giving aid to England without crippling our own defense, in other words, I favor sending supplies and armaments to Britain only in quantities that will not jeopardize the defense of our own Nation.

As I see it there never was a time when it was so necessary we should think straight, keep our feet on the ground. Let's not be carried away by the propaganda circulating everywhere.

As I have said in the Senate many times, my interest, first, last, and always, is in the United States of America. This

Nation has adopted the policy of aiding England, short or war. I believe we should continue that policy. Give Britain dollar exchange, if and when that becomes necessary, but to do that I say it is not necessary to grant all these dictatorial powers to the President as carried by the lend-lease bill.

Now this is not a matter of partisanship with me. It is a matter of patriotism. Mr. Roosevelt is President of all the people. He is my President. I am glad to go along with him when I believe he is right. I have supported him when he is standing for things which are in the people's interest. But when he leads us toward war my best judgment tells me I should oppose him. I certainly will not support him when every instinct in me, every reasoning faculty I possess, every sense I have of right and wrong tells me that the course he is asking Congress to pursue will lead to disaster.

Another thing, I say it is just as foolishly wrong to kill democracy in the United States in the vain hope of establishing it "everywhere in the world," to use the President's language, as it was in 1917 to tell our boys en route to Europe that they were to go to war to end wars.

I am for helping Britain in a reasonable way, even at heavy cost, but once more I must insist that we protect America first, and protect America effectively.

In conclusion let me say, there never was a time when it was so necessary we should think straight, keep our feet on the ground. Let's not be carried away by war hysteria, now so much in evidence everywhere.

They have been fighting in Europe for 2,000 years or more, and probably they will fight for the next 10,000 years, for that is their philosophy—fighting is their philosophy.

This measure is a complete surrender of the responsibilities given the Congress by the Constitution and sets up a dictatorship for the President. It is in fact a war bill, transferring to the President war-making powers which undoubtedly belong to Congress.

Right now the next greatest step in protecting America first is to kill this so-called lend-lease, this lend-lose bill, that really is a war-dictatorship bill.

I say keep out of Europe's wars that are not our wars and make America strong enough that it can and will defend itself at any time, now or in the future.