What Are We Up Against?


By COLONEL WILLIAM J. DONOVAN, Attorney, Former Commander of the 165th Infantry, (the Old 69th N. Y. Regiment in the World War), and former Asst. Attorney General of the United States

Broadcast over the National Broadcasting Company, the Columbia Broadcasting System and the Mutual BroadcastingSystem, March 26, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 386-389.

I HAVE just returned from a trip which gave me a unique opportunity to inspect the scene of the War. I hope I made reasonably good use of that opportunity. I am speaking to you now to report to you as my fellow-citizens what I have seen and felt and heard on that trip. Let me at once disclaim any idea of speaking as an expert or as an authority. And let me say at the beginning that I shall refrain, as far as possible, from expressing opinions or conclusions. I do this not because I have no opinions on the subject I shall discuss, but because I feel that I should, insofar as I am able, present the facts upon which the American people must make up their minds as to what they want to do for themselves. If any of my experiences can help the people of this country to determine more clearly what course is left for them to pursue, then I feel that it is my duty to tell them of those experiences.

I left America for England on December 7, 1940. I had been in England in July, and August, and had made a study of the situation at that time, so that I had a standard of comparison for what I was now to see. In England I was given access to the various studies made of the different theatres of war. I went through many parts of the country, not only to see the effects of bombing, but to see how factories were run, to observe how the activities of peace and of war went on together, and to look with wonder at the way the people went about their daily tasks as if no pall of war lay over them.

I started on my journey. I went to Gibraltar, where I saw how strongly fortified was that historic rock. I learned there too of a proposed and possible German intention of seeking to seal up the Straits of Gibraltar to prevent the passage of British ships, and to do this by striking from Spain.

Then, east to Malta. You will remember the Italian claim that Malta would fall within two weeks. Malta, however,still endures after something over 120 bombings, and is still serviceable, as you saw in the papers the other day, as a repair base for cruisers and destroyers.

From Malta I flew to Cairo, where I went out onto the Western desert, spending some two weeks with General Wavell's command. What I have to report to you about the African campaign is this: that the British have done a superb job—a better job than they have let the world discover. It is doubtless true that the Italians haven't got their hearts in this war. But the British victory resulted not so much from lack of tenacity on the part of the Italians as it did from superior generalship and power of maneuver on the part of the British. The British made the desert their ally. The Italians were afraid of it. They shut themselves up in miniature Maginot Lines, each of which was taken in turn.

From Cairo I went to Greece, where I had the chance to see the whole front, spending a week on the long line stretching from Koritza to Klissoura. Everywhere—on the front and behind the front—conditions were the same. The Greek soldiers were very tough, indeed, and in good health, and this was true whether they were the tall mountaineers or the short, blocky fellows from the valley. It's astonishing, the job they have done. They really made their fight there with a rock, a mule and a gun: a rock for a parapet; a mule to carry the stores; and a gun or a rifle or a cannon for a weapon. The Greeks had no big war machine; they had no tanks. Except for the aid given them by the British in anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns, they lacked almost all the weapons that are required in modern warfare. And yet, they went into the fight.

And out of this I learned one lesson which I want to report to my fellow-citizens here. It is this: If you are going to have machines, you have got to have the best machines. Second best won't do. If you can only get secondbest, it's better to have none. Because if you have machines you rely upon them. And if they are second best machines you rely upon them too much and you are overwhelmed by the best. But if you have nothing, then you rely upon nature and upon your own physical resources and your own brains; and if you have brains and courage, you find a way to deal with a machine.

This war has already disclosed that people can be too strong in their belief in Maginot Lines and in making Maginot Lines out of concrete and out of oceans and out of machines, and believing absolutely in the machine and forgetting that man, who made the machine, if put to it, can whip the machine. And before this war is over, you will see this demonstrated.

The Greeks believed not in their machines but in themselves. As I went through the front, I asked the Greek soldiers if they were afraid to meet the German if he should come against them and they answered. They were not afraid. I shall always remember this about the Greeks: To them, liberty is a living thing. They were not at all self-conscious about it. They talked about it. Some might think they talked too much about it, but they weren't ashamed to talk about it and they weren't afraid to die for it. You may be surprised and interested to hear that, as I met these Greek soldiers—not alone in their battle positions, but in their first aid stations, where many of them had been brought after six hours on the stretcher—wherever I met them they would manage to cheer; first for Greece, then for America, and then for President Roosevelt.

From Greece I went north to Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, where I saw the Nazi military machine at work, seeing how it was used not for fighting, but for intimidation—to impose upon weaker countries Nazi economic and political philosophy. It was just as it used to be in our school books, where we read that the soldiers of ancient days prepared for the taking of a city by first undermining its walls. This modern Nazi warfare is carried out in the same way. And this I saw with my own eyes and at close hand—how the advance was made in southeastern Europe by political sapping and disintegration.

I know it must be in many people's minds as to what Yugoslavia will do now that her leaders have surrendered her to Germany. Certainly there must be many of the Serbian soldiers, who despite all that has been done, will seek to give some aid to Greece in her defense. Let me tell you why I think this.

In Yugoslavia, as in all these countries, I went to the Military Academies because it is usually in the Army that you find the essence of the national spirit. Just before I left some of the younger generals, who had been junior officers in the World War, took me to a room that was kept as something apart. The only thing in that room was a map of the old Serbia standing on an easel. On that map, in blue lines, were marked the various positions of resistance taken by the Serb Army as it was driven back by Germany in the last World War. And those Serbian generals took pride in the fact that they had held their army intact and had taken it out and joined with the Allies in Salonika and that the army was returned intact. I wait to see what the Serbian soldiers will do.

Then to Turkey, where I found that the Turk, although not equipped with modern arms, and not prepared to carry on an offensive at this time, was proud of the fact that Turkey was an ally of Britain and proud too of the fact that the Turks would be the defenders, as they expressed it, of the Gate.

Then to Palestine. I had intended to go into Syria, butwas stopped by German intervention. In Palestine I saw battalions made up of companies of Jews and of Arabs, together, their political differences submerged in the need of common defense. Then on to Bagdad, where I had an opportunity to see something of the propaganda efforts of the Germans to incite rebellion among the Arabs in Iraq and in Syria.

Then back to Africa; finally through Malta and Gibraltar, to Spain and Portugal, and back again to England and Ireland, and then home by air by way of Portugese West Africa and Brazil and Trinidad to New York. And in all of these places that I went to I had the opportunity of talking with many different kinds of people—leaders of government, economists, generals and private soldiers, with the ordinary people of the different countries. And everywhere I went I asked the questions which you would have asked.

Everywhere I went I asked the question, "What would be the result in Europe of a triumphant Germany?" All answers came to the same thing, but there were two answers which were almost identical in their wording. These answers came, one from an important figure in a country, not then taken over by Germany, in which certain leaders wished for a German victory, and the other from an important person in a different country who feared his country would be taken over and who was against a Germany victory.

Let me give you the substance of the reply. It was this: That Nazi Germany, in the event of victory, will consolidate all of continental Europe as a stronghold; that Hitler's talk of an empire that will endure for a thousand years is not an idle boast—it is a plain statement of Nazi aspiration; that Hitler's grandiose concept of a greater Germany is a concept of a Germany which will defy, even if it should not dominate, the rest of the world.

I asked these gentlemen how Germany would seek to accomplish all this and they replied that the foundation upon which the Nazis plan to base their military domination is the development of agricultural production in Europe by allocating to France, or to others of the subdued countries, the task of meeting the food needs of the new area. In other words, they said that Nazi Germany is pursuing now a policy which, if she is victorious, will cut off a large share of the market which the overseas exporting countries have long enjoyed. I need not point out to you that the consequences would be disastrous to the economies of the great farming countries like Argentina, Canada and the United States which have been so dependent on European export markets.

In Europe itself Nazi Germany would become the workshop and arsenal of the continent. She would concentrate within her borders or under her control, all the really important and highly technical industries of national significance and leave to the occupied countries the simple industries and the operations of a local character. Trade, they say, will be partially controlled to serve as an important instrument of national policy—which I took to mean that foreign trade would be used as an instrument of pressure to serve Nazi Germany's military and economic interests, while Germany herself would control the heavy industries and keep abreast of the development in mechanized warfare, thus maintaining at the peak of its power the great war machine in which she places all in trust.

Nazi doctrine, so these men told me, is based upon the firm conviction that he who controls the productive capacity of Europe will remain its future master; that the cardinal feature of Nazi policy would be to retain an iron hand over every industry engaged in the production of instruments of war in all the conquered and occupied countries.

By this act, the German leaders believe that they would make permanently impossible any successful resistance in Europe to the Nazi machine.

And then I asked: If this were done, what, in their opinion, would be the effect upon America? Would it mean that Germany would attempt to invade America? And to this came the reply—"If you mean by an invasion a movement against America by a military force—no. But if you mean by an invasion an attempted economic isolation of America—Yes."

And I asked: How could this be done? And they said, "More than any other country, the United States would have to bear the brunt of this new economic order. She would have to bear it, first, indirectly, through South America, which, being dependent upon European markets, would have to deal exclusively through Berlin, and the economic restraints of Berlin would expand into South American political life. Secondly, the United States would have to bear the brunt directly because a German dominated Europe, with its whole industry under government direction, and under a comprehensive governmental system, would have the American economy based upon individual enterprise at its mercy. As a result, the United States would ultimately have to create its own governmental trade monopoly, so that, as a consequence of the nature of the Nazi control, the very system to which we most object would be imposed upon us.

And when I appeared to be incredulous of such a scheme, it was stated to me time and time again that this was no mere theory and imagination; that it not only represented a considered policy but corresponded to actual German experience with the Soviet trade monopoly. And when I heard all this, I said that it only confirmed my belief in the soundness of the instinct of the American people that a victorious Germany would mean a grave danger to American free institutions.

Now, how is all this to be brought about? What are we up against?

People sometimes think of the war as one which has settled down into a contest between England and Germany. But, from the Nazi point of view, this isn't the way to look at it. To Germany, England is only one of a series of obstacles which stand between her and world domination. To Germany, each country which she overruns serves two purposes: It is an acquisition in itself; and it prepares the way for the next act of expansion.

Look at your map and you will see what happens. By taking Austria, Germany outflanked Czechoslovakia. By seizing Czechoslovakia, she prepared for the attack on Poland. Holland and Belgium were steps in a campaign against France. By occupying Norway, she acquired submarine bases for the attack on England. French ports and airdromes too are now serving against England. The infiltration into Roumania and now the surrender of Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, the pressure on Spain, the unrest in the Arab world—all these are not ends in themselves. They are attempts to occupy strategic and outflanking positions, both military and economic—yes, and psychological—which will help Nazi Germany to strangle or attack England. Justshe used Russia against Poland and Italy against France, so she is encouraging Japan to action in the Far East. The difference between England and the other obstacles

in Germany's path is one of degree. England is infinitely the most important obstacle. If England falls, Germany has no one to fear in Europe or the Middle East. She can deal with Russia at her leisure. She would obtain at a single stroke every port, airdrome and transatlantic terminus in Europe. She would obtain the French and Italian fleets.

Certainly the British fleet bases. And this not only in Europe, but in Africa.

On my trip home, at Bolarna in Portugese West Africa, I saw a German airdrome, not now in use, but from which flight could be made to Brazil as we made it, in an overnight trip. Germany always tries to outflank. By defeating England, she would outflank the Atlantic from Narvik to Capetown. Possession of the whole East Atlantic seaboard would give her the bases she needs to push her plans further. Meanwhile, in the Pacific, she could call Japan into play.

A beaten England means a threat to America from the east, the west and in the south.

But England is not beaten and it is because England is not beaten that America is not yet threatened. England is holding against Germany the line of the Atlantic on the west. Through defeat of the Italians, she is clearing up the flanks of the Red Sea. On the south she holds definitely a line running from Lagos along the north of French equatorial Africa to the Sudan in Egypt, and thence extending northward to Greece and Turkey. In the western Mediterranean she holds the bases of Gibraltar and Malta and can take convoys past Sicily (which as you saw in the papers yesterday, Admiral Cunningham had just done) to the eastern Mediterranean, where she has bases at Bengazi, Crete and Alexandria.

England is much stronger than when I last saw her in the black days of the summer of 1940 after the fall of Dunkirk. Each week the situation improves. But not until 1942 will England be fully armed. This year is a year of difficulty and of danger. England does not fool herself. She has not only to protect her own defensive and offensive forces, to protect her sea-borne traffic, but to provide also all the materials she can for Greece and Turkey.

As a people we have sensed this danger, and in the Lease and Lend Bill this country has taken a momentous decision. We have announced to the world, as well as to Germany, that we intend to support England.

In order to translate that legislation into concrete assistance, we have appropriated seven billion dollars. We are in the position of being a supply base from which supplies go to expeditionary forces in China, in the Middle East, and in England.

One thing must be clear to us. It is going to mean nothing in winning the war unless the goods we produce and ship reach their destination. But due to thinness of protection, ships are sunk and goods are lost. These shipping losses come from submarines, airplanes, mines and raiders. It is an essential part of German tactics to throttle the American supply. We have got to make up our minds what we are going to do about it. Are we going to deliver the goods?

This question must be answered now. Are we prepared to take the chance? For there is a chance. There is a danger. Whatever we do we must recognize that the danger of attack exists.

In the passage of the Lend-Lease Bill alone, we have done two things which could be considered acts of war. One is to authorize the building of righting ships to be turned over to England. The other is the provision for the refitting and repair of British ships in our yards. Germany has ignored those acts, as she has many others in the past year and a half. But we must not delude ourselves into thinking that she hasn't stored it up against us. We'll have to pay for it. We see in the papers that German raiders are in the South Atlantic and that there are rumors of their presence in the North Atlantic. They may be there to frighten us and stop us. As a self-governing people, we must determine for ourselves what is the right thing for usto do. And having decided, we must then accept the consequences.

Here perhaps you will expect me to express my personal opinions. I do so because after what I have seen of the fate of Balkan nations I feel I must do so. There are men in this country as there were men in other countries in Western Europe and the Balkans who believe, or who say, that it is for us to choose whether or not we will be attacked by Nazi Germany; who believe or who say that we can avoid attack if we will avoid provocation. A dozen European countries prove the foolishness of that belief. We have no choice as to whether or not we will be attacked. That choice is Hitler's: and he has already made it—not for Europe only, but for Africa and Asia and the world. Our only choice is to choose whether or not we will resist. And to choose in time: while resistance is still possible; while others are still alive to stand beside us.

I know there is a question in your minds as to what the situation is in the Mediterranean. Let me ask you to look at your map. We usually think of the Mediterranean as a mere arterial highway running from east to west. But don't look at it that way. Take a line running north and south. Then you see the Mediterranean as a "No Man's Land" between two lines on a strategic front running from Spain to the Black Sea. Germany holds the northern or European line, except at the two ends — Suez and Gibraltar. Britain has control of much of the southern or African line. She holds an important salient in Greece, while the Italians still retain a foothold in Tripoli, and Germany threatens French North Africa. Two principles control the strategy of the Axis powers in the sphere of war: (1) from an offensive standpoint to weaken England's power of resistance by preventing her ships from using the Mediterranean; (2) from a defensive viewpoint, to protect Germany's own supply of fuel, goods and food in southeastern Europe and to deny to England any foothold in that section. That may explain Germany's movement now against Greece. Ruled by these two principles, Germany is setting up certain options depending upon eventuality. She may exercise any one or any groupof these options. But whatever may happen, all of them are but a portion of one central plan based on her often-announced military theory that she will try to confine military operations to but one front and will do all in her power to maintain a quiet and tranquil Balkans. So we see that it is a fight for domination of the Mediterranean. Britain must gain control of the narrows and keep Germany out of the Aegean Basin. Once she gets freedom of movement there and obtains domination in the air and on the sea, the Mediterranean will give her lateral communication within this theatre.

Let's keep this in mind—Germany is a formidable, a resourceful, and a ruthless foe. Don't underrate her—if we do—we deceive ourselves. Her victories have brought her new military and industrial strength. She got the jump at the start of the war. And has held it. But not yet has she met a full test. And until this test comes, it is better not to overrate her. Her greatest gains have been made through fear. Fear of the might of her war machine. She has so played upon that fear and her recent diplomatic victories are its product.

But now, storming down the Struma Valley she encounters the soldiers of Greece and of Britain. It seems even more foolish for Greece to stand against Germany than it was for her to stand against Italy. And England, in electing to fight beside her ally, is doing a very dangerous and very daring thing — but a very fine thing.

Military experts will tell us there can be but one result— they point to the number of German divisions and the power of her armoured force. But if statistics win wars, both England and Greece would have been defeated long ago. There is a moral force in wars, that, in the long run, is stronger than any machine. I have seen these men—these Greeks and Britons—in their fighting. Whatever the result in that field, Germany will know she was in a battle. And I say to you, my fellow-citizens, all that Mr. Churchill has told you of the resolution and determination and valor and confidence of his people is true.