We Should Not Convoy Materials to Europe


By HAMILTON FISH, Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Congress

Delivered on the American Forum of the Air, from Washington, D. C., March 30, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 414-415.

MY position is simply this: I am in favor of all aid to the democracies consistent with our own national defense, but opposed to our involvement in European or Asiatic wars unless attacked. I am willing to maintain that position until the cows come home.

I do not believe that the European war is our war, or that we had anything to do with starting it. If it is our war, then we are a lot of cowards and cravens for not having been in it a year and a half ago.

Let us get the convoy issue straight. Convoys mean shooting, and shooting means war. The convoying of ships into the war zones is an act of war. The Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, a well-known interventionist, made this emphatic statement before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. It should be perfectly clear to every school boy by this time, that if the President orders our war vessels to convoy British ships or sends our own merchant fleet with war material to England, he would be deliberately putting us into the war. Senator George, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said recently: "I have always stood against convoying vessels by the American fleet . . . because convoying would lead us into actual war."

I am unwilling to believe that President Roosevelt has any intention of violating or repudiating his repeated promises and pledges to the American people to keep us out of war. Although I belong to the opposition party and have opposed many of the New Deal measures, yet the President of the United States is my President as well as that of 130,000,000 other Americans.

I confess that the repudiation of such solemn promises, involving the lives of our youth and the security and destiny of America is inconceivable and unthinkable to me. Moreover, I do not believe the President has the right to order

the convoying of ships into the war zones without the consent of Congress. The use of convoys, on the authority of the President, would be a deliberate attempt to drag us into war, and would make President Roosevelt the foremost repudiator of his word in American history. It would constitute a brazen betrayal of the millions of loyal Americans who had faith in his assurances and plighted word and voted for him.

Somewhere between 83 and 90 per cent of the people, according to the various Gallup polls, are opposed to our entrance into war unless attacked. We are not in the war now, as some columnists and interventionists claim. That is defeatist and interventionist propaganda. No shots have been fired, no American ships have been sunk, no American has been killed, and no attack has been made on the American flag.

No member of Congress, whether he voted for or against the Lend-Lease Bill, wants to see any of the articles for the defense of England sunk. If the sinkings get worse we could transfer more of our merchant ships to the British, and possibly some more old destroyers for additional bases, but the responsibility for convoying and getting the war supplies across is up to the British navy. First, last and all the time.

Between losing a shipload of war materials which can be duplicated, and losing a ship load of American boys who cannot be duplicated on this earth, there can be only one answer. I do not propose by my vote to send American boys to watery graves trying to get to Europe, Africa or Asia,

However, the signal bell ringing in the engine room of an American naval vessel to start the first convoy would be equivalent to a declaration of an undeclared war by the President.

I want to make it very clear that I do not believe thereports circulating in Washington, that the Administration has decided on a policy of convoying lease-lend articles without the consent of Congress.

If, however, these reports turn out to be true, and the Pied Piper of Pennsylvania Avenue leads the American youth to war in spite of his promises and pledges for peace, I know of no language strong enough to denounce such a betrayal of trust.

In that case his dulcet tones, like the Piper of Hamelin Town, would be equally deceptive and disastrous to the mothers and fathers of America who will have to pay the Piper as in the story of old, with the lives of their sons.

If President Roosevelt takes this final step to war, by ordering, without the consent of Congress and the American people, the convoying of ships into the war zones, he and he alone will be responsible to God and country.

The American people should make their views known to the President and to their Senators and Representatives in Congress now. The only time to wage war against war is in peace. War would mean disaster to us—bankruptcy, untold bloodshed, and the end of American democracy.

The day we go to war we have lost, although we may be victorious in five or ten years at the expense of millions of lives, hundreds of billions of dollars and the ruin of our country and its free institutions.

This issue, transcending all party lines and divorced from the repeal of the arms embargo, conscription, and the Lend-Lease Bill—all preliminary bouts to the principal event—is crystal clear: Shall we go to war or stay out?

And that should be decided by the American people through the Congress, using one yardstick: What is best for America?