The Press and the War


By JESSE JONES, Secretary of Commerce

Delivered before the Annual Meeting of The Associated Press, New York, April 21, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 432-434

AS much as I appreciate the invitation to address The Associated Press, I am sure Mr. McLean and my other friends among your directors did not invite me to speak solely as a fellow-publisher. Possibly your invitation came because today is Texas's birthday, the 105th anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto, where Sam Houston won independence for Texas.

Whatever the reason, I am honored by the invitation. It is a privilege to meet with you and discuss informally some of our current problems.

Publishers everywhere in America are probably asking themselves two fundamental questions: First, like all patriotic citizens, they want to know about the defense program and how well it is getting along. Second, they want some one to essay the role of prophet and give them a glimpse into the future after the war.

They would like answers to many perplexing questions. We all would. Some are concerned about the freedom of the press. When they contemplate the disasters which have befallen the press in some other countries, the more pessimistic are afraid that the same fate might be in store for them here. I have no such fear.

I am not so naive as to assume that I can come before you and speak with authority as a publisher. I have not given a great deal of time to The Houston Chronicle, although I would regard it a high privilege to be primarily a publisher and an editor. It is a role worthy of the ambitions of any one. It affords an opportunity to be of service to one's community, and to one's country.

Privilege Sometimes Misused

That this privilege is sometimes misused, or carelessly and thoughtlessly exercised, does not warrant condemning the entire press. Fortunately, most publishers and editors ofAmerican newspapers can be depended upon for a high order of integrity and patriotism. Fortunately, in America the people have the services of such agencies as The Associated Press, which strives to search out the news and report it impartially and completely.

As for the freedom of the press, in my view, and as President Roosevelt told the newspaper editors last week, we will never abandon the high ideal that the press should be free to seek out and to print the news and the truth, unless temporarily certain items having a military bearing might better go unpublished.

Despite any of our shortcomings, it is safe to say that in no other part of the world is so much information so well presented. I might add, parenthetically, that over the years The Associated Press had made a great contribution toward this achievement.

Here in the United States the press has reached its greatest height. To realize that, one need only compare American newspapers with those of any other country. In their news coverage, in the wide variety of it, in the character of its presentation, the newspapers of this country are unequaled. The very freedom of our press and the place it occupies in our lives gives it vast power.

But we should not forget that with that power goes responsibility. The greater the freedom, the greater the necessity that it always be exercised wisely and in the public interest.

It is by recognition of that responsibility that the American press will best serve its own future, and the cause of a free press everywhere in the world.

The careless or unreliable publisher or writer or news agency not only performs a disservice to his country, and its defense in times like these, but he performs a direct disservice to the newspapers of America.

The Short-Sighted Few

If there should ever be censorship of the American press, it would be brought on by those short-sighted few who blindly and stubbornly refuse to recognize the responsibility that inevitably goes with freedom. But as a government official I am glad to be able to say that I have never seen any indication that any one in government wanted to do any censoring, unless it be information which might aid those who are not America's friends.

Freedom of the press is a part of the heritage of every free-born son of this democracy. It is a vital fundamental of our way of life. It is through the press, the dailies, the weeklies, and the magazines, that America speaks.

When editorial opinion strays widely from American thought, publishers might well afford to take stock of themselves and try to ascertain why.

We should not bring about any lessening of our freedom or our influence through our own failings. Let's keep our standards high.

May I suggest that you check and double check the more sensational angles of stories which involve relations between this nation and other countries. Resolve any doubts in favor of the non-sensational approach. To do so may be helpful to the men who are wrestling with our foreign relations.

Our press has never had a greater opportunity to serve our country than it has today. First, in printing impartially all the news that should be printed, and second, in arousing the people to the realization that our safety and our way of living are growing less secure by the hour; that hundreds of millions of people are at war destroying life and property and fine things inherited from many generations; that civilization is having a severe test and will be fortunate to survive.

I shall not embark upon any path of prophecy. Only a year ago at your meeting here, you had several war correspondents who talked like people from a strange world. Little did any of us realize then the situation we would face today. How then, can we foretell tomorrow?

But without getting into the realm of speculation, if the aggressor nations are successful, our generation is apt to see little of tranquility. We will probably not be able to maintain our high standard of living. Our economy cannot compete with slave labor—and the great masses of the people of the Axis powers and their captives are little more than slaves. They must live and work as they are told. They must accept such reward for their services as an all-powerful and ruthless state sees fit to give them. They may have butter only when guns are not needed.

And that brings me to the progress of our defense program. One need only recall our lack of preparedness when you met here a year ago to see how far we have come. We did not even visualize the possibility of defense activity on anything approaching the scale on which it is now organized. It is not easy for a peace-loving people like ours to change overnight from purely peacetime pursuits to complete all-out effort at arming, even for defense.

This is particularly true because we have always had faith in the protection of the oceans, and have always believed that no power could invade us.

Maybe we can't be invaded, but we might become isolated economically, and that would inevitably lead to war. Trade outlets are the cause of most wars.

Defense Work in Progress

In the period of these few months, more than 14,000 separate prime contracts, and probably more than 100,000 subcontracts, have been let for the manufacture of everything from a corporal's chevrons to bombers and battleships. Thesecontracts call for the expenditure of more than $12,500,000,000. Seven hundred and eighty-four new defense plants costing more than $2,100,000,000 have been built or are under construction by the War and Navy Departments.

In addition to these, the RFC is building or financing more than 100 defense plants at a cost of $650,000,000. All of these plants are for the manufacture of war supplies.

The RFC is accumulating reserve supplies of copper, tin, antimony, chrome, asbestos, zinc, graphite, manganese, tungsten, rubber, wool and a few other items of strategic materials. Most of these materials come from foreign countries.

RFC has made commitments for the expenditure of more than $1,500,000,000 for defense, all in cooperation with the War and Navy Departments, OPM, and other defense agencies. This is in addition to war and navy contracts. No day is dull in defense activity.

Any one who thinks that this is not progress doesn't know what he is talking about. Negotiating this many contracts involving in round numbers $16,000,000,000 is progress, and production is getting well under way. No doubt some mistakes have been made and some delays occasioned. It could not be otherwise. But we have capable men from industry and government in charge of defense work, in addition to the regular staffs of the Army and Navy.

And don't think these service men are not capable. They have spent years in studying our military needs and know how to meet them. General Marshall told me only two days ago, after visiting camps and cantonments throughout the country, that we have 1,250,000 as fine men in training as he has ever seen, and that he had never seen higher morale in any army.

I am fairly close to defense activity. I have seen it in the sprouting stage and now I see it bearing fruit. Its progress is not satisfactory in all respects, but under the circumstances I think it is better than good.

No Room for Complacency

I am afraid, however, that as a people we have not yet realized the imperativeness of our defense necessities, that we have not yet been shocked. There is no room in America today for complacency. There is no place for indifference. Certainly there is no place for obstruction and it should not be tolerated. No matter how fast defense production climbs, it will not be fast enough to meet the need nor to satisfy our state of mind—our anxiety. There is no place in the crucial world of 1941 for any delay or any excuses.

There is no room for selfishness, whether it be the selfishness of industry seeking undue profits, or of labor seeking unjustifiable wage increases and endeavoring to utilize the emergency to fight jurisdictional and internal battles. There is no place for profiteering of any kind. And there is no time for any stoppage of vital work to argue about the terms on which it is done. There must be but one selfishness, the selfishness of all of us for the protection of American democracy. It must not be sacrificed.

The time is rapidly approaching when each of us will be called upon to measure our patriotism, our love of freedom, and our devotion to the democratic way of life in terms of individual sacrifice. We will be fortunate if this sacrifice represents only a temporary doing without some of the things to which we have become accustomed—a little personal inconvenience.

We are too inclined to take it for granted that aid to Britain and the other democracies, and even our own defense, mean only the training of a few soldiers and sailors, and the appropriation of a few billions of dollars, followed by orders for airplanes, guns, ships and tanks.

Spending Billions a Real Job

Our defense expenditures are now running at the rate of $9,000,000,000 to $10,000,000,000 a year. The end of the year will undoubtedly see this rate stepped up to as much as $15,000,000,000 yearly, possibly more. To most of us, the difference between $1,000,000 and $1,000,000,000 is whether you spell the word with a "b" or an "m," but spending $1,000,000,000 or $10,000,000,000 is a real undertaking.

It is impossible to understand fully the meaning of these huge appropriations of money until we translate them into labor and materials.

Fifteen billion dollars is more than all the wages and salaries paid by all the manufacturing plants in the United States in any one year. It is twice the value of all the agricultural products produced in the United States in any recent year by our 6,000,000 farm families.

Some people seem to think that this colossal effort at defense need not interfere with business as usual. The European war might now be over if some of the democracies involved had not taken just that view in the beginning. And experience should teach us that anything short of a maximum effort—maximum aid to Britain and the other democracies, and maximum preparation for the defense of the Western Hemisphere—may be worse than no effort at all.

If we are to get ready to defend ourselves, let's be sure that we do a good job of it. That means we must give upsome of the things we have been used to, when actually we will have more money in circulation from the government spending all these billions for defense.

Price Control Possible

With the expenditure of these billions we must guard against inflation and runaway prices. We may have to submit to price controls to make sure that the defense effort is not impeded. A government agency has been set up to guard against runaway prices. We should support that effort, and we should adopt a program of taxation which will pay a large part of the defense cost currently.

We are in the most momentous period in modern history. Whether it will be a grim, tragic tale of long and arduous struggle, or will lead to a peaceful and better world, depends upon the military outcome.

Putting first things first, the war must first be won. We are helping the democracies because we believe the survival of democracy is essential to our civilization. We should not underestimate the task. We will be called upon to pay dearly for something we would like to have avoided, something unnecessary and inexcusable. But when outlaws are at large and our future is at stake, we have no choice but to prepare to defend ourselves against aggression from any source.

If we would preserve the kind of life we have been accustomed to, and want to continue to enjoy, we must lay gun on gun until every threat to our security has been met.