Our Western Front


By WILLIAM C. BULLITT, United States Ambassador to France

Delivered at Constitution Hall, Washington, D. C., April 27, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 491-494

TO speak of the Chinese is to stand before forty centuries of history facing a people whose civilization was great before Athens existed or Rome was founded: a people who today are as young in courage as they are old in wisdom.

All the bitter roads of battle and starvation that mankind is now traveling have been trod many times by the people of China. However tragic a street of sorrow—the Chinese have been down that street before. They have survived because in physical endurance and intellectual power they are unsurpassed by any people on earth. They have grown wise because long ago out of the sufferings of centuries, they learned to be true to themselves in the face of death, and adopted in their hearts as well as their minds the maxim: "Better a broken jade than a whole tile."

Our own relations with the Chinese have been exceptionally friendly since the day in 1783 when Robert Morris wrote to John Jay: "I am sending some ships to China, in order to encourage others in the adventurous pursuits of commerce." The commerce was profitable, and the adventurers returned with stores of tea, silks, shawls, wallpapers, paintings—and porcelain so exquisite that in our country porcelain became known simply by the name "China".

The Emperor of China of that day, examining certain mechanical inventions brought by traders to exchange for the products of his cultivated empire, commented in a manner that prefigured the destiny of his country until the present century: Through his officials, the Emperor superbly stated:

"Our Empire produces all that we ourselves need. Your mechanical toys do not interest us in the least. But since our tea, rhubarb, and silk seem to be necessary to the very existence of the barbarous Western peoples, we will, imitating the clemency of Heaven Who tolerates all sorts of simpletons on this globe, condescend to allow a limited amount of trading through the port of Canton."

The Emperors and the people of China continued to despise the mechanical inventions of the western world and to look down on soldiers. Since a considerable portion of the inventiveness of the western world was devoted to the development of instruments of war, China became less and less equipped to combat foreign aggressors.

It was not until the birth of the Chinese Republic that the Government of China fully faced the fact that China must adopt the techniques of the West or perish. And it was not until 1927 that Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek established the authority of the central government sufficiently firmly to begin large scale modernization of China's way of life.

The ten years that followed were years of enormous progress. Industries, railroads, paved roads, schools, colleges, laboratories, hospitals, were constructed with a speed that proved that the people of China had lost none of the qualities that had created their magnificent civilization.

The physical revival of China was accompanied by a moral and spiritual renaissance: a rebirth of patriotism and of the spirit of self-sacrifice, which finally found expression in the New Life Movement under the leadership of Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek.

China was well on the road to unity and strength—both moral and physical—when Japan struck. Indeed one of the chief reasons why Japan attacked China in 1937 was to stop the progress that China was making. The strength of China was growing so fast that the Japanese—who know that the Chinese are superior to them not only in numbers but also in endurance and intelligence—saw slipping away rapidly their chance to reduce China to the same condition of abject slavery that they had imposed on Korea.

There is an old and true French proverb which runs: "To govern is to foresee." Fortunately for the people of China, their Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek foresaw that the Japanese militarists would not permit him and his colleagues to carry out in peace their program and task of rebuilding China. In the Autumn of 1934 when I talked with the Generalissimo in Nanking, he predicted not only how Japan would attack and where Japan would attack, but also when the Japanese attack would be made. And he explained to me his plan to meet the attack by giving space in order to buy time—a strategy familiar to Americans since it was the strategy that George Washington employed during our War of Independence.

The Generalissimo predicted that he would lose battles but would win the war. He said that he would establish the capital of China at Chungking in Szechwan, where he now stands, and that he would never surrender. Like Washington, he has proved himself to be not only a great general but also a great statesman. He has not surrendered. He will not surrender.

The Japanese Army which attacked China was fully equipped with all modern instruments of war: heavy artillery, tanks and airplanes. The forces of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek had no heavy artillery, no tanks, and only a handful of airplanes. The Japanese were so confident that they would win a few easy victories and that Chinese resistance then would collapse, that the Japanese Prime Minister, Prince Konoye, announced: "In three months China will be beaten to her knees." The Japanese won victories, but they did not win them easily. And Chinese resistance did not collapse, even though the Chinese had to meet the attacks of airplanes and tanks with nothing but rifles, hand grenades and stubborn courage.

When the Japanese discovered that although they could win battles they could not end the war, they attempted to break the Chinese spirit of resistance by the infliction of unspeakable atrocities on the civilian population. Men and boys were lined up alive for bayonet practice by the Japanese soldiers. Whole towns and villages were burned and every woman in them raped. Chinese captives—civilians and soldiers alike—were soaked with gasoline and burned alive. Fifty million men, women and children were driven from their homes. But the spirit of the Chinese remained unbroken.

After nearly four years of war that spirit is still unbroken. The Japanese Army has suffered a million casualties and today more than a million Japanese soldiers are bogged down in China, unable to advance to victory, unable to retreat without acknowledging defeat.

The eyes of Americans are turned toward Europe by events so tragic that we are apt to forget that for every man who has died resisting aggression in Europe, ten have died in China; and that no men have ever risen to greater heights of epic courage than have the Chinese.

By the Agreement that Japan signed in Berlin on September 27, 1940, with Germany and Italy, she leagued herself with the totalitarian dictators against us and all other nations that live in freedom. We have not yet been attacked by Germany, Italy and Japan for one reason and one only—they have not been able to get at us. The British have held the forces of Germany and Italy on the other side of the Atlantic and the Chinese have kept the Japanese so fully occupied that they have hesitated to add a sea war against the British or ourselves to their land war with China. By draining the energies of Japan, the Chinese have rendered and are rendering today a far greater service to the people of the United States—and of Great Britain—than any service that we have ever rendered to them. The Chinese no less than the British are fighting battles which are the making of our security.

How long can the Chinese continue to fight our fight unless they receive more help from the United States than they are now receiving. Longer certainly than any other people could under the scourge and burden of like sufferings. But, just as the courage of the Greeks has not availed against the planes and tanks of the Nazis, so—unless greater material aid can be delivered to China—all the courage of the Chinese may not avail.

During the past few months the Japanese have occupied portions of French Indo-China and have cut the railroad by which the Chinese received a large portion of the supplies they imported from overseas. The Burma Road, which has become the vital Chinese line of supply for instruments of war, can now be bombarded by Japanese aviators. If Japan should be able to occupy Burma, no military supplies from overseas could reach the Chinese armies. Only the long land route to the Soviet Union would remain open, and now the Soviet Union has signed an ominous agreement with Japan. This Pact in effect gives Soviet assent to Japan's seizure of the Chinese province of Manchuria, in return for Japan's assent to Soviet seizure of the Chinese province of Outer Mongolia. No one is so naive as to believe that Japan and the Soviet Union have become friends. But by this agreement those two countries have at least become brother bandits at the expense of China.

The Chinese believed that because they were fighting the Soviet Union's fight against Japan, they could count on the support of the Soviet Union to the bitter end. Now they have seen Stalin embracing Matsuoka on the platform of the railroad station in Moscow and breaking his promise to respect forever the sovereignity of China over all parts of China. They have seen the Soviet Dictator promising Matsuoka thatif Japan should become engaged in war—that is to say, in war with the British or ourselves—the Soviet Union would remain neutral. One hope of China has always been that in the end the Soviet Union would give China effective military support against Japan. The Chinese now see this hope in eclipse. Moreover, they are obliged to fear that even the trickle of supplies which now reaches them overland from the Soviet Union may be cut off—if Hitler so orders. For behind Stalin's agreement with Matsuoka lies Stalin's fear of Hitler.

The Soviet Pact with Japan is Hitler's gift to the Japanese militarists. Now that Hitler's army and air force are on the Rumanian frontier of the Soviet Union, ready and able to cut Stalin off from the wheat of the Ukraine and the oil of the Caucasus, the Soviet Dictator, cringing in his Kremlin, takes orders from the dictator in Berlin. And Hitler wants Japan to feel free from all danger of attack by the Soviet Union because he hopes that the Japanese militarists—feeling their flank protected—will, beguiled by his agents, dare at last to assault the British and Dutch possessions in the East and become involved in war with the British Empire and the United States.

Some Americans, with the same perverted view of human nature that made them consider Mussolini a great lover of peace and the Hope of Europe, have recently been dreaming of Stalin as the Great Defender of the democracies against Japan and Germany, and have been trying to seduce him into an affectionate embrace. But Stalin has preferred to embrace Matsuoka. The Soviet Pact with Japan will bring some gain if it makes all Americans realize that the Communist State is the enemy of all men who live in freedom, and that we, as a nation, can aid China in just one way—by helping her directly and doing it ourselves.

Our Government can help by financial aid and by the effective delivery to China of arms, munitions and airplanes. We, as individuals, can help by giving all that we can give to the United China Relief.

Every dollar that is given to bind up the wounds of a Chinese soldier is a dollar given to aid a man who by fighting the fight of his own country has been contributing to the defense of all democracies. Every dollar that is given to help stamp out war epidemics of cholera, dysentery, typhus, and typhoid in China is a dollar given to strengthen the resistance of four hundred million people to an armed force that but for them might readily be turned against us. Every dollar that is given to build up the small cooperative industries, which are being founded in Free China to increase production for the Chinese Government and the Chinese people, pays for instruments to hold in check men who have declared themselves our enemies. To help the Chinese is to help ourselves. They are fighting the battle of freedom and of free peoples, on what is literally—in a strategic sense—our western front.

All that we give to the United China Relief now will go to men, women and children whose virtues have not changed since they were described twenty-two hundred years ago by the old Chinese poet, Chu Yuan, in these words:

"Though their limbs were torn, their hearts could not be repressed.
They were more than brave: they were inspired with the spirit of valor.
Steadfast to the end, they could not be daunted.
Their bodies were stricken, but their souls have taken Immortality—
Captains among the ghosts, heroes among the dead."

We Americans like all other peoples on this earth face a tragic destiny. The dictators have abolished neutrality. To be neutral is to become their future victim. We can not getoff this planet, and Hitler, with Mussolini and Stalin in leash, and the Japanese militarists as gun bearers, is out to destroy us and all other peoples that live in freedom. He and his accomplices will not stop. They can only be stopped—stopped with shot and shell.

We have been hoping that the British and the Chinese, with material assistance from us, could stop the dictators without intervention of our armed forces; but we have not had the foresight or the will to produce a sufficient quantity of ships, airplanes, and other instruments of defense for the nations that by defending themselves are protecting us. For the past year we should have been producing as fast as if we were at war. We have done nothing of the sort. Even now we tolerate delays and continue to behave as if our motto were: "Too little and too late."

The British and the Chinese are hard-pressed. For our own salvation we must turn all our strength into producing instruments of defense for them and for ourselves. We must not only produce but also deliver the goods. If we hesitate and vainly hope for temporary safety, then we shall surely perish. Do we look for peace with Hitler? He honors his peace agreements by attack in the night. Do we look for mercy? He shows his mercy with a bomb.

We have heard, to be sure, a knight of Hitler's Order of the German Eagle, telling us that we ought to stop helping the British and the Chinese and then everything would be all right: We should save our skins without having to fight: We should have peace.

What sort of peace?

We know that many states of South America are waiting only for the disappearance of the British Navy to turn totalitarian and invite the economic and military cooperation of the dictators. We know that if the British Navy should be eliminated we would soon see a totalitarian army and a totalitarian air force in South America, and that all Europe, all Asia and Africa as well, would be organized against us. What peace could we have then? Democracies await incidents. Dictators make them.


We could have peace at the price of submission to Hitler's will: at the price of accepting a puppet fuehrer in our country. We could have peace at the price of putting our churches under the heel of Hitler and our children into the hands of Goebbels for education in the creed of Satan. We could have peace at the price of abolishing our press and our right to speak our minds. We could have peace at the price of tearing up our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. We could have peace at the price of slavery.

I think that at that price we shall never have peace. I think that there is in America something which grew here, long before Hitler's Knight of the German Eagle was born—and that is liberty. I think that out of our soil and out of our sky there has grown a freedom which has opened the gates of hope not only to the people of this country but to the peoples of all the world. And I think that we are ready—as we have always been—to fight for that freedom.

We have no longer an easy choice between peace and war. We have a choice between keeping open the life lines to Great Britain and China and supporting those countries with all our strength, or fighting alone—and soon—in this Hemisphere against the united forces of the dictators—with all of Europe, Asia, Africa and the major portion of South America organized to supply their war machines. Choice? There is no choice. In self-defense, for our own preservation, whatever the consequences, we must back the British and the Chinese.

This is America where men admit no master but God. This is the country where men and women faced a savagecontinent to keep faith with their Creator and themselves. This is the country of the men who held their guns at Valley Forge when blood from their naked feet stained the snow. This is the country of Lincoln and Lee, of the Men in Blue and the Men in Gray. Has our marrow turned so soft that we do not dare to face the forces of incarnate evil? No!

It may be that in supporting with all our resources and all our strength the British and the Chinese, we shall have

war. It may be that we shall not have war. But support them, we will! And if the dictators wish to call that war-let them remember that this is one country that has never known defeat. Let them consider that against their conspiracy will stand a fellowship of peoples that hold freedom more dear than life. Let them recall that the bugles of man's unconquerable soul will never blow defeat. Let them remember that this is America.