Naval Aid to England



Delivered before the Kiwanis Club of New York, April 30, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 485-488

THOSE who are against this country helping Britain to the utmost in the war . . . claim that it is because they are primarily practical. They insist that if a nation is to survive in a hostile world its ideals must be backed by the hard logic of military practicability . . . and that the country should not enter a war unless it has reasonable chances of winning. This Doctrine is a challenge to every ideal held sacred by America.

Did practicability influence us when we went to war with Spain in 1898. Spain's fleet was substantially equal to our own . . . and her army in Cuba was larger than the territorial troops that we had at our disposal. In addition Germany . . . with a very sizable and efficient fleet . . . stood against us. It was a war that we might not have won, for we were wholly unprepared for fighting . . . but that thought in no way influenced the American people's decision. Spanishmilitary occupation of Cuba and the cruelties committed upon the Cubans was cause enough for this country to demand that Spain relinquish Cuba to the Cubans. Practicability . . . of course is a valuable asset . . . but not at the expense of the cherished ideals of a nation.

The war against the Barbary Pirates over a century ago in the Mediterranean was not a practical undertaking . . . we had few warships in those waters and no locality under our flag where our ships could be fitted out or serviced. Yet we entered the harbor of Tripoli and set fire to that port and the ships there and won from the pirates a treaty by which our merchant ships and our seaman were left unmolested. Ideals, in that case . . . overrode practicability.

We are now opposing Japan in her conquest of China . . . taking the risk of war by so doing. A war with Japan would not be backed by the hard logic of military practicability . . . for Japan is far better prepared for a war in the Orient than is this country . . . yet we risk war because of our ideals. We do not subscribe to aggression which Japan is practising on China.

These isolationists do not believe that our American ideals and our way of life will gain through an unsuccessful war . . . but joining Britain now would not necessarily be an unsuccessful war.

Are the isolationists advocating that we must give up our ideals over the treatment of China by Japan . . . and condone the acts of aggression by recognizing Manchukuo and the puppet governments of Peiping and Nanking?

It may not be entirely practicable to risk war in defense of ideals . . . but always weighing the chances of getting hurt in putting forth the ideals for which the nation subscribes is not. . . nor never has been . . . the American way . . . and even though the nation has never been prepared for war . . . it has ever managed to muddle through to victory.

The Monroe Doctrine is a case in point. We have forced that Doctrine on an unwilling Europe for many years . . . although during that time we have never been prepared for war in case the Doctrine was challenged. It was England and her navy that can be thanked for our immunity from attack.

I cannot believe that England will lose this war . . . and believe with our help now she will win it.

It is true, that Germany has defeated and over run every nation that has opposed its mad thirst for conquest of Europe . . . and after Europe the world . . . or as much of it as Hitler can bite off. The neutral nations who opposed the German invasion of their soil did so . . . not because they believed they could succeed against Hitler's military and air power . . . or because they really counted upon British support. It was because they believed in their soul. That is most precious to an honorable nation. They were willing to sacrifice themselves before the German juggernaut . . . rather than submit tamely to slavery.

These nations are a conquered people . . . but their minds and their souls have not been conquered . . . and they will bide their time to show the dictator that the soul of a nation cannot be killed by incessant air bombing and ruthless inhuman treatment of their peoples.

Hitler must be on guard every minute that he occupies these countries . . . for they have in their hearts the will to oppose him at every turn and in the end rise up against him.

England and France were not prepared to go to war with Germany. England may have made a military mistake in going into a war in which she had everything to lose and nothing to gain . . . but there are higher principles of moral conduct that actuate peoples much more compelling than those which might have counselled England to hold aloof . . . while Germany trampled down Poland . . . a nation innocent of aggression . . . whose sole desire was to maintain a just peace and obtain its just rights in the world.

England called upon all neutrals to combine against the aggressor . . . but these nations were fearful of the consequences to their people in case they sided against the German Reich . . . and remained individual . . . to be knocked over one at a time like so many ten pins.

France fell because of divided counsels . . . Faulty staff work and fifth column activity within that country . . . which had worked for so many years that France's military machine . . . with the best soldiers in the world . . . could not oppose the German onslaught.

If the people of all these countries that have been conquered . . . had it to do over again . . . I feel sure they would take the same path. They would go to war rather than be enslaved. The finest element in all the conquered countries are true to their trust and are helping England.

England did promise to all those neutral countries her assistance . . . and gave it ungrudgingly as far as she was able . . . but it was not enough.

The German Juggernaut was too strong. For seven long years it had prepared itself for just this situation and was ready to fight Europe and England too.

Germany today has subjugated . . . by military power . . . all of Europe with the exception of Finland . . . Sweden . . . Switzerland . . . Spain and Portugal.

England's army has been driven out of Greece, and the Aegean Islands are being captured by Germany's air forces in order to bomb Alexandria and Suez. Turkey is the only country that stands between Hitler and the oil of Iraq and Iran and a dash on the Suez Canal. We may witness that country over run by Nazi troops and Admiral Cunningham's fleet forced to abandon the eastern Mediterranean because of the power of German air power.

We may likewise see Spain coerced to join the Axis, and Gibraltar attacked by Nazi forces. Both ends of the Mediterranean may be lost to Britain's navy. Malta will be the last stronghold and that is in a precarious position from air attacks by Germany and Italy.

The entire closed sea may soon be in Hitler's hands and Africa with its great resources will be available to him. England may not have enough warships and air planes to prevent such a calamity. The army of the Nile then will have to be evacuated.

The invasion of England yet threatens but what is more dangerous to the British Isles is the battle of the Atlantic, A sea area of about 200,000 square miles close to Ireland is regarded by Hitler as a Graveyard of British shipping.

It is logical to suppose that Hitler is using every available ship yard in Germany as well as those available to him in conquered countries to build submarines . . . warships and merchant ships. In the last war Germany built 800 submarines.

Hitler now has the facilities of Norway . . . Sweden . . . Holland . . . Denmark . . . Italy . . . France and Germany. In merchant ship construction these countries have a capacity in any single year in peace time building of 350 ships of an aggregate tonnage of 1,250,000 tons. In war this could be easily doubled. British merchant ships building capacity is about 900,000 tons. This too could be increased if the destruction by the German air force does not too greatly interfere.

The German plan in the Battle of the Atlantic is to coordinate its airplanes with its pocket submarines by the hundreds. The planes to locate the convoys and guide the submarines to their quarry. Submarine's sinking have been as high as 100,000 tons a week . . . or 400,000 a month . . . and 4,800,000 a year. This will make great inroads on British available merchant tonnage.

The lend lease bill gives our full material support to England. There is no thought . . . in the minds of those who favored the passage of that bill . . . to gain any material advantage thereby. It was the act of an outraged nation against Hitlerism. It was an expression by our people . . . that in as much as England was the last of the Democracies to resist the Doctrine of Hitlerism . . . we owed it our support . . . and were willing to take the consequences. Undoubtedly . . . there was fear in the hearts of the subscribersto that bill . . . that should Hitler succeed in defeating the British Empire and destroy the British navy . . . our defenses in America might be broached.

We know the nation was unprepared for war . . . that our navy is a one ocean navy . . . that our army is still untrained and inadequately equipped for war in this country . . . much less war in Europe. And we know that our air force is deplorably lacking in modern fighting planes . . . and that much of our air equipment had been sent across the seas to Britain . . . to bolster her defenses.

England is not losing the war . . . in spite of the claim of the defeatist. England can lose the mediterranean for its fleet. It can even be invaded by Germany . . . and still the Empire will carry on. With all of Europe and Africa in Hitler's grasp there will still be a British Empire and a British fleet.

Some people believe that we should weigh the chances for success in the event that we fight on Britain's side against Hitler. Can anyone consider that we shall have a greater chance of success against the dictators . . . after England has met defeat. Is not that thought absurd.

There is no necessity of sending an army to Europe. England does not need our army. There is no place in Europe where our army could be landed . . . that is not occupied by Hitler . . . and England does not need more troops in Britain. There are enough there . . . with the barrier of the channel between them to make any invasion by Hitler a dismal failure.

The battle of the Atlantic is raging and this is the severest threat against the British Isles, even more pregnant than the invasion threat. With the battle of the Atlantic won by Britain . . . England can maintain herself against Nazi raids . . . and with the transport lines open to America . . . England can receive our help in such quantity that Hitler will be frustrated in his attempt at world domination . . . if not defeated. Here is where America can aid in the winning of the battle of the Atlantic.

England has not asked us to enter the war . . . although for her to do so would be both logical and just. We have condemned everything that Hitler has done. We have declaimed that he is the enemy of civilization. We are building a two ocean navy to be ready to meet him on the seas should he vanquish the British navy. There are those who advocate building up our defenses in this hemisphere . . . and while so doing refuse more aid to Britain until American defense is served. They say that this is the American way . . . for even if Britain meets defeat . . . the enemy would have such problems of transportation across the ocean and landing on a hostile shore . . . that even Hitler with his grand army could never achieve it. Then they say our battleships, submarines and airplanes would be fighting near our own bases of supply instead of far away on the seas.

But these people fail to put their finger on Axis strength in the event of a victory. Hitler would not attempt to actually invade America. There are islands in the Atlantic and the Pacific whose ownership will be defined by the command of the seas in those oceans. From these islands submarines and airplanes can operate against America.

All of Africa will be owned by the Nazis . . . giving them passage to South America via Dakar. Those countries will be brought under the Nazi economic control. Nazi influence will spread through these countries to the Panama Canal and north to Mexico.

From Greenland to Canada the Nazi will push their conquests. Thus America will be isolated by a fiscal political policy against which its wealth and its gold will be of no avail.

Those people who belittle the power that Hitler will have after a British defeat . . . forget that he has the warship construction facilities of all the conquered territories and the slaves to build the warships. Including the facilities in Germany this will give him a three to one lead over America in building warships.

Then there is the responsibility of German workmen in their national production that is made crystal clear to them by Hitler another advantage in his favor. If production lags . . . those responsible are sent to a concentration camp. How different it is in America! Where workmen decide the hours they will work and the pay they will receive. This is their right under a Democracy.

If they wish to keep this right. . . does it not seem appropriate for them to give all they have to the job . . . in order that American production will be sufficient in volume and efficiency to down Hitler? What is needed is the just appreciation of labor's obligation to the "American Way of Life" and a feeling of individual responsibility to their tasks . . . without the threat of concentration camps. If this is not done the "American Way of Life" will be extinguished and a "Hitler Way of Life" set up in its place.

With England yet existing and with her shipbuilding facilities operating and added to our own, this lead in ship construction will be greatly lessened almost reduced to parity. Besides the British navy will be intact and can be added to our own.

These same people say that we should not enter a war we cannot win and give that as their reason for not joining Britain. But it is not too late to join England in victory against Hitler. There is more likelihood of winning with England than without her. These people are foolish enough to wish to wait till England is defeated and the war is forced upon us by Hitler . . . instead of acting while there is yet time and while Britain is intact in her empire citadel . . . the British Isles.

When England meets defeat . . . which pray God she never will . . . we shall be entering a war where the strength of our enemies and their control of the world will so isolate our country that the chances of winning will be all against us.

Hitler's motto is divide and conquer. We are following the example of Norway . . . Denmark . . . Belgium . . . The Netherlands and the Balkan nations in not allying ourselves with Britain in time. England is the last country to remain unconquered. Will we sit idly by and see that happen . . . knowing full well we are next?

A ruthless military and air power is ravishing all Europe. The British Empire . . . upon which in our world relations . . . we have ever counted upon to bring justice to the seas of the world . . . is fighting this enemy of civilization for its very life. We, on this side of the ocean are trembling in our shoes at the effect of a conquest by Hitler. We have a chance . . . a big chance . . . of causing this fight to go against Hitler. Shall we take it? . . . or rather shall we sit idly on the side lines in constant terror that our champion will go down to defeat . . . remembering all the time that we are the next object of attack.

The fear of Japan's action in the Pacific undoubtedly stays our hand. Japan's navy in a war in the Orient would be equal to our own. If we should go in the war on the side of Britain . . . Japan no doubt would be our enemy in the Pacific.

She has made a treaty with Russia which withholds the threat of that nation upon Japan's holdings in Manchukuo. If war comes to the Pacific . . . Japan would invade British Malaya and the East Indies . . . Even the Philippines wouldbe expected to fall into her lap. If our fleet went to Singapore . . . Japan's invasion of the East Indies would thus be halted until Japan could gain a victory over our fleet. Meanwhile America would need all her defense material in the war in the Orient and little help could go to England in Europe. Japan's superior air power in the far east would have to be met by the United States sending enormous numbers of airplanes to the Orient.

The counsel not to go into a war that we cannot win . . . irrespective of the merits of the cause . . . is defeatist propaganda. No one can be certain of winning a war under modern conditions. There are too many unknown factors involved, or as Bismarck called the imponderables.

If we review the advantages to us in entering the war both from the spiritual side and the materialistic side . . . we shall find both in our favor . . . it will be a popular war once we are in it for we all hate Hitler's guts.

From the material side our help to England may be enough to turn the balance in her favor . . . especially after our prodigious industrial output gets into its stride. England is now holding her own in every sea. A little more help from us in the way of warships and airplanes may turn the tide in her favor. If we lose with England we shall be no worse off . . . for whichever way defeat comes to England, our number will be next out of the Hitler hat to attack this hemisphere.

The people gave the mandate to our President to guide this nation over the past to its manifest destiny during these troublesome times. He has held office eight years and in the international field . . . at least . . . the nation has trusted him with hardly a dissenting vote.

The President appears to feel that neither the Congress nor the vast majority of the people of the country see eye to eye with him upon the seriousness of the water transport system to the British Isles . . . and the consequent insecurity of the Americas if the Battle of the Atlantic is lost by England.

The patrol system . . . which will be inaugurated by the United States navy and air force . . . due to its limitations . . . cannot take the place of an all out convoy of American supplies to Britain. It is but a step in that direction.

The Germans will not be stupid enough not to see that the patrol system is aimed to help Britain more than it helps our hemisphere defense. What then will be the reaction of German warships . . . planes and submarines to these American patrols . . . who will broadcast the locations of German scouting planes and raiders . . . surface or sub-surface . . . to a listening world? The Germans will know that this information upon reaching their enemies will bring down upon them British warships and planes. The American airplanes and warships sending out such messages into the blue . . . may be attacked by German planes or warships . . . claiming the attack is in self defense . . . a protective measure for their own security.

The convoy system came about in the last war because it was considered the best means of defeating the submarine. When merchant ships sailed singly they could be intercepted by submarines and torpedoed or gunned. Before information could reach the anti-submarine warship on patrol . . . that a merchant ship had been attacked . . . and hours before the destroyer or some such speedy vessel . . . could arrive at the location given by the radio of the merchant ship in peril . . . the submarine had accomplished its dire purpose . . . and all that remained on the surface of the sea were the life boats of the sunken ship filled to the gunwales with its crew and passengers.

The basic theory underlying the establishment of convoys. . . was if many merchant ships could be gotten together and escorted by warships . . . especially destroyers . . . submarines attacking convoys could be located when they fired their torpedoes . . . and then could be attacked with depth charges by the destroyers of the escort. The submarine representing the mountain and the destroyer Mohammed . . . the convoy system then . . . figuratively speaking . . . brought the mountain to Mohammed.

Now a new weapon has been added against shipping . . . the airplane . . . and the convoy system . . . instead of a hindrance . . . is an advantage to the airplanes attacking.

A convoy gives a concentration of targets and makes it easy for a large number of enemy planes to locate and attack it. Besides the airplane can scout out the convoy and send word by radio to enable a large concentration of submarines against it. These submarines can thus unerringly arrive at the convoy's location . . . and by multiple torpedo fire take a heavy toll on the merchant ships. The submarines being in such numbers . . . the destroyers of the escort will be confused as to the submarine's positions . . . and before they can orient themselves and make depth charge attacks . . . many ships will be sunk . . . and only a limited number of submarines will be harmed.

The ideal method would be to accompany each merchant ship with a destroyer. But . . . and it is a big but . . . then are not enough destroyers in all the navies of the world to furnish an escort for every single merchant ship. Therefore there must be some compromise between convoy and the method of proceeding singly. The answer is probably in organizing small convoys and escorting them with as many destroyers as are available. But the air is yet the big problem for convoys . . . and this danger can be reduced only by giving air protection. This might be accomplished by building many small airplane carriers to accompany convoys . . . to be converted from fairly fast ships . . . 20 knot speed or more. The twenty coast guard cutters . . . recently given Britain . . . might be converted to carry about ten fighting planes each.

The President does not feel that the country is sufficiently aroused today over the peril to it of a British defeat . . . for him to go all out for convoys. The patrol system can be only a stop gap . . . and a possible means to prove to the American public . . . that half measures are of no avail against such an implacable enemy as Hitler. The new system of patrol will be tried out . . . and the American people will watch with interest the result. If it does not reduce the sinking of American aid to Britain . . . there will be the need of advancing new methods . . . which will gradually develop into something that will offer a practical certainty of diverting our many defense articles from the bottom of the sea to their safe arrival in British ports.

I believe the country is becoming every day more conscious of the unmoral implication of the lend lease bill. Do we realize that this bill actually hires England . . . As mercenaries . . . to fight our war for us? We disapprove of everything that Hitlerism stands for . . . we are in deadly fear that Hitler will win the battle against the British fleet leaving our one ocean navy exposed to the attacks of the Axis naval powers. Then instead of passing such a bill . . . would it not have been more in keeping with our American honor and sense of justness and fitness if we entered the war on the side of England . . . and pooled our resources with hers to defeat the dictators.

In order to make it legal and regular . . . it would be more honorable to declare war . . . to show Hitler we are all out to encompass his defeat and when defeated make terms with a vanquished foe.