The American People Want No War


By BURTON K. WHEELER, U. S. Senator from Montana

Delivered at a Rally at Madison Square Garden, New York, May 23, 1941,Under the Auspices of the America First Committee

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 489-4

IT is a great pleasure to come to the City of New York and address this great gathering of American citizens. Keeping this nation at peace and free from foreign wars is the most noble and patriotic service that an American can render the republic. By these standards no man has served the United States more intelligently, more courageously, and more effectively than Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh. Upon him the warmongers have turned their scorn and abuse. But he has continued the fight of peace and democracy. To Colonel Lindbergh, I say—the greatest eventual glory comes not from wars won or lost but from wars prevented. Some day that glory will be accorded Colonel Lindbergh, as it was accorded his illustrious father and Old Battling Bob LaFollette.

I speak to you tonight not as a Democrat, not as a Republican, but as a plain ordinary citizen who is deeply interested in this country of ours. I am here to urge you to muster the courage to fight as you have never fought before—to fight to save your sons from the bloody battlefields of Europe, Asia and Africa—to fight against one-man government in the United States.

Peace or war is not a partisan issue—it is an American issue.

I hate one-man government. I was denouncing Mussolini when Churchill was saying in 1927 "if I were an Italian I would be a Fascist." I was denouncing Hitler when Lord Halifax was shooting wild boar with Goering in Germany.

Foes of U. S. Asked to Go

If there be one or many within the range of my voice who prefers the German, the Italian, the Russian, or even the British system to the American form of government, I say go there and stay there. Let those of us who believe in America, who have faith in American institutions, who have confidence in our ability to defend ourselves without the aid of the English Navy or any other foreign power—give us, I say, an opportunity to remain at peace and to solve our domestic problems within the framework of the Constitution of the United States.

During the past month or two I have traveled some 7,600 miles through more than twenty States. I have addressed public meetings from one end of this country to the other. Whether it was business and professional men in Cincinnati, workers in Denver, farmers in Sioux Falls, miners in Butte, Mont., merchants in Boston, everywhere, East or West, it was the same—the American people are firmly resolved to avoid this war. Dr. Gallup may publish polls which indicate that the American public would approve convoys. He may, with the approval of Secretary Stimson, poll our armed forces. But he knows that every American soldier has been fully informed about the fate of General Hugh Johnson and Colonel Lindbergh when they dared to express their views. But, if I know anything of public sentiment or the temper of the American people, I fear the fate of those who would take them into the hell of war today.

Expresses Admiration of British

These crowded, overflow meetings from Boston to Denver were composed of a cross-section of the population. Theywere not pro-Nazis or pro-Fascists or pro-Communists. They were simply pro-Americans. They, like myself, had been sympathetic with the English people. No blood but English flows through my veins or any of my family. And next to being pro-American I sympathize with the English. I greatly admire the English. Unlike us, they have never been guilty of being sentimental suckers.

Lord Palmerston said, I quote: "England has no eternal enmities and no eternal friendships. She has only eternal interests." An Englishman, by friends, wherever you find him, loves England first, and I only wish there were more Americans in the United States of America that loved America first.

When the Willkie crusade to preserve the Chinese way of life flopped, Lord Halifax was rushed into the Middle West. Talk of subversive activities—speak of fifth columnists—what brazen effrontery! A British Ambassador touring the United States to arouse our people to sacrifice their sons and their treasure to save the British Empire. The American people, my friends, resent this abuse of diplomatic courtesy. They resent it just as they resent the untiring efforts of the royal refugees to plunge us into war. They know that these royalists did not give their subjects the democracy they now implore us to save. They know these royalists did not solve the economic and social problems in their own lands. They know that when the cannon roared and the death rained from the skies these royal refugees seized their gold and departed for safer lands. They left their subjects to do the fighting and the dying.

Freedoms Wanted Here

The American people would like to see the four freedoms established throughout the world, but first they want freedom from want in the United States; first they want freedom of speech and freedom from lynching in Florida; and first, my friends, they want the four freedoms firmly and irrevocably established in the United States of America.

High-ranking officials have vainly pleaded the war-makers' cause, but all to no avail. Finally the Secretary of Agriculture was rushed into the field. He journeyed to the heart of the farming country, and there he promised the farmers parity prices and luscious government subsidies on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the Secretary wanted them to come to war. But the American farmer and his wife are no Judas Iscariot; they will not sell their sons into war for thirty pieces of silver.

The American people are still moved by noble emotions, but they learned twenty-five years ago to their eternal sorrow that there is no idealism in war. They learned and President Wilson learned that economic and political spoils—not humanitarian impulses—govern the conquerors. They saw democracy sacrificed on the altar of international selfishness, exchanged for more territory and reparations.

And so today the warmakers and all those who would so willingly sacrifice your boys' lives to preserve the tottering British Empire—tell us we cannot live in a world dominated by a dictator. Our forefathers carved a democracy in a world of autocratic monarchies in 1776. Less than thirty years later a Napoleon unleashed his armed might against England andagainst most of Europe. Then a Boston anglophile—Fisher Ames—declared, I quote: "Great Britain is fighting our battles and the battles of mankind, and France is combatting for the power to enslave and plunder us and all the world."

Scoffs at Invasion

Today our war makers in frightened tones and with a tremor in their voice pose the question—"What if Germany seized the British Fleet?" They imply all would be lost. They suggest that we would suffer an immediate invasion—that Panzer divisions would roll down Broadway—and that parachutists would be landing in Montana. How fantastic!

I affirm with all my strength, by confidence and faith in the United States of America. We are no small, trembling nation. We are strong and growing stronger. We are mighty and becoming mightier. No nation dependent upon another is or can be an independent nation, and those who parade as Americans but who tell us that we are dependent upon the British Navy are unworthy of the name of American.

We are building a two-ocean navy. It will protect this hemisphere. Except for a few units it will be ready for service within two years. Unless Hitler can invade this hemisphere within the next few months he could never do it even though he captured the entire British fleet and the remainder of the French and Italian Fleet and these fleets were his to command. This is not idle talk from a swivel chair expert—ask any top ranking, active working American naval officer.

Let us examine the facts: If Hitler seized the British fleet tomorrow years would be required in which to train crews and officers to man these ships. Each man must be trained for his tasks, many require the greatest skill and longest experience. Likewise, to command and to maneuver fleets demands years of study and then more years of drilling aboard ship. And each of these planes, submarines and ships must drill with each other before a fleet has been trained for action.

Nazis Held Weak at Sea

Hitler has no fleet now and he will not have a fleet until long after we are ready for him, if he attempts to invade this country.

But, my friends, it is inconceivable that the British Fleet would ever come into Hitler's hands. In 1918 the Germans sank their whole fleet rather than deliver it to England. Without the British navy it would take Hitler at least seven years in which to build a fleet equal to ours.

To invade South or North America the invader must have a tremendously superior fleet. It is significant that the British and the French navies never attempted a coastal invasion of Germany. They always chose land operations.

Any of our naval experts will tell you the German fleet today is inconsequential. The British have humbled the Italian fleet. For Hitler to attempt an invasion of the Americas would be suicide. Transports carrying men require fleet protection. German submarines are small. They were designed to operate close to their bases—with a few hundred miles of England. They could not be used to accompany transports in any great number, while American submarines are large. They are built for long range. They can cross the Atlantic and back without refueling. They could harass and sink transports over the entire route. No invader could maintain a supply line from Dakar to South America or from Berlin to New York. American bombing planes, protected by fighters would meet any invaders.

Assume the Germans captured the British Fleet—where would he get the ships, where would Hitler get the shipsto transport the troops? Two or three thousand transports for men, another thousand ships to carry the heavy tanks, the motor vehicles, the military supplies that would be necessary. Tonight it is doubtful whether Germany could obtain a hundred small transports, or transport a hundred thousand men. Why, we would wipe out a hundred thousand men in no time. It would take at least two million men to make any kind of an invasion of the United States of America.

Our War Task Outlined

But if we go into this war to win it means we will be the ones to provide the 3,000 transports which do not exist. We will be the ones that must carry our bombers and fighters thousands of miles. It will be we who attempt to land in Europe against entrenched forces, giant cannons and the air might of Germany. We are the ones whose transports will be vulnerable to the short radius of active German submarines, speed boats and aircraft based on near-by German, French and Spanish ports. That will be different, far different, than repelling any invading force in this hemisphere.

Thus, my friends, a cold, dispassionate analysis of the facts explodes the fanciful theory of a military invasion of the Western Hemisphere, which your Secretary Stimson talked about only a short time ago. We are safe now and we are safe for years to come. But the war makers, my friends, are undaunted. They have conjured up another threat, the threat of an economic invasion. And to those who preach economic defeatism I say, as I said to their craven-hearted allies who fear Hitler will some day be on Broadway, have faith in American industry, in American labor, in American business and in American genius. Free American industry is superior to controlled Nazi industry, free American workers can produce more than Nazi slaves and I know that American businessmen can compete anywhere in the world today.

If the economic history of the world proves anything, it proves that low wages and slave labor cannot compete with free labor. Chinese factories, owned and operated by the British, with cheap coolie labor, has never been a real threat And in India most factories are equipped with modern English machinery. The great majority of the executives and technical experts are British, the cheapest labor is employed, and yet India is no economic threat.

India's Workers Described

The plight of India's workers is tragic. Go there, as I have gone, see them earn a few pennies for their day's labor, see them spend if for the cheapest food, see thousands asleep at night on the public thoroughfares, on the streets and on the sidewalks in Bombay and other cities, with only boards or concrete under them, and nothing over them excepting the heavens and the British flag.

Cheap labor, slave labor is no match for free labor. If it were England, who controls the world's largest low-wage reservoir, would dominate and monopolize the world trade today.

I, for one, my friends, am not afraid of any of these imaginary threats conjured by those who want to take us into a jolly war. (Laughter drowns out what appears to be a jibe against these people.) But I am afraid that if President Roosevelt repudiates his election promises to the American people not to take us into a foreign war that the American people will lose faith not only in their President but in their form of government.

I am afraid that if our national debt grows greater andgreater we will resort to debt repudiation or inflation. I am afraid that if the President accepts the advice of that little coterie who surround him, most of whom have never faced an electorate or met a payroll, or tried a law suit and many of whom are impractical dreamers, he will wage an undeclared war. And then Constitutional government in the United States will be at an end.

I am afraid that when American boys return from Singapore, Dong Dang, Bombay, Dakar and the Red Sea, armless, legless, maimed and insane, and when American boys return to seek jobs when there are no jobs, they will be embittered and disheartened. Some of them will seek those who said election pledges of peace were mere campaign oratory.

War's Aftermath Feared

I fear the aftermath of war. A post-war period is far more threatening and dangerous to this country than any foreign military or naval force. If we enter the conflict, we would become at that moment a regimented nation. We as individuals would be subordinated to one person—the Commander in Chief—and to one objective, the waging of war. From such a state, democracy could hardly be restored. Our men and women, disillusioned, disheartened and even destroyed mentally and morally amid economic chaos and social dislocations, would turn to the man on horseback. Then, and not before, would there arise little American fuehrers and from them would come one native fuehrer, an American Il Duce or an American Hitler.

The workers, the farmers, the business and professional men, people from every walk of life, look to the President of the United States for leadership, for another brand of leadership, and a new brand of guidance. They are not alone. The people of all the world look to you, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They look to you with upturned faces, with prayers on their lips and hope in their hearts. They see you, a symbol of liberty, a champion of the downtrodden; they see you as their knight, a hope for peace.

These people are realists; they are not dreamers. English mothers, Italian mothers, German mothers know what it is to have sons fighting, killing and destroying. Certainly all thinking people the world over understand the cost and thefutility of war. They want peace; peace before the people of the world and civilization are doomed; before they sink into a common grave of despair and destruction.

Appeal for Peace Urged

You, President Roosevelt, could appeal to the world for peace. You could appeal, not to Hitler or to Mussolini or to Churchill, but to the people of Germany, Italy, England and Japan. You could demand that the war makers, the Hitlers of Germany, the Churchills in England and the Knoxes and Stimsons in America step down and out. I believe you could bring about the peace of the world if you would. But first you must rid yourself of those war makers that surround you and who refuse to understand or heed the wishes of the American people.

The American people demand that American influence be diverted from the channels of war to the channels of peace. The American people know that Bullitt promised Poland we would enter when President Roosevelt was promising our people continued peace. The American people know that it was Colonel Donovan's promises that sent Yugoslavia into battle. If the American war makers really are interested in preserving the tottering British Empire, if they really believe that the British Navy is our first line of defense, then they should join us and work for peace now.

The tremendous power, present and potential of the United States lent to the cause of peace, might well stop this heartless slaughter of humans and needless destruction of property. With the destruction of mankind in the balance, the time has come to act, to act for a just peace, not in the interest of the British Tories or imperialists, not in the interests of power or land-hungry dictators, but in the interest of all the people of the world.

The American people, the people of America want no convoys. They want no substitute for convoys, and they want no war.

Tonight most of the world is engaged in a bloody battle. I ask in behalf of untold millions that the President of the United States, at the risk of being called an appeaser, appeal to all the people of the world to stop war, now, before it is too late.