On Our Way, Where?
WE FIND A FATALISTIC ACCEPTANCE OF THE INEVITABLE
By ALF. M. LANDON, Presidential Candidate in 1936
At the Commencement Exercises of Simpson College, Indianola, Iowa, June 2, 1941
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 562-564
BECAUSE this is one of the memorable days in your lives and the lives of your fathers and mothers, I deeply appreciate the honor you do me in asking me to make the graduation address at Simpson College.
In these earth-shaking times you will not expect from me mere pleasantries. Such occasions as this fail of their purpose if they do not contribute to the better understanding of the realities confronting us. And there is probably little time left for such speeches.
Tuesday night it appeared that the great debate on war or peace now was closed. That the proclamation of unlimited national emergency in connection with the President's speech meant the time had come for us to close ranks behind the President, as we always do when facing a foreign foe.
Today, after reading the reports of the presidential press conference following his speech, a press conference which was announced for the purpose of clarifying the speech, it is clear that the President himself has not made up his mind. As long as expert White House reporters are debating what he meant in his speech and in his press conference the next day, the issue can still be debated. Therefore, the debate is still open.
The President can lead me into closed ranks, but he can not hint me there, or scare me into them. This is not mere oratory on my part. I supported his vigorous and forthright statements when the flag was fired on at the sinking of the Panay, and at a time when some of those who are now shouting for war were shouting for the Ludlow resolution.
The best trained reporters cannot agree as to the meaning of the President's speech, and the meaning of what he said in the press conference the next day in relation to it. Therefore, the country must reach the conclusion the President still believes we can help England in ways that will not involve us in war. The country must also reach the conclusion thatthe war party in America is trying to read into the President's speech actions that are not there. Their attempt to give the country "the rush act" is revealed in many instances of overstatement, and the twist of the adjective in attempting to analyze the President's beautiful prose.
Long ago I considered all the possibilities of a Hitler victory. I considered living in the regimented world his victories might require, for a while.
Frank Knox and I went all over these tragic possibilities, and others, and their danger to our country, in several conversations ending just about a year ago today. He reached one conclusion. I another. And apparently the President does not yet share Secretary Knox's views of what should be done.
Never once have I wavered in my belief that we should arm to the teeth, but stay out of armed participation in this European war. Having considered all the possibilities that have happened, I have not been stampeded by their occurrence. I refuse to get the cart before the horse.
Before we go a step further we should know the actual status of our national defense equipment. To send men into the field untrained and unaccustomed to their equipment is sheer murder. I, for one, want to know how much training our men are receiving with the equipment they will use in actual combat, if engaged in combat.
Before we talk about getting into war, and talk about carrying the four freedoms to all the world, let us know whether we have got something to fight with, and if we have not got it, when are we going to get it? This is all important to me. That use of the words "potential strength" in the President's chat sounded disturbingly reminiscent of "on hand and on order."
Then there is something else, all important also, that is not being discussed. We don't know whether the Englishpolicies, when victory comes, will be the old imperialism balance of power that tolerates no other nation in the world, or whether her policy is to be one of reconciliation, or of repression. It was neither, after the world war.
I don't think you can put a mighty people like the Germans into shackles permanently. Yet some of the English Cabinet Members' speeches indicate that line of thought. I have not seen any authoritative enthusiastic reaction from the English to Secretary Hulls tangible and constructive four points recently "offering a broad program of world economic reconstruction." In fact, the implication of their silence would indicate disagreement.
The English send their idealists over here, like Lord Halifax, but when we sit down around the treaty table we always find a lot of hard boiled realistic traders, who want to eat their cake and have it too. So before we go into partnership with them, with every prospect of carrying the big end of the load, let us understand all the facts. Not only of what we are going to fight with, but what we are going to fight for. And as far as I am concerned, I want something more tangible than the four freedoms, and something more satisfactory than we have received from the English so far, in statement of their policy.
So long as we are simply helping England with material aid, we have no right to ask her to state her terms. But if we are going into partnership with her to save the world and establish a new order, we have a right first to know her policies, and on what terms she will make peace.
Of course, as I have said many times, we cannot live upon a high plateau aloof from the rest of the world. Of course the world is made smaller by the air plane, and of course war has been revolutionized by the air plane. But all this does not completely eliminate geography.
One of the all important things for us, that we hear little if anything about these days, is the situation in South America.
Now Dakar,—Dakar, Africa, is picked as the jumping off place to Brazil for the Nazi invasion of the Western Hemisphere. Well, Dakar, Africa, is French territory at the present. But, waiving that, get down your maps and figure out how far Dakar, in Africa, is from the real base of operations, Germany. There isn't a military or naval expert in the United States that will challenge the statement that the real base of operations is in Germany. Consider then the distance from Germany to Dakar, in Africa. Consider the woefully inadequate transportation facilities, the enormous quantities of equipment, munitions, guns, food, and men that would have to be transported from Germany to Dakar—Dakar, Africa, before they were even started for Brazil. For even though the air plane has revolutionized warfare, it has not eliminated the doughboys. And all this material and all the ships and all these millions of men would have to be assembled in Dakar, Africa, 4,000 miles from their base of operations in Germany. And still 1,600 sea miles further to go, to their objective in Brazil.
And what about our good and powerful friend Brazil? What are we doing to reach an understanding with her? If there is this mutual danger, it would seem that both countries could find it possible to work out a cooperative agreement that would be of mutual benefit. In fact, that is the purpose of the several declarations of the American states. This is a question of infinite importance to the American people.
As a matter of fact, we have a base in British Guiana. This is one of the bases that we acquired in the destroyer deal. If we go ahead and swiftly develop this base, we will have materially improved our defense position, and will bein a strong position to cooperate with neighboring countries against any threat of attack from over the seas. A report on the progress of our defense preparations on this base is of great importance to the American people.
There is really less potential menace from Hitler today than there was a year ago. Despite his victories, he has been knocked about considerably. He has lost many men and ships in the last year. The German people are just one year nearer the limits of human endurance all peoples possess. While our defense production is just getting into its stride. Our Navy is increasing. We have the industrial production, the resources, the man power, and what is more important, we operate from "the impregnable security" of our own base, if we stay in this hemisphere.
I once asked an old hoss trader how he made up his mind what a hoss was worth. He replied: "I walk around him once, and trade on the first impression."
The first impression of the American people was to stay out of the European war. Gradually, step by step, a little group who were determined from the first that we should enter this war, have attempted, by clever maneuvering, to change the people's first impression.
For a long time they concealed from the people their true beliefs and intentions. Some are still trying to deceive us with the illusion that war would not mean bringing into American homes the suffering, the destruction of life and dreams, the return of crippled and decaying men in place of the lifelong hopes these homes sent forth.
I do not know of a greater attempt in all history to deceive the American people as to the consequences of their decision and the consequences of what we are doing, than the record, both in and out of the Administration, during the present European war.
Wars cannot be won by halfway measures. We cannot fight a war limited to naval and air action, as we have been told. We cannot underwrite Hitler's defeat without sending into action across the seas millions of doughboys. Never for one minute have I wavered from that view of the realities of war.
Wars are not won by bluff and bluster. They are not won by clever diplomatic moves. It is plainly evident that the war party in the United States is magnifying the difficulty of defending the Monroe Doctrine, just as they minimize the enormous difficulty of Hitler in attacking it successfully.
It may well be, if we do not change our national habits, that the future historian will refer to your generation as seeing the end of the republic.
It may well be that the anarchy of today will produce despotism tomorrow. That has been true before in the world's history. The most recent example was in Germany, when a puzzled and discouraged people turned from the republic they had tried, to Naziism, in their search for security.
If anyone is confident that the roots of our democracy are so deeply planted that there is no danger of such a thing happening here, let him take a look at these roots, and see if they are in a healthy condition. Already, executive rule has been substituted for the three branches of government. The President's proclamation of unlimited national emergency, and the failure in his speech to mention the Congress, practically brushes aside the Congress, and the President can virtually govern the country by executive order. The fact that the President has confused the country as to exactly what he meant to do should not deceive us as to what he can do, supported by war hysteria and a blank check majority in Congress, and a friendly Supreme Court.
Therefore, for the period of the unlimited emergency, we have not in form but in reality seen the end of the Republic That its restoration will automatically occur cannot be taken for granted. We have to consider, among other things, the administration's record of unwillingness to surrender emergency powers. And we have the administration's record of short cuts.
We find a fatalistic acceptance of the inevitable. On all sides we have heard it said frequently in recent months, "It's no use to fight against war, because Roosevelt can get us in whenever he wants to."
We have already accepted, in our thinking and legislation, the basic tenet of Naziism, that everything is dependent upon government.
In this transition period between a laissez faire capitalism and something else, we failed to tackle the hard job of achieving social progress without the entering wedge of totalitarianism.
In the hurry to expand government to meet new economic conditions, too many administrative short cuts were condoned for the sake of the objective. And we have been making that a regular practice. Too many are now condoning a short cut to war and to national defense, involved in the Presidential proclamation of unlimited national emergency. It was strange to see exultation on the part of some, for the way Congress was ignored in the last fireside chat. By firm and capable management we could have had the necessary national defense production without resort to such extreme means, and certainly Congress should have the opportunity to debate the war issue in advance, instead of being permitted at the last minute to do so simply as a matter of form.
There is an old moth-eaten principle that has been misused in the attempt to stop much good legislation. But it is a good rule, that we should have a government of laws, not men.
The better the lawyer, the less he will pretend to advise you on what the government may rule tomorrow or next day, on dozens of questions affecting everyday business relations. A concrete ruling today on a definite and specific point may be changed tomorrow. No one knows "where he is at," as the saying goes, because power was delegated to men without any blueprints of laws to follow. The judgment of each bureaucrat is his law.
We are stirred by the flouting of the rights of the minority in Nazi, Fascist, and Communist countries. Yet we have tar and feather parties, lynchings, and suppression of free speech in various parts of the United States. Already the attempt is being made to paste the label of "unpatriotic" on those who still dare to debate the issue of war.
In other words, in these things I have mentioned and in other ways we have been steadily weakening our checks upon the majority. And this in all other republics, of ancient and modern times, has resulted in dictatorship, of the right or of the left.
The self-reliance, the fortitude, and the sense of equality necessary in the type of citizen this nation requires, if the republic is to survive in this world of dictatorships, are not being developed by the New Deal, nor are they developed by arrogant plutocracy that acts, when in power, more or less like glorified pawnbrokers. In the past eight years we have learned to look to Washington instead of to local communities to pay the bills of civil projects. One blank check appropriation after another has rendered Congress and the local Chambers of Commerce equally supine. New Deal idealistic absolutism was praised by liberals as a substitute for ruthless plutocratic absolutism, without any thought of the destructiveness of both to the idea of government by reference to the people.
And it has not yet dawned upon the liberals of the country that social progress with totalitarianism is still totalitarianism. That in a world returning to despotism in the name of social gains, we should be particularly careful to preserve the social gains by strengthening the republic, instead of weakening it by short cut methods pursued in the name of a holy cause. For eight years now we have followed the theory of government that the end justifies the means. If the objective is humanitarian, if the cause is noble, why worry about the methods used to reach the goal? If democratic traditions and concepts were destroyed, when by more careful study and slower, more expert statesmanship they could have been maintained with the same social gains, what's the difference? In other words, social gains were not inimical and of themselves destructive of the republic, as a lot of "stuffed shirt" reactionaries would have us believe. But the way they are accomplished, the short cuts resorted to in the process of achieving them, are very disastrous to the idea of reference to the people for authority to proceed. And once that idea is destroyed the republic is destroyed, and you have a gradually growing despotism.
Our problems are many sided. No question is exclusivelyeconomic or political or social. The very complexities, the willingness to follow open-mouthed the honeyed words of one leader, was too much for the people of Italy and Germany. But if there was honey in his phrases, they were backed up by sufficient daring and determination to put fortitude into his people.
The entire world, in utmost reality, is being ruled by four men: Stalin, Churchill, Hitler, and Roosevelt. And England, Germany, and the United States are in the fix they are today from these same conditions, by a "national distaste for facing difficult, complex facts, the national yearning for an easy way out, and a general desire to reap the benefits ofcollective action without swallowing the prescription of Dr. Marx."
I don't think the principles of Dr. Marx are workable. I do think our present habits lead straight for a dictatorship, of the right. Already in a few ways that I have briefly mentioned, we have undermined the structure of the republic. I think we are headed for a long, long war—two, five, ten years maybe—for one step farther and there is no turning back until we win. When we do win, which we will in the end, we will be bankrupt, along with the rest of the combatant world.
To all this, add executive rule, and you will perceive, I hope, that the task of restoring our republic is not automatic and simple, but extremely difficult. It can be done only with determined effort on the part of all the citizens.
For us in our thinking to accept as permanently granted these powers the President has assumed, or his acts under them as beyond criticism, would be a colossal disaster to the republic.
You are not looking for the easy way. All you are looking for is opportunity. Hold fast, then, I say, to the old-fashioned religion of hard work, sobriety, and frugality, true attributes of strength of character which your country must have in its citizens of today and tomorrow. Never have I wavered in my confidence and belief that the character of the American people, in the end, will meet whatever test may come.
There is more to life in America than anywhere else in the world today. We must be worthy of it. I believe we are. But any people, no matter how sturdy, must have leadership of strength and determination that will encourage them, and if necessary make them sacrifice a part in order to preserve the whole.