Russia and the Four Freedoms


By ROBERT A. TAFT, U. S. Senator from Ohio

Over the Columbia Broadcasting System, June 25, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 584-586

ARE we going to get in the war? And if so, when? Those are the questions which every American, certainly every American in Washington, is asking. I have often stated the reasons why I believe that it would be contrary to the future welfare and happiness of the people of this country for us to intervene in the war now proceeding between Germany and the British Empire; that it would mean war for many years to come, with all its terrible results. Those reasons are not shaken by the surprising war between Germany and Russia. I believe they are greatly strengthened.

There can be no doubt that a great majority of the American people are opposed to our going outside of this continent to make war on a nation which has not attacked us, no matter how wicked that nation is. But there is an active war party—and I do not mean to identify that with either political party—which has urged one argument after another upon the people in a frank effort to change their convictions and develop an excitement and hysteria for war.

First it was said that we must go to war now for fear that Hitler will later overwhelm the world and conquer the United States. The force of this argument has steadily declined until today hardly a military or naval expert claims that Hitler can successfully attack the United States across the Atlantic Ocean. I notice that even the President is laying little stress on this argument today. There has been some question raised as to whether we were going to have all of our defenses ready in time to meet any possible attack.

The Russian war certainly postpones for many months any attack which Hitler could possibly make; and makes even more certain a defense of the United States sufficient to discourage any military or naval attack.

As for foreign trade, I have often pointed out that the danger to our trade, which the President now emphasizes, is grossly exaggerated. I do not believe the American people will ever go to war against a European nation on the theory that some day it may be a successful competitor for foreign trade. If Germany controls Russia, it will reduce the Nazi interest in securing South American raw materials rather than increase it.

But fundamentally the effort to persuade the people of the United States to enter the war has been made on emotional and moral grounds. It has been an effort to build a war upon the American love of democracy and freedom and the American hatred of the things for which Hitler stands in Europe. I yield to no one either in my love for freedom or my hatred of Hitler. But there are two great objections to waging an aggressive war outside of a nation's territory for love or hate, or any other moral issue.

First, the method proposed, war, destroys the very morality which we seek to uphold. In his January address the President announced that we were going to establish a moral order throughout the world; freedom of speech and expression everywhere in the world; freedom to worship God everywhere in the world; freedom from want and freedom from fear everywhere in the world. No one can deny the

desirability of spreading democratic principles and these four freedoms to every corner of the world; but it is obvious that the forcing of any special brand of freedom and democracy on a people by brute force of war, whether they want it or not, is a denial of those very democratic principles which we are striving to advance. It is a revival of the slogan of the World War that we must make the world safe for democracy, which the World War certainly did not do. It is a belief in our divine appointment to reform the world. It is akin to the religious fervor which inspired the Holy Land crusades of the Middle Ages. It is exactly the reasoning by which the Spanish Inquisition is alleged to have enforced Christianity on infidels who preferred to believe in other gods.

The European War Is Not a War of Democracy Against Tyrannies

The complete absurdity of going to war even to spread our highest ideals is certainly revealed by the present situation in Europe. In the alleged battle between the totalitarian states and the democracies, we now find Communist Russia transformed into a democracy. In some way the illusion was created in the newspapers and radio and movies by skillful propaganda that Greece and China and Brazil and other friendly nations were democracies, although they were governed without question by dictators. But how can anyone swallow the idea that Russia is battling for democratic principles? Yet the President on Monday announced that the United States would give all possible aid to Russia the character and quantity of the aid to await only a disclosure of Russian needs. Because overnight Russia is transformed from an aggressor into a democracy, the Treasury has released $40,000,000 in Russian assets, although the assets of France are frozen tighter than a drum.

To spread the four freedoms throughout the world we will ship airplanes and tanks and guns to Communist Russia. But no country was more responsible for the present war and Germany's aggression than Russia itself. Except for the Russian pact with Germany there would have been no invasion of Poland. Then Russia proved to be as much of an aggressor as Germany. If through our aid Stalin is continued in power, do you suppose that he will spread the four freedoms through Finland and Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania? Do you suppose that anybody in Russia itself will ever hear of the four freedoms after the war? Apparently we are to follow bundles for Britain with packages for Petrograd. In the name of democracy we are to make a Communist alliance with the most ruthless dictator in the world. Could there be a greater travesty on the false propaganda fed to the American people that this is a great moral issue between ideologies? If Hitler wins, it is a victory for fascism. If Stalin wins it is a victory for communism. From the point of view of ideology there is no choice.

But the victory of communism in the world outside of America would be far more dangerous to the United States from an ideological standpoint than the victory of fascism. There has never been the slightest danger that the people of this country would ever embrace bundism or nazi-ism. It is completely foreign to every idea we have learned since the nursery. But communism masquerades, often successfully, under the guise of democracy, though just as alien to our real principles as nazi-ism itself. It is a greater danger to the United States because it is a false philosophy which appeals to many. Fascism is a false philosophy which appeals to very few indeed.

On May 27 the President made a great emotional appeal to the people. He said, "Today the whole world is divided between slavery and human freedom—between pagan brutality and the Christian ideal." On May 27 Stalin represented human slavery and pagan brutality. On June 24 he represents human freedom and the Christian ideal. The President said further, "We will accept only a world consecrated to freedom of speech and expression—freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—freedom from want—and freedom from terrorism." Will that part of the world which Stalin conquers with our airplanes and our tanks be consecrated to freedom of speech and expression? Will it be consecrated to freedom of every person to worship God in his own way? Will it be consecrated to freedom from want and freedom from terrorism? Or, after a Russian victory with our aid, must we step in with our armies to impose the four freedoms on 200,000,000 people 10,000 miles away, who have never known either freedom from want or freedom from terrorism? Surely Stalin will not do it. Surely we must know by this time that Stalin's promises are as valueless as are those of Hitler himself.

The attempt to picture a world divided between two great ideologies, the attempt to create a great moral issue behind our supposed duty to spread the four freedoms everywhere in the world, have been utterly destroyed by the new Communist alliance. The shouters for war are left with but one cry, "We hate Hitler. Hitler must be destroyed." Hate is hardly the basis for a moral issue. From the utter confusion of the present situation in Europe the American people can only conclude that these quarrels are European quarrels, from which at all costs we must keep our country clear. Furthermore, should we attempt to carry through the moral principles implied in the four-freedoms theory, we would face war for years to come, for Germany can only be crushed by a land army, and a land army made up principally of Americans. But today we could not transport an army to Europe if we would without tremendous losses from submarines and dive bombers. It is futile to bluster about the kind of freedoms we will impose everywhere in the world.

The Possibility of Peace Should Be Explored

And yet the Russo-German war may perhaps be the solution of the present problems of the world. It might actually lead to peace. It seems to indicate that Hitler has given up the idea that he can conquer the British Isles by invasion. It seems to show that he believes the future of Germany rests on the continent of Europe rather than on the seas. I sincerely hope that it may lead to some discussion of peace before the end of 1941, and before we ourselves are further involved in a European quarrel. The President should certainly explore the possibilities of such a peace, with as little publicity as possible. I have only contempt for those radio commentators who treat every suggestion of a peace which would save millions of lives as German propaganda. Whether Hitler will accept terms which can possibly be acceptable to England I do not know, but the United States should certainly not block the making of any peace which is acceptable to England. We must not force England to accept any terms which may be acceptable to Hitler, but neither do I believe that we should prevent their making peace on any terms which the English people feel is to their advantage. This is their war. They began it justifiably. They are the people who have been bombed, and whose cities have been destroyed. It is up to them to make the decision. But let them not make it with the idea that the United States is ever going to send a great expeditionary force to the continent of Europe. The German-Russian war has made that policy ridiculous, if it was ever under consideration. I am glad to see from General Marshall's statement Monday morning that we are not contemplating any substantial enlargement of our present army.

Aid to Britain Short of War

This country can be united on a policy of no intervention in Europe and aid to Britain. We can make that aid infinitely more effective if we abandon the role of world benefactor; if we leave Balkan politics alone; if we avoid a Communist alliance; if we adhere to the simple policy of aiding Britain. Why do we want to aid Britain? Because, by and large, they do have the same ideals as we ourselves. Because they are our close relatives, from whom we derived fundamentally the whole theory of our Government. Because the destruction of Britain and the British Empire would mean an unsettled world, with the greatest hazard to the peace and prosperity of the entire world. That is a wholly sufficient reason without any spreading of the four freedoms anywhere else in the world.

How can we aid. Britain best? By the simple process of speeding up our manufacture of airplanes and tanks and war materials of every kind. That is our task in the war, and up to this time we have woefully failed in its accomplishment. The lease-lend bill was hailed as the great savior of England, and those of us who opposed its conferring of dictatorial powers on the President, including the power to give away our arms to Russia and every other country in the world, were practically accused of treachery because we insisted on debating the bill for three weeks. Yet in a period of almost three months the total transfer of defense articles from American supplies totaled only $75,000,000, whereas it was contemplated that from American Army and Navy supplies alone $1,300,000,000 worth was to be transferred to England. During the same period we spent on W. P. A. approximately $300,000,000. Wemust correct our utterly inefficient organization for defense. We must stop the strikes and go to work. Apparently we have wholly fallen down in our construction of pursuit planes, so that today the British do not want our pursuit planes and infinitely prefer their own. We have heard a lot of talk of convoys, but no one has denied the published figures that only 4 per cent of the ships going from this country to England have been sunk. Even this figure is higher than the fact, because the bombing planes, which are so important to England, are flown over on their own power. There is no evidence that our entire Navy could substantially reduce the sinkings which do occur from submarines and from German planes and from the bombing of English ports after the arrival of merchant vessels. The whole outcry for convoys, the pushing of our patrols farther into the eastern Atlantic, the playing of great international politics, all seem designed to involve us in the war, with or without the consent of Congress, rather than to our real task of aiding Britain with every kind of war material, and particularly the airplanes which they must have to secure control of the air.

The Russian war has weakened every argument for intervention. The war party knows that the American people are overwhelmingly opposed to war, and so it is trying to urge the President into an aggressive war without consideration by Congress. I cannot be convinced that any President will involve 130,000,000 people in the horrors of a modern war without the approval of the representatives of the people in Congress assembled. No war by a democratic country can possibly be successful unless it has the overwhelming support of the people, by whom and for whom that country always has been governed.