A Program for Peace
BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE
By JOHN CUDAHY, Former U. S. Ambassador to Belgium
Delivered over radio August 10, 1941
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 690-693.
ONE of the bravest, most manly men I ever knew was killed twenty-two years ago fighting for his country 350 miles from Archangel four months after the Armistice. His name was William Bowman, a farmer from Penn Laird, Virginia. Not even former Secretary of War, Newton Baker, could find a reason for this strange war with Russia. He wrote me once that the campaign would never have been attempted if our government had possessed information which came after the North Russian expeditionary forces had been sent on their way.
"Like many wars, it was a blunder in conception and an error in execution; an error, as our entry in the Great War24 years ago was an error—the American people decided when it was too late.
"How bitterly we paid for that rash folly. In killed and wounded the toll was 360,000 and the cumulative debt to be borne by generations of American taxpayers mounted in excess of forty-four billion dollars. For all this, we achieved a peace which sowed the malignant germs of another war and brought down upon our heads the scorn and contempt of every great power in Europe. And yet today millions of men and women in this country, men and women of sincerity, honesty, and purest patriotic purpose believe that the destinies of America and Britain are inextricably boundtogether, and we must fight, for if England falls, America too will go down. Others of equal good faith are shocked by the spectacle of what they consider servility to British statesmanship. Never in this generation has there been such confusion and such bewilderment. Never before since a great civil war rent the country have the American people been so divided in their hearts and counsels.
Duty to Speak
"So the controversy goes on, at times mounting to hysterical intensity, and it is far easier to stay on the sidelines, but there are times when to remain silent when one should speak is to act the coward. There are times when duty transcends all personal considerations, and this is one of them.
"I speak to you tonight of things I have seen with my own eyes during eight years, and felt with my own flesh. During those eight years I traveled from one end of Europe to the other. I talked to the people and conferred with the leading statesmen. I was the first to report the first gun of this war, the sinking of the Athenia off the north coast of Ireland. I was in Belgium when the fury of the blitzkrieg struck down that defenseless little land of peace. I visited war blackened England and Italy. I was in Russia. I saw the awful spectacle of the war famine lands. And now I have just come back from Germany with gratitude in my heart, and a reverent prayer on my lips that my own country may be spared the horror and agony I have witnessed on every side.
"Only a few weeks ago I talked to Adolf Hitler at Berchtesgaden—a small pale man of frail physique, almost insignificant in bearing. And yet in his unimpressive person there is embodied more force and potentiality of power than any other human being who has ever stepped upon the stage of history.
"In Belgium I witnessed his bombers blasting Brussels before the German Foreign Office made any pretense of justifying this brutal, ruthless action. Never has there been a more heartless imperialism since man emerged from the slime of barbarism, and civilization became a word in human annals.
"All this record the American people had before them when they went to the polls last fall to choose a President, and despite the overwhelming sympathy with England, despite our profound grief for fallen France, the considered judgment of the American people was against participation in this war. Both candidates for the presidency were against intervention. Mr. Willkie attacked the President on the grounds that his conduct of foreign affairs might lead us into war. I was one of those who advocated the election of President Roosevelt and I feel a duty to speak again to the many Americans I spoke to then. I was convinced then, as I am convinced now, that President Roosevelt can and will keep this country out of war. I told in my addresses how he had worked throughout all his public career in the interests of peace. I told how he was familiar with the important capitals of Europe, how under his administration had been enacted for the first time a neutrality act to safeguard the security of our people and keep us out of war.
"He promised to keep us out of war. Time after time he gave that promise, and at the end of the campaign, on the eve of election, on the 30th of October, at a great public gathering in Boston, he used these words: "While I am talking to you, fathers and mothers, I give you one more assurance. I have said this before, but I say it again, and again, and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.
Promise Not Forgotten
"The fathers and mothers of America believed those words of President Roosevelt. They trusted him. Upon this assurance of peace, they elected him. I am certain President Roosevelt will never forget that promise. I believe he intends to keep that promise. I believe he can and will keep that promise if you, the people, will keep your heads; if you will stand by him against the war party, if you will but counsel and sustain him in the cause of peace. That promise, reiterated and deliberately uttered, was not just a bit of campaign oratory, but it was an open covenant, openly arrived at. If such a solemn pledge, such a sacred undertaking, can be violated or ignored, Democracy is a joke, elections are a joke, and never again are the American people going to believe that candidates' promises are anything but a joke and a bit of campaign oratory.
They say that conditions have changed since the election and what was promised then is not binding now. What has changed? Poland, Norway, the Low Countries, France and the Maginot Line, all had fallen when we chose our President last fall; the British had been smashed in Flanders;. Germany had moved in on the Atlantic seaboard and became our neighbor, and England was fighting for her life with a heroism which will forever be the inspiration of free men.
"On this issue of war and peace the country was as united last Fall as it is disunited today. If you had gone from coast to coast as I did during that campaign, you would have seen in nearly every city and town and village of the country, great billboards placarded with promises. Elect me, office seekers said to the fathers and mothers of America, and your boys will never be sent to fight or be killed on any foreign battlefield. What has become of those promises? Where are the men who made those promises? Was this, too, all just another bit of campaign oratory? When we have another election the people will want to know about those promises to keep us out of this war of Europe, and the men who made them—when we have another election!
Background of the War
"Tell me, what are the principles and what is the issue of ideology in this conflict of Europe? Some thought the war was a clash between the three totalitarian states—Germany, Italy and Japan, and the Communism of Russia. Then Germany formed a cooperative treaty with Russia, and Poland was again partitioned between these two conspirators with more uncouth brutal hands than those of Catherine and Frederick the Great. Two years later, Germans and Russians, locked in mortal combat, are drenching red the Ukrainian plains and the marshes of the Pripet, and now Polish soldiers are fighting on the side of their country's despoiler.
"Where are the ideals or ideology in this war? With the France of Rousseau and Thomas Paine, the France of liberty, equality, and fraternity, we have common liberal aspirations which can never die. My generation fought for France, and thousands of American soldiers lie buried in French cemeteries. We think of them when we read of sanguinary battles in Syria between British and French forces.
"Where is ideology? A little more than two years ago our sympathy and support went out to heroic little Finland. Now we have espoused the Red despotism of Russia against the same Finns. We have become an ally of Russia and are supporting the Communist government, and on July 30, the confidential adviser of the President, Mr, Harry Hopkins, is reported to have conferred confidentially with Die-
tator Stalin. Two weeks before that meeting, twenty-nine men and women, including five national leaders of the Trotskyist faction of the Communists in this country, were indicted on July 15 by a Federal Grand Jury in St. Paul, Minnesota, on charges of fomenting a seditious plot to overthrow the government of the United States by revolution.
"None of this makes any sense. It is all like the madness of an insane asylum. So it is. And so the clashing nationalistic interests of Europe have always been.
The Same Deception
"Some say we have a moral duty to declare war, if we do nothing else but make the declaration. And there are interventionists who maintain that intervention does not mean a costly, bloody struggle, only the sending of the fleet to convoy supplies to England with minor naval engagements far off our own shores; a comfortable, easy-going war with business as usual; a limited war which would disturb no one—too much. Americans, Americans, do not be deceived, Americans! There is no such thing as a limited war. If you go back and examine the Congressional debates before we entered the war in 1917, you will read the same sophistry, the same deception. It was said then that there would be no American Expeditionary forces in Europe, and yet a few months later two million men crossed the seas to fight in France.
"We entered that war after four years, four long exhausting years, during which there was no decisive turn of battle. We came in when the Germans were war-weary and well-nigh spent, and yet it took two million of our best men to beat them, of which 360,000 were killed or maimed and wounded. If it took two million American soldiers then, with France and England standing shoulder to shoulder on the continent, how many will it take now with Germany in possession of that same continent, France gone, and England standing at bay on her island fortress home. There is no such thing as limited war. You fathers and mothers who are listening to me, don't fool yourselves. There is only limitless war. If we enter this war, we commit the prestige of our nation and we must go on and on with no halt, no balk, until complete victory is won by American arms.
"Winston Churchill said: 'Give us the tools and we will finish the job.' But on July 5, as reported by the New York Times through Harold Denny, a correspondent of highest reliability, who believes in reporting facts and not interpreting them, this question was put to General Sir Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in the Middle East: 'Do you hold with the views that only 'tools' are necessary to win the war?'—to which the General is reported to have replied: 'No, undoubtedly we shall need manpower if the war continues long enough, and I have no doubt it will. We shall have to have airplanes, tanks, munitions, transports, and finally, men.' Question: 'When?' Answer: 'The sooner the better. I suppose you will be able to equip any number of men for anywhere in the world.'
"Any Number of Men . . ."
"Any number of men for anywhere in the world. Do not forget those words, Americans. You may have tragic occasion to remember them. Any number of men for anywhere in the world. For what? To seize the Azores, or Cape Verdes, or the Canary Islands; to fight in India or the fever-ridden coasts of Africa, as some openly advocate? For what?
"General Sir Claude Auchinleck, who succeeded GeneralWavell, was asked in Cairo on July 7, by the same correspondent: 'Do you think American manpower will be needed before this war is won?' And he is reported to have replied: 'We certainly are going to need American manpower, just as we did in the last war.' There you have the truth. These are not politicians speaking, they are plain, blunt honest soldiers. They know it will take an American expeditionary force of at least eight million men to attempt an invasion of the European continent. And what will the casualties be? If we are to enter this war, let us face the facts, let us be honest about it and meet the desperate sacrifice with open eyes and with courage and resolution, with a realization that two million men will be lost, and that the shadow of that sacrifice will fall upon every home in this land. There is no such thing as a limited war.
"Defeatists say we are already in the war, it is too late, nothing can be done now. It is not too late. Only Congress has the power to declare war under the Constitution, and Congress has not yet made that declaration. If this is a government of the people, the people are the power of the Congress. Let the people decide whether or not this war of Europe shall become our war. You have not only the right, you have the duty to speak in this crisis. Telegraph or write your Congressman and let your Senators hear from you before it is too late. Make democracy work before it is too late.
One Last Effort for Peace
"Just stop and think of it, ladies and gentlemen, this country is the only great power at peace today, and therefore the only power which can still speak in this crisis with a voice of sanity. Like a colossus we stand astride the two oceans, favored by geographical position, with commanding moral prestige, the greatest wealth in the world, and an industrial strength nine times that of any other nation. Why not, in one last supreme effort, use this great strength and prestige in the cause of peace?
"They ask us, the war party, to go out blindly into the night of a war whereof no one knows the end. What would be our war aims? What are the war aims of Hitler and Churchill, these two men who in a desperate duel gamble the destinies of the world? Let us insist that Hitler and Churchill define the objectives of this war of Europe in which we are asked to commit the lives and fortunes of one hundred thirty million Americans. For two hundred fifty years nation has been pitted against nation on the continent in a perilous balance of power, and in every generation this doctrine has led to war after war in heartbreaking succession until every hill in Europe has become a Calvary and every valley a Gethsemane. Let us proclaim our own balance of power, a balance of power for peace and justice between nations. Let the President raise his voice as an arbiter in the name of peace and democracy, and neither Hitler nor Churchill will dare to ignore his petition. Let the President speak beyond Hitler to the German people and insist, yes, insist, and insist again, that there be a definition of a day beyond the war. The German people are weary of this war. They feel no elation, no joy in victory. I was in Germany after the conquest of the Low Countries, when France fell, and when their armies over-ran Greece, and never did the German people give evidence of the slightest enthusiasm. They, too, yearn for peace. Yet they dread a peace of vengeance like the Treaty of Versailles, and faced with the prospect of such a peace, they will starve rather than surrender. Only this country can capitalize that yearning for peace and give the German people assurance of a just peace.
An American Program of Peace
"Let the President, with the approval of Congress, propose an American program of peace, a peace with a new world order based on an association of nations, the inauguration of a sovereign international government with power to enforce its decrees for the solution of this and all the endless wars in Europe. Back of this new world government, let us place the sanction of all the moral prestige and force of America.
"You tell me that the word of Hitler is worthless and that such an effort would be futile and of no avail. But we will speak a language to enforce this peace, a language Hitler can understand, the language of force. We are forging in the foundries and factories of this country a vast armament. We have the greatest navy in the world, soon we will have the greatest air armada. Let us mobilize in the interests of peace. In the self-interest of America let us give sanction to our word. It is a duty dictated by common sense and the tragic experience of this war, and the other world war. Only in self-deception and wishful thinking can we believe that we can live in America on a fancied Atlantis isolated from the revolutionary movement which is sweeping the world. We must play our part. We must accept our responsibility with the knowledge that the duty we assume is the only hope for peace, permanent peace.
"This is not a program of war, it is a program of peace. But there is no time to lose. Soon it will be too late. With hurrying pace the tragedy of Europe moves to a climax and before another winter Germany will try with supreme effort for the knockout blow. Whether the Russian campaign ends in a stalemate or German victory, the time will soon come for a sober stock-taking. If we let this opportunity for peace go by, it will never come again. If we enter the war without making this effort, the American people will be more confused and disunited than they are today.
"Which way are you going, Americans? Stop! Think! Act!—before it is too late."