Address to Selectees


By HENRY L. STIMSON, Secretary of War

Delivered over radio August 15, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 685-688

ON the request of the President, the Congress has now passed a bill which will extend the period of service for many of the men in the Army, The members of the National Guard and the officers reserve corps as well as the men inducted under the Selective Service Act, who were all originally called for a year's training, under this bill may be retained in the Army for an additional period of not to exceed eighteen months.

I realize that this means sacrifice on your part and it is proper that I, as head of the War Department, should state to you the reasons why it has been found necessary.

An American Army is an intelligent army. Its discipline is based upon cooperation. It is not an Army hammered into efficiency merely by brute force. It does its work more efficiently if it knows the cause for which it is created and the reason for the sacrifices which it is asked to make.

I also know of the fine spirit which you, the members of this present Army, have already shown and the devotion which you have given to your training thus far, sometimes under very discouraging circumstances. I have been much gratified by what I have learned of your work and conduct.

I believe that out of your devotion there is being created the most effective fighting force which this country has ever known in time of peace. Therefore for all these reasons I regard it as a privilege to talk to you today.

In my talk I shall try to describe to you briefly these points:

First, the crisis which makes necessary America's present preparation for defense; second, the general principles of our national defense; and third, the vital part which you as the Army must be ready to play in that defense.

Describes World Situation

In the first place, the world is today facing a situation which is more dangerous to its general peace than any situation which has existed during all the years of recorded history.

Three great and powerful nations, Germany, Italy and Japan, each of them armed with the most modern and destructive weapons, have banded themselves together upon a scheme of conquest against their more peaceful neighbors.

Within the past seven years these three nations have successfully attacked and conquered some sixteen other nations, Germany has conquered Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Yugoslavia and Greece. Today she is seeking to conquer Russia. Italy has attacked Ethiopia, Albania, France and Greece. Japan has attacked China and is now taking possession of French Indo-China.

Neither Germany, Italy nor Japan believes in individual freedom within their own borders, nor do they believe in national independence among nations outside of their borders. Their avowed principles are the opposite of those principles of liberty and equality of rights along which the world has been continually progressing for many centuries past. They are seeking to turn back to the customs of the Dark Ages and they are enforcing upon the nations which have been unfortunate enough to fall under their power systems of forced labor and subjection which substantially amount to a condition of semi-slavery,

France A Subject Nation

It is hard for us to imagine the United States in such a condition of subjection. But two years ago such a contemplation would have been just as hard for the citizens of France. France had been the leader in the development of freedom in Europe ever since the French revolution one hundred fifty years ago.

Yet today France is a subject nation. German overlords pull the strings and French puppets dance. France is disarmed. France is policed by foreign secret agents. Free speech is a memory in France. French business has been taken under German direction. Frenchmen are told by foreign rulers when to go to bed and when to get up. French profits, French foodstuffs, French energy, are now going to build up the glory of the German Reich.

Children will starve in France this Winter and French peasants who reap good crops will live on a crust in order that the German Army may be fed. France is a prison house, a thin shadow of a glorious but unprepared nation which failed to see the danger approaching it from across the Rhine. And these conditions of subjection which are now maintained in France are mild in comparison with the brutalities which are being visited upon Poland, Yugoslavia and Russia.

Today these three Axis nations, Germany, Japan and Italy, openly announce their intention of going further with their conquest of the world. Indeed, they can hardly help themselves from going further. They have made themselves the economic slaves of the hideous system which they have established.

For example, Germany with an original population of not more than 70,000,000 is maintaining military, naval and other armed forces of over 11,000,000 men besides a huge civilian bureaucracy of secret police and other functionaries. Seventy-five percent of her entire income is going into war, leaving only 25 per cent for all of the needs of her civilian population. She is carrying on here present conquest with the loot of past conquests and with the product of the labor of her enslaved nations.

Such a system cannot remain stationary. Germany must obtain further loot by further conquests or else she will begin to slide backward into restlessness, revolt and failure. And the presence today throughout the Western Hemisphere of German advance agents and fifth columnists shows only too clearly one direction in which German future efforts at conquest are likely to go.

Sees Japan on the March

Japan is in a similar situation in the Far East. She has an enormous and expensive army spread over Northern China.

Today she is moving south for further conquests. Her union with the two other Axis powers three years ago was avowedly aimed at us and our interests.

Our own hemisphere, thinly populated, rich beyond all other continents in natural resources, is an inevitable ultimate target for these marauder nations. Today Hitler holds under his domination in Europe nearly 160,000,000 people in addition to the original 70,000,000 of Germany itself. Adding Italy, with over 40,000,000, makes a total of over 270,000,000. If he succeeds in conquering Western Russia, he will have under his control 100,000,000 more, or a total of over 370,000,000.

The American Government which failed to take measures of protection against such a dire prospect for the future would be faithless indeed to the interests of its people.

American Policy Outlined

In the second place, what are the general principles which govern our American national defense? The United States and the other twenty republics of this hemisphere have always believed in preserving their isolation as the foundation of their safety. We have had a hemisphere in which for over a century all of the governments have been republican in structure and also independent in fact. We believe in keeping up this system of independence and freedom. For that purpose the Monroe Doctrine has been the cornerstone of our foreign policy.

We have recognized that the only safe way to keep America out of war was to keep war away from America. And sometimes we have found it necessary to fight in order to keep war away from our own homes and country.

With the passage of time and the invention of new methods and weapons of warfare this has become more and more difficult. The bombing airplane already has a range of several thousand miles. The development of the fifth column has an indefinitely longer range. Each of these hostile weapons may easily become an instrument for the invasion of this hemisphere.

When the full measure of this terrific crisis abroad burst upon us a year ago our peace-loving country was defended by a one-ocean navy, a skeleton army, and a rudimentary air force. The navies and armies of all of the other twenty American republics were negligible in size in comparison to the forces abroad. Our own Army was smaller even than the armies of Holland or Belgium and we saw Holland and Belgium overthrown in a comparatively few days. Therefore, so far as our Army and air force are concerned, we have been obliged to start practically at scratch.

Cites Defense Efforts

The past year has been spent by our government in a steady effort to surround the United States with outposts and bastions from which it could be defended against attacks which appear so inevitable. We have commenced building a two-ocean Navy, but the completion of that Navy cannot be accomplished for several years.

In the meanwhile we have been endeavoring with all the means in our power to stiffen the resistance of those nations which by fighting the Axis powers were temporarily serving as a protection to us. The principal one of these nations has been Great Britain. The British fleet for many years has been protecting the security of the Atlantic while our own fleet has been in the Pacific. The continuance of this work by the British fleet depends upon the continuance of the safety and independence of the British Isles.

Congress last Winter enacted the lease-lend act chiefly for the purpose of bolstering up the sturdy resistance which Great Britain was making to the Axis powers. Under thisstatute we have been able to furnish munitions and supplies to the British Isles and to harbor and repair the British fleet as well as the merchant marine, which was carrying our munitions to Great Britain.

New Outposts Established

In addition to that, we have leased from Great Britain seven important Atlantic outposts to serve as bases to our defense against attacks from the direction of Europe. These bases have been in Newfoundland, in Bermuda, in the Bahamas, in Jamaica, in St. Lucia, in Trinidad, and in British Guiana.

In all of these places we are establishing naval and air posts of defense. They are intended to help us keep the navies and the forces of aggressor nations far away from our shores.

We are also establishing further outposts in the Atlantic at Greenland and Iceland and a part of our Navy is patrolling the Atlantic from Greenland southward as an additional protection against hostile forces coming into our Atlantic waters.

If you take your maps, you can see how we have thus been establishing a protective line of defense running from the extreme north in Greenland to the shores of South America by which we are seeking to keep any aggressive nation from establishing air bases from which they could drop bombs upon the populous cities of our eastern seaboard.

In the Pacific we have reinforced our great naval base at Hawaii, until we believe that it is now impregnable. We are also building air and naval bases in Alaska and in the Aleutian Islands to keep off attacks from the northwest where our coast approaches to within fifty miles of the Russian Siberian coast of Asia.

The present attack of Germany on Russia, who has always been a peaceful neighbor of ours in the Pacific, now brings out into sharp prominence the importance of these last outposts. Japanese newspapers are already beginning to tell us the trouble we may expect to have in Alaska if Germany conquers Russia.

But the most dangerous avenue of attack against us lies in the South, where are situated the friendly but almost unarmed nations of Central and South America. Germany has been pushing into North Africa, and we have reason to believe that a major advance will be made by her into that continent.

At Dakar, which is held by Vichy forces, now friendly with Germany, the great western bulge of the African coast narrows the South Atlantic Ocean until the distance from Dakar to the easternmost point of Brazil can be easily traversed either by air or sea. The German-controlled press of Paris today is openly urging that Germany be invited by Vichy to come into Dakar.

We also know that Germany and Japan with their fifth columnists and subversive agents have been very active in South and Central America. From our observation of what has happened in Europe we have learned to recognize the symptoms which invariably forecast the coming of a new Axis attack. Today some of the most significant of those symptoms are occurring in South America. Any reader today of the American press can read of unrest and excitement in various South American republics which are being attributed by the governments of those republics to the machinations of foreign secret agents.

If, by combining an air attack with a fifth-column revolution, an Axis power should succeed in making a lodgment upon the coast of South America, we should have a real task indeed, for it would not be difficult for any enemy lodged there to get within easy bombing distance of the Panama Canal.

From this analysis of our defense you can see that what we have done has not only been absolutely essential to protect us from an ever-approaching and developing danger, but that our purpose has been purely defensive. We have not been seeking any wild adventures in foreign wars; we have not been planning any expeditionary forces for the benefit of other nations.

We have been simply seeking to make secure our own country and to protect it from a danger that is so real and rapidly growing that a government which did not take such steps would have been faithless to its trust.

Outlines Purpose of Army

That brings me to my third point, namely the part which you in the Army on land and in the air must be ready to play in that defense.

Critics of your Government have repeatedly asserted that the creation of such an Army as we are now training was unnecessary; that it would be impossible for any of our potential enemies to cross the Atlantic or the Pacific and get at us in the face of our naval power. Such critics apparently have not studied the development of modern weapons; nor have they shown sufficient vision to realize the possible military and political changes which are trembling in the balance in the world around us.

What I have already said will give you the background of the answer to their question. Our Army and its air force must be prepared to meet enemies coming from the north, from the east, from the south and from the west. It must be prepared to fight on the icebound coasts of the North Atlantic and of the North Pacific, as well as in the tropic heat of Panama or South America.

American soldiers are already standing guard on the east from Iceland to British Guiana and on the west from Alaska to Panama. A successful attack upon any one of these outposts would bring an enemy within bombing distance of our great cities and would make necessary a major military effort to drive him off.

But a possible change in the scales of fate might bring our homes into far greater danger. A successful invasion of the British Isles or any other mortal blow to the Government of Britain might suddenly deprive us of the protection which is being rendered to us today by the British fleet. That would leave us in a situation where the fleets as well as the shipbuilding capacity of the Axis powers, both at present and still more in the future, would be very much greater than the power of our fleet and the capacity of our own shipbuilding facilities.

Talks of Invasion Peril

Then, indeed, we would be face to face with a danger which even our isolationists would recognize as the danger of invasion. Such an attack would be no playboy affair. There are veteran troops under the Axis powers on all sides of us. The Germans have a trained army of over seven million men and an air force of over half a million men. Japan has today under arms over two million men. They are intelligently led. They are fully armed and equipped. They are most thoroughly trained and their young men have the devoted spirit of fanatics.

The Germans are now going into battle with their song, "Today Europe is ours; tomorrow the whole world." Their skill and their power can hardly be over-estimated. You young men know the difference between a professional team and even the best of amateurs. The Germans today have reached the standard of professionals and veterans. Theyhave set a standard which we must excel. We must be ready to meet such a force as this on any of the many and varied terrains which surround our country from which an attack may come.

These hard, inescapable facts constitute the reason why your government has extended the time of your service and is asking from you every possible effort in the training which we can give you. They are also the reasons why we are asking you to give us the patriotic devotion, the faith and the spirit which have in past wars made American Armies unconquerable. It would not only be a danger to the safety of your country but a crime against you yourselves if we should send you half trained to meet the enemy troops against whom you might be pitted.

Faith in American Army

We are not seeking to rival the size of these possible enemy forces which surround us. But we wish an Army which in equipment, in training and in spirit, aided by an unsurpassed air force and the full efforts of our Navy, will be able to meet and conquer any attack which may be attempted against any part of our homeland.

We believe that you men of the new Army of the United States will be able to do that. We believe that, given the training and the weapons, an American Army, actuated by

the spirit of free men, will be more than a match for any similar army composed of men who are not free.

I have served in the Army and I know the soldier's point of view both while in the service and in later life. You may take it from me that your service to the nation in its hour of need will not be a waste of your time and effort. In the years that lie ahead you will hold your heads high in the thought that you gave honest and faithful service as soldiers when your country called.

Remember that you are the chosen fighting men of the nation. Others throughout the land are working to supply you with the equipment and the weapons with which you are to act in our defense. But, however earnestly and effective they may labor, no man who contributes to the common cause only work or money can ever stand on the level of you who are asked to risk life itself for your country and your countrymen.

This nation was founded in the bond of blood and sacrifice by men who pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor. They reached their goal. Now you men of a new generation are called upon to preserve the freedoms which they so bravely won.

To serve in the common defense, for the general welfare, is the first obligation of an American citizen.

You will not falter. You cannot fail.