Disunity Spells Disaster


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

Delivered over Columbia Broadcasting System, September 5, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 707-711

THE American nation today is not united. Lack of unity would be a serious danger if the nation is forced into war. It may be a partial cause of delay in the defense program, although the failures of that program up to date have resulted far more from lack of organization and lack of administrative ability than from lack of unity. Congress has been united in appropriating all the money asked for and in giving the President the free hand which he demanded to carry out his program.

The country is disunited for the reason that the majority of the people disagree with the President's foreign policy in so far as it implies—and it does now imply—an active intervention in war, and because the President has made no effort to secure the support of those who disagree with him in either foreign or domestic matters.

The interventionist newspapers are horrified at the vote of 203 to 202 in the House of Representatives on the question of the extension of the draft. They attribute it to politics, to the Republicans, and even to German propaganda, but they deliberately ignore the obvious reason that a majority of the people were opposed to this extension and the Congressmen voted as their constituents wished them to vote, except where they were subjected to heavy pressure from the Administration. Without that pressure the bill would have been overwhelmingly defeated. Last Friday a Congressional bi-election was held in Wisconsin. The Republican runningon the issue of opposition to the President's foreign policy defeated Mr. Amlie by 29,000 votes to 16,000. Mr. Amlie was running as a Democrat, and ran on the issue of 100% support of the President's foreign policy, but had formerly been a Progressive and presumably got all the progressive votes which were not actively opposed to war. The position of those shouting loudest for unity is that the majority must give up their views and blindly approve any measure, any power, that the President or any subordinate of the President says is necessary for defense. It makes no difference to them that the reasons may be wholly inadequate and the power demanded dangerous to the safety of American Democracy.

The disunity in the United States springs from the policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt himself. In the first place his methods and his policies have become secretive and dictatorial. He no longer takes the people or the press into his confidence and the result is that even his own followers disagree as to what his real intentions are. In the second place, the defense policies are being used to advance New Deal economic theories under the guise of defense necessities, and only New Dealers are appointed to positions of economic power. Thirdly, the President is utterly intolerant of those who disagree with him and encourages intolerance from his supporters. Above all, he insists on pursuing a policy of active intervention in the European War without any apparent intention of consulting Congress or the people until we are hopelessly involved. In short, the President has no desire to secure unity unless it is 100% unity with his individual views. While he persists in these policies there is no hope for national unity.

These are serious charges, but I believe that every well-informed man in Washington will privately agree with them in substance.

I. The President No Longer Takes the People or the Press Into His Confidence

The most striking incident illustrating this secretiveness is the Roosevelt-Churchill conference at sea. The American press rightly resented the treatment which it received. Mr. Roosevelt slipped away from the entire American press. Mr. Churchill took British writers along. So the American public has been dependent upon British writers for news about its own President. When he returned, he set up a complete gag on the press about the conference; frankly told American newspaper men that they should write what he wanted written, and if he was displeased, he would go on the radio himself. Inexperienced British newsmen took moving pictures, and they were so poor that most of them had to be thrown away when they arrived in this country. The first word of the conference came from a British broadcast. I know of no instance in which an American President has disappeared for a week to engage in a secret conference with another ruler. We have gone a long way since the day of "open covenants openly arrived at."

The President did not consult Congress, perhaps did not even consult his cabinet, before signing the joint declaration. Winston Churchill submitted the statement back to his War Council before he signed, but as far as we know, Mr, Roosevelt consulted no one but Mr. Harry Hopkins and perhaps Elliott Roosevelt and Franklin, Jr. The joint declaration itself refers to Churchill as representing His Majesty's Government, but the President speaks for himself alone to make known certain principles in the national policy of his country. Mr. Churchill must himself have been impressed by the President's attitude, for in his speech interpreting the agreement he said:

"President Roosevelt is the thrice chosen head of the most powerful state and community in the world. I am the servant of the King and Parliament, at present charged with the principal direction of our affairs in these fateful times."

Evidently the President made it clear to Mr. Churchill that he was not even consulting Congress and he couldn't have said much about being the servant of the people.

No American newsmen went to Iceland, although the British were already there and able to report the facts. The claim that the expedition had to be kept secret to protect it from the Germans is completely disputed by the fact that only a very small proportion of the total American forces had been landed when publicity was given to the fact that 80,000 others were to traverse the Atlantic. No, it was the people of America and Congress from whom the occupation of Iceland had to be kept secret. In a nation of 130 million people the press are the day to day representatives of those people in dealing with the President. If he is not frank with the press, if he enjoys fooling the correspondents and springing surprises on them, then he is treating the people as no President has the right to treat them. The American press has been a free press. It is the principal characteristic of Americanism. Its great power has been used with discretion and judgment. It cannot be whittled down by presidential restrictions and pressure without endangering Democracy itself.

Mr. Roosevelt continually denies that he seeks censorship,but he repeatedly shows his irritation with the free press, originally with the editors, and now more and more with the correspondents. Without rebuke he permits Mr. Ickes to blackguard the press, and constant proposals from inner New Deal circles indicate a desire to find some means of bringing pressure to bear on newspaper editors to make them behave. The eight-point declaration significantly omitted any reference to that particular freedom known as freedom of the press.

The eight-point declaration itself is ambiguous and uncertain, because it was conceived in secret, and handed to the American people without discussion. It means different things to different people. Mr. Roosevelt says that it brings us no closer to war. William Allen White says it is all intended for peace. Senator Barkley stated in the Senate that in his judgment it was a general statement of policy and not the assumption of an obligation. On the other hand, Mr. Churchill says in so many words:

"The President of the United States and the British representatives, in what is aptly called the Atlantic charter, have jointly pledged their countries to the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny. That is a solemn and grave undertaking. It must be made good. It will be made good."

According to Mr. Churchill the United States has pledged itself to destroy the Nazi tyranny and to disarm Germany, Italy and Japan. Of course, if he is right—and he was at the conference—then the President has pledged the United States to go to war.

This view is borne out by the President's Labor Day speech. He said:

"I know that I speak the conscience and determination of the American people when I say that we shall do everything in our power to crush Hitler and his Nazi forces."

How can we crush Hitler except by sending our soldiers to Berlin? Yet the President must know that a vote for war today would be overwhelmingly defeated, and the President's supporters still talk peace. The President promised the American people before election:

"We will not participate in foreign wars, and we will not send our Army, Naval or Air Forces to fight in foreign lands outside of the Americas except in case of attack."

If he is intending to violate that promise and change that policy, why not frankly state it? How can we hope to secure unity for a foreign policy absolutely contrary to the promises of both parties last November without at least frankly stating that the policy has been abandoned? Certainly no one is going to disarm Japan except the United States.

Others of the eight points mean different things to different people. Thus the fourth clause reads:

"They will endeavor with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment by all states, great or small, victors or vanquished, an access of equal terms to the trade and to the raw materials of the world."

To the Germans and to the European nations this probably sounds as if we were going to reduce our tariffs and give access to all of them on equal terms to the rich domestic trade of the United States. On the other hand our people certainly have not the slightest intention of opening our domestic trade to the products of the world in competition with our own higher costs and wages.

The policies declared by the President mean different things to different people. They are not frank. Maybe Russian peasants will follow a leader without understanding him, but Americans want to know where they are going.

Take the defense and lease-lend program itself. ThePresident talks constantly of the tremendous assistance which is being sent abroad. He attacked Senator Byrd when the Senator gave figures to show the complete inadequacy of accomplishments to date. When the President talks of the program, he talks largely of tanks and planes on order and to be delivered in the future. He has not kept the public constantly informed of the real result. The best way to get results in the future is to know accurately how you have failed to accomplish your present goal, and why.

Take the whole story of the extension of the term of the draftees. We were told first in dramatic tones that the country was in infinitely greater peril than it had been a year ago when twelve months training was considered enough. Any fool could see that on the surface we were infinitely better off than a year ago, with a much stronger Army and Navy and airplane capacity, and Hitler entangled in Russia instead of threatening England with invasion as he was in July, 1940. But it was implied that there were great dangers of which we knew nothing and which were so secret that they could not be revealed. Then it was said that if the term was not extended indefinitely, the Army would immediately disintegrate, although only a few thousand draftees had to be released before 1942, and the power to draft as many others as might be needed to replace them was in the President's hands.

Early in the hearings I presented a definite plan showing that a total term of eighteen months for the draftees and two years for the National Guard would permit the Army to be maintained at full strength with completely adequate training and the creation of a reserve. My plan was summarily rejected and the bill forced through with an extension to two and one-half years. Why were there 202 votes against the bill. Simply because no sound reasons were given for making it longer than eighteen months.

Later developments showed that again the Administration had not been frank with Congress or the people. No sooner had the bill passed than Mr. Stimson announced that even those draftees who had no special claims of age or dependency would be released from active duty after an average of about eighteen months service, some as early as fourteen months. His announcement made it clear that there was no immediate emergency such as had been testified to, but only the possibility of one arising in the future. On August twenty-ninth it was announced that 200,000 men would be released before the first of January, far more than were to be released under my plan. Had the War Department's announcements been made before the passage of the bill by Congress, there could have been substantial unity on that program. Those who voted with the President are naturally indignant that they were deceived. You can't get national unity unless you lay the cards on the table and tell the people the truth.

Take the tremendous excitement about the shortage of gasoline. No one has been able to find out until the investigation of the Senate Committee what the actual facts are about the supply of gas. No one could understand why if there was a shortage something was not done about it months ago. No one has any confidence in Mr. Ickes and now the Senate Committee investigation shows that there is no shortage whatever which cannot be met by the use of idle tank cars. So most people have come to the conclusion that the whole excitement was merely for the purpose of stirring the people up to a war-like frame of mind.

Those of us who are in Congress are told no more about the real facts of the situation than the people back home. There is no more frankness with us than there is with the press, rather less of it. If Mr. Roosevelt wants unity, he will have to give up the "hush hush" policy and take the people into his confidence. They have reached the pointthat when no reasons are given, they suspect there are no reasons to give.

II. The Defense Program is Being Used to Promote New Deal Policy and Control

When the defense program began, I had some hope that it would not be used as a means to advance the New Deal. Mr. Stimson and Mr. Knox were appointed to be the heads of the War Department and Navy Department. There has been no politics in those Departments. But gradually the New Dealers are securing more and more power over the economic problems arising out of the defense program, and are looking forward to even more power in the emergency after the war. From the beginning I and many others have urged that the Government create a War Resources Administration with a single head to boss the job of producing war materials. Such a recommendation was contained in the mobilization plan approved for years by the War and Navy Departments. It has met with general approval, but the President and his New Deal advisers are determined that no considerable power shall be delegated to any one man, particularly a man who has had experience in business. All the lines of power must be retained in the President's own hands so that every act of the Government is subject to his veto at the suggestion of the New Deal coterie. Those advisers are still imbued with antagonism to the business system and to the business man, big or little, who does not adopt with them a policy of appeasement, or turn himself into a New Dealer.

First, we had the National Advisory Council, seven independent advisers without a chairman, each reporting direct to the President. Then we had the O. P. M. with Mr. Knudsen and Mr. Hillman as joint heads. But their power has been steadily curtailed by the creation of one bureau after another directly under the President, often overlapping as in the case of Mr. Hopkins' lease-lend administration and Mr. Henderson's OPACS.

The last reorganization has simply created another board, the Supply Priorities and Allocations Board of seven men. The set-up is even more confused than it was before, and the power is more divided. In some respects the O. P. M. is under this board, in other respects it is independent. But the key to the whole plan is that out of the new board of seven, four are confirmed New Dealers, Messrs. Wallace, Henderson, Hopkins and Hillman. No one of them is a business man, and no one of them knows anything about the problems of production of war materials. Knox, Stimson and Knudsen are in the minority. Henderson occupies three positions, one on the board, one on the O. P. M. and a third as Price Administrator, independent of anybody except the President. According to gloating New Deal columnists, it has been found desirable to get Mr. Stettinius and Mr. Biggers out of all positions of importance, and reduce Mr. Knudsen to a job where he has nothing to say about policy. For months the New Dealers have been sniping at every important business man in the defense set-up, and now they have their way. In production policies, wage policies, price policies, profit policies, in the regulations of all the business transactions of the ordinary man, the New Deal has all the power which it has long sought in time of peace.

Every industry must have a boss, and when it comes to appointing that boss, he must be a New Dealer. Mr. Ickes and the Federal Power Commission are trying to be czars over electricity. Mr. Ickes has been made czar over oil and gas. Mr. Henderson controls prices. Mayor La Guardia is head of home defense. Mr. Tugwell is sent to represent American ideals in Puerto Rico.

The truth is that of all the apostles of disunity, Rooseveltis the chief. Unity to him means agreeing with his opinions. There are Democratic Senators who differed with him on some policy in the past who have never been invited to consult with him again, and have never seen him for the last four years. Contrast the situation with that in Great Britain. There there is a coalition cabinet with men of all parties and radically different views on many non-defense matters really representing the majority of their parties, but willing to postpone all activities on domestic matters until after the war. The President only coalesces with those who already agree with him.

Look at the Supreme Court. Most Presidents have appointed judges of the opposition party as well as those of their own party, but the President has appointed seven men, every one of them in intimate agreement with his views. Only the elevation of Chief Justice Stone departed from this rule, and of course, since he was already on the Court, the New Deal votes were not reduced.

The President is still insisting on the St. Lawrence Waterway and the Florida Ship Canal, and has tied them up together in a great pork barrel with a defense label on it, though every well-informed man in Washington knows that neither of them has the slightest value for defense today.

It would be completely possible today to turn back W.P.A. to the states and combine the Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Youth Administration in one organization to train men for defense work. But the officials of all three of these organizations are busy trying to find some work for their organizations so they may keep their jobs, though the need for relief agencies has largely disappeared, and the President will not recommend their abolition. All out for defense does not mean to him the giving up of things that are unnecessary for defense, if they are presidential favorites or New Deal agencies.

The labor policy is the same story. In the World War there was a National War Labor Board with a representative of labor and a representative of employers, who suspended all labor strife, froze the open and closed shop situation, and agreed on wage increases when they were justified. But one of the policies of the present administration in the past has been a deliberate encouragement of strikes to secure a complete unionization of all businesses even if the employees didn't want to be unionized. That policy has not been radically changed. The National Mediation Board has insisted on strike settlements which grant a check-off system, even in industries where it did not exist, leading inevitably to a closed shop.

Hardly a bill is requested from Congress which does not seek twice as much power for the President as is necessary for the particular task. Power is sought for power's sake. A new theory of emergency has been adopted and Congress is asked to pass laws granting indefinite powers for the emergency period. Everyone knows that during the present administration that emergency will never be permitted to come to an end.

Vast unnecessary powers were sought in the lease-lend act. I have referred to the unnecessary demand for indefinite extension of the draftees' terms. Power was demanded to authorize the requisition of every kind of property, railroads, utilities, manufacturing plants, even homes, furniture and clothing. Congress modified the bill to cover only materials really needed for defense. The present demand for price-fixing legislation is an example. Price-fixing may be necessary, but the bill submitted by the President gives all power to the President, individually, to be delegated to the favorite of the moment, certainly some New Dealer. The power is to extend for an indefinite period. It covers not only commodities, but every kind of service. If the bill were passed in this form, it would result in giving to Mr. Leon Henderson complete and arbitrary power over the entire business of the nation, retail, wholesale, manufacturing, repair shops, utilities, warehouses, even doctors and lawyers.

In short, there is every evidence today that the President has not abated one iota his interest in imposing on the United States a complete planned economy similar to the state Socialism of Europe. There are plenty of New Dealers in Washington who are far more interested in putting across their policies within the United States than they are in crushing Hitler, and the President is appointing many of these men to key positions in the Government. He cannot secure national unity by any such policy.

III. Intolerance Destroys Unity

The President himself is utterly intolerant of those who disagree with him. It is a fact well known in Washington. It can be easily confirmed by an examination of his own writings. Any who disagree with him are designated by him as either corrupt knaves or complete fools. Those who oppose his foreign policy are copperheads or tools of Hitler. In his most recent message he says that the joint declaration with Churchill is so clear cut that it cannot be opposed by anybody in any major particular without automatically admitting a willingness to accept a compromise with Nazism. In his Labor Day speech, he refers to those who differ with his 1 foreign policies as "appeasers" and "Nazi sympathizers."

Of course, his attack has encouraged the intolerance of his supporters, like the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies. Only last week a full page ad appeared in the eastern papers proclaiming in effect that every man who is not for an Atlantic War ought to be in a German uniform. The view that America should not intervene in Europe is perfectly consistent with the most intense love of America and an intense desire that Hitler be defeated. It is a reasonable view which can be just as patriotic as the President's own views. While the President encourages this kind of attack, there is no necessity to find any other cause for national disunity. You cannot secure unity by name-calling and intolerance.

Finally, the President Pursues Policies Which the Majority of the People Disapprove

If unity is to be achieved in a truly democratic nation, there must be unity on that policy with which the majority of the people agree. No leader who insists on going his own way in opposing the wishes of the people can reasonably ask for unity in support of his policies. He can persuade the people if they will be persuaded. He can put the problem up to their representatives in Congress, and secure their approval, but he cannot go his own way against them unless he imposes an effective dictatorship on the people.

The people today are opposed to intervention in Europe. Yet it is difficult to interpret the joint declaration with Churchill except as a definite policy to enter the war. How else can Nazi tyranny be destroyed? How else can Germany, Italy and Japan be disarmed? Certainly Mr. Churchill regarded this declaration as a pledge on the part of the United States. It is impossible to perform that pledge except by war. The President has no constitutional right under our form of government to commit the United States to war and, therefore, Mr. Churchill was probably deceived.

It is frequently said that Congress in the lease-lend act has committed the United States to war and that the President is merely carrying out that policy. This is utterly unfounded. The lease-lend act expressly negatives the idea of convoys and of sending troops to Europe.

A policy of intervention in the war has never been approved by Congress and to it this country is not committed. Under the Constitution the President has no right to so commit it. If he desires to carry out such a policy, he shouldsubmit it to Congress, as the representatives of the people who alone can declare war. He can do that even without asking for a declaration of war by asking Congress for authority to authorize the sending of troops to Europe and Africa. He does not dare do so because the majority of the people are opposed to any such action. Once Congress has acted, I certainly shall cooperate 100 per cent in an all-out war policy. But until Congress has acted, I do not propose to surrender my own carefully considered opinions.

To me, a policy of intervention in Europe seems futile and utterly dangerous. It leads inevitably to tremendous losses of men; to tremendous outpouring of money. Assuming it to be successful, it leads to joint control of the world by England and ourselves. If we are going to disarm Germany, we are going to have to see that Germany will remain disarmed. We are going to have to police the world and determine the territory and the powers which other nations shall have. If we admit that our interests require an intervention in Europe, then our interest requires a perpetual control of Europe. I do not believe it can be done without wrecking and impoverishing the United States. It implies an imperialism which is absolutely contrary to democratic principles, and to the nature of the American people. They could not and would not make the success of imperialism which the British have made in the last two centuries. It is not their manifest destiny. Above all, it is impossible to proceed with such a policy, probably under any government, certainly under the present Administration, without imposing on this country a complete system of state Socialism. The point of view opposed to intervention in Europe is reasonable. It is held by a majority of the people. No national unity can be secured until Mr. Roosevelt accepts their view or persuades them to accept his.

I believe it is desirable when all the world is in flames that there should be a unified opinion in America as to its own course. I am certain that it can be secured if Mr. Roosevelt is really interested in securing it. Here is the 8-point program I suggest:

First, let Mr. Roosevelt and his administration take the country into their confidence and state in clear terms what policy he wishes the country to adopt. Treat us like Americans and not like Russian peasants.

Second, encourage the press to perform its traditional job of keeping the public informed and checking the abuses of government.

Third, let all legislation dealing with national defense be limited solely to the definite purposes of national defense and not include all kinds of power which may easily be used to carry out New Deal economic objectives.

Fourth, let the President turn from the Hopkins' and the Hendersons and the Ickes in whom Congress and the public have no confidence, to administrators chosen for their ability, regardless of their politics, ideologies, or devotion to New Dealism.

Fifth, let the President consult with those who disagree with him instead of denouncing them and discourage intolerance against those who disagree with his policies, as well as against those who support them.

Sixth, let Mr. Roosevelt publicly assure the country that he has made no secret commitments with Churchill or Stalin and that he will follow the letter of the Constitution by submitting any proposed understanding immediately to Congress for approval.

Seventh, let Mr. Roosevelt against restate for the mothers and fathers and draftees of America his pre-election pledge that no American boys will be sent to fight in foreign lands outside of the Americas.

Eighth, let Mr. Roosevelt unite the country on a policy agreed to by both political parties and 80 per cent of the people, an impregnable defense and all material aid to England—short of war unless this continent is attacked.

Along these eight points lies America's road to unity and peace and the permanence of our democracy.