What the United States Faces Today


By ALBEN W. BARKLEY, U. S. Senator from Kentucky

Delivered before the Iowa State Bankers Association, held in Des Moines, Iowa, on September 9, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 732-736

YOU have asked me to speak on the subject "What the United States Faces Today." In discussing this subject, I assume you expect me to deal with the problems that face our people growing out of the present international situation.

Time prohibits any detailed discussion of all the problems which have arisen out of world conditions.

Some of these problems are military and naval. Some of them are social. Some of them are moral. Some of them are economic.

Any one of these phases of our present situation would be an ample foundation for an address of some length. I shall, therefore, be able only to deal with them in abroad way, touching upon all of them to such extent as time and the proprieties may permit.

Let me say in the outset that these problems are not primarily of our making or of our choosing.

We have for 150 years been content to engage in the development of our part of the American Continent and the development of a genuine friendship for all the nations of the world.

In that 150 years we have grown from a population of 3,000,000 fringing the Atlantic Seaboard to 130,000,000 people. We have expanded from 13 weak, disjointed colonies to 48 great states, which, in my judgment, are morefirmly united today under the Flag and Constitution of our Country than they have ever been before.

We have taken in the body of the mid-continent between the two Oceans and between the Dominion of Canada and the Republic of Mexico, and we have added to our territory and jurisdiction islands of the sea where our interests or our destiny have seemed to require it.

We have grown from a pauper nation, without credit in the markets of the world and without financial standing, to the richest nation that now exists or has ever existed in the history of mankind.

We have grown in the enjoyment of individual and collective liberty more rapidly and more completely than any other nation in the history of the world; and, notwithstanding the restrictions which a complex society have required for the orderly development of our people, we enjoy a greater degree of liberty today than is enjoyed by any other nation. We have grown from a small nation, without influence among the nations of the world, to an outstanding position of influence and power among the nations of the world. We have cultivated and enjoyed the respect of every self-governing nation in all the earth and we enjoy the fear of every dictator who has sought and is seeking to destroy the liberties and the conceptions of society to which we have dedicated ourselves.

All these things have made us a peace-loving nation and, in the minds of many of our people, a self-sufficient nation.

We had no part in the causes which produced the World War of 1914-18. We had not been a party to nor contributed to the fears or jealousies or selfish interests which produced that war, but we were drawn into it against our will and against our desires because it was necessary for us to enter it to defend our rights and the welfare of our people in a world of conflicting and antagonistic forces.

We did not contribute to the causes which produced the present world war. I describe it as a "world war" because it is essentially and in every sense a world war.

We did not contribute to the causes which have produced it. Unless, indeed, it may be said that we stopped fighting too soon in 1918 at the conclusion of the first World War.

When that war had been concluded, billions of people throughout the earth rejoiced. The President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, pushed forward a great program, conceived in the mind of a great humanitarian and great statesman, which, if adopted at Versailles, might have guaranteed a long era of peace and might have made this terrible contest utterly impossible.

For a brief period people of the world believed that a long era of peace had been ushered in. Billions of people thought they saw a new light arise above the horizon and, for the first time in generations, they stood erect and got a glimpse of that light, believing it to be permanent and benign.

In the light of that hope, peace treaties were sacredly contracted. Disarmament conferences were held. Navies were reducedósome of them were sunkóconstruction of others was suspended, and it looked for a time as if those who had been lifted to positions of power and authority in all the nations of the world had set their feet upon the pathway of a long and constructive peace among the peoples of the earth.

Nine power pacts were entered into; and these various treaties, from Versailles on, culminated in the Briand-Kellogg Pact by which practically every nation of the world, including Germany and Russia and all the nations of Europe and Asia and America solemnly bound themselves to forego war as an instrument of national policy.

On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler came into power in the German Reich. From that day until this he has made international honor and good faith a by-word and a hissamong the nations of the world, and today no self-respecting nation can enter upon any contract or agreement with him on any subject with any justifiable hope that he would keep his word. The vilest and most despicable petty thief among the most criminal and irresponsible elements in any nation, civilized or uncivilized, has a higher conception of honor than he possesses.

And the tragedy of it all is that he now enjoys the temporary power to bring upon all mankind the most diabolical catastrophe ever conceived by a Satanic mind or executed by a demon's prowess.

I am not required to give you a bill of particulars in order to demonstrate that what America faces today and what the whole world faces is traceable to Adolf Hitler and his Nazi juggernaut. It is always difficult to know what might have happened in the world if something else had happened that did not occur. But I have believed that if his course had been barricaded at the very beginning of his marauding career, the world would not now be faced with a titanic struggle to preserve democracy or civilization or a decent way of living.

It has been my reliable information that when Hitler sent his troops into the Ruhr Valley he sent them substantially with a round-trip ticket and with instructions that if there was opposition they should return from the venture. There was no opposition and he construed this lack of opposition into supine cowardice on the part of those with whom his country had entered into solemn agreements. From the Ruhr Valley it was but a short step to Austria, and then to Czechoslovakia, and then to Poland, and then to Denmark and Norway and Holland and Belgium and France and Bulgaria and Rumania and Yugoslavia and Greece.

From these conquests, some of which were made in spite of desperate opposition on the part of England and France and some of the other nations, it was easy for him to conceive of a final domination by him and his organized international bandits of the entire world.

In fact, no one could read his book "Mein Kampf" without reaching the undeniable conclusion that before he had made even the initial conquest among those I have mentioned, he was dreaming of world conquest. Although he found in most of these nations helpless victims upon which he has superimposed a brutality more malignant than that imposed by any other conqueror since the dawn of history, we yet rejoice that the light of human liberty still burns in millions of hearts whose voices are made silent and whose souls are being crushed by the iron heel of the ruthless conqueror.

We yet rejoice that the people of the British commonwealth of nations are imposing their militant resources, human and material, across the pathway of Hitler.

And, notwithstanding the fact that we disagree with the policies of the Soviet Republic in the solution of its domestic problems as well as its outlook and methods in some phases of our international relationships, we rejoice that the people of Russia have displayed the courage and fortitude to defend their homes and their native land against this base caricature of a man.

Although we do not endorse nor approve nor remotely accept the theories which have been adopted by the Russian people, we recognize their right to their own Government according to their own will and we recognize their right to defend themselves against the same menace that we ourselves are facing and that is being faced by every civilized nation of the world.

It is because of these things that the sympathies of the American people and their gigantic material assistance are being mobilized to help these nations defend themselves.

And we are doing this, not primarily because we desire to take part in conflicts in other parts of the world; not becausewe desire to participate in disputes arising out of boundaries or minorities in Europe or Asia or Africa, but we are mobilizing our resources and making them available to the victims of aggression because we know, if we know anything, that the greater Hitler's success may be in dominating the rest of the world, the greater will be the menace to our institutions and to our commitments, and the more certain it will be that ultimately we shall have to meet this dragon without assistance from any other nation that may become a victim of his military machine.

There was a time when the two oceans may have been regarded as a protection to our nation and our continent against aggression, but even then an army of a nation with which we were at war landed upon our shores, burned our capitol and charred the executive mansion.

Even then it was necessary for James Monroe to announce the Monroe Doctrine, which is essentially a doctrine of self-defense, by proclaiming that the effort of any European nation to gain a foothold anywhere in America would be regarded by the United States as an unfriendly act, by which he meant an act justifying war.

At the time that doctrine was announced, Japan was a hermit. It was not until the middle of the last century that an American Naval Officer lifted the screen from the Japanese Islands and introduced them to the civilized world. If James Monroe could have foreseen the history of Asia during the last century, he would have announced that any effort on the part of a European or Asiatic nation to gain a foothold in America would be regarded as an unfriendly act.

So, for 118 years the United States has been committed to the defense of all the Americas from foreign aggression, and we have modified the doctrine to the extent that we will oppose the effort on the part of any non-American nation to take over, secure title to or invade any part of the Western Hemisphere.

During the period when the world was seeking peace and thought it had secured it, and in the belief that we would aid in perpetuating that peace, the Congress of the United States enacted what was known as the Embargo Act. This Act was based upon the deluded belief that we were curbing the munitions makers and that by prohibiting them from selling arms to any nation of the world we would make it more difficult for wars to begin or to spread.

We did not realize then as we have come to realize since that that law gave an additional weapon to every military dictator who concentrated the energies of his own people in the manufacture of implements of war while his neighbors were pursuing innocently the reconstruction of their social, economic and industrial life.

When we realized the real effect of this shortsighted enactment, we repealed it. But even in its repeal we acted with hesitation and equivocation. We passed what is known as the Neutrality Act, by which we made it impossible for American citizens and American ships and American cargoes to go into any belligerent waters during the existence of war. We withdrew our Flag from the high seas to that extent and made a greater sacrifice to avoid American involvement in war than was ever made before by any great nation in the history of the world. This is still the law and we are scrupulously observing and enforcing it. But, we are coming more and more to realize that no nation can completely insulate itself from the shock of electric currents that are flashing in all the heavens that surround the world. We are rapidly coming to the knowledge that we cannot completely or substantially or effectively barricade ourselves against the conflagration that is sweeping the world before it merely because we are surrounded by water.

The inventive mind of man has brought about the effacement of barriers, natural or artificial. Neither high mountains nor deep waters can any longer protect innocent and peace-loving nations from the physical devastation of war, nor even from its effects, which are today complicating and paralyzing the normal energies and aspirations of mankind in every civilized nation.

This incredible holocaust, these incredible events, have colored and now color every thought that we entertain. They fashion and mold our obligations and our requirements; and they will affect for good or ill the life and welfare of every man, woman and child in America, as well as throughout the world, for generations if not for centuries to come.

It is because of these things that we have been compelled temporarily to step aside from the reconstruction of our own domestic fabric, which had not yet recovered from the first World War, and concentrate our efforts in a huge and unaccustomed preparation to defend ourselves and everything we cherish.

It is because of these things that we have been compelled and are now compelled to train millions of our young men to fight and, if necessary, to suffer and even to die to preserve the heritage of our democracy. We found no pleasure in reaching the strong arm of the Government into the peaceful homes of our land to take from the fireside and the hearthstone the strong and the vigorous and put them through a course of training in the military arts. But, looking across the narrow seas into other peaceful homes and peaceful lands, we could not afford to take any chance. So we are training an army.

It is because of these things that we have been compelled to levy taxes almost unheard of and unbelievable upon the American people during a time of theoretical peace in order that we may pay in part for the enormous expenses Hitler is compelling us to undertake.

We find no pleasure in the levying of burdensome taxes. We are not unconscious of the reactions the average man may have toward the increased taxes which his Government exacts of him. But we realize that we cannot pass this burden entirely on to future generations and that we must raise a very substantial portion of these expenses through new taxes. I am happy to believe, yea, I know, from my contacts with the people, that they are willing and ready to undergo any burden or endure any sacrifice that may be required of them in order that we may preserve this nation, free and strong and independent, for those of us who live today and pass it on to the generations yet unborn in all of its strength, pride and glory.

It is because of these things that we have been compelled to appropriate between forty and fifty billions of dollars to strengthen our land and naval forces and guard our nation and our continent against the evil designs of any world conqueror.

It is because of these things that we have been compelled to double the debt of the National Treasury and even to authorize that it be trebled, if necessary, to accomplish the purposes of our defense.

We find no pleasure in increasing the expenses of our Government or in the multiplication of our national debt. We cannot but view with some apprehension the prospect of its further increase in order that our nation may not be completely under the domination of an alien foe. But we have been compelled to increase our appropriations, our debt and our taxes in order that we may be prepared to repel every effort from whatever quarter it might emanate to dominate or influence or restrain people of this Continent in the evolution of their social, economic and moral welfare to the point where every citizen may feel that within the confines of his abilities and his opportunities he may enjoy to the fullest extent the bounties with which God has blessed him and his country.

These are some of the things which we face in the United States. These are some of the reasons why we face them. And I am sure that I am not overstating it when I express the feeling that, without regard to geographical location, financial or social standing, without regard to politics or religion, without regard to race or color, without regard to origin or ancestry, the American people overwhelmingly support their Government and their representatives in that Government in their efforts to fortify our nation from every standpoint against the things which have made it necessary for us to converge all our energies in this program of national defense.

The things which we face as a nation are even more far-reaching than our effort now to prepare for national defense. We cannot overlook anything necessary to our defense. We cannot tolerate inefficiency or indifference among those charged with this responsibility. It is not an easy thing to transform a peaceful, law-abiding, Christian people, who love to pursue the ways of civilization and Christianity, into a people bent upon military preparation. It has never heretofore been necessary for us to do it. It has never been desired. But we are doing it and we must continue to do it until those nations now defying despotism can, with our aid, banish the danger, the imminence and the threat from the doors and the shrines and the farms and the homes and the business of men, women and children everywhere.

In the accomplishment of these ends, military preparation alone will not be sufficient. We must make additional sacrifices. We must conform our lives temporarily to the new duty which faces us as a nation. Not only must we tax ourselves, build up our armed and naval forces; not only must we endure increased debt and appropriations, but we must make personal sacrifices which as yet we have not known. We must submit to regulations and restrictions which we would prefer not to incur, but this is our part of the program. We must do without some things which ordinarily we would like to have. We must divert in so far as is necessary the materials at our disposal to the uses of defense, keeping in mind always a fair and equitable distribution of these materials to the industries which are the life of many of our communities.

We must put a curb upon unjustifiable increases in the cost of living to millions of our people who depend upon meager wages and salaries to support their families.

We must put a barrier in the highway of unregulated and unjustifiable inflation, not only for the welfare of men, women and children during the emergency, but in order to avoid a perpendicular collapse and reaction when the emergency is over.

We must learn something from our previous experience in a similar though not as extensive a world situation. At the end of the World War in 1918, millions of men throughout the nations engaged in war were returned to civil life. The readjustments which followed the peace of November 11, 1918 brought calamity and suffering to millions of our own people and the people of the world, whether they were farmers, merchants, manufacturers or laborers. We recall that in the years following the Treaty of Versailles, many of our great financial geniuses advocated a rather sudden deflation of the values and the prices which had been pyramided during the World War. I recall that, operating under the hypnotic influence of the mirage of perpetual high prices and perpetual prosperity, whether genuine or spurious, many a well-to-do farmer traded in an old farm upon which he had been reasonably satisfied in exchange for a larger and more expensive farm, which he later lost to his creditors.

Following the World War, these reactions of various kinds in various parts of the world are said to have made a substantial contribution to the terrific depression which overtook this nation in 1928, 1929 and 1930, and has continued in some measure from that time until now.

Therefore, while we are feverishly preparing to defend ourselves from a military, naval and political standpoint, we will be foolish indeed if we are not fore-sighted enough to prepare against the reactions and readjustments that must inevitably follow the termination of this great emergency.

To that end we must ask the support of all our people, and especially of the banking world, in attempting to curb avarice and cupidity and selfishness during the emergency. We have the right to call upon our great financial interests as well as every class of our people to help see to it that no one grows unjustly rich out of the sacrifices made by the American people, or, as for that, any people.

We have the right to call upon those who are expert in the handling of financial matters which affect all of us to help see to it that as men prosper under the stimulus of a great emergency, they shall contribute in paying the expenses incident to that emergency.

The total income of the American people in 1940 was about 72 billion dollars. It is estimated that the total income of the American people for 1941 will be in the neighborhood of 95 billion dollars.

This is an increase in one year of more than 20 billion dollars. We have just passed a tax bill through the Senate and it will soon be signed by the President, which will raise between 3 1/2 and 4 billion dollars per annum.

This seems to be a burdensome amount added to our present taxes, but, in all seriousness, may I not ask you and the American people whether we ought not out of the increased total income of 23 billion dollars per year to take more than 3 1/2 billions to help pay for the program which, at least in part, has made this increase in income possible?

Therefore, if I may answer concretely what the United States faces today, I would epitomize by saying it faces a world whose domination is sought by a brutal and ruthless conqueror, who has exceeded every other conqueror in the form and method of cruelty. We face the possibility of encirclement by every continent outside of America. For if Hitler wins in Europe, he wins in Africa and in Asia, and already he is seeking to undermine the independence of South American republics, to say nothing of his diabolical undercover efforts in the United States.

We face the possibility in that event of a continuous and perpetual military establishment as a part of our regular program in the United States in order that we may never be caught unprepared for a possible hostile world. In this event we are faced with complete change in the methods of our life and the objectives which have made our nation glorious. We will face burdens never dreamed of and restraints never conceived in the development of our national life. We will face the possibility that our own free institutions, under which we have enjoyed freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of thought and freedom of lawful pursuit of happiness, shall be crushed, and that we shall be compelled to indulge in physical, moral and mental regimentation.

We face now, in view of all these things, the responsibility of giving all the aid that we can give to those nations fighting desperately to preserve human liberty. We hope we may do this without entering into the war now raging throughout the world. We love peace and we abhor war. But, while we abhor war and love peace and while we have done everything humanly possible as a nation to avoid the necessity of actual war, and while the great President of the United States in all his efforts has sought to avoid the necessity for our entrance into the war, in which program Congress and the people have supported him, I am not afraid to assert that in any commonwealth of this nation or in any community of it, if the time arrives when we must lay aside temporarily the peaceful habits which we love, we shall not be afraid to assume the responsibility which our forefathers assumed when they established, and for 150 years have defended, our liberty, our rights, our homes and our institutions.

They were not afraid in 1776. They were not afraid in 1812. They were not afraid in 1848. They were not afraid in 1861. They were not afraid in 1898. They were not afraid in 1917. They are not afraid today.

God grant that we may not be compelled to unsheathe our sword. God grant that we may not be compelled to use this army that we are training. God grant that we may not be compelled to use the navy which we are building for the defense of two oceans. God grant that all of our liberties and our rights and our concepts, that our belief in democracy and our belief in the freedoms we enjoy may be preserved without our entering into actual warfare. But if it cannot be done otherwise than by actual conflict, if all the prayers of millions of our people should prove futile in the face of the Satanic onslaught inspired by the Devil and conducted by his outstanding agent on this earth, Adolf Hitler, then we shall be ready to accept our responsibility and do our duty as God may give us the light to see it and the courage to perform it.

In facing these difficulties, in the solution of these problems, in the unification of our people under the impact of a great obligation, we know we shall receive the full cooperation of the groups which you represent here today and all the groups which make up the citizenship of this republic.