The Navy Is Ready


By FRANK KNOX, Secretary of the Navy

Delivered before the American Legion in Convention, at Milwaukee, September 15, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 741-745

AT the outset I want to express my appreciation of your invitation to address you assembled in your annual L national convention of the American Legion for 1941. No American Legion convention has ever been held at a time more perilous to our national welfare and security.

The Legion was born immediately following the last war and is made up, exclusively, of men who served in that war. And we meet here in Milwaukee in the third year of another great war which has brought almost all the world, save only the Western Hemisphere, into its destructive, suicidal encirclement.

With all of Europe, save only the British Isles, under the heel of the most ruthless military conqueror the world has ever known; with from eight to ten million men now engaged in deadly struggle along a Russian battlefront 2,000 miles long—the greatest battle measured in size and casualties in world history; with an Axis partner in Asia seeking to create a Far Eastern empire by force of arms, and with all the seven seas the scene of naval conflict, I come to you as the spokesman for one of our great branches of the national defense.

Under these circumstances, you will expect me to dwell chiefly upon problems relating themselves to national defense, to national preparedness, to the maintenance of peace, and, if war comes, to the successful prosecution of the war.

I need not go beyond the pages of American history written by the American Legion itself for my inspiration for such a discussion.

Military Service for All

There are many of you here today who, with me, attended the caucus of the American Legion held in St. Louis, and the first national convention of the Legion held in Minneapolis. It was at these two conventions that this great organization was given its character. It was there the outline of its mission was formulated.

First of all, the American Legion declared that the military system of defense upon which we should rely for our national security must always be subject to civilian authority.

It declared for a national military system based on universal military obligation. We not only favored a system of universal obligation to serve in time of danger, but we also declared for a policy of universal military training so that an American citizen, when called upon to discharge this primary function of citizenship, shall be trained and equipped to meet successfully and victoriously the hazards of war.

We declared for military training in high schools and colleges and for the continuance of training camps to train and educate officers to serve capably in time of national emergency.

These general underlying principles at subsequent conventions of the American Legion were developed and elaborated until it became a matter of universal knowledge that the American Legion constituted the greatest single unit in American life devoted to the principles of American preparedness against war, and of national defense—if war came.

Despite the efforts which the American Legion and other elements have made to promote a condition of preparedness, we have fallen far short of attaining that ideal.

I allude in this not alone to a lack of industrial preparedness, mechanical readiness and economic preparation against possible emergencies, but I also refer, even more emphatically, to our failure to be mentally and spiritually ready against the danger from without.

It is utterly idle to have abundant means for the production of war-making material of every kind if we fail to maintain and develop those qualities of manly courage and virility that will insure that those weapons will go into the hands of men capable of meeting a dangerous armed foe when one appears.

National morale is always more important than national industrial production even in these days of mechanized warfare.

Three Epochs of the Legion

The entire life of the American Legion has been spent in three widely different epochs.

From 1919 to 1929 we lived through a period of crass materialism. Reacting from the high sense of idealism and sacrifice which characterized our participation in the first World War, we went through a period of disillusionment, a period of abnormal and drunken prosperity, in which spiritual values of every sort, including love of country and service for the common good, were subordinated to a get-rich-quick psychology.

This was followed by a period of great depression, when, for millions, life became a daily struggle for the bare necessities and millions more subsisted on a public dole. Finally, the great depression was succeeded, during the past four or five years, by an era of world-wide war or threat of war.

During the last five years a ferocious sweep of conquest by force has enveloped the world. Centering in the Axis powers of German, Italy and Japan, there has grown up a concept of world conquest before which free men everywhere have stood aghast.

So contrary has it been to the whole history of human progress for hundreds of years that, at first peoples who were threatened were incredulous. They refused to believe in the reality of danger. There were many of this type in our citizenship.

Others, who recognized the reality, thought to curb and limit its excesses by a policy of appeasement under which this group of conquerors would be permitted to sate their appetite upon near-by helpless peoples, in the hope that the contagion of war could be kept remote from their boundaries. There are also many of this group to be found in the United States.

It is dangerous to fail to recognize that both of these groups exist in our own country, and that both of these groups contribute to a lack of those virile qualities in a nation—the lack of the willingness to incur danger and the lack of the courage to face facts—which contribute to lowered standards of mental and spiritual preparedness.

It must be a part of the function of the American Legion, with its quarter century stand for national preparedness, to combat both these tendencies which make the task of providing an adequate national defense more difficult.

On the subject of national preparedness through material production there have been causes for anxiety, there have been disappointments and disillusionments, there have been mistakes and delays, but, despite it all, no nation in human history, starting from scratch, with practically no production of war material at all, has ever equaled the record in productivity that we have made in the past year!

"Tremendous Job" Is Praised

Despite the carping of ill-informed critics, and the demagoguery of those who seek to make political capital out of our weaknesses and our shortcomings, a tremendous job has been done in an unbelievably short time.

This has been made possible by two things: the overall capacity of American industrial management to meet a crisis and overcome it, and the skill and loyalty of the American worker.

You have heard a vast deal about labor difficulties, and there have been many, some of them indefensible. You have not heard so much, but it has been there, nevertheless, of avarice and cupidity and unscrupulousness on the part of men trying to make money out of the national emergency; but in the sum total neither these nor labor disputes have sufficed to prevent the conversion of an industrial plant wholly designed for peace into a wartime plant for the production of military necessities at a speed on a scale that challenges comparison, anywhere, at any time!

The United States has never enjoyed more skillful, unselfish and patriotic services from any citizen in the long course of its history which have excelled those qualities of big Bill Knudsen, who has wrought this miracle—and miracle it is—of swift wartime production.

I cannot give you actual figures, because that is a military secret, but when the time comes when the story can be written of what has been done in production in the last year to provide the means to defend America, it will constitute one of the brightest pages to be found in American history, a page of which every American will always be proud, and yet it is not enough.

There is no room for complacency.

Calls Added Service Vital

Earlier, I have referred to the fact that the American Legion, at its very beginnings, declared both for a universal obligation to service on the part of every citizen, and for national, universal military training in order that the individual soldier could discharge his duties expertly and well. Only recently, under the pressure of a war situation, the threat of which to us was unmistakable, we adopted a universal service law which, in thoroughgoing accord with American Legion principles, called up the young men of the country for military training.

In the unwarranted hope and expectation that the crisis which provoked this act would pass, it was provided that, unless Congress enacted to the contrary, the period of service for training would be one year.

As the end of that year approached it was obvious that, instead of the menace decreasing, and the danger growing less, the exact opposite was true.

Thus, in order to prevent practical demobilization of the Army then under training, Congress proposed that the period of service be extended for eighteen months longer. The enactment of this amendment to the Selective Service Law was absolutely essential, in my judgment, to the safety of the country, and yet there was the gravest danger that the measure might fail to pass.

It is now entirely appropriate for me to tell you that, in this crisis, the American Legion, through its national commander and its representatives in Washington, were directly responsible for the passage of this legislation and the salvation of the half-trained American Army from dissolution by bringing to the support of the Administration forces the very votes which gave a majority for that measure.

I dare say that in the whole history of the American Legion nothing that it has done for national preparedness and national defense has counted more greatly than this achievement of the last sixty days!

As Secretary of the Navy, it naturally is on my heart to talk to you men of the Legion of that great service and of the progress we have made toward the building of a two-ocean Navy.

For achievement of this purpose, awards have been made for the construction of 332 new combatant ships. The building of these vessels, which will cost about $6,000,000,000, added to what we already possess, will give us a combined sea strength of thirty-two battleships, eighteen aircraft carriers, ninety-one cruisers, 364 destroyers and 186 submarines, a total fleet of 691 vessels of war.

Incomparably, this will be the greatest sea power with air power auxiliary ever created by any nation in the history of the world.

At the outset of the program it was estimated that it could not be given effect before 1946. I shall not attempt to tell you how much short of that time the objective will be realized, but I do dare to say to you that the whole fleet will be completed far ahead of schedule, and that every ship coming into commission is going into service months ahead of the scheduled time.

Before the end of 1941 we will have added to the fleet, commissioned and ready for service, two battleships, one aircraft carrier, eighteen destroyers and ten submarines.

We have been building for a generation a fleet air arm. The American Naval aviation is admittedly the best, most competent and most highly trained fleet air arm in the world. Part of the reason why it is the best in the world has been because it has been trained specifically to serve with the fleet.

It was our Navy which produced the first, and still the best, dive bomber, in the world. It was our Navy which brought the airplane carrier to its highest state of perfection. It was our Navy which created and developed the long-range patrol bomber—flying boats.

We have made tremendous progress in expanding the aeronautical service of the Navy. Aircraft are coming to us now in significant numbers and in every category. They are proving to be the equal or the superior of any that are produced in the world.

Against Single Air Force

These types have become so effective because they have been designed and operated as a part of the Navy. Theymust never be regarded as other than a part of the Navy. Our sea-air arm is not called upon to perform its many tasks as a coordinated unit. In training, in drill, in carrying out strategical and tactical problems, planes and ships must always work together.

Taking the Navy's planes away from the fleet commander and placing their command elsewhere would unquestionably cripple the fleet.

But a navy is not composed of fighting ships and planes alone. A fleet without its train of auxiliaries would be like an army without its supply and ammunition services. While we have been building combatant ships, we likewise have been building auxiliaries.

This year of 1941 will have seen added to the fleet eighty-four vessels of this type, to give us a total of 258 ships in such varied classifications as submarine tenders, ammunition ships, oilers, hospital ships and transports.

In addition, we are constructing a swarm of small patrol boats and district vessels, submarine chasers, torpedo boats, coastal mine sweepers, fuel barges and so forth. We will add almost 500 of these to our Navy during 1941, to give us a total strength in these classifications of about 1,130 craft.

Each month sees more than 10,000 new men wearing the uniform of the United States Navy. Of the loyalty, the competence and the morale of these men the United States has every reason to feel proud. No finer men, no more competent fighters, no more proficient sailors ever went "down to the sea in ships" than the men who keep the American flag afloat in the seven seas today.

Keen as you men are for the national defense, and powerful as you have been in supplying support for that cause, let me emphasize to you two things: No war of significant proportions can now be fought anywhere in the world save by those nations which have access to the seas. Raw materials out of which the complicated instruments of war are now wrought come from the four corners of the earth.

Sea Power Is Called Decisive

No continent has a monopoly of them and, therefore, those nations which possess sea power are the nations in the future into whose hands will be entrusted the peace of the world.

We now know how futile it is to place our trust in written promises to forsake war as an instrument of national policy. Promises to keep the peace are just so much worthless paper to be scrapped when some ruthless, acquisitive leaders of greedy and warlike people feel so disposed.

The only peace in which the world can put any confidence, for at least one hundred years to come, is the kind of peace that can be enforced by the peace-loving nations of the world. It will not be sufficient just to love peace if these nations are to support the cause of peace effectively.

It is imperatively necessary to have not only the will to peace but the power to enforce it!

In such a world as that of today, sea power for America is more vital, more essential, than ever before in its history. We are on the way to achieve that power! We shall soon have the fleet that will make us the greatest maritime power the world has ever known, and we have the materials, the skills and the capacity to maintain that leadership indefinitely!

This will only be achieved, however, if the American people learn, in these crucial years, how needful for their own security and welfare is sea power, and if they determine out of a love for peace, not for war, to maintain that sea power in the years that lie ahead.

As to "Attitude" on War

We hear a great deal these days concerning the attitude of the American people toward war. There has never been any secret nor any division in this matter. The American people are not warlike. They are peace-minded. They have no national objectives, or policies, which must be promoted by war.

In any choice between war and peace, all but a lunatic few would, of course, vote for peace. It is utterly foolish to talk about a plebiscite on war. It is never true that a people may choose between peace and war, unless they are satisfied with a peace on terms dictated by an aggression.

If we want an honest test of sentiment and really desire to know the mind of the American people with respect to their own defense, and the defense of their rights, the questions we should ask them in the light of the present war situation might be broached in this fashion:

Do you want to lose your liberties?

Do you want security for your family and for your property?

Are the vital interests of this country in peril?

If your liberties are in danger, if your family and its security are in peril, if the vital interests of the United States are threatened, will you surrender them or will you fight for them?

If you put the question that way, and that is the way it is being put, what percentage of the American people, think you, would answer negatively?

The answer would be in an affirmative that would shock the confidence even of a dictator like Hitler. You could expect no other answer from Americans. If the time ever comes when such a question is not answered affirmatively, if under such circumstances the American people do not oppose war, rather than surrender, then this country of ours would cease to be the country we have always known and will become a land occupied by cowardly vassals, abject subjects of a more virile race of men.

Must Fight for Liberties

You cannot preserve liberties such as we enjoy, save by willingness to fight for them if need be.

A worthy, righteous peace is the fruit of effort. You don't get peace, you don't retain peace just by being peaceable. You get it, if it is worth having, by a constant willingness to work and sacrifice and risk for it.

You have it now. The people in the United States have it now because other men of other generations have been willing, when necessary, to fight for the conditions that make peace possible. If you think by just keeping peaceable and never going to war that you can get a just peace in this world, you are wrong.

That is the one way in which to surely lose peace.

The currency with which you pay for peace is made up of manly courage, fearless virility, readiness to serve justice and honor at any cost, and a mind and a heart attuned to sacrifice.

A peace temporarily enjoyed by a people without these qualities is but a prelude to certain disaster. That nation that regards the avoidance of war as the highest good regardless of the price exacted for peace in its honor, its rights, its vital interests, is a nation both wretched and contemptible and cannot long endure.

This does not mean that we must not exhaust every honorable means to foster and promote peace, but we must be sure that we seek and enjoy a righteous peace, for those who put peace before righteousness, and justice, and liberty do infinite harm and always fail of their purpose ultimately.

We must also remember that it is only the strong who can promote and preserve a righteous peace. When war threatens and human liberties are at stake, when attempts at world-wide dominion are to the fore, we must be sure that the world understands that we do not withhold our hand through weakness or timidity,

Quotes Theodore Roosevelt

Idle and futile is the voice of the weak nation, or the craven nation, when it clamors for peace.

At this point I should like to quote from a former President, Theodore Roosevelt, who, like Franklin D. Roosevelt, was a courageous, virile champion of just and righteous peace, and a foe of those who put peace before righteousness. Theodore Roosevelt once said:

"Peace is a great good, and doubly harmful, therefore, is the attitude of those who advocate it in terms that would make it synonymous with selfish and cowardly shrinking from warring against the existence of evil. The wisest and most far-seeing champions of peace will ever remember that, in the first place, to be good it must be righteous, for an unrighteous and cowardly peace may be worse than any war; and in the second place, that it can often be obtained only at the cost of war."

A powerful national defense, especially on the high seas, is a prerequisite of a peace-promoting, justice-loving America. During the last half dozen years it has been clear to almost any man that a powerful fleet and a powerful air force, neither of which can be extemporized, are vital essentials to our national security in a time of great world turbulence.

Months ago, the American Government, acting through Congress by overwhelming majorities of both houses, adopted the Lend-Lease Bill. Subsequently, by even greater majorities, both houses of Congress appropriated $7,000,000,000 to make our aid to Britain and China and those fighting Hitler effective.

Our aid contemplated not only the manufacture of every form of munitions and war-making material, but it also included the repair of British-men-of-war in American navy yards. All this was not only officially made the policy of the country by Presidential and Congressional action, but it was overwhelmingly endorsed by the American public.

No Doubt of Nazi Intentions

The German Government declared officially that it would attempt to prevent the delivery of lend-lease material by sinking every vessel bearing such material to British ports. This declaration of the German Government was positive and left no room for doubt of German intentions.

To effectuate our policy and to meet this German challenge, our government has created a naval and air patrol over the waters of the North Atlantic crossing, and, as a measure of additional defense, has occupied Iceland as an air and naval base. These measures have been in effect since July 7 of this year.

Immediately, shipping losses over that route dropped dramatically. August losses were lower than those of any month for the past year. Continuously since July 7, over that route, American naval vessels have been providing escort for cargo ships flying the American and Icelandic flags. The safe delivery of lend-lease articles in British ports reached an all-time high.

The bridge of ships over which supplies were being transported to England, adequate to make a successful invasion by Germany highly improbable, was being rapidly created. Hitler and the Nazis were palpably losing the Battle of the Atlantic.

If they did not swiftly take measures to break down this bridge the defeat of England, the prime purpose of their war, would become impossible. If they did make such an all-out effort, they would add the United States Navy to their already too numerous foes.

It was a grim choice, but Nazi action in the past few days has left little room for doubt of what they will do.

Cites Attack on the Greer

A German submarine encountered an American destroyer engaged in carrying mail to our outpost on Iceland. The encounter came in broad daylight and the American destroyer carried identification marks which left no possible room for doubt as to its nationality.

At close range the submarine discharged three torpedoes aimed at the American destroyer. The Greer evaded them and promptly attacked the submarine with depth charges. After the second depth-charge attack all contact with the submarine was lost by the destroyer.

Immediately upon receipt of this news, the Navy Department gave the public every fact in its possession, based upon the dispatch direct from the commander of the American destroyer. The German Government countered by saying that the American destroyer had fired the first shot.

The whole issue is far too broad to make the question of who fired first of great importance. I allude to it chiefly because it offered a chance for that curious organization known as "the America First Committee" to tell the American public that, in its judgment, it was more likely the German U-boat commander was telling the truth than the American naval officer who commanded the Greer.

That is an important fact for the American public to digest: that we have in our midst an organization of American citizens who, on a question of veracity, declared publicly that they prefer to accept the word of a piratical murderer of women and children on the high seas, engaged in a type of warfare denounced by every civilized nation in the world, rather than accept the word of an American commander of an American warship.

Navy Is Told to Get Axis Ships

Regardless of this minor controversy, there is happily no doubt of the American answer. You heard it last Thursday night when the President of the United States, in his capacity as Commander in Chief of the American Navy, announced to the world that, come what may, American aid to Britain was to be delivered where it could be used to help in the fight against Hitler in maximum degree.

Beginning tomorrow, the American Navy will provide protection as adequate as we can make it for ships of every flag carrying lend-aid supplies between the American continent and the waters adjacent to Iceland.

The Navy is ordered to capture or destroy by every means at its disposal Axis-controlled submarines or surface raiders encountered in these waters.

That is our answer to Mr. Hitler.

A great American President, the second in the long line of men who have filled that office, President Adams, ordered the American Navy to make the Caribbean Sea safe for American ships, and the Navy did so.

His successor, President Jefferson, ordered the American Navy to destroy the corsairs of the Barbary Coast in the Mediterranean, and the Navy accomplished that mission.

President Andrew Jackson gave the American Navy of his time a similar mission in the Malayan Archipelago of the Far East, and the pirates were destroyed.

And now President Roosevelt, under far more menacingconditions, exercises the same constitutional power as that exercised by Adams, by Jefferson and by Jackson.

From its beginning the American Navy has fought for the freedom of the seas. It is fighting for that vital principlenow, and the officers and men who are making this gallant fight to uphold this principle in the far reaches of the North Atlantic and elsewhere have the unquestioned and loyal support of a substantially unanimous American public.