Are We At War?


By JOHN CUDAHY, Former Ambassador to Belgium and Poland and Minister to Ireland and Luxembourg

Delivered over the Columbia Broadcasting System, September 26, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 14-15.

ARE we at war? Since the President's "shoot at sight" address, more than ever are the people bewildered. But we are not at war, for we have faith that ours is a government of laws, not a government of men. That is the fundamental difference between us and the dictatorships. We believe that no man is greater than the law, or beyond the law, and that the paramount law of the land is the Constitution. Under that law only Congress has the power to declare war. If you will examine the prolonged debates at the time the Constitution was adopted, you will see so clearly how the founding fathers realized that war was a question which could be properly decided only by the people themselves. In the original Articles of Confederation the vote of nine of the thirteen colonies was required for a declaration of war, and while the men who wrote the Constitution were willing to entrust the executive with many warlike powers, even the supreme command of the armed forces, they stressed that it was the duty of the executive to use these powers for the maintenance of peace. In a people's government the decision of war itself could only be committed to the representatives of all the American people, the Congress of the United States.

Ten months ago the American people recorded the popular will on war and they did so beyond all doubt or equivocation. Both candidates pledged peace during the presidential campaign, and President Roosevelt on the eve of election reiterated and summarized this pledge with these words:

"While I am talking to you fathers and mothers I give you one more assurance. I have said this before but I say it again and again and again, your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars."

The fathers and mothers of America believed these words of President Roosevelt. They elected him. No one can deny that upon this assurance of peace, they elected him.

I was one of those who advocated the election of President Roosevelt, and if you had been with me in my journeys during that campaign, you would have seen, in nearly every city and town and village of the country, huge billboards placarded with promises.

The people had a right to count on those promises to keep us out of war. They did count on those promises. If the people rule, if democracy is not a mockery, if candidates' pledges are any more than campaign oratory, if we are a government of the people and by the people, we are not at war and cannot be at war until the people, through their representatives, have spoken. Never in the history of this country have we gone to war without an act of Congress,Twenty-four years ago a vicious despotism overthrew the government of Russia and, openly proclaiming virulent hostility to us and every other democratic nation, announced a world wide revolution. Yet we did not go to war with Russia.

Only once did American armies fight in Europe, and when sober reckoning was taken the American decision was against any further participation in the endless flaming feuds of that continent. That was the American mood when the present war broke out two years ago. This war did not come as a surprise to your country, nor did it take your government unawares. For years we knew that the totalitarian states were preparing for war. It was only a question of the day, and so a department was set up within the Department of State to study the causes which, step by step, had brought us into that war of Europe twenty-four years ago and might lead us into another war unless we were prepared to stay out of it. We were resolved then to avoid incidents that made a record and embroiled us almost, it seemed, unwittingly, in that war twenty-four years ago. And that is why Congress enacted a Neutrality Law.

You heard about freedom of the seas then, but every sensible prudent man recognized that if people insisted upon approaching the raging fires of Europe that someone would get burnt, and that one hundred thirty million fellow Americans would get burnt too. And so in the belief of the greater good for the greater number, and in the cause of peace American ships and American citizens were by law kept away from the warring zone. Forgotten were those rousing slogans—freedom of the seas, the cause of democracy, the right of free men, the challenge of tyranny, the threat of despotism and brutal imperialism. Europe for Europeans and America for Americans was the watchword then.

What has so changed the public judgment that even a voiceful minority can think of war now?

Is it because we were wrong, or is it because of fear? Fear that this country may go down as I saw neutral, peace loving Belgium go down before the brutal Hitler war machine. They say that if England falls and the British navy is captured, it will only be a question of a. short time until the Nazis invade the western hemisphere. This is a serious proposition, and one that demands most careful examination. Great distances of open water must be crossed, enormous shipping tonnage, greater than the combined marine of the entire world today, must be supplied, great supplies of rations and munitions must be transported, impenetrable jungle areas must be traversed, and all these questions require themost minute, exacting analysis in the military laboratory. Is our hemisphere vulnerable to Hitler's attack? The American people want to know. They have a right to know. Who can tell them? What is the opinion of the experts? If you are sick you consult a doctor, if you have a law suit you go to a lawyer. If you are going to build a house you engage the services of an architect. In all human experience, special business is left in the hands of specialists, but on this question of national defense which involves the life of the nation, we have heard from writers of words and speakers of speeches, editors and columnists, publicists and politicians, but the men who know, the military experts, are silent.

A short time ago I interviewed Adolf Hitler at Berchtesgaden. I told him frankly that Americans were hostile to Nazi Germany because they looked with horror and disgust upon a ruthless imperialism which, one by one, had crushed almost all the democratic nations of the European continent. I said that many Americans reasoned that when the German military machine had conquered England, it would be turned against the western hemisphere. Hitler laughed and could not believe I was serious. He said the invasion of the Americas was a military impossibility. He asked what was the opinion of our experts on the subject,—the Chief of Staff, the Chief of Naval Operations, the highest commanding officer of our air force.

I could give the opinion of Senators and Representatives, of columnists and editors, but what the military men thought, those who would be called upon to fight for our national life, those charged with the responsibility of our defense, I did not know then and I do not know today.

They alone could have challenged Hitler's statement when he told me that the conquest of the western hemisphere by German arms was as fantastic as an invasion of the moon. Why did they not do so? Why do not the military men speak now when millions of patriotic Americans are troubled and perplexed and are willing to sacrifice all for the defense oftheir country, if need be, asking only for the truth. Let us hear the truth. Americans are no cowards. They can face the truth. What is the truth?

When I was in Germany, I thought I had a responsibility to report the truth, for since the return of Ambassador Hugh Wilson from Berlin three years ago we have had little information from that country. You can well imagine how eager I was to place all my observations at the disposal of my government. I had hardly landed in New York last June when I telephoned the State Department, but the Acting Secretary, Sumner Welles, gave me to understand that he thought it inadvisable to see me because of press speculation and so I have never reported on what I learned in Germany.

We cannot annihilate Hitler by ignoring him or by deciding upon his annihilation. Let us face the facts. Let the American people weigh the evidence, and if we enter the war of Europe, let us do so in an American way, by a declaration of Congress. And let us, before doing so, attempt, at least, to estimate the cost. During the last war we raised an army of four million American soldiers, of which two million were sent abroad, and 160,000 were killed or maimed and wounded. The direct financial cost was over forty billion dollars, but the greatest financial cost was the crushing depression which at the time threatened to destroy the government of this country.

What will be our cost in this next war? Able military men have told me that an American expeditionary force of at least eight million men will be required to invade German dominated Europe, and Senator Pepper, who has so often voiced with unfailing accuracy the judgment of the administration, is reported to have said that: "In less than two years' time we will be spending one hundred billion dollars a year and the total cost to America will not be a cent less than three hundred billion dollars."