The Need for National Defense
IF THE SITUATION IS GRAVE
By ENNIS P. WHITLEY, Business Executive
Delivered at Convention of the Michigan Engineers of American Water Works Association, Grand Rapids, Mich., September 26, 1941
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 75-78.
WHEN we view a crisis such as the present, we are likely to see it only through the eyes of immediacy. Events in any era can best be understood in the light of Biblical and temporal history. From the beginning of time there has been a perpetual struggle between men whose spirits longed to be free and those who wished to dominate their fellows for selfish ends. All the wars—past, present, and future—are but variations of this struggle between two conflicting ideologies. This would, indeed, be a gloomy prospect for mankind were it not for the fact that in the main men have not grown strong on a soft diet and easy times. Their bodies, minds, and souls have attained greatest strength under hardship, travail, and privation.
Our common ancestors started out in the Garden of Eden. It was the perfect example of a new deal even in olden times. There were the maximum governmental benefits. The agricultural department of that era didn't have to hold out bonus checks or undertake soil erosion projects. There was no need for old age and unemployment insurance. Working conditions were 100% perfect. There was no work, and there was an abundance of everything. You know what happened.
Somebody got into the jam pot. Adam, the unchivalrous skunk, laid all the blame at Eve's door. Eve blamed the Serpent, and the whole kit and kaboodle of them were thrown out.
From then on Man had to earn his living by the sweat of his brow; but he sweated and earned and became prosperous and corrupt. Those of you who saw the show "Green Pastures" have a vivid recollection of that portrayal. The night clubs of Babylon, Sodom, and Gomorrah were going great guns. The swivel-hipped Jezebels of that day out-gypsied Gypsy Rose Lee herself, and again the Lord looked down and was not only sorrowful, he was mad. And again
referring to the "Green Pastures" interpretation: Gabriel, sensing the situation, was about to let one blast on the fatal trumpet and blow the whole world into smithereens; but the Lord said, "Watch yourself, Gabe." And through the instrumentality of Noah and the Ark the world was given another chance.
Early Bible history consists principally of a series of wars, and there was always somebody aspiring to be a potential Hitler and dominate the world for his own glory, aggrandizement and profit. The world lacked an ideal of democracy and unselfishness. Codes and prohibitions of "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not" lacked inspiration and afforded no vision of hope for succeeding generations.
But 2040 years ago the world was given the perfect and eternal example of democracy and that fuller life, which was to become the hope of all men in the future. I refer to the birth of Christ, not in any religious sense, but rather because of the fact that his advent gave to the world the ideal which has to a considerable extent shaped the pattern of the social and economic life in the world's leading democracies.
The world was not to be easily reformed. Greed and selfishness continued to thwart the spirits of Man as before. Wars, battles, migrations, and hardships of enslaved peoples continued. If you will glance at any chronological table of history, you will see that the main sequence of events consists of one war and one battle following on the heels of another. Dictators, with the trails of devastation and hardships which follow in their wake, are not new. The pages of history are besmirched with the careers of hundreds of them, large and small, potent and impotent. Let's look at the careers of a few.
Three hundred years before Christ, Alexander became the greatest taker by force the world had even seen. He destroyed two glorious civilizations—those of Egypt and Greece. Finally he died in an orgy of melancholia superinduced by the distressing fact that there were no more worlds for him to conquer. But Alexander could not and did not permanently enslave the human spirit.
During the following era numerous Roman conquerors and emperors walked through history's pages. There was quite a try for democracy in Rome; and for a time the welfare of the common man was given a lot of thought. Under these favorable conditions the people prospered and were happy. But finally their rulers became corrupt and selfish and began to govern for their own ends rather than for the common weal. The society became weak and sterile. In the year 410 when the Visigoths, under Alaric, swept down from the shores of the Black Sea and crossed the Danube into Roman territory, they passed peasants working in the fields. Those peasants knew that they were would-be conquerors, but they willingly gave directions as to how to reach Rome, since the democratic ideal had been lost and the rights which they had cherished were no longer theirs. Alaric marched through Italy and captured Rome.
Another example typical of these would-be conquerors was Charlemagne, eighth and ninth century. All and all, he was perhaps one of the best of the whole lot. He conquered all of northwestern Europe, including the area which now comprises Great Britain, France, Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Charlemagne was an Evangelist, but his evangelizing medium was a good, sharp saber. With fire and sword he preached the gospel of The Cross to those who peopled northwestern Europe. Then he swept down the Adriatic Coast through what is now Dalmatia and drove the Moslems back from the Pyrenees as far as the present city of Barcelona.
Although Charlemagne preached Christianity, his methods had a strong Adolf Hitler aspect. He conceived the Christian Empire as being ruled by some great temporal power and felt that he was just the boy to do it. Like Hitler, he was, by the standards of his day, illiterate. He probably started out in life with an inferiority complex. But he was motivated by an all consuming ambition. Through study he gained confidence and vision. You know, of course, how he founded the Holy Roman Empire, which was to disintegrate in the middle of the ninth century.
But the most brilliant of these would-be world conquerors was Napoleon. His career flashed like a meteor on the dark horizon of a tired and blase world. He promised new culture, new prosperity, new freedom, provided men would give up their rights and enlist under his banners. Country after country fell before his dynamic sword; but he, like his predecessors, was basically selfish and greedy. He was not seeking greater happiness for men but greater glory for himself. As one historian observed, "There came a time when nobody believed in his pretensions any more. He was no longer the leader and complement of the revolution; no longer the embodied spirt of a world reborn—he was just a new and nastier sort of autocrat. He had estranged all free-spirited men, and he had antagonized the Church. Kings and Jacobins were as one when it came to the question of his overthrow. Only base and self-seeking people supported him because he seemed to have the secret of success. . . ."
His most signal failure was the Russian campaign. There is no more graphic description in all literature than Hilaire Belloc's book about this ill-starred venture. He reached and conquered what is now Moscow, but a hundred and fifty thousand men lay in the snow as frozen corpses along his route of march. He had thought that his victory at Moscow would break the resistance of Czar Alexander and end it all It didn't. The Russian army remained intact, but declined to battle. Severe weather and shortages of supplies finally forced him to abandon the whole project. Then the scattered remnants of his tired and discouraged army made their cold and weary way back over the route that they had come, stumbling over the bodies of their comrades who lay in the snow with their dead fingers still grasping their rusty weapons. That was the beginning of the end of his ambitious dream.
Speaking in the House of Commons at that time, Pitt said:
"I need not remind the House that we are come to a new era in the history of nations; that we are called to struggle for the destiny, not of this country alone, but of the civilized world. We must remember that it is not for ourselves alone that we submit to unexampled privations. We have for ourselves the great duty of self-preservation to perform; but the duty of the people of England now is of a nobler and higher order. We are, in the first place, to provide for our security against an enemy whose malignity to this country knows no bounds; but this is not to close the views or the efforts of our exertion in so sacred a cause. Amid the wreck and the misery of nations, it is our just exultation that we have continued superior to all that ambition or that despotism could effect, and our still higher exultation ought to be that we provide not only for our own safety, but hold out a prospect to nations now bending under the iron yoke of tyranny, what the exertions of a free people can effect; and that at least in this corner of the world, the name of liberty is still revered, cherished and sanctified."
Thus spoke a voice for democracy a century and a halfago; and it might be Winston Churchill speaking in the same House of Commons today.
The next wholesale attempt at world domination was Wilhelm Hohenzollern, one time, by the Grace of God, King of Prussia and Emperor of Germany. He was misshapen both in body and in mind. A place in the sun and world conquest were component parts of his insane ambition. But this would-be Caesar had long been placed out of harm's way—under charitable confinement—until his recent death.
And thus we come to Hitler and the present mess. When France fell in June, 1940, it looked as though the world were again to be faced with a period of darkest night and that nothing could stop the diabolically perfect machine-precision of Germany's armed forces. But something again happened to the spirits of free men. When history is written, the evacuation of Dunkirk will go down as one of the most courageous and thrilling chapters. I am indebted to one who was living in England at that time for a description of what occurred. It wasn't a military achievement. It wasn't planned by a general staff. Suddenly the people of England shook off their lethargy and became vitalized with determination to survive as free men. Water craft of all types and kinds volunteered for service—fishing smacks, motor boats, rowboats, and everything that would float swung into action. What looked like a fantastic, forlorn hope developed into one of the most daring rescues of all times. The British temporarily gained supremacy of the air over Dunkirk. Men who were waiting for these boats stood for two or three days, without food, in sand and water up to their shoulders. Finally, over three hundred thousand soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force who had been fighting on the Plains of Sedan, were back on their native island, singing "There will always be an England and England will be free." Regardless of the outcome, the evacuation at Dunkirk marked a change in the trend and psychology of this war.
The Chinese and the Russians are fighting for the preservation of their countries with supreme courage and sacrifice. What the final outcome of all this confusion may be, no thoughtful person would be brash enough to predict.
Earlier I referred to the birth of Christ as being significant in democratic lands. Present day conception of schools, hospitals, church schools, municipal and civic organizations of almost every type and kind came into being as an outgrowth of the work of the Christian Church.
So the birthdays of the Alexanders, the Charlemagnes, the Napoleons, the Hohenzollerns, and the Hitlers are forgotten. But the birthday of Him who gave to the world the ideal of democracy in its truest sense is the occasion for sacred and reverential celebration throughout the civilized world.
The sword is not and never has been an educator or a builder. In the long run it has been singularly impotent in the hands of would-be conquerors regardless of the temporary devastation they may have wrought. Its only glorious chapters have been written when it was used to defend the ideals of Christianity and democracy. So much for the historical background and perspective.
What has all that to do with us? Just this: Willingly or otherwise, we in America may become the receivers in bankruptcy of the world's civilization and culture, past and present. The course of the United States in the immediate future and the years that are to follow may determine whether or not democracy is to survive. The things which we do or fail to do will be the deciding factors as to whether or not the individual shall be regarded as sacred and sovereign, with the right to worship, speak and act as he chooses, orwhether he shall be regimented as cannon fodder for a dictator, where his value while living will be estimated on how many men he can kill, or when dead, at about a dollar and a quarter, representing the value of the chemical content of the bones and sinews of which he is made.
What are the implications for plain, everyday citizens such as we? It seems to me that our first duty is to examine the evidence and determine whether or not the situation which confronts us is really grave. In the examination of this evidence I suggest a careful reading of Adolf Hitler's own plan and time-table as portrayed in "Mein Kampf," followed by "Tragedy in France" by Andre Maurois; "Berlin Diary" by William Shirer; "The Time Is Now," by Pierre Van Paassen; "You Can't Do Business With Hitler," by Douglas Miller; and anything that has been written on the subject by such outstanding authorities as John Gunther, Vincent Sheean, Scott Maurer, and other impartial observers who gave the facts and told of the dangers as they saw them develop.
If the situation is grave, then our Defense Program transcends every other phase of our lives in its urgency and importance. Not only have we done the right thing to spend billions to stop the Hitler threat, but it was and is imperative that the young men of this country be trained for military and naval service in the most modern type of warfare. More billions should be spent; more men should be trained, until this danger has been completely crushed.
If the situation is grave, then we should pay just tribute to the men who are making outstanding sacrifices to serve in our armed forces. By being ready they are performing as vital service to the preservation of democracy as if they were actually in combat with the enemy. For I think we will agree that with the presence of several hundred thousand Nazi Storm Troopers in South America, as was recently disclosed by a Congressional Commission in The Argentine, that if this country had not made vigorous preparation, we might already be face to face with the enemy at or within our own borders. Those secret landing fields in Colombia and Mexico might have already been used for Nazi bombers and fighters.
If the situation is grave, then we should talk to our growing sons and daughters in a language they will understand. We can appropriately ask them, "How did you get that way?" and remind them that the American Way of Life, which they are enjoying so much, with its unlimited educational opportunities, freedom of worship, its free political institutions, automobiles, modern highways, radios, and recreational facilities of every kind has been the heritage of only a small fraction of the world's total population. They should understand and appreciate that their freedom and opportunity were not theirs by accident. They came to them only because their ancestors paid for them in blood, hardship, and travail. That if we and they grow soft, smug, and nonchalant, that we may lose our birthright just as the peoples of France, Norway, Belgium, and the Low Countries did theirs. That our standard of living will be lowered goes without saying, and is probably of no great importance in the history of the world. If we face hard times in doing it, we may be stronger for having done so. The thing that is important is that the American Way of Life must be preserved.
If the situation is grave, then it's the duty of every citizen to serve his community in any capacity for which he is fitted in order that our preparation for war may be total. We should be ready to act on committees, to attend meetings, and to do anything and everything which will make for unified and effective action.
If the situation is grave, we should stamp out racial and political intolerance and refuse to listen to those self-seeking demagogues who would divide and weaken us.
If the situation is grave, we should take every precaution to safeguard the physical and mental health of all our citizens so that we may be ready for any crisis which may come.
If the situation is grave, we should give a lot of thought to the purported lack of morale in our armed forces. It's an established fact that military morale can be no higher than civilian morale. I am in complete agreement with our many civic leaders that we need a new baptism in faith and patriotism. If we in civilian life are motivated by these ideals, the morale of our men in the army and navy will be correspondingly high.
If the situation is grave, we should give thought to our local, state, and national government to see that waste, inefficiency, graft, and corruption are eliminated. We cannot support incompetency in public life and prepare to meet the thrusts of a would-be world conqueror.
If the situation is grave, we should insist that democracy and its significance is taught in public schools in such a vital way that it will appeal to American Youth. More than thirty-five million children and young adults are attending public and private schools, colleges and universities today.
The several hundred thousand teachers who instruct and lead these seekers of knowledge can make a tremendous contribution to our national idealism and the cause of democracy.
You hear a great deal about total war in Europe. All wars have been total in the localities which they affected. This one differs from former conflicts in that it's world wide in scope. That is true because Hitler and his cohorts have world domination as their admitted goal. Clearly, they would not leave this country untouched when our standard of living judged by the goods and services consumed is seven times higher than that of the rest of the universe.
This fact was recognized by the American Legion at its Milwaukee Convention a few days ago. Men who bore the brunt of the last war, many of whom have sons now of draft age, know that the situation is grave, and recorded themselves as being in favor of finishing the job without stint or reservation. This represented a change in their position after they had examined the evidence.
So we are confronted with total war now. The danger can only be met by total preparation and total defense. It's a challenge to every citizen of every age. Can we meet the challenge? I believe we can. I know we can. I know we will.