Revision of the Neutrality Act
MERCHANT SHIPS CANNOT SUFFICIENTLY ARM
By C. WAYLAND BROOKS, Senator from Illinois
Before the American Forum at the Willard Hotel, October 12, 1941
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 43-44.
REPEAL of section 6 of the neutrality law to permit the arming of American merchant vessels, in view of the President's expressed desire to deliver American goods in American ships under the American flag to the ports of belligerent nations, is another step toward shooting participation in Europe's war.
I realize full well that anyone who expresses his view, even though it be a conscientious, sincere, and honest conviction against these belligerent steps, will be called an isolationist or an appeaser.
I accept that risk, and I want to make my position clear. I am opposed to having our country, either by leaps or by short steps, becoming a shooting participant in Europe's war, and I will vote "No" on sending our sons to fight and die in Europe.
This is not a new conviction with me. It came through service and sacrifice on the part of myself and my entire family in the last European war. I have expressed my views on this subject for 25 years. I did not express them for the purpose of being elected to the Senate, but I certainly came to the United States Senate to express those views, and I am grateful for the privilege of expressing them.
I am not an isolationist. I opposed the passage of the lease-lend bill. I thought it was wrong to allow any one man in his sole discretion, or through his personally appointed agents, not confirmed by the people's Congress, to distribute the resources of our country to the various nations of the earth engaged in armed conflict.
I believe it to be a departure from the fundamental American principle of government. I still think it was wrong. I voted against it; but when the Congress, by a majority vote, passed it, I accepted it as our national policy, and I voted for the $7,000,000,000 appropriation to carry out its purpose.
To vote to lease or to give $7,000,000,000 of America's material to other countries is not the act of an isolationist. But I am still opposed to becoming a shooting participant in their war.
Seven billion dollars would pay off the mortgage on every farm in America, or pay the obligations of the small manufacturers and businessmen of this country. When the humble American citizen mortgages his home to pay this tax next spring, or the small manufacturer closes his factory for lack of material next month, he will realize how far America is from isolation.
Neither am I an appeaser. I was not and am not afraid to face a German machine gun or German troops, and I will not sacrifice my honest conviction to appease anyone who may hold a different view, or who may deliberately misconstrue my position on this subject.
The greatest appeasers in America today are those men who seek to tell the majority of the American people that these belligerent steps will not ultimately make them shooting participants in the war.
I believe the neutrality law has been a vital force in keeping us thus far out of shooting participation. We changed our neutrality law to sell munitions to foreign countries engaged in war for "cash and carry". We were told that would keep us out of war. We passed the lease-lend bill and authorized the expenditure of $7,000,000,000 for war material to keep us out of war, and we were told that there was no intent in the passage of that law to convoy or to physically transfer the food or material to belligerent zones or belligerent countries.
Now we are asked to arm our merchant ships, and the only reason we are not asked at this moment to change the neutrality law to allow our ships to sail armed into fighting waters is because of the feeling that the American people have not been softened enough to take that final fighting, shooting step.
I am convinced that the time has come when we should stop taking belligerent steps that will inevitably lead, under high sounding phrases, to participation in the war, and let the people decide through a vote of their Congress whether they are ready to declare war.
After each successive step our leaders constantly utter more belligerent statements and perform more belligerent acts. I am opposed to fighting an undeclared war, and if we are going to war it should only be after the Congress has declared it.
I am devoted and dedicated to the building of a great national defense. I have voted for every appropriation and many grants of authority to make this possible, and I think it is time that the administration grant authority to capable and competent men to speedily produce arms and the implements of defense.
I believe every fiber of our leadership should be devoted to the production of our defense material and the building of national unity.
We have already authorized $60,000,000,000 for national defense and aid to others—enough money to equip the largest mechanized army in the world.
Everyone knows that to get our people into a hysterical war attitude we must have two things—a religious crusading spirit and a bloody incident. Most nations send a chaplain with their troops to tell them God is on their side.
To establish a religious motive we were told that Russia had the same religious freedom that we do. I do not believe that, and the American people do not believe it.
Now we are asked to arm our merchant ships which will inevitably lead us to a bloody incident.
It is evident to me that merchant ships themselves cannot carry adequate guns to withstand an attack in the war zone by ships of superior war strength. Therefore, in the light of history, some of our seamen will be sent to their death without adequate protection.
After the last war we erected a monument to the Unknown Soldier to honor those who sacrificed their lives in the name of our country. I propose now that if we arm these ships and send them into belligerent zones that we first build another monument and dedicate it to the unknown seamen who will lay down their lives, inadequately defended, to create the incident by which we enter the war. For certainly, if we send the American flag and the American seamen on errands for our Government into a shooting-war zone, there to be sunk, and there to die, the nation would be a cowardly nation indeed that would not avenge their deaths.
This is a vital step. The President has the right already, under the lease-lend bill, to give destroyers, ships, guns, or submarines to Great Britain or to Russia, to be manned by their men, to deliver the goods that come from the sacrifice of the American people to aid them in defending their shores and their homes in their war.
This can be done without involving us in a shooting participation in the war, and without the sacrifice of American lives. I am not afraid of the sacrifice of American lives, including my own, when the people of America, through their Congress, see fit to declare war against any one or a number of nations of the earth.
But I am opposed to this step-by-step method, under high-powered phrases and subterfuge, of sending humble men to their death, inadequately defended, while the sons of the mighty parade in safety.
I say this step should not be taken until the Congress has declared war, and the resources and the men of this Nation move side by side to defend our shores, our homes, and our national honor.