Peace or War


By HIRAM W. JOHNSON, U. S. Senator from California

Broadcast over the National Broadcasting Co., November 5, 1941 and before the U. S. Senate, November 7, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 120-124.

IN the subject which is now being debated by the Senate there have been more uncomplimentary expressions by the members of the national administration than upon any other subject during my long term in office. Commencing a few years ago the expressions of the President were perfectly clear, and apparently, frank. And I may remark parenthetically that the neutrality bill, which has been kicked about like a football by the administration men, was an administration measure, concurred in alike by the President and the Secretary of State, when first it was before the Congress, and by both of them jammed through the legislative body. It was their measure, acclaimed by them, praised by them, and for some years pointed to with pride by both, asone of their great achievements. It is but fair, therefore, that during any discussion of the measure now pending before the Senate to remember that the neutrality bill was a measure, approved by the Secretary of State, fought for by both departments, and passed finally as the crowning glory of the administration. It is only now after all the years of praise and panegyrics the bill is held up to our people as a monster that hampers and prevents the full exercise of the strength of the Nation and of the good right arm of the President.

No law has come before the Senate with such a singular history as the neutrality bill. No measure has been so vilified and abused as this neutrality law; and the ills that willresult from our failure to eliminate it from the statute books are so manifold, so terrible in their consequences, so say our interventionists, that all of us shudder to think that this beneficent measure, that has been so long a law of the land, and has met with such universal acclaim, suddenly has changed and become an instrument without merit, and if we aren't watchful, will bring ruin on our country.

Let us look for just an instance at the repeated promises made by the President in relation to his specific intentions, and as we proceed we can see how those specific intentions finally grew into the monster they have become—a monster that threatens the peace of this land and its very existence. I pass the earlier statements that "the definite policy of the United States from now on is one opposed to armed intervention" in December 1933, and that of 1934 that he has "made it clear that the United States cannot take part in political arrangements in Europe." Why, he talked then like a wicked isolationist—whatever that means. Shame on him!

In June 1935 he said:

"As a nation we have been fortunate in our geographic isolation, which in itself has partially protected our boundless resources. It is in full appreciation of our advantageous position and of our own devotion to the cause of peace that our Nation's defensive system has always reflected the single purpose that that name implies."

In October of that year he reiterated his doctrine:

"The American people can have but one concern and speak but one sentiment: Despite what happens in continents overseas, the United States of America shall and must remain, as long ago the Father of our Country prayed that it might remain, unentangled and free.

"As President of the United States I say to you most earnestly once more that the people of America and the Government of those people intend and expect to remain at peace with all the world.

* * *

"I have pledged myself to do my part in keeping America free of those entanglements that move us along the road to war."

How about these sonorous sentiments? I can almost hear a distressed isolationist again talking.

And on our Armistice Day, 1935, he said: "The primary purpose of this Nation is to avoid being drawn into war. * * *

"The new generation, unlike us, have no direct knowledge of the meaning of war. They are not immune to the glamor of war. . . . Fortunately, there is evidence on every hand that the youth of America, as a whole, is not trapped by that delusion. They know that elation and prosperity which may come from a new war must lead—for those who survive it—to economic and social collapse more sweeping than any we have experienced in the past.

"America must and will protect herself. Under no circumstances will this policy of self-protection go to lengths beyond self-protection."

Oh, Oh, Oh—his recent proclamation and messages are the reverse. We will forgive him because though he doesn't know it, an isolationist is one who believes in the isolation of war, unless necessary for our defense.

In January 1936 he said again:

"The United States and the rest of the Americas can play but one role: through a well-ordered neutrality to do naught to encourage the contest, through adequate defense to save ourselves from embroilment and attack, and through example and all legitimate encouragement and assistance, to persuade other nations to return to the ways of peace and good will.

"Within democratic nations the chief concern of the people is to prevent the continuance or rise of autocratic institutions that beget slavery at home and aggression abroad."

In August 1936 he made his remarkably eloquent speech at Chautauqua, and said:

"We shun political commitments which might entangle us in foreign wars; we avoid connection with the political activities of the League of Nations.

"I wish I could keep war from all nations; but that is beyond my power. I can at least make certain that no act of the United States helps to produce or to promote a war."

* * *

"We are not isolationists except as we seek to isolate ourselves completely from war."

And that there should be no mistake about his motives, in October 1936 he said, at Wichita, Kans.:

"We have sought for security from war with other nations. * * * We propose, of course, no interference with the affairs of other nations."

In October 1937, at Madison Square Garden, he re-emphasized his foreign policy in these words:

"The Nation knows I hate war, and I know that the Nation hates war. I submit to you a record of peace.

"Today there is war and rumors of war. We want none of it. But while we guard our shores against threats of war, we will continue to remove the causes of unrest and antagonism at home which might make our people easier victims to those for whom foreign war is profitable. Those who stand to profit by war are not on our side in this campaign."

In October 1939 there came a change o'er the spirit of his dreams and while he was yet saying the same words, his words apparently meant something else.

In October 1940 he got back to the right road and said with emphasis at Philadelphia:

"We are arming ourselves not for any foreign war. We are arming ourselves not for any purposes of conquest or intervention in foreign disputes. I repeat again that I stand on the platform of our party: 'We will not participate in foreign wars and will not send our Army, naval, or air forces to fight in foreign lands outside the Americas except in case of attack.'

"It is for peace I have labored; and it is for peace that I shall labor all the days of my life."

In the same month at New York he said regarding neutrality, as follows:

"By the Neutrality Act of 1935, and by other steps, we made it possible to prohibit American citizens from traveling on vessels belonging to countries at war. Was that right? We made it clear that American investors who put their money into enterprises in foreign nations could not call on American warships or soldiers to bail out their investments. Was that right?

"We made it clear that ships flying the American flag could not carry munitions to a belligerent, and that they must stay out of war zones. Was that right?"

And at Boston in 1940 he gave his very solemn assurance to the fathers and mothers of the land in these words:

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

"They are going into training to form a force so strong that, by its very existence, it will keep the threat of war far away from our shores. Yes; the purpose of our defense is defense."

And in announcing his policy at Cleveland, November 1940, he said:

"We know that we are determined to defend our country, and, with our neighbors, to defend this hemisphere. We are strong in our defense. * * *

"The first purpose of our foreign policy is to keep our country out of war."

Senator Pittman, who was the right-hand of the President, and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee up to the time of his death, had this to say in October 1939:

"Mr. President, we should not allow the repeal of the law which protects our country in time of war. We should not allow our citizens to sail on belligerent passenger vessels. Whether they are killed legally or illegally on such vessels, when they are killed it arouses a war spirit in this country. We should never let that happen again. We should make it a permanent policy that our merchant marine shall not be armed when engaged in foreign commerce, because it invites destruction by submarines, prevents search on the surface, and makes defense practically impossible."

"No one here desires to take the same chance again." This was the policy then. It should be the policy now, and until repealed it is the policy of the United States. Just think of it!—"We should not allow our citizens to sail on belligerent passenger vessels. * * * We should make it a permanent policy that our merchant marine shall not be armed when engaged in foreign commerce, because it invites destruction by submarines, prevents search on the surface, and makes defense practically impossible."

This is exactly what is sought to be done now. If ever a policy of a Chief Executive was made plain it was made so by the words of the President of the United States. There was no ambiguity about these words, and unless they were intended for the purpose of deceiving our people, the people had the right to rely upon them. I make this statement calmly and without emphasis, and present its justification in the expressions I have quoted, and in those which are vivid in our memories, which time precludes me from specifically presenting. The recent words of the President can be taken in but one sense, that of making war. To take the last remnant of strength from the neutrality bill, and remove the inhibition which exists against our ships going into danger zones, means, if it means anything, war.

All citizens who are not besotted by love of some foreign country can read them themselves and see themselves exactly the position of our Chief Executive. I cannot and I would not, attempt it. Each man, for himself, must determine this; each individual must decide for himself. It makes little difference to me because there are not many more years of service that I can render or for which I shall survive, but so long as I live, and am a sentient being I shall stand up just as an American, let the abuse be what it may, and fight as well as God has given me the ability to fight, with every fiber of my being for my country.

After the utterances which I have quoted came what is called the lease-lend bill, a bill which surrendered a large part of the authority yet left to the Congress, and by which we gave ample authority to the President to do what he pleased with the property of the United States. Nobody objects within appropriate limits aid to Great Britain; nobody would deny that country in its extremity such assistance as may be legitimately required; but to make our assistance dependent upon how we aid Russia is a very different thing. If when the lease-lend bill was before the Senate there had been a suggestion of this the author would have been laughed to scorn. It was only the exigencies of warfare which finally transmuted Russia from an ally into an enemy of Hitler that made it possible. Now the greater part of our relief is being sent to aid Russia, something never contemplated until Hitler declared war on Russia, and until theRussian mission, strutting about our airplane factories came here and demanded certain aid. I wish that there were time for me to touch upon this subject tonight, but I lack the time. Does anybody believe that if bloody Joe Stalin were successful in his war with Hitler we would go "scot free." Neither one can be trusted, and each has been guilty of that treaty breaking, concerning which our departments hold up their hands in horror until they determine which side is likely to be successful.

And here comes into play the fate of the little country, which throws the calcium light of publicity upon the ethics of Great Britain and ourselves. Finland was the only country on earth that honored her obligations, that did not welsh upon her debts, and that paid regularly as the months rolled 'round. Finland was the only country who was always our friend, and I well remember the gatherings that were held in the city of Washington when the very mention of Finland led to bursts of applause. I remember when the first aggression of Russia was made upon her sovereignty, how the little country bravely fought to prevent it. I recall very vividly the situation in which she found herself at the beginning of this war, when she hoped to recover, with the aid of Nazi Germany, the country she had been deprived of by Russia. I could not find it in my heart to blame this little nation, but I saw, with indignation, Britain bombing her ports; and then, just the other day, our country, the great United States, filled with such yearning to aid small nations, and rescue them from tyrants, sternly notify her she must cease her warfare upon Russia or lose the friendship of our country.

War is a terrible thing that can pardon and condone such actions; and it is an awful thing in its consequences. Little Finland, of necessity, must yield.

It is as plain as night follows day we're on the brink of war. By deceit and subterfuge we have been carried to this position today. There no longer can be any doubt concerning it. What do you want, my fellow countrymen-peace or war? It is not a question of deceiving ourselves because we never have been in war up to this time. All the perfervid oratory, yarps and yaps about the defense of our land pale into insignificance when the facts are examined. There isn't a single expert who sees that we can be successfully invaded. There isn't a single military man who even claims there is the remotest possibility of success in an attempt to invade us. If this were not so a year ago, the hope of the invader has faded since the Russian campaign. We may take it as absolute that danger in that direction has passed. While, of course, I would do everything that may be necessary in the way of defense I would do it upon the theory of protecting our country from any eventuality, and not because I fear any invasion.

The propaganda has been so extraordinary and our people have been so crowded with misrepresentation and lies that it is no wonder they are unable to see the true facts. They should remember we have not been at war, and we are not at war now except in the imaginations of those who desire it, and those who would drive this country into it.

Members of the President's Cabinet, with few exceptions, have been indulging in blatant and provocative speeches to make us the tool of some other country so that we may fight another country's war, and at its conclusion find ourselves having paid for the war, having manufactured the instruments necessary to fight it, and then for our sweet allies with common consent forget the favors that have been done them, and the assistance that has been rendered them. In the language of a distinguished gentleman, what fools we'll find ourselves to have been, ever to have done it.

You must remember, too, the immense program we haveentered upon, the very mention of which frightens a real American. We are supposed to fight the war, not only in our own country, but in the countries south of us, and their adjacent islands, and we are to go far afield, and be in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, Iceland, Greenland, Ireland, Egypt, Dakar, various parts of Africa and Asia, too. It is a Napoleonic concept in which we are to carry the Four Freedoms, freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom from want, and freedom from fear, to all the remote places on earth. Why should Americans undertake this mad adventure? I do not know what the term isolation may mean to the people who glibly use it for the purpose of abuse. If isolation means to keep out of wars in all parts of the earth where we have no business to be, then I am an isolationist.

This, however, that we are asked to embark upon is a strange war. It has not been constitutionally declared. The President alone has declared this war, and declares it in the various sections of the world. By reiteration the insidious propaganda has crept upon all of us, and finally we see it so deftly administered that, like a rare anaesthetic, it almost overcomes us. In the shock of the poison the jingle has ever been in my mind:

"Such subtle covenants shall be made

Till peace itself is war in masquerade."

As we look back we can realize how gradual was the development, how artfully planned, until now we stand aghast on the very brink of war. From the time he mentioned methods "short of war" we heard much until the passage of the lease-lend bill; and now there is the silence of death on methods "short of war."

I am an American, and because I am an American I do not wish to see the last vestige of the neutrality bill liquidated. I want to do everything that I can for the protection of my own country, and will fight until the death any attack upon her. This is a time we can pray God to give us men.

The Hour's Need

(J. G. Holland, in the Kansas City Star)

God give us men. The time demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith, and willing hands
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honor; men who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue
And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking;
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty and in private thinking.
God give us men.

November 7, 1941

Just prior to the taking of the final vote Mr. Johnson of California in the Senate said.

Mr. Johnson of California. Mr. President, I join with the Senator from Kentucky in the encomiums he has pronounced on the Senator from Texas [Mr. Connally], I have found him in this trying time to be courteous, kindly, and I think, wholly fair. I can say no more concerning him.

Mr. President, a little over 24 years ago I sat in the House Chamber, in a joint meeting of the Houses of Congress, listening to a President tell us why it was necessary to enter into war. I listened then, first, because I was new to the Congress, secondly, because of the words of the President. I recall his first line. He said:

It is terrible to take this great, peaceful country of ours into war."

Then he spoke his reasons for wishing that to be done. His words had upon me an effect which I have never forgotten. I spent that night almost sleepless, thinking of war and what war meant. I feel somewhat in that condition today, especially after the Senator from Maryland [Mr. Tydings] delivered his peculiarly apt speech respecting the situation which we face. I felt 24 years ago it was a terrible thing to take this country into war. I feel tonight, sir, upon the eve of that perhaps being accomplished, that it is a terrible thing to take this country into war.

I speak tonight under some handicaps, but I have the feeling, sir, that no man can do more when the time comes than to speak as he thinks he should speak in behalf of his country.

And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods?

Tonight I have a feeling, sir, that scarce lets me speak concerning what we are about to do. I have the feeling, sir, that we are committing a grave mistake, that we are placing our country in a peril which I cannot adequately describe.

I think, sir, that I have heretofore referred very briefly to the fact that this is a question, after all, of peace and war. It is a question of peace and war. Other Senators have the right to have any opinion they see fit to have in regard to war. I have the right to have my poor opinion in regard to peace.

I am at an age now, sir, when war is to me, as President Wilson described it, a terrible thing. I am at an age now, sir, when I firmly believe that any man who would take this country into war, when his judgment is against it or his conscience tells him otherwise, would be doing the greatest disservice he could do unto this country.

Tonight we speak the last word. It is the last word that deals with this subject of war. If Senators upon this side of the Chamber—I am in a place where I ought not to be perhaps—can be cajoled or can be threatened or in any other way induced to vote for war against their better instincts and their better manhood, then I say they will do something unto their country they can never undo, and I say that at 75 years of age I do not want upon my soul the infamy of taking this country into war when I believe fully it ought not to be taken into war.

Mr. President, we have heard the question of what war means and what peace means so often broached on both sides of this controversy that it would be a work of supererogation for me to discuss it further; it would be idle for me to tell the Senate what war means or what peace means. It would be useless for me to say to any of my colleagues that they are ruining their country. They do not want to ruin it any more than I do. Their motives are just as pure as mine, I take it. They ought to be. If they are not, they should be ashamed of themselves. But I believe their motives are just as pure as mine, and they ought not to want to take their country into any path at the end of which is ruin, and ruin is at the end of this vote which is about to be cast tonight.

Mr. President, yesterday we gave to Russia $1,000,000,000. We gave her the greatest loan ever given to any nation, I think, within the memory of man. We gave Russia $1,000,000,000 to do with just as she saw fit. Then, can Senators say that there is no danger in what they do?

I shall not now argue the right or the wrong of the sinking of any particular vessel. The chairman of the Naval Affairs Committee [Mr. Walsh] has the records. They show no wrong, perhaps, upon one side of this controversy. Theyspeak for themselves. Senators can see them if they wish to. If they do not wish to, they can close their eyes and say nothing concerning them.

I speak now of money, and I speak of it in the secondary aspect alone. The money we have expended in our preparation for war and the money we have loaned to other countries is an amount large enough to ruin any country on the face of the earth. I do not see how our country is ever going to repay the money to those from whom it has been borrowed or get back that which we have loaned to others. Money has been loaned to almost every country that can be thought of. The administration fights in every sea of the world. The administration permits our ships to pass through every ocean and every bay, and then expects to get off scot free.

But, Senators, it is war, war, it is war that you cannot afford, that I cannot afford, that none of us as Americans can afford. I am simply an American. I care not for Great Britain or "Bundles for Britain." I care not for Germany and Hitler's crimes. I care not for Russia and Russia's greed. I care not for any of those countries. I am only an American, claiming the right to speak as an American in an American Congress. There have been too few words spoken in the American fashion.

The Vice-President. The time of the Senator from California on the amendment has expired.

Mr. Johnson of California. I shall take time on the joint resolution.

Take these things by themselves; put down in a column of figures exactly what the liabilities of this country are today. Write them down and tell them of, and then say to the people of this land, "There is no danger of war; there is no danger of any kind or character." Write them down in any fashion you choose; write them with all the peculiar ambiguities which are established by the White House; andwhen you are through, there is a staggering amount of money due this people, which we never again can pay.

What do you say to it? You say, "We have the freedom of the seas." Do you not realize that Wilson surrendered the freedom of the seas in his last campaign? Do you not realize that when he, the greatest man in the world at that time, acclaimed by the common people in every country on earth, and whose meetings were greater than those ever held by man before, asked for the freedom of the seas he was told instanter by Great Britain, "You cannot have freedom of the seas"?

I do not know why we are talking about freedom of the seas. Freedom of the seas will always be denied by Great Britain. I do not care whether she squinted at it in the papers which were drawn up between the Prime Minister and our President. She will never surrender freedom of the seas. Control of the seas is the cornerstone of her prosperity and her empire. She once refused to grant freedom of the seas; we acquiesced, and that was the end of it. When the time comes she will again refuse, we will acquiesce, and that will be the end of it.

It is hard for me to talk. I am an emotional old man. I feel very keenly the great things of life. I feel more keenly than I can say what befalls us in our daily walks. Declare war tonight and, under the Providence of God, every man who votes to do so will live to regret it to the last day of his life.

Recall again the whole system of war. War is not a plaything. It is not something for you or me or somebody eke to play with. War is a brutal actuality. We cannot afford war. I cannot afford it. None of us can afford it. In the name of God, in the name of all the mothers of this land, and in the name of all those who have been asking our assistance and intervention in this controversy, I appeal to the better part of the nature of all Senators. Do not declare war. Do not plunge this country into that sort of holocaust.