Is Civilian Defense Necessary?


By MAJOR GENERAL JOHN F. O'RYAN, New York State Director of Civilian Defense,Commander 27th Division in A. E. F.

Delivered at the Forum, Union College, Schenectady, N. Y., November 9, 1941

Published by request in the interest of Civilian Defense

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 154-156.

IN a major war, particularly one of planned aggression for world conquest, history indicates that the civilian populations of nations against whom the aggression is waged, are usually the greatest sufferers of war's indignities, injustices, reprisals and cruelties.

The armies engaged are necessarily composed of vigorous, trained men who soon become accustomed to the hardships and perils of the battlefield. Under the spell of discipline, soldiers do not act independently but cohesively under the direction of educated and trained troops with whom troop leadership is an art in combination with scientific knowledge.

Nevertheless, no small part of their training is devoted to the problem of their own security, both individually and collectively. If this preparation and training to avoid unnecessary casualties is so desirable for the personnel of armies, it seems shortsighted for civilians to deny themselves the preparation and training which is necessary in the interest of their security.

The preparation of troops for battle and campaign involves not only training in the use of weapons and of evolutions to insure orderly marches and effective conduct in combat, but even more particularly the training of the mind. This latter task I would stress not only because of the difficulty of so recasting the civilian minds of recruits as to insure their dependability in action, but also because of the relation of this subject to the problem of civilian security in time of enemy action against the civilian population.

I mean by this that troops are not permitted to undergo bombardment or take part in combat until prepared as fully as time will permit to stand up to the ordeal. Their full time is devoted to this preparation which includes maneuvers simulating actual warfare as closely as conditions and reasonable safety will permit. In two years their mentaloutlook and habits have been changed from those of civilians to those of soldiers. This transition is made possible in that period of time because of their youth.

What about the present mental readiness of civilians to meet the visitations of war as conducted by Hitler? I shall not attempt to analyze the mass mind of the average civilian population in relation to its readiness to face the shock and terrors induced by air bombardment and incendiary fires. I do assert, however, that up to the present moment the mass mind of our civilian population is wholly unprepared to meet such visitations. This is due to many causes. These include lack of mental preparation to face such ordeals, absence of discipline, of practice in group activities, of team work, of obedience to authority. Such conditions constitute a breeding ground for panic. As reasons for such conditions, we may stress the household duties and responsibilities of families, the care and schooling of children, attendance upon those in each family who may be ill or infirm. These and other circumstances maintain a state of mind that is normal in times of peace or for that matter in time of war when war is not brought to the very doorsteps of our people. Only thorough preparation by the people themselves will correct these conditions which invite serious disaster.

Civilized people find it difficult to believe that in violation of Christian principles, of the common impulses of humanity, and of the so-called rules of war, any people claiming to be civilized would submit their bodies, their souls and their individual conduct to such an aggressor as Hitler, and in response to his orders visit such wanton destruction of helpless men, women and children as have marked his air raids upon London, Coventry, Rotterdam and other cities.

For the most part, the civilian defense effort lay in the field of the remedial, not in the field of prevention. Whenthe Federal air forces fail to intercept and stop the approach of enemy air bombardment groups, and there are not available in positions of readiness for immediate action adequate numbers of anti-aircraft batteries with guns of adequate range and fire power, the target areas of the State will suffer heavily and casualties will be numerous. By a target area I mean an area such as the City of Schenectady.

Under such circumstances all that the civilian defense forces can do is remedial in character. If, in advance, these defense forces have been organized, disciplined and trained to perform their various duties, fires will be fought scientifically, rescue squads will succor imperiled persons, first aid posts and casualty clearing stations and field hospitals will be in operation, clearance companies will be at work with bulldozers, mobile derricks and trucks removing from essential avenues the rubble and debris of fallen buildings. Volunteer ambulance companies will be transporting casualties from clearing stations and field hospitals to base hospitals, the police aided by strong detachments of volunteer police will act to prevent panic, preserve order, direct traffic, prevent looting, take into custody lost children, identify the dead and secure their personal possessions. The experienced water maintenance squads, reinforced by trained volunteers will have under repair breaks in the water system. A trained staff serving the Supreme Authority in command of all these forces will maintain from a central post of command direct communication with the leaders or commanders of these various groups by two way police radio, by telephone, motorcycle and foot messenger. This is a mere outline of operations. Time does not permit more.

There is, however, one form of civilian defense which lies in the field of prevention. That is evacuation. Timely evacuations from a target area of those not required for remedial services, is a preventive action as far as injury to those evacuated is concerned. When there is considered that a high percentage of the average population is composed of children, the infirm and those men and women unfit for active relief work by reason of incapacity, the importance of their timely evacuation to non-target areas becomes apparent. Yet, speaking generally, I may say that in spite of the importance of evacuation, that it is preventive in character and affects the lives of loved ones in practically every family living in the so-called target areas of the state, little that is practical in plan and definite in detail has been accomplished in this field by the local authorities. Theirs is the responsibility.

To the limit of the personnel available to the State Director of Civilian Defense, the assistance and advice of my office will be given to the proper authorities of all counties and cities in the solution of the evacuation problem.

Furthermore Governor Lehman, who has been very far sighted in relation to the necessity for civilian defense, last week appointed a committee of which as State Director I am a member to make a special study of this subject as an aid to civilian defense organizations. One of the major tendencies adversely affecting the security of person and property under disaster conditions created by enemy action has been the unreadiness of those persons most concerned to understand that "it can happen here." The probability is that it will happen here. The President of the United States has announced to the world that the United States is the arsenal of democracy. If the United States is the arsenal of democracy, a sizeable portion of that arsenal is right here in the State of New York. To capture or destroy it is an obviously essential move on the part of any world conqueror, to be undertaken by him upon the completion of his priority objective.

The significance of this declaration that the United States is the arsenal of democracy is that in effect it amounted to a declaration of our participation in the war to the extent of supplying the allies with munitions and fighting equipment while denying them to Hitler and his confederates. This declaration was made effective by the overwhelming approval of the American people. We are now not only supplying the remaining free peoples of the world with arms and munitions to the limit of our ability, but we are engaging in defensive naval operations on the high seas against attacks by Hitler submarines. De facto, we are now and for some time past have been at war with Nazi Germany. The dramatics of a declaration of war or, for that matter, a declaration that we are not at war, would not modify the fact that we are at war. Hitler's Mein Kampf was a declaration of war by Hitler as an individual against all civilization and free peoples. Later, when Hitler became Germany and Germany became Hitler, that declaration became the declaration of the German people. This war of aggression is for the destruction of democracy the world over and the substitution of slavery of the mass under autocracy. A world divided between autocratic government and democratic government cannot maintain peace. One must be destroyed in order that the other may survive. The world cannot exist half slave and half free.

Certainly the time has arrived when our people, if they are to render intelligent and effective service for their own security should be made acquainted with the realities they face. These realities are clearly illustrated in the pages of military history. Nothing is now to be gained by substituting for these realities unctuous reassurances and indifference to very real hazards. There is immediate need for vigorous civilian defense preparation. Hitler has followed and is following the standard pattern for successful aggression employed by his historical predecessors. The circumstance that this pattern has always been unknown to the mass of the victims of each conqueror was the basic cause for their undoing, yet the information was available for those who could read. However, each generation lives in accordance with the influences and impacts of its own times and in disregard of the lessons of history. The shop worn pattern of conquest referred to requires that several generations must have lived and died between the advent of the last preceding aggressor, and the newly planned action. This usually insures that the new victims will not anticipate their planned fate and unite at once their military forces and reserves in the common interest because each of them will believe that while it may happen to another, it "cannot happen here."

An aggression for conquest is synonymous with planned trespass upon the property of others, with fraud and misrepresentation as collateral activities, with treaties and pacts made only to be broken when they have served their purpose, with individual assassinations, mass murders, the killing of hostages, with highway robbery and burglary on a colossal scale conducted under the term "confiscation", with the destruction of homes, the terrorization of populations, their forced migrations to other lands—I reiterate a major military aggression connotes in effect a return to barbarism and an abandonment of the restraints of religion.

This question of the restraining influence of religion upon conduct presents itself to each would-be conqueror at the outset of his career. It always has.

Accordingly Hitler, immediately upon gaining power, brought up the rising generation in Germany free from the restraining influences of Christianity so far as that has been possible. He even substituted the pagan Wotan as the new God of Germany.

Thirdly, when the would-be conqueror determines the situation is ripe for the conquest of the first victim on the list,the plan is to pick a quarrel with that people. This is usually done by manufacturing a cause in which the other slated victims have no major interest. This is calculated to further the certainty of their continued credulity and inaction, thus preventing a union of their strength and resources. Thus is furnished the opportunity for the aggressor to destroy his victims one at a time, or as he gains increasing power through successive conquests, to persuade them to accept his leadership as an inevitable consequence of their stupidity. Thus have victim peoples "prepared" themselves for inevitable slavery.

Hitler has followed this plan. His aggression is a continuation of the Kaiser's effort for what was then called a "place in the sun". It is round 2 of the same war by the same people, waged for the same purposes of conquest. Nothing succeeds in war except that which is simple and this plan, in its simplicity, almost insures success. It was employed by many successful conquerors, among them Philip of Macedon, his son Alexander, Caesar and Napoleon. Many of the conquerors of history were men of lowly origin who, at the outset of their careers were not taken seriously. All of them, however, possessed imagination and an extraordinary capacity for leadership of the mass mind and for ruthlessness in support of their leadership and as well toward their victim peoples. Their prototypes may be found among the leading gangsters here in the United States whose ravages are still being visited upon the American people because they have been unprepared both spiritually and understandingly to suppress them.

The peril now threatening our civilian population is near. Great wars are lost in the last analysis by the crumbling ofmorale of the civilian population. Britain's population is British and has been for some centuries. Our population is mixed, their understanding of the logic of events now transpiring is not, on the whole, acute. This is well understood by the agents of the aggressor who are in this country working diligently to increase lack of understanding and the disunity of our people.

As I have stated, civilian defense is essentially a local problem. It could not be otherwise, and this, the law of the state recognizes. In all the target areas (which differ widely in their topographical features, character of the population, housing construction, classes of industries) there are to be found professional men fully trained to deal with local conditions in their relation to civilian security. They include medical men experienced in war; trained fire and police departments, crews for the maintenance of water supply and thousands of courageous men and women to serve as volunteer forces to support the existing paid departments. But they must be organized, selected for their special qualifications and trained for coordinated action. The local defense councils have been and are being supplied by the Office of State Director of Civilian Defense with bulletins detailed in character indicating in each classification the character of organization and duties to be performed by the various classes of volunteer units.

Indeed, there is need and immediate need for a speed up in the civilian defense organization of the State, organization and training of volunteer units require time and specialized effort before they can be employed satisfactorily in time of emergency. War is full of surprises. Do not permit yourselves to be taken by surprise.