Shall We Send Armies to Europe?



At the Union League Club, Chicago, November 19, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 117-120.

THIS Union League Club of Chicago was founded in the midst of a supreme crisis in our country. Its fidelities have never deviated from the American system of free men. It is appropriate that we here discuss another supreme crisis in freedom.

I do not know whether we are at war or not. It depends on how we define war.

It is said that in ancient Chinese strategy every battle opened with three preliminary rounds. The first was violent making of faces at the enemy. The second was a period of devastating catcalls. The third was a menacing display of arms. We are at least in the third stage.

This may be half war, it may be undeclared war, it may be just "naval action." The Congress has not declared war. We have not terminated our treaties with Germany. We maintain our embassy in Berlin and the Germans maintain their embassy in Washington. From these aspects we are not at war. That may be wishful thinking, because I wish that if we decide on war that we march openly under the Constitution of the United States.

I have opposed a shooting war because I believe it endangers freedom in the United States. I believe it endangers freedom in all the world. And I believe alternative policies would have brought more aid to Britain. And I have been through the agonies and aftermaths of one world war. However, I am not going to engage in recriminations on the legality or morals or merits of the policies that have led to this situation. History will determine these things. And they will rise again and again before the tribunal of future generations of Americans.

Whatever all this may be, the hard practical fact is that we are engaged in a naval war. This creates a new situation in national action. From here we will ultimately face a further question.

That is, shall we send expeditionary forces to Europe or its suburbs?

Some will say that the possibility of sending our land armies into this European maelstrom is fantastic. Six months ago when I stated our national policies were heading for a naval war the idea was also called fantastic.

The preliminary demand is likely to be for an expeditionary force to Persia or Egypt or some other place in the suburbs of Europe. Already the propaganda agencies are blurting it out. Already press dispatches from abroad indicate it. Already officials are making the same sort of statements that anteceded our going into naval action. And what is more, we are preparing a vast amount of war material, the only use of which would be for some sort of an expeditionary force.

It may be that the men in control of our government have no present intention of sending our sons overseas. But there are forces which drive this nation toward such action.

Mobs, tribes and nations can be inflamed by emotions and madness which overcome all reason and ail peril. The four great weapons to arouse war spirit are the exaggeration of fear, the stimulation of hate, the challenge to courage and the appeal to ideals.

The dangers to the United States and England from Europe are less than they were a year ago. Yet during this past year we have seen a steady rise of war psychosis among our people. Some of it comes naturally from our dangers and our indignations and our desire to serve mankind. The daily presence of Hitler's bloody aggressions feeds the fires of resentment enough without stimulants.

But these emotions are being artificially fanned daily by organized groups, by official propaganda and through a thousand devices and hundreds of thousands of voices. We even see Stalin being made into a saint. That this hysteria is rising above reason is evident every hour in intolerance of free speech, in name-calling, slander and in the constant charge of cowardice and moral treason against those who speak for caution.

And the forging of links of the chain of emotion which drags us to war is fired by forces even stronger than words. For instance, American ships were transferred to the Panama flag and put to carrying contraband. Six of them were sunk, and we are called upon to fight because of these incidents. Our Navy has been convoying British ships to Iceland. Our warships are torpedoed, and American lives are lost. The death of the neutrality act means that our naval operations will be greatly extended. Our American merchant and warships will be going to Britain. There will now be more and more American ships torpedoed, more American boys drowned, more and more drive of emotion toward sending armies to Europe.

If we send an expeditionary force even to Africa or other outlying parts of this war, we shall have from it flaming of emotions from death and sorrow.

And a people can be so inflamed that its own leadershipis powerless to oppose. Leaders, in all good faith, may promise that there will be no boys sent over. But leaders themselves are caught in the backwash of emotions where promises have no value.

The inevitable end of this constant preaching of war and inflaming of fear and hate will be the demand that we hurl huge armies into Europe.

It is therefore not too early to debate this next step of an expeditionary army. We must examine it in the real of cold reason and intellectual honesty, not of hot emotion. For in these decisions we are pledging the destiny of America and possibly the fate of civilization.

The first necessity in such decision is coldly to appraise the military situation and the forces in motion in the world. For war is made of hard realities. Truly the situation will shift and we must weigh it again and again. And let me say that in giving a short appraisal I am advised, not only by some experience in the high problems of such national action, but also by the views of competent military and naval experts.

Germany's overpowering strength is in land armies. It lies on land. Obviously the Germans dominate the whole Continent from near Moscow to the English Channel. Every person of common sense will agree that they can conceivably prevail wherever they can march by land.

They can conceivably isolate Stalin from any consequential American supplies. They might even eliminate Russia as a determining military factor in this war. They may conceivably invade Persia and Egypt.

But the critical thing for the Germans is that they cannot take their armies overseas. They cannot reach England. They failed even to cross the Channel. Thus these victorious German land armies cannot bring the war to conclusion.

Germany has failed to bring England down by submarine and air blockade. Mr. Churchill states that ship losses have been reduced by two-thirds. Insurance rates on Atlantic shipping dropped 25 per cent some time ago. Britain is even handing ships back to the United States. Thus the Germans cannot bring the war to a conclusion by sea power.

It this war air power has multiplied its strength as an adjunct to armies and for attack upon ships. But for the past year it is steadily weakening as an effective attack upon civilians and upon industrial production. The defense of the land from bombers has made great gains. Extensive daylight air raids are today impossible. Night attacks are too inaccurate to destroy industry. And night attacks are less effective than a year ago.

They result mostly in barbaric killing of women, children and civilians in the hope of breaking morale.

Thus Germany has no way to bring the war to a military conclusion either by land, sea or air. As the situation stands today Hitler cannot be victorious. We were genuinely thrilled to hear from Mr. Churchill last week that the peril to Britain has passed.

And we may look at this situation from the English side. The British obviously cannot successfully attack Germany by land armies. Their sea power has proved unable to deprive the Germans of vital supplies. The Germans will not be starved out for food or munitions. The British air attack has not stopped the Nazi production of war weapons.

Thus there is no promise that Britain can bring a military conclusion to this war, either by armies, ships or planes for years to come.

The primary question before us is the weight of the United States in these military scales. We can dismiss at once thebogy that Hitler can invade the Western Hemisphere against the modern development of the airplanes and our Navy, either now or ten years hence. That idea is just propaganda to create fear in the United States. And the further fear idea that he can control our economic life has been so often disproved that we hear little of it any more.

But could the United States break this military stalemate in Europe by adding our military power to that of the British? We can now observe that Russia could not overcome the German Army even with her 10,000,000 men, 20,000 tanks, 20,000 planes, fighting on her own soil behind her own fortifications, with her transportation wholly over land and on inside lines. Sending an army from America to the Continent of Europe itself today would not be like that of the first World War. Then we transported our men safely to France in installments over a year. This time we would have to land overpowering forces all at once. For us to do that we would need prepare 5,000,000 to 8,000,000 American boys in addition to the British. It would take us five years to prepare the men and equipment. It would take more than five years to build the shipping to transport them. No military expert believes we could land such an army in Europe even if we got overseas.

To land a force of a few hundred thousand Americans in Persia or Africa or other places would simply invite another Dunkerque. For the Germans with their inside land lines could concentrate against them. We should not forget the futility of the British landings in Belgium, Norway and Greece. In any event, no force in the suburbs of Europe could overcome Hitler's armies. Such a force would automatically be an emotional decoy to larger armies.

The British today have a blockade of Germany as effective as it can be made. The addition of the American Navy does not overcome Hitler by sea power.

The increase of our supply of airplanes to the British helps defend England. But the bombing of industrial Germany is not likely to be a decisive factor in this war.

Thus from the land, the sea and the air there is every indication that the war in Europe is a military stalemate for the foreseeable future. And every practical reason of this situation points to the futile waste of American life by sending armies overseas. But reason is not always triumphant over emotion.

There is another phase of this question of sending our boys to Europe or its borders that we must look at frankly.

There is a limit to the military productivity of even America. Our own defenses are as yet unprepared. To provide our defense armies, to build a two-ocean navy, to build a vast cargo fleet, to build an adequate air force so that no enemy will think of coming to the Western Hemisphere and to send supplies to Britain, Russia and China all at the same time will engage our whole strength during the next two or three years.

Production on our already gigantic program is only just getting under way. We have not yet felt its economic effects. The spirals of shortages in raw materials, unemployment in civilian industries, increased costs of living and inflation are just beginning. They are already a warning. We are not in a position to add the weight of expeditionary armies to this burden. We will likely break down in other directions.

It may be said that Germany today supports huge armies and air fleets. But she spent six years building its equipment. She is not supporting a two-ocean navy, nor furnishing supplies to Britain or Russia. And she has all the workshops of Europe.

One consequence of our going to Africa or Europe would be that out of justice to our own fighting sons we will be forced to cut down our supplies and ships to Britain.

And what becomes of American freedom while we are fighting a long war overseas?

Even today our country is justly alarmed that freedom is slipping in America. Truly under intolerance we are slipping in the freedom of expression. Certainly we are slipping in the freedom from fear. Unquestionably with dislocations of employment and rising costs of living we are slipping in freedom from want. The American system is built not on four freedoms but on five. And absolutely we are slipping from the fifth freedom; that is, the freedom of men to choose their own jobs, the freedom to save for one's children and old age, the freedom of enterprise. The four freedoms have never survived in all history without economic freedom. The four freedoms were born and live by economic freedom.

Inevitably America could carry such an economic burden of man power and industry as required by expeditionary forces only by repressions which duplicate the repressions of Nazism itself. Our present program without the burdens of expeditionary forces requires the surrender of some economic freedom.

Whether we go to all-out war or not the volume of our present commitments requires the economics of war. And that means economic freedom must in some degree go into eclipse. The Dies committee has proved that there are thousands of men employed in our government who do not want economic freedom ever to return.

Moreover, if this becomes a war of expeditionary forces it will be so long a war that vested interests, vested habits, the power of those who would destroy the fifth freedom will forge so permanently the totalitarianism of war that we can forget the four freedoms, and the fifth freedom, as well.

The destruction of freedom will come to America from within our borders, not from overseas.

But the most tragic of all consequences is the grief of every American home. The wholesale loss of the best of our race will maim the progress of America for two generations.

There are certain things eating into Nazi vitals that will some time end this travail to the world. The German people do not all believe in this evil ideology. Their victories have brought tidings of death and maiming to every fireside in Germany. The German people are living under privation and under strain. There is a widening gulf of friction between the Right wings and the Left wings in Germany as represented by the army and Gestapo. The whole internal economic structure of Europe is degenerating.

Even their great victories no longer seem to awaken enthusiasm in their people. There is a coming hopelessness of bringing the war to an end because their armies cannot cross the seas.

Two hundred and thirty millions of people in sixteen races which Hitler has overrun are seething with unquenchable hate. If he takes all Russia he will add another hundred million. His new order for Europe has met with no cooperation from these outraged peoples. They are not providing him consequential troops. I have never said, as some allege, that Hitler will be overcome by revolt of these unarmed peoples. But I am convinced that while he cannot be overcome by armies, by starvation or by air power, none the less the forces working within his regime will some time destroy his dreams.

We want the end of these evil and brutal ideas of Nazism, Fascism and Communism. The slogan of the day is to "crushHitler." The trouble with this world is far deeper than Hitler. He is only the symbol of these evil ideas which threaten civilization. He is the product of the miseries of the last war. A thousand Hitlers will rise when one falls unless these ideas are vanquished. All human experience shows ideas cannot be vanquished on the battlefield. These evils must die from within if the world is to be delivered.

To sum up, this is presumed to be a crusade for freedom. Mr. Churchill says the peril to Britain is now passed. We know that with preparedness our freedom is in no danger from invasion. On the other hand, by sending our boys overseas the chances of military success in overcoming Hitler's armies is so remote, the decay of Nazism is so probable, the war will be so long, the destruction of freedom in America is so certain, that we should have none of expeditionary forces.

Our American people are united upon preparedness for defense and upon aid in supplies to Britain. We have been committed to naval action. But our people are sadly divided and confused. And the first need of this nation in the presence of danger is more unity of purpose. We need to concentrate upon our huge task. No course we can pursue amid stupendous perils is perfect. But there is common ground somewhere upon which our people would find greater unity. The task of statesmen is to find that common ground. A survey of the nation would find many causes of confusion aside from the natural hardships of the time.

Many of our people are suspicious they do not get the truth; they are by a large majority opposed to sending expeditionary forces; they are apprehensive that the fifth freedom is being destroyed; they are distracted at labor conflict; the conscience of many hurts from the dying children of occupied Europe, and they are befogged over how lasting peace is to be had after all these sacrifices. I therefore suggest that:

1. This attempt at artificial conditioning of American mind for war should stop. The Congress should continuously investigate and expose it. Democracy will live on truth alone.

2. The large majority of Americans are opposed to sending our armies to Africa or Europe. The country needs assurance that no preparation or moves in that direction will be taken without prior authority of the Congress.

3. To get national unity the confidence of our people in the return of the fifth freedom must be restored. Truly we must surrender much economic freedom during this period. But the economic measures used could be devised as they were in the last war so that the fifth freedom would come again with peace.

4. The greatest disunity in America is labor conflict. Why cannot the labor leaders of the United States themselves show their own statesmanship as they did in the last war by providing a method of labor peace?

5. We face millions of starving women and children in the German-occupied democracies of Europe. Hitler cannot be overcome with armies of starving children. Their only hope is in our country. Their faith in America and its ideals is fading daily. It would give unity and spiritual purpose to compassionate America if we made at least an effort to save them.

6. To get unity our people must have confidence that war will be made under the sole constitutional authority—the Congress. When the Congress directly and openly authorizes a step our people will accept it without question.

7. Our people are bewildered over the aims of this war. We went to the peace table twenty-three years ago with exactly the same eloquent promises as we are given now. But we failed to end war and secure prosperity. Nations can blunder into war. But they cannot blunder into lasting peace.

There will be no time to discover these solutions after the war is over. I am not proposing peace negotiations. But some day we must go to a peace table. Why should not a representative American body be assembled now to prepare realistic methods by which peace and prosperity can be made to prevail? We have some light from the world's tragic experiences.

Surely if we ceased to fan hate and fear; if we have labor peace; if we definitely act to preserve the fifth freedom; if we strive to save these millions of European children; if our people were definitely assured that we are not going to send our armies to Europe or its suburbs without the authority of Congress; that we have a practical plan to preserve peace after the war—then we could summon far greater unity. Then, also, my fellow Americans, we might summon the whole world to reason.