Duty of Business in War


By ALBERT W. HAWKES, President, Chamber of Commerce of the United States and President of Congoleum-Nairn, Inc., Kearny, N. J.

Over the Mutual Broadcasting System from Washington, D. C., December 10, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 183-184.

THE last time I spoke to you this nation was at peace. Tonight the solemn hour of a world war tragedy has been forced upon us. We must make this a common cause with one objective—namely, victory for individual freedom and the inalienable rights of man.

First things must come first. This means to me that our first duty and obligation—in fact, the first business of every man and woman in this nation—is to carry on to the full extent of our ability in waging war upon those who would destroy us and our way of life.

In any modern war there are two important factors—the fighting men and those who provide the machines and materials for them. We, in business and industry, will serve on that second front—and our service will be measured by the courage, resourcefulness and sacrifice we each make.

Despite the reverse of the hour, we all have confidence in this first front—the men on sea and land and in the air. Let us hold our criticism with reference to any branch of our service until we have the facts. Criticism of the navy, without the facts, is just about as fair as criticism of business and labor without the facts. Let us in this grave crisis control ourselves—keep calm and be fair with one another—only condemning where condemnation is due after fair appraisal of the true facts.

Industrial Front

I would like to tell you something about the second front— namely, the front of production of war materials. Before me are hundreds of telegrams from the 1659 chambers of commerce and great trade and industrial associations throughout the nation. These messages would strengthen anyone's heart because they clearly demonstrate that America, when put to the test, will stand together with one solid front. This strength comes not from only one type of community, but from all the local communities throughout the United States, including great cities and down to the smallest village that has an organization.

Production is the essential factor, without which nothing in this world conflict can be accomplished. This is called a war of machines, but we must never forget that back of those machines in the factory, as well as in the field, are men. These men will be inspired to greater tasks and greater deeds if it is known by them that all American citizens are willing to use every ounce of their ability, muscle and mind in rendering maximum service.

Let us resolve here and now that no man in our armed forces will reach for a gun, a bomb, a plane, or food—and find that it isn't there. None of us should ask now, "What are we doing?" We should ask, "What am I doing?" This becomes a personal question for every American citizen.

The Individual

Where do I fit into this productive front—the main line of defense? Am I a worker? Am I a manager? Have I money that I can use to buy Defense Savings Stamps and Bonds? If not in uniform, am I willing, as a soldier in plain clothes, to buy these Stamps and Bonds to support the cost of this war, which is being waged as much in my defenseas in the defense of any other citizen? Am I willing to reestablish habits of thrift and lay aside some of my earnings in order to make it easier for me to do my part in the readjustment period which will try the souls of all Americans? As a consumer, am I willing to adjust my needs and requirements so as not to interfere with the production of needed war materials?

In this country we already have organized machinery in the form of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, which speaks for 1659 organizations spread throughout the nation and for more than a million men engaged in business and industry in this country. These organizations are in the shape of local chambers of commerce, trade and industrial associations. I hope you can get something of the thrill that I have had today in being literally deluged with telegrams, messages and telephone calls from the members of this nation-wide organization. Without exception they say, "What can we, as an organization, do to aid the war program of the United States?" "We are busy, but we can get busier." "We intend to back our government with everything we have to carry through and wage a successful, victorious war." "We have been doing what we thought was our best, but we are going to do better from here on."

American Business Speaks

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the spirit of the businessmen of the United States. Up to the time I left the Chamber office tonight we had received approximately one thousand telegrams from these various member organizations throughout the country and all with the same purport.

Business has already done a good job, because it is said by our public officials that we have accomplished in production throughout the United States more in a year and a half than the Nazis did in seven years. This can only mean that both labor and management have done a fine job, notwithstanding the unfortunate occasional interruptions. This is no time to talk about the interruptions of the past, but rather is it a time for us to understand one another and avoid all interruptions in the future.

In my travels throughout the United States, of more than 40,000 miles, in the past seven months, in talking with more than 60,000 American businessmen, their slogan is "Let's have full speed forward in the production of war materials, without interruption by anyone, from any source, for any cause."


Let us pull together. Be patient and considerate of one another, and not excessively critical of the acts of others, because time and production are the essence of success.

Let none of us be boastful. It takes time and energy to boast. Let us use that time and energy in doing all necessary things on the theory that results speak for themselves.

Wars are won by superior organizations and by obedience to organized authority. Enthusiasm, singing the national anthem, saluting the flag—all are commendable. But only patient, painstaking work, which results from unity of purpose and action, really wins a war such as we now have.

The organisation I am talking about carries on over thousands of desks and conference tables in business as well as at the firing post.

The motto of these great chambers of commerce, trade and industrial associations for a year and a half has been, "Preparedness." Their major work has been to stimulate armament production. Every association office in the country has been busy supplying government requests for information of a type available nowhere else—and I can assure you they will continue this service to the maximum of their ability.


Let me right here point out that unity is the only thing that will make us what we have a right to be—the most powerful nation on this earth. Without it, our size and natural resources mean little. With it, they mean everything. In this grave crisis we will find a way to put aside those things which now become petty and minor, and thus go forward as a united people to victory. Let us recognize that the way before us is difficult, even though it is not of our own making. And let us remember the statement—"My country, may she always be right—but right or wrong, my country still." And then let us remember that we are indeed fortunate to have a righteous cause for the position in which we now find ourselves. That righteous cause is nothing more than the world-old battle to support human liberties which were truthfully said to be the inalienable rights of man.

In going about the United States I have found that men of business and industry, in all sections, feel that their obligation is quite as great as the obligation of the army, the navy, the air forces and the government itself. They realize that the government and the armed forces can do nothing unless we, soldiers in plain clothes, find ways and means to produce, on time, all the things that they must have. It is our job to win the battle of production.

Business Organizations

Speaking for all the chambers of commerce, trade and industrial organizations that are members in the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, I wish to say you American citizens will find these organizations well coordinated with a given single purpose toward a common objective—namely, the support of the American people with all they have to give in this, the nation's, hour of need. Through them both business and industry will be fully informed as to what is expected and required of them. When business and industry have full knowledge of the demands that must be made upon them by our Government, I can assure you none will knowingly fail in fulfilling those demands.

The Chamber of Commerce of the United States here and now offers the use of all the organized machinery at its command to bring about most quickly, unity of purpose, unity ofaction, and the accomplishment of these things necessary toassist our people to full victory.

Trustees of Liberty

Let all Americans forget any differences of the past in the light of the task before them. Let us be united in prosecuting a successful war to a complete final victory against those determined to destroy us and our way of life. It is unthinkable that any American citizen will fail to give his ail, it necessary, in our cause to protect the liberty established for us. Remember this liberty was not handed to us alone, to enjoy—but we were made trustees for those to follow, for millions yet unborn. Let us fulfill well that trusteeship.

Americans appreciate there are other grave threats against our way of life—but before they can be successfully handled, we must build unity and power against our common enemies. Perhaps the experience and understanding that comes to each of us from successfully fighting a common enemy—will serve us well in solving our own internal problems. Possibly going along hand in hand during this great crisis will enable us, when peace is restored, to see more clearly what is equity for each.

I warn all Americans to awaken themselves to a full sense of realization that the thing that is now going on in our lives is not a drama on the stage, but a drama in real life. We must prepare ourselves against the surprises and shocks and for the sacrifices and sorrows that come from dramas in real life.

Support Leaders

Let us all follow our leaders and give them loyal support in all things compatible with the fundamentals of our Constitution and way of life. Let the leaders also represent the people fairly and faithfully. Let them be willing to receive all honest suggestions and criticisms which are in the interest of waging an effective and successful war on those who war upon and would destroy us. Let the people and our leaders appreciate that the very essence of representative democracy is honest and constructive criticism and the molding of the common view and opinion into an effective and fair rule of action in behalf of all groups of our people.

Let us never forget the motto that made this country great—"United we stand—Divided we fall." None of us must preach unity and practice disunity. A representative democracy is just what it is—and we must make it work or Hitler will prove his case. Therefore, I urge every man in business and industry throughout the United States to accept the principle that "In unity there is strength"—and, accepting this principle and the principles that underlie our American way of life, I urge every citizen to give to the President of the United States, and all those in authority, his full and loyal support in winning this war and preserving our American institutions.