The United States of America at War


By ROBERT A. TAFT, U. S. Senator from Ohio

Before the Executives Club of Chicago, Friday, December 19, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 169-173.

THE United States is at war. For months the people have differed on the question of our foreign policy—whether or not we should risk war to aid Britain; whether or not we should deliberately enter the war. That question has been settled. It may be an interesting theoretical discussion today as to who was right and who was wrong, but we can and we should adjourn that discussion and leave it to history to decide. The position of interventionists and non-interventionists alike was always consistent with 100 per cent support of any war which did occur. Past differences are forgotten by 95 per cent of the people. They should be forgotten by all.

For we are at war with the most military nations of the world, a war in which our very national existence might come to be at stake. I have always felt confident and still feel confident that we could stand against the entire world and resist any attempt to invade this country. But this has been a war of surprises. No one could have predicted any feature of it six months in advance. Even the successful defense of our own land depends upon wise leadership, fearless courage, and the skillful organization of all our resources for that purpose. The American nation is fully capable of being the most powerful military nation in the world. We are strong and brave and capable, and we have natural resources far beyond those of any other nation. But it is not merely a problem of strength and determination. Modern war requires more than cheering. It requires brains and organization to bring about a tremendous production of war materials. The outstanding courage of our Army and our Navy will not avail unless they are supplied with the most modern equipment, weapons and ammunition in unlimited quantities. The American people are wholly capable of winning this war—if wars can ever be won—and we are determined that we will do so.

When war came the country was already largely on a war basis, but many other measures must be taken. I, like all other members of Congress, have been faced at once by a whole series of new measures raising the question of our proper attitude towards steps proposed by the national administration. How far should Congress accept blindly the measures presented and the powers and finances requested by the Executive and the Army and the Navy? How far should we surrender our own views to hasten any war program approved by the President? Members of the minority party are faced particularly by the problem whether they should criticize the administration of the war, either the legislative measures proposed or the actual conduct of the war itself. These are not easy problems to decide.

As a matter of general principle, I believe there can be no doubt that criticism in time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government. Perhaps nothing today distinguishes democratic government inEngland so greatly from the totalitarianism of Germany as the freedom of criticism which has existed continuously in the House of Commons and elsewhere in England. Of course that criticism should not give any information to the enemy. But too many people desire to suppress criticism simply because they think that it will give some comfort to to the enemy to know that there is such criticism. If that comfort makes the enemy feel better for a few moments, they are welcome to it as far as I am concerned, because the maintenance of the right of criticism in the long run will do the country maintaining it a great deal more good than it will do the enemy, and will prevent mistakes which might otherwise occur. President Wilson once said that criticism in time of war was even more necessary than in time of peace. Justice Holmes said in one of his brilliant opinions in the Supreme Court, "We do not lose our right to condemn either measures or men because the country is at war." Not long ago Attorney General Biddle, speaking to the American Bar Association, said, "It is particularly important at this time, when we are on the very edge of war, that we encourage forums which develop opinion and full discussion of the policies of government. . . . Every government can live only on criticism."

There will be newspapers and others in my State who will attack me unless I accept the leadership and recommendations of the President on every issue. I cannot find any authority for such a course. The duties imposed by the Constitution on Senators and Congressmen certainly require that they exercise their own judgment on questions relating to the conduct of the war. They require that they do not grant to the President every power that is requested unless that power has some relation to the conduct of the war. They require that they exercise their own judgment on questions of appropriations to determine whether the projects recommended have a real necessity for the success of the war. Certainly Congress must determine questions of fiscal policy.

Nevertheless, every problem must be approached in a different spirit from that existing in time of peace, and Congress cannot assume to run the war. Hardly a measure comes before us relating to the army or the draft which does not raise a question as to the size of the army which we must prepare. Shall it be solely for the defense of the United States, requiring perhaps two and one-half million men, or shall it be sufficiently large so that we may be able to march to Berlin, which will require an army of perhaps eight million men? I have always been opposed to the idea of an A.E.F. I still hope that it may not be necessary. I still hope that a peace and a satisfactory peace may come before that effort is necessary. But every war is an all-out war. I recognize that we must prepare for every effort which may under any circumstances be necessary to bring the war to a conclusion. If military men tell me, therefore, that an army of seven or eight million might be necessary, I shall vote for such an army and as much equipment as the administration deems necessary for such an army. On the other hand, I believe it is my duty to ask the Army how fast they can and will build up that army, and how many men are necessary now. I believe Congress must determine the question of policy as to which ages and classes of men should be drafted. That is not a military question, but one of national policy. We do not wish to get an army any faster than we can absorb and train and equip it. Such a task as the invasion of Europe is one which will take many years. It should be carefully planned, and drastic steps should be taken only in accordance with that plan and when required by that plan.

There can't be any business as usual, but we have established in America a great many real values, a standard ofliving which contributes to the health, welfare, education and future success of every man and woman, and these should not be lightly abandoned except when it is really necessary for the purposes of the war and the planned conduct of the war. There is no reason to upset every normal relationship until it is necessary. There is no use in throwing thousands of men out of work in small industries if by spreading the manufacture of equipment over a slightly longer period we do not in fact delay the final effort. I see no use in sending boys of nineteen or twenty to war unless it is necessary to draft boys of that age in order to get enough men. I do not see the value of registering men of thirty-five to sixty-five. They aren't going to be part of the armed forces of the United States. If we are ready to adopt a policy of drafting men for industry, then such registration would be advantageous. But even the authors of the measure themselves do not claim that such a policy is in contemplation, and certainly it should be subject to debate. Sooner or later it may be necessary to draft boys under twenty-one to get an adequate number of men in the army without upsetting too much the productive forces of the country, but I certainly have the right and duty to raise the question whether in fact it is necessary now.

I am not impressed by the argument that any action must be done for moral or psychological reasons as suggested by Secretary Stimson. For awhile let us forget psychology. Hardly a measure has been taken by our government which has not been justified in part by the effect which it will have on the psychology of the British or the Germans or the Russians. Our Secretary of the Navy threatened war with the Japanese to scare them into peace. It isn't always easy to judge psychological reactions of other peoples or of our own. I suggest that we decide what are the right things to do to win the military and naval war, and make our plans to do it, and then do it. If we carry out those plans with courage and determination, the psychological effect will take care of itself. If it is going to cheer up our allies to have us tell them what we are going to do, and we are sure we are going to do it, then let's tell them; but if we promise or imply that we are going to do something, like lease-lend aid or drafting men for industry, when we haven't decided whether we will do it or not, or don't know whether we can do it or not, then our failure to perform is going to hurt morale here and in other countries a good deal more later than it helps today. I have just read an article in the American Magazine in which the Secretary of the Navy tells of the tremendous power of our fleet and the fact that it can stand up against any air attack. I suppose it was written to improve the morale of the American people. Anyone who has read the effect of air attack on British and American battleships will not find his present morale improved by reading the Secretary's article.

This is not a political war. It is one in which we face hard, cold facts, and in which the people themselves must face those facts. To a large extent you must rely and we members of Congress must rely on our military and naval chiefs and on their advice. No doubt many questions may come before us, like the relative value of battleships and aircraft, whether or not more battleships should be built. I see no choice for Congress in matters of this kind except to follow the advice of the best military and naval experts we can find. I may have my own prejudices, but I recognize that I cannot know a great deal about it.

I am very hopeful that the President and the executive departments will pursue the same policy; that military and naval questions will be determined on military and naval advice in accordance with that policy which will produce military and naval success; that it will not be determined by any consideration of the psychology of Americans or of British or of Russians.

We must wake up to the tremendous undertaking in which we are involved. We must not fool ourselves, as we fooled ourselves in the complete underestimate of Japan. I don't like to see cartoons which lead people to any contempt for Hitler or Mussolini. Dislike, even hatred, perhaps are justified. I don't like to see headlines playing up some minor victory as if it were a complete Japanese defeat. I shudder sometimes when I hear the smoothly reassuring voices of radio commentators, when I know they themselves are not so sure. Why not face the real facts and the bad news as well as the good news? In the end that policy will lead to good and better news.

Let us face the fact that our position in the Philippines is a difficult one, and the position of the English and the Dutch in the Far East still more difficult. Many army officers in the past advocated a withdrawal from the Philippines on the ground that they could not be defended without an excessive expenditure of effort. There have been few naval officers who were willing to send the American fleet so far from its principal base at Hawaii. There were columnists and Senators who said only a month ago that it would take us only three months to conquer Japan. American bombers were immediately to make a shambles out of Tokyo. The Japanese had no air force and no steel and no oil. They were supposed to be on the point of economic collapse. Let us not fool ourselves as to their strength. They can be beaten but it is going to take a lot longer than three months.

Complete defeat of Hitler is an even more tremendous task. There are many who hope, especially in view of the Russian successes, that Hitler's empire will collapse from within. It is a result intensely to be desired, but I do not think that we can consider it probable. Even if Hitler should fall, it is not certain that any German government would offer any surrender which would assure the complete elimination of aggression demanded by the American people today. So we must look forward to the possible necessity of crushing Hitler on land, and we must realize what a difficult task that is. The Army's plan, revealed not long ago by the Chicago Tribune, will certainly take from five to six years to carry out. This undoubtedly is the official estimate of the measures necessary to march to Berlin. We cannot begin to send the Army according to that plan until July, 1943. We will not be ready to begin an offensive in Europe until 1945. Two years is the least that anyone could estimate for a successful offensive. It is impossible to estimate the tremendous loss of life and injury to men which such an offensive would entail. Two million casualties is certainly not an unreasonable estimate. Even assuming that every step was successfully carried through, the monetary cost of such a military victory over Hitler is difficult to estimate, but I think it is fair to say that our public debt by the end of five years of such an effort will be at least 150 billion dollars.

We should also face the fact that developments might make the carrying out of such a military plan inadvisable or impossible, however successful we may be in controlling the seas. I am no expert, but it seems to me that one great fact has developed in this war—that is the tremendous defensive value of a completely adequate air force. Sensational bombing leads us to think of the airplane as an offensive weapon, and yet when it comes to actual occupation of territory it has been strangely unsuccessful except when operating with a land force. Neither England nor Germany has been able to attack the other across a narrow strip of sea. Apparently ifthe defensive air force is strong enough no one can attack successfully across water unless the attacker first can put out of action that defensive air force. The use of airplanes at Hawaii appeared to be an offensive, but as a matter of fact its main purpose was to try to put out of action the offensive forces which could be used against Japan. The bombing of a country well defended by air forces results today apparently in a greater loss of money in the value of the bombers destroyed than the value of the plants and other property bombed. No fleet apparently can approach a hostile coast if there is a sufficiently large land-based air force prepared to defend that coast. In this fact lies our hope of successfully retaining the Philippines even though the seas surrounding it were dominated by the Japanese. If this tendency does in fact develop, it may be a tremendous contribution to ultimate peace throughout the world, for it may produce a deadlock in which every continent and every island will be fully able to defend itself. As yet we cannot be certain, and we cannot hesitate to prepare the army which can conquer Europe.

Let us not underestimate any of our tasks. I believe the government should give us bad news as well as good news. I believe they should give it to us without propaganda. We have developed in Washington countless information bureaus, and nearly every one is engaged in propaganda, that is in trying to give the most favorable possible light on the activity of the bureau which it represents. There seems to me too much of that tendency in the information bureaus dealing with the war. The sooner we know when anything is wrong, the sooner we realize the difficulty of our task, the sooner will the people be prepared for the sacrifices necessary to carry it through to the end.

Congress does have the job of reasonable criticism. I think it has the job of criticizing the conduct of the war when it is properly subject to criticism. The surprise at Hawaii should, in my opinion, be investigated by committees of Congress, and not left entirely to the Executive Department. We might well investigate whether Secretary Hull told Secretary Knox the contents of the note which he submitted to the Japanese Government ten days before, requiring them to withdraw from China, and which was not published until after the attack on Hawaii. Did Secretary Knox communicate to the admiral that we had sent an ultimatum to Japan which in all probability they would not accept? Perhaps the fault at Hawaii was not entirely on the admirals and generals.

Then I believe we should face the economic facts even before they are partially brought home to us by the tax bills of March fifteenth. The expenditures required for an all-out war, ten million men, and unlimited supplies for twice that number in our army and other armies, are utterly incredible. They mean a complete dislocation of industry. They mean the destruction of many businesses built up over a long period, and the suspension of many others, although there will be full use for those who are thrown out of work. For years we are going to be regimented, our prices fixed, our lives directed, our incomes reduced. If we devote half of our productive effort to war production, the other half is going to be much less than this people has used in times of peace. Even those who have money with which to buy will not be able to find the goods they would like to have. A deficit of fifteen billion dollars a year for five years—and that is a conservative estimate—is bound to force up prices. That, together with the taxes, will reduce the standard of living of countless men and women, particularly those on fixed salaries. Our great educational institutions are going to find that their student body and their income is cut in half, and some may notsurvive. No effort that this country has ever made will equal in proportion to our national income the tremendous effort which we now face.

If we are going to avoid immediate inflation of prices, every man and every woman and every special group, the farmers, the workmen, are all going to have to surrender the benefits which they might temporarily derive from a rise of prices and wages. And no matter how well our finances are run, the chances are the government will owe 150 billion dollars when the war is over. There won't be any more property than there was when the war began, perhaps less. The money will have been spent, with little to show for it in tangible property. United States bondholders will have a lien on all the rest of our property for the face amount of their bonds, and there is only about 150 billion dollars of productive property in the United States, apart from the farms and homes. To put it another way, there will be tickets issued for 300 billion dollars worth of earning property, and there will only be 150 billion dollars worth in existence. That property is going to have to carry all its owners, and also the government bond-owners. Such a condition will subject all enterprise to such a tremendous double burden as to destroy incentive and further saving and all the other normal American processes which have made this country what it is. Perhaps the very owners of the property will prefer a capital levy to get the value of the tickets down to the value of the property itself, so the machinery of production can get to work again. Perhaps we will have to inflate prices 100%. Anything would be better than an all-out inflation of the currency, redistributing wealth in the most unfair and dangerous way possible.

A strong fiscal policy can reduce somewhat the dangers that we face. Non-defense expenditures can certainly be cut. I believe that within six months we can abolish W. P. A. and C. C. C. and N. Y. A. We can avoid the billion dollars' worth of pork-barrel projects now in the Public Works bill. A tremendous difference can be made if the defense program itself is administered with avoidance of waste. Congress is hardly in a position to do that, but the Executive departments can if they will.

On the other hand, an unsound fiscal policy may bring the country into bankruptcy and complete inflation. That has been the result of many wars in many nations. Secretary Morgenthau has taken a correct stand in favor of reducing the government deficit, reducing expenses and increasing taxes, but unfortunately he is not predominant in the present administration. The government economists at the heart of the New Deal are just as strong for the theory of government spending today as they have been during the past ten years. They are confident that a people can spend itself into prosperity, and their only regret about the twenty-billion-dollar increase in debt during the thirties it that is was not sufficiently large. The National Resources Planning Board is already preparing a program of great public works to be undertaken after the war. They are perfectly delighted about the effect of the defense program, which they say "has set in motion a connected series of forces which will in time go far toward attaining the goal of full employment. Given our resources, equipment, techniques and skills, only that decision—only that courageous implementation of the will-to-do —was required to release the log jam of idle plants and idle men." The National Resources Planning Board does not even mention the fact that besides the courageous implementation of the will-to-do we had to increase the government debt by twenty billion dollars in two years. One of the members of the Board, Mr. Yantis, testifying in November before a Senate Committee, said regarding the public worksprogram after the war:

"I haven't said anything about the financial side because I think those of you on the Committee realize as fully as I do that the wealth to pay the bill is created in the doing of the particular things that will be done if they be useful. Wealth is created by the application of human energy and skill to resources, creating things to satisfy human wants; indirectly even leaf-raking creates wealth."

That is the kind of nonsense which inspires the present post-war planning within the administration and affects its present fiscal policy. If that kind of philosophy does dominate the government's policy, we will be ruined long before the war is over. Mr. Eccles, Mr. Henderson, Mr. Currie and Mr. Mordecai Ezekiel all believe in the efficacy of government spending. Fortunately Congress does not agree with them in theory, although it sometimes does in practice. Congress, therefore, has the task of constantly guarding the soundness of the difficult war policy. I hope that we may well perform it. After the first World War we returned rapidly to the basic system of American freedom and free enterprise. We must certainly maintain our system so that that return can again occur when this war ends.

The government today is getting more and more into business, far more than it was in the first World War. It is coming to dominate the banking business. Home financing depends more and more on the F. H. A. We have a plan in Congress to nationalize the whole business of making loam to farmers. Mr. Morgenthau desires to limit every business to a profit of 6%, which of course would destroy many businesses and force the government to finance or replace them. We must face the fact that the excess profits tax is going to rise very close to 100%. Very few people are coming out of this war financially as well off as they went in, let alone better off. But certainly we must permit the retention of sufficient profits to keep the business alive and capable of being financed from private sources. Many of the new industrial plants will be owned by the government. Whether they will ever be returned to private industry, any more than Muscle Shoals was returned to private industry, may well be doubted, unless Congress is constantly on guard, and determined to restore a system of privately owned and operated enterprise.

The solution of labor problems by government seizure of plants, even when the employer is in no way to blame, shows the complete lack of interest of the present administration in preserving private industry. Will those plants ever be surrendered? A steady determination to increase the strength of labor leaders has made more and more difficult the maintenance of successful enterprise.

Perhaps I have painted too black a picture. Of course it depends largely on the motives and intentions of those who are administering the government. But of one thing I am confident, if no effort is made by Congress to combat the steady slide towards government bankruptcy and government operation of business, the picture at the end of the war will be as black as I have painted it. We have the task of preserving the American system of free enterprise. We must grant powers dangerous to freedom and to the Bill of Rights: we cannot help building up a debt dangerous to the safety of the nation; and yet we can keep constantly in mind the preservation of the fundamentals of our system. We can constantly oppose excessive grants of power not really necessary for the war. We can struggle to reduce the deficit. We can preserve an underlying condition which will permit the administration in power at the end of the war to restore the American system under which we have grown up and in which we believe.