Another Shot Heard 'Round the World


By FRANKLIN BLISS SNYDER, President of Northwestern University

Address given at the Founders' Day Anniversary Meeting of the Union League Club of Chicago, December 19, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 210-212.

AND fired the shot heard 'round the world." Emerson's perfect phrase, coined in honor of the men of Lexington and Concord, is on our lips again. The embattled farmers' scattering volley of musketry on that April day of 1775 signalized the birth of a new nation; the signing of the Declaration fifteen months later announced this great fact to an incredulous world; the bombing of Pearl Harbor marked that nation's coming of age. Never before had there been such a United States of America. From now on we place the Seventh of December beside the Fourth of July and the Nineteenth of April in our calendar of great days. A fourth we shall add to this list—the day on which, with victory won, we shall make a just peace with those misguided people whose rulers have forced them to attack us.

Our first reaction to the news of that Sunday afternoon was unbelief. "This is another hoax," we said to ourselves, "as unreal as a reported invasion from Mars." And then, when unbelief was no longer possible, anger and regret in turn gave place to a calm determination, an ominous determination, and—curiously enough—to a great peace of mind. Uncertainty and hesitation and doubt had blown down the wind; criticism had gone silent; "if" and "perhaps" had fallen out of the dictionary; the issue before us had suddenly become clear. There was no need of a Public Information Office to tell us what that issue was. A way of life utterly repugnant to all who love freedom had challenged us, and by six o'clock on that Sunday afternoon, we had resolved —not alone our national administration, not alone our Congress—but "we, the people" had resolved to meet that challenge. We had picked up the gauntlet so defiantly flung in our faces, and had highly determined to settle the question whether this nation of ours is to be free from the menace of foreign aggression.

Yes, by the evening of that great day we had seen again the age-old miracle—out of suffering had come a spiritual rebirth. Daniel Webster must have slept peacefully in his grave at Marshfield that evening; for a hundred and thirty million people were echoing his words—"One and inseparable; now and forever."

This magnificent national unity must be somewhat bewildering to those who have chosen to call themselves ourenemies. They had seen their nationals at liberty to pursue their peace-time occupations within our borders, they had seen our press uncensored; they had seen us exercising our right of free discussion; they had heard the clash of opinion which the events of the past two years have provoked. And they thought, in their stupidity, that all these betokened some flaw in the fabric of our nation; that this thing we call freedom is no sure foundation on which to build national strength. Already they know their error.

Five times since 1776 the United States has entered a major conflict; each occasion save this present one has been marked by a sharply divided public opinion. In 1812 the Congress debated Madison's "War Message" for eighteen days; the final vote was 18 to 13 in the Senate and 79 to 49 in the House. Everyone knows how wide this gulf had become by 1861, when the attempt to solve our national problem by discussion gave place to Civil War. On the nineteenth of April, 1898, Congress declared war on Spain. A change of four votes in the Senate (42-35) would have defeated the resolution, though the majority in the House was overwhelming. When the First World War was upon us, and Congress had President Wilson's war message before it, 56 members of the two houses—virtually six per cent of the total—voted "no" on the joint resolution. But last week only one vote was raised in protest against accepting the issue which Japan had forced on us; when the question of Germany and Italy was before the Congress, even that one objector was silent.

Incidentally, we should delight in that solitary vote of "no." It was in no sense obstructive, and it was symbolic of a great and important fact: the fact that even in time of war an American legislator's conscience is free; the American ballot is still a means of registering a choice between two alternatives; it has not become solely a means of approving what a dictator has ordered—and it never will.

There is no doubt concerning our national determination or national unity. As of today, we are one people, politically and spiritually, with only one purpose: to win the war. Can we maintain this single-mindedness, this sharply focused oneness of purpose, during the years that lie ahead? Can we endure the hardships, the inevitable setbacks, the delays, whichthe future may have in store, without losing the will to victory which Pearl Harbor engendered? Can we live through months of preparation, of comparative inaction, without losing our grip on ourselves and permitting dissension and a lack of steadfastness to handicap our national effort? This is the real problem before us as a nation.

I have no doubt that we can. I have no doubt that just as our armed forces will win the victory on land, sea, and in the air, so we whose lot it may be to serve behind the lines, will keep our own morale, and that of our associates, unbroken—even though the day of complete victory may be long deferred.

But if we are to be thus successful in maintaining the nation's will to victory, if we are to prevent the development of schisms behind the lines, we must lay the ghosts of at least three half truths which have been much in the air during the past decade, and have found lodgment in the minds of many persons, especially in the minds of our young men and women. The half truths to which I refer—specious as such approximations to truth often are—are these;

1. War never really settles anything.

2. If we go to war, we lose our democracy, and totalitarianism is upon us.

3. The real task before the nation today is to preserve democracy.

"War never really settles anything." So says many a person who looks sometimes through slightly pink-colored glasses, at the developments between 1918 and the present. Well, war leaves wounds that are long in healing; when war ends in an unjust peace it sows seeds which—like the dragon's teeth—bring forth as fruit another horde of armed men. As we plan for tomorrow we must not forget that! And many a war settled nothing except the fact that it would soon be followed by another. If one were planning a Utopian civilization, one would omit war from the frame of things, and substitute even-handed justice dispensed by a World Court. But things on this earth being what they are, and man being what he is, war is one of the factors with which any intelligent man must reckon. And the fact to remember is this: that war, despite its brutality and illogicality, does settle a good many things, and sometimes settles them right. It was war that settled once and for all the question whether the British colonies in North America "are and of right ought to be free and independent states." It was war that settled the question whether Napoleon was to be the master of Europe. It was war that settled the question whether negro slavery was to exist in this country. It was war that settled the question whether the Kaiser was to dominate Europe. In each of these instances the decision reached by Force was in accord with the highest standards of Justice. And it is war that will settle the question of today: whether or not this world of ours is to be fit for decent people to live in.

No, the doubter who says that war never settled anything, or who ridicules the idea that Force can ever be an agent of Truth and Right—this man simply does not know whereof he speaks. But because he speaks with the easy assurance which believers in half truths so readily assume, he is a menace to our national unity. He must be educated—or must learn to hold his peace.

There is a second arm-chair commentator whose influence I have seen during the past few years, and who might well be an agent of Hitler himself, so insidious is his attack upon national morale. He is the one who tells our young men and women that if we go to war we lose our democracy; that by opposing totalitarianism in arms we are sure to bring upon the land the very scourge which we are seeking to destroy.

Again I see a half-truth in what this critic so persistently reiterates. We realize well enough that in times of emergency there must be a limit to debate; the town meetings always adjourned when the Indians attacked the stockade. In times of war a free press will see to it that no news is printed which might give aid and comfort to the enemy; should some newspaper refuse to conform to this emergency standard of journalistic behavior it will-and should—be suppressed. With no hesitation whatever we grant war-time powers to the President—knowing, as does the President, that when the emergency has passed, we shall recall those powers.

That, of course, is what this objector to the use of force forgets—that many a time our American democracy, exercising one of the highest prerogatives of sovereignty, has voluntarily relinquished some of its basic rights, and as often has resumed those rights when the emergency has passed. There was no free speech in Massachusetts or Virginia during the Revolutionary War; Tories lost their civil liberties overnight. The writ of habeas corpus ceased to run during the latter part of the Civil War; twenty-five years ago one of my neighbors in Evanston was transferred to the Federal Prison at Fort Leavenworth merely because he insisted on saying that he hoped Germany would win the war. But when these emergencies passed, tempers cooled, restrictive legislation was rescinded, and the debate was resumed where it had been left off.

No, we need not fear that a total warfare against totalitarian enemies and totalitarian ideas will destroy our American democracy. Indeed I think I could show, if time permitted, that mankind has taken the most significant steps toward a democratic form of society as a result of having used force to clear the way. Begin with Magna Charta, come down to our American Civil War, and see whether or not I am right.

The third person whom we must educate if we are to preserve and strengthen our national morale is the one who, believing that democracy offers more hope of human happiness than any other type of social organization, says "The great task before us is to preserve democracy." Again I say "here is a half-truth—but only a half-truth." A week ago I received an invitation to take part in a large conference which had as its theme "The role of education in the defense of democracy." I replied that I was not interested, that the time had passed for such talk; but that if the theme of the conference could be changed to "the role of education in the defense of the United States," I might have something to say.

It has caused me real concern, gentlemen, during the past few years, to see how widespread has become the tendency to substitute this sort of faith in democracy for belief in and devotion to the fatherland. I yield to no one in my hope that the privilege of living in a democratic society may some day be accorded men and women of all nations. I realize, too, that here at home we have many readjustments to make in our own national organization. But I believe that the best way to promote the welfare of democracy, both at home and abroad, is to preserve, protect, and defend the country that guarantees you and me the privilege of living as free men in a free land. Do that, and the rest will follow. The Chinese know that this is true. During their magnificent struggle, they have not been fighting for democracy, but for the good earth that is theirs, for the country which their ancestors handed on to them. The English have no delusions. When they won the battle of England they were not fighting for some pallid goddess of international democracy, but for "This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England." And we, too, know the truth.

How hard it would be, how impossible it would be today, to ask any group of Americans to rededicate themselves to the cause of world-wide democracy! Noble as the concept is,it leaves me relatively unmoved. I cannot see it or touch it; it has done nothing for me. But how easy it is, how natural it is, to dedicate ourselves again to the service of our country. For we know what we mean when we say "our country."

We mean the red clay of Virginia and the granite hillsides of Vermont, the dust that blows from Oklahoma and the fog that drifts in on an east wind from the lake; we mean the lumber camp in the Minnesota woods and white-pillared mansion in South Carolina; we mean the banker on Wall Street and the cowboy in Wyoming; Grant's tomb on the Hudson, and Lee's grave in Lexington; a log cabin at Hodgenville and a White House by the Potomac; we mean Jamestown and Plymouth and the unsolved riddle of Roanoke; the Alamo and Appomattox Court House and the mast of the battleship Maine in the Academy grounds at Annapolis; we mean warriors in tattered buckskin or faded continentals, in gray and blue and khaki, fighting to preserve what their fathers had given them, and what you and I have enjoyed; we mean men and women with plough and broad-axe and musket pushing back the frontiers and bringing civilization into the wilderness; we mean the Mayflower Compact and the Declaration of Independenceand the letter to Mrs, Bixby; we mean Lincoln with his deathless sorrow, and the clear-eyed lad who last year in the uniform of our Navy stood beside me at University functions, and died the other day in the Arizona. All these I know—and these I have in my mind and in my heart when I say "My Country."

James Russell Lowell, who was once a guest of this Club, put it all in the lines with which he brought his "Commemoration Ode" to a close:

O Beautiful! my country! ours once more!
Smoothing thy gold of war-dishevelled hair
O'er such sweet brows as never other wore,

* * * * * * *

What words divine of lover or of poet
Could tell our love and make thee know it,
Among the Nations bright beyond compare?|
What were our lives without thee?
What all our lives to save thee?
We reck not that we gave thee,
We will not dare to doubt thee,
But ask whatever else, and we will dare!