Fight for Freedom


By WENDELL L. WILLKIE, Presidential Candidate, 1940

Over Columbia Broadcasting System, December 20, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 164-166.

TODAY we are living in the presence of great and terrible events. We must talk seriously. We must talk, more seriously, I think, than ever before in our lives.

We must recognize at the outset that, for what has happened to us in Hawaii, what has happened to us at Wake, what has happened to us at Guam, what has happened to us at Manila—for all these events, and for the overshadowing threat on the Atlantic, we are woefully unprepared. We must face that fact.

The attack on Hawaii came upon us as a hideous jolt. It found our Navy and Army unprepared, asleep and exposed. And it found Japan attacking us with instruments of destruction made from the materials and propelled by the oil which our years of appeasement had given her.

But that unpreparedness at Hawaii, costly though it may have been, bitter though it may be, is only a special case of the general unpreparedness that we must face. And responsibility for this general unpreparedness rests upon all of us. In saying this I do not mean to cast blame on any particular persons. Praise or blame for the situation in which we find ourselves has now become the task of historians. We ourselves, who are making history, have only time to unite—and to act.

Even those of us who, for the last several years, have advocated bigger armaments and more production and ever more effective organization of our armament production—even those of us who warned over and over again that this was not a European war, but a world war and America an inseparable part of it—even these persons must share the responsibility and the blame for our present predicament. We should have spoken more, we should have made the case clearer, we should have taken more courageous action. It can be said of this struggle—and history shall support the statement—that no person in the United States of America, of whatever rank or profession, has yet done enough to win it.

Our generation is just emerging from an Old World into a New World. In the Old World the United States was part of a big continent flanked by oceans. Those oceans were a priceless asset. In peace time they became broad highways of trade and commerce.

The ships of every nation entered our ports laden with the resources, the products, the men and women and the ideas of other lands; and bearing away with them the products of our labor, many of which could be duplicated nowhere else on earth. As highways, the oceans played a mighty role in the development of the American standard of living.

But, on the other hand, in war time, those same oceans became barriers behind which we stood protected. So long as we provided ourselves with a strong Navy, a total water-borne threat to our country was almost inconceivable. At the outbreak of the present century it would have taken all the navies in the world, and most of the armies, to make a successful landing on our shores and to overcome us.

And so there grew up among us a policy which we have called isolation—a policy based for the most part on sound geographical considerations so far as national defense alone was concerned. Since it was so difficult to attack us we were reluctant to become involved in other people's affairs.

All that, however, has now changed, and is changing every day. To us who have lived through the last thirty or forty years, the change has seemed gradual. But on the scale of history it has been a sudden change, a revolution. Modern battleships and carriers, equipped with enormous destructive guns, can cross the Atlantic in four days. Modern airplanes cruising at several hundred miles an hour, can cross in a few hours a stretch of water that used to require weeks, or perhaps even months.

Thus it was possible for the Japanese to reach Honolulu across 3,400 miles of water, a distance greater than that from New York to London, and almost equal to the distance from New York to Berlin. In order to accomplish this they used island bases in the eastern Pacific. That means that we, too, must worry about island bases far from our shores. Had the Japanese, instead of the United States, possessed Honolulu, their attack would have been directly upon San Francisco, and the distance to be covered would have been 1,000 miles less than the distance they actually did cover.

Thus modern applied science has caught up with geography and even overtaken it. Instead of living on a continent flanked by mighty oceans, we are living today, in effect, upon an island—an island which takes only a day to cross,

and which is accessible to all the civilized world. That is the revolution that has come upon us. And that is the fact for which Americans are unprepared. We should, however, have been prepared. We had ample warning. As the President so graphically said last week, we had over nine years of repeated warning. But we spent our substance in public expenditures which could have been devoted to employing our people in building aeroplanes and ships and tanks. Our negligence will cause many American boys to die needlessly.

But there is another fact, also. Even in spite of the splendid services rendered by our correspondents abroad, and by our newspapers and radio, at home, we have refused to believe how evil those men are who are now engaged in destroying civilization everywhere.

We would not accept the extent of their cynical disregard for truth, for decency, or for human life. It was inconceivable to us that the Japanese Emperor, a man held in his country to be divine, should talk peace, not merely just before his air force attacked, but hours after he had butchered American men and women.

And yet this emperor is but the shadow of a greater evil—a man of no conscience whatsoever—Adolph Hitler.

This is the second fact for which we refused to prepare ourselves. We have not seen the stricken people of Poland; we do not personally know the Czech patriots who are risking their lives every day to obstruct Hitler's machine; we have no direct knowledge of the heroic fighters of Yugoslavia now engaged in guerrilla warfare to win back their homes, or of the suffering Greeks who put up such an heroic fight for their freedom, or of the browbeaten people of France. These things seem remote. But we must now awaken to the ghastly fact that, in this modern world, they are not remote, but close. We no longer possess any special immunity from mechanized and deliberate evil. We shall not be safe from it until the bloody gang that practices it has been exterminated.

Now if we face these facts—and no man who loves his country can fail to face them—then we can also face with stark and fearless realism the task that is required of us. It is not an exaggeration to say that no people has ever been confronted with a bigger task, or one requiring so much energy and speed. As all must now realize this war will be won or lost as we do or do not outproduce the Axis powers. The life or death of millions of American boys in the armed forces will depend on whether our production lines outdo those of our enemies.

It has been estimated that greater Germany is now spending between twenty-five and thirty billion dollars a year for actual weapons of war. That is not the actual figure, but that is the comparable figure translated into American costs. On the same basis it is estimated that Great Britain and her dominions are spending about twenty billion dollars.

The United States undertook a year ago to become the "arsenal" of democracy. Yet we have scarcely begun to supply the production for this war. During 1941 our military expenditures will total about $12,500,000,000, but much of this has gone for new facilities, food and quartermaster supplies. Stripped to actual fighting materials the American effort is still very slight—only a mere fifth of the German effort. And this figure includes lend-lease aid which has not yet reached a billion dollars, including even such items as food and blankets.

We do not know the extent of Japanese and Italian expenditures.

But even to match Hitler on his own terms, even to produce at the rate of thirty billions of war materials a year, we must face the most profound dislocation in our lives—a dislocation far surpassing that of the first World War. We haveheard a lot of talk about sacrifices, but the word sacrifice is altogether inadequate to describe what we must do. It is not a question of "giving up" automobiles or other modern conveniences. If our industrial plant is to fight Hitler successfully there simply will not be new automobiles and gadgets to buy.

This is primarily a war of equipment. The enemy is well equipped and if we are to avoid the sacrifice of our boys we must give them equipment with which to fight. The average citizen can help conserve materials of all kinds. He can refrain from demanding the luxuries of life.

I should like to believe—and I think the history of our people entitles me to believe—that in their eagerness to get this stupendous job done Americans will frown on those persons who, in effect, slow it up by insisting upon luxuries.

I believe that Americans will be dominated now by a great desire to become lean and strong—to get along without anything more than the absolute necessities. After all, we are extremely fortunate in that there can be enough necessities, such as food and clothing, for every one. We do not have to starve and we do not have to suffer from cold or from want. But we must learn to get along on the least that we need, not on the most.

We must dedicate ourselves henceforth, not to luxury and ease, but to Spartan simplicity and hard work. Our industrialists must make their every facility available to the people of the United States. On its side labor must be prepared to work a fifty-five even a sixty-hour week, and the sooner we commence this total program the fewer will be the American boys who must die for victory's sake.

In no direction that we turn do we find ease or comfort. If we are honest and if we have the will to win we find only danger, hard work and iron resolution.

That, my fellow Americans, is the spirit of 1942; the will to win, the will to become strong and hard of muscle. In no other way can we, a free people, hope to overwhelm these desperate and bloody conquerors who have enslaved their own peoples and have now destroyed most of the free peoples of the earth.

And let me say also, without fear, that we shall exact of our government this same deep will to victory, this same earnestness and honesty to which we now dedicate ourselves. This is a free country, and even in war time we can criticize our government, and should do so as the occasions arise.

We insist that our government conduct itself in this war on the same basis as that on which it has conducted itself since the Hawaiian incident—a basis of honesty and the facing of facts.

The Administration and Congress must cut non-defense expenditures to the bone. Everything we have must go into the effort for victory; nothing can be spared for political spoils. New political experimentation must be eliminated during this emergency. We must expand enormously and immediately our armed forces.

We must insist on the maximum efficiency in our defense program. Every facility, great and small, must be put to twenty-four-hour use. And to accomplish this the ablest industrial and labor executives in the nation should be employed and should be given authority without regard to past, present or future political consideration.

There must be an end to bickering between employers and labor. We are all in this war together, great and small, rich and poor, employer and employee—there is no difference. We must do our duty together. Any man, or group, who fails to do so betrays his country.

When I say that our effort is a vast effort, I mean just that. I doubt, if any people in modern times have ever been called upon to make so great an effort, in the whole history

of the civilized world. By this I do not mean that we must attempt to play the role of supermen. We are not supermen. We are just ordinary human beings. We can be weak; we can make mistakes; we can fail. But when I say that this is the greatest effort ever undertaken I am thinking of the total effort, the total job that looms up ahead of us.

These powers that are attacking us have gone far. They have accomplished much. They have conquered most of one continent and parts of other continents, and they have challenged us on the sea. For eight years or more they have been preparing, practicing, learning, making themselves tough and organizing their affairs on a military basis.

Such are the forces, horribly prepared for murder and destruction, that we must face. We are not so prepared. Our error, however, does not lie only in failing to prepare, but in failing to prevent the gangsters from going so far. Our error lies in failing to see, in time, the base upon which freedom rests.

For freedom, my fellow Americans, the burden of freedom, does not rest upon any one race or any one nation. If freedom is to live here in the United States, it must live elsewhere. And if we are to save it in the United States, we must save it elsewhere.

The bombing of Honolulu and the murder of our citizens are in themselves sufficient cause for war. Yet we should be unjust to ourselves, unworthy of our forefathers, and completely unrealistic about the world in which we live did we suppose that that is the sole reason for our being at war. We go to war because, if we do not, freedom will die with us and with all men. We face this struggle as free men determined that, at all costs, freedom, not slavery, shall govern this earth.

It is therefore a gigantic struggle. And it may be a long struggle. We cannot win it with quick dramatics or momentary heroics. This is a job of infinite patience and endless toil, toil on the farm, in the factory, in the office and the mine. For while the actual decision in the conflict rests with those who are at the front, they cannot hope to win unless we stand behind them here at home, to supply their every need. It is chiefly our fault—the fault of free men and women who could have had whatever we wanted—that they are not prepared. We must now give them everything we've got.

Above all, we must back them with our united will. In the midst of the terrible events of these weeks there has fallen upon us this great blessing. We are at last united. From coast to coast, regardless of party, or of prejudice, or of past disagreement, we have risen up to meet our common danger as an American people.

To win the final victory nothing is more important than to keep this unity intact. I join with those who have pledged such unity—as it has been so well expressed—"without recrimination." And I want to take this occasion to remind the Administration that many of the ablest men in our countrymen of action and men of thought—are those who happen to have been on the other side of our recent debate. They have generously and wholeheartedly offered their services in our united cause. Their ability is such that they should be put to work in the vast effort in which we have become engaged.

We must face this struggle, not as men of party, not at men of race or color or religion, not as members of classes or economic groups, but as Americans—free Americans-determined to do whatever is necessary that freedom may be strong enough to win. The fight is world-wide, and we shall have to be prepared to fight it all over the world. We must fight it with increased lend-lease aid. We must fight it with our Navy. We must fight it with our troops. We must gird ourselves for that task. We must see it clearly and we must see it whole.

But we must be able to see something else also. We must look beyond the bloody horizons of the present—-must look out toward the shadows of the future which rise up like majestic promises of what may be our reward. Never—and I say it to you in measured words—never has there existed such hope for mankind as there exists today. Never has there existed on the surface of this planet so many human beings who know what freedom is and who are determined that, though it cost them their lives, it shall endure. Never has there existed such a wealth of experience, not stored in textbooks on dusty shelves but in the memory of living men: experience in democracy, experience in its weaknesses and failures, and experience in how to meet those failures and weaknesses.

During the last ten years the democratic peoples have learned in painful lessons what democracy means, what it asks of us, and what we must deliver in the future if it is to survive. Out of that great knowledge and our great yearning, we can say, with realistic confidence, that we shall be able to build a new and more fruitful society of nations, in which the principles of liberty shall not only be spread more widely, but deeply strengthened, by the common purpose of free peoples, everywhere, to make freedom live.

To that task we now dedicate ourselves. Whosoever stands in our path will reap the whirlwind and the sword. For ours is the almighty purpose to establish on earth more firmly than ever before those simple but everlasting rights, of which this nation was born: the right to life, the right to liberty and the right to the pursuit of happiness.

And now in conclusion, my fellow Americans—in times such as these when the forces of hate and bitterness which war unleashes are abroad, we must always keep in the forefront of our hearts and minds that the very essence of American democracy is mutual understanding and helpfulness.