Lesson Taught to the Nations


By SUMNER WELLES, Under-Secretary of State of the United States At the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the American Republics, Rio de Janeiro, January 15, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 249-254.

THE peoples of the Americas face today the greatest danger which they have ever confronted since they won their independence. We are meeting together under the terms, and in the spirit, of Inter-American agreements to take counsel as to the course which our governments should take under the shadow of this dire threat to our continued existence as free peoples.

We meet as the representatives of nations which in former times have had their differences and controversies. But I believe that I may speak for all of us, and not least in the name of my own government, when I say that we all of us have learned by our past errors of omission and of commission.

We are assembled as representatives of the twenty-one sovereign and independent republics of the American continent, now welded together as no continent has ever before been united in history, by our faith in the ties of mutual trust and of reciprocal interdependence which bind us, and, most of all, by our common devotion to the great cause of democracy and of human liberty to which our New World is dedicated.

The calamity which has now engulfed humanity was not unforeseen by any of us. Just five years ago, at the Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace of Buenos Aires, we met because of the clear signs that the earth would be engulfed by the tidal wave of a world-wide war. By common accord we determined upon measures indispensable to our common security.

At the Inter-American Conference at Lima further measures were taken. After the war broke out, at the meetings of the Foreign Ministers at Panama and Havana, the American republics adopted additional far-reaching measures of protection and of cooperation for their common safety.

We were thus in many ways prepared for that eventuality, from which we then still hoped we might be spared the involvement of the Americas in the war which has been forced upon mankind by Hitlerism.

I regard it as my obligation here on behalf of my government to inform you with complete frankness of the course which it has pursued up to the time when, on Sunday, December 7, my country was suddenly attacked by means of anact of treachery that will never be forgotten by the people of the United States, nor, I believe, by the people of any of the other American republics.

My government was never blind to the ultimate purposes and objectives of Hitlerism. It long since realized that Hitler had formulated his plans to conquer the entire world. These plans—the plans of a criminal paranoiac—were conceived before he had even seized power in Germany. They have been carried out step by step, first through guile and deceit, later by fire and sword. No evil has been too monstrous for him. No infamy has been too vile for him to perpetrate.

Time and again, as you all know, the President of the United States, with your knowledge and with your approval, made every effort in earlier years, by fervent appeal and by constructive and just proposal, to avert the final holocaust.

All of us learned a bitter lesson in those years between 1936 and 1941. We learned by the tragic experience of others, that all of those standards of international decency and of international law, upon which the hopes of a law-abiding and a peaceful world were based, were utterly disregarded by Hitler and by his ignominious satellites.

Those free nations who sought ingeniously, by the very innocence of their conduct and by the very completeness of their neutrality to maintain at least the shadow of their independence, were occupied more promptly and ravaged more cruelly than those who resisted the attack of Hitler's armies.

We have been taught this lesson—which it took all of us a long time to learn—that in the world of today, confronted by Hitlerism and all of the black reversion to barbarism which that evil word implies, no nation can hope to maintain its own independence, and no people can hope to maintain its liberty, except through the power of armed might, and through the courage and devotion of men and women in many lands, and of many races, but who all of them love liberty more than life itself.

The people of the United States learned that lesson. And for that reason, because of their determination to defend their country, and to safeguard the security of our common continent, they determined to lend every form of assistance to that gallant band of nations who against great odds continued nevertheless to defend their own liberties.

We had learned our lesson so clearly that we saw that the defense by these peoples of their independence constituted likewise the defense of our own independence and of that of the Western Hemisphere.

Then suddenly, last June, Hitler, distraught by the realization that he could no longer attempt successfully to invade Great Britain, but intoxicated by the easy victories which he had achieved in other parts of Europe, perfidiously attacked the Soviet Union with which he had only recently entered into a pact of non-aggression.

"Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad." Many months ago Japan entered into the tripartite pact with Germany and Italy. My government learned that this arrangement, which made of Japan the submissive tool of Hitler for the primary purpose of preventing the United States from continuing to give assistance to Great Britain, was not supported by certain elements in Japan.

These elements clearly foresaw the ultimate destruction of Japan if the Japanese Government dared to embark upon an adventure which would ultimately bring Japan into conflict with all of the other powers which had direct interests in the Western Pacific.

These elements in Japan also realized that, while Hitler had been able to inveigle the war lords in control of the Japanese Government into believing that should Japan carry out German orders, and were the Western democracies defeated, Germany would permit Japan to control the Far East,

Hitler would, of course, take her spoils from Japan whenever he saw fit.

My Government sought over a period of more than ten months to negotiate with Japan a peaceful and equitable adjustment of differences between the two countries so as to prevent the outbreak of war in the Pacific.

The United States, however, utterly refused to agree to any settlement which would infringe upon the independence or the legitimate rights of the people of China, who for four and a half years had been bravely and successfully resisting every effort on the part of Japan to conquer their ancient land. Nor would the United States agree to any proposal offered by the Japanese Government which would contravene those basic principles of right and justice for which, I am proud to say, my country stands.

We know now that at the very time that the present Japanese Government was carrying on, at its own urgent request, the pretense of conducting peaceful negotiations with the United States for the purpose of reaching a settlement which would have averted war, every plan in its uttermost detail had already been made to attack my country's territory.

During those last two weeks before December 7, when Japan's notorious peace emissary was protesting to my Government that his country desired nothing except peace and profitable commercial relations with the United States, the airplane carriers were already on their way to Pearl Harbor to launch their dastardly attack upon the United States Navy.

The Japanese war lords, under the orders of their German masters, adopting the same methods of deceit and treachery which Hitler has made a stench in the nostrils of civilized mankind, while peace negotiations were actually still in progress in Washington suddenly attacked a country which had been Japan's friend and which had made every honorable effort to find a basis for a just and lasting peace in the Pacific.

A few days later Germany and her satellites declared war upon the United States.

And so war has been forced upon some of us in the American continent.

The greatest assurance that our great association of sovereign and independent peoples—the American family of nations—can survive this world upheaval safely lies in the unity with which we face the common peril.

Some of us by our own power, by our own resources, by the extent of our population, are able successfully beyond the shadow of a doubt to defend ourselves. Others of us who do not possess these material advantages, equal though they be in their courage and in their determination to resist aggression, must depend for their continued security upon the cooperation which other members of the American family may give them.

The only assured safety which this continent possesses lies in full cooperation between us all in the common defense; equal and sovereign partners in times of aggression as in times of peace.

The record of the past two years is ever before us. You and I know that had there existed during the past decade an international order based upon law, and with the capacity to enforce such law, the earth today would not be subjected to the cruel scourge which is now ravaging the entire globe.

Had the law-abiding and peaceful nations of Europe been willing to stand together when the menace of Hitlerism first began to become manifest, Hitler would never have dared to embark upon his evil course. It was solely because of the fact that these nations, instead of standing together, permitted themselves to hold aloof one from the other, and placed their hope of salvation in their own neutrality, thatHitler was enabled to overrun them one by one as time and circumstances made it expedient for him.

The security of the 300,000,000 of people who inhabit the Western Hemisphere and the independence of each of the countries here represented will be determined by whether the American nations stand together in this hour of peril, or whether they stand apart one from the other.

I am fully aware of what the representatives of the Axis powers have been stating to some of you, day in and day out during the past months.

I know that Hitler's representatives have said to some of you that Germany has not the slightest thought of dominating the Western Hemisphere. All that Germany wants, they have told you, is complete domination over every part of Europe, of Africa, and of the Near East, the destruction of the British Empire, the enslavement of the Russian people, the overlordship of the Far East, and when this is accomplished, only friendship and peaceful trade with the Americas.

But Hitler's representatives have omitted to mention that in such a fateful contingency we would all of us then also be living in a Hitler-dominated world.

You may remember that a few days ago Hitler publicly denounced President Roosevelt as the greatest warmonger of all time, because the President had declared that the people of the United States did not want to live in the type of world that Hitler wished for.

In a Hitler-dominated universe not one of us could trade except on Hitler's terms. Not one of us could live except under a Gauleiter appointed for us by Hitler. Not one of us could educate our children except as Hitler dictated. Not one of us could enjoy our God-given rights to think and to speak freely and to worship the Deity as our conscience may dictate.

Can even Hitler wonder that we are not willing to live in such a world as that?

I know what representatives of Japan have been saying to some of you. They are telling you that the Japanese Government is sure that the governments and peoples of the American republics will certainly not be influenced by any thought that Japan may harbor ulterior motives toward them. They are telling you that Japan desires nothing but peace with you and the maintenance of profitable commercial relations. You will remember that they told us that also.

The Japanese Government is even telling you that they are soon going to send ships to the Pacific ports of South America to take cargoes of your goods.

But they did not add that were some Japanese ship to be foolhardy enough to attempt to make such a trip, it would not be able to travel many miles after leaving the port of the Americas to which it had gone, except under the naval custody of Japan's adversaries.

But there is no useful purpose to be served by our dwelling on the lies with which the Axis governments still attempt to deceive us. We all of us know that no sane man can place the slightest shred of credence in any solemn or sworn assurance which the Axis governments give.

We likewise know full well that the sole aim, the ultimate objective of these partners in crime, is conquest of the surface of the entire earth, the loot of the possessions of every one of us, and the subjugation of free men and women everywhere to the level of serfs.

Twelve months ago Hitler solemnly assured the German people that before the end of the year 1941, Germany would complete the defeat of all her enemies in the greatest victory of all time.

On October 3 last Hitler swore to his people that before the first of the New Year of 1942 Russia would be crushed, "never to rise again."

What are the facts? Today the German armies are retreating from Russian territory, routed and dispersed by the magnificent offensive of the Russian armies. Hitler has lost over one-third of his air force, over one-half of his tank force, and more than 3,000,000 men. But more than that, the German people now see for themselves the utter falsity of the promises held out to them by the evil charlatan who rules them. Their morale is running low.

In North Africa the British armies have utterly destroyed the Axis forces in Libya and are clearing the Southern Mediterranean littoral of Axis threats.

In the Atlantic the British and United States convoys are moving ever more safely to their destinations, and the loss of merchant shipping through German submarine action has steadily diminished during the past six months.

In the Far East the United States and Great Britain have met with initial reverses.

We all remember that as a result of the Washington Limitation of Armaments Conference of 1922 the powers directly interested in the Far East, in order to assure the basis for peaceful relations between them, pledged themselves not to increase the fortifications of their possessions in that area.

During all of the years that the treaties agreed upon at that conference remained in effect the United States consequently took no steps to fortify the Philippines. But we also now know that, counter to her sworn obligations, Japan during these same years was creating naval bases and feverishly constructing fortifications throughout the islands of the South Seas which she had received as a mandate from the League of Nations.

Furthermore, at the request of the Philippine people the Government of the United States had pledged itself to grant full independence to them in the year 1946.

The infamous attack by Japan upon the United States consequently found the Philippine Islands largely unfortified and protected solely by a modest army of brave Filipino soldiers, supported by only two divisions of United States troops, with a small air force utterly inadequate to withstand the concentrated strength of the Japanese.

But the control of the Pacific Ocean itself rests with the Allied fleets. Japan, after suffering disastrously in her four-year-long war with China, is surrounded on all sides. She possesses no resources. Once the material which she is now using is destroyed it can only be replaced by what Japan herself can produce. And that replacement will be inferior in quality and small in quantity without the raw materials which Japan will now be largely unable to secure.

The commencement of the year 1942 has marked the turn of the tide.

The United States is now in the war. Our industrial production, the greatest in the world, is fast mounting toward the maximum. During the coming year we will produce some 60,000 airplanes, including 45,000 military airplanes, some 45,000 tanks, some 300 new combatant ships, from the mightiest battleships to coastal patrol craft, and some 600 new merchant ships. We will attain a rate of 70,000 per year in the training of combat airplane pilots.

We have drafted for military service all of our men between the ages of 20 and 44 years, and of this great total we will soon have an initial army of 3,000,000 men fully trained and fully equipped.

We will spend fifty billions of dollars, or half of our total national income, in the year thereafter in order to secure the use of every ounce of our national resources in our war effort. Every weapon that we produce will be used wherever it is determined that it may be of the most service in the common cause—whether that be here in the Western Hemisphere, on the deserts of Libya, on the steppes of Russia or in the territory of the brave people of China.

Those of us who have joined fn this holy war face a ruthless and barbarous foe. The road before us will be hard and perhaps long. We will meet unquestionably with serious reverses from time to time. But the tide has turned, and will run swiftly and ever more swiftly until it ends in the flood of victory.

As each of you know, my Government has made no suggestion, and no request as to the course which any of the governments of the other American republics should pursue subsequent to the Japanese attack upon the United States and the declaration of war upon it by the other Axis powers. We do not function in that way in the American family of nations.

But I may assure you from my heart today that the spontaneous declaration of war upon the enemies of mankind of nine of the other American republics; the severance of all relations with Germany, Italy and Japan by Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela, and the official declarations of solidarity and support by all of the other American republics, including our traditional and unfailing friend, in evil days as well as good, the great Republic of Brazil, whose guests we all are today, represents to my Government and to my fellow-citizens a measure of support, of strength and of spiritual encouragement which no words of mine would be adequate to express.

May I merely say that these acts of faith in our commondestiny, so generously realized, will never be forgotten by the people of the United States. They have heartened us all. They have made us all the more anxious to be worthy—not in words but in deeds—of your confidence. They have made us all the more desirous of showing our gratitude through the extent of the cooperative strength which we can furnish to insure the ultimate triumph of the cause to which we are dedicated.

Each one of the American governments has determined, and will continue to determine, in its own wisdom, the course which it will pursue to the best interest of its people in this world struggle. But of one thing I feel sure we are all convinced. In accordance with the obligations we have all undertaken under the provisions of our Inter-American agreements, and in accordance with the spirit of that continental solidarity unanimously proclaimed, those nations of the Americas which are not engaged in war will never permit their territory to be used by agents of the Axis powers in order that these may conspire against, or prepare attacks upon, those republics which are fighting for their own liberties and for those of the entire continent.

We all of us are fully aware of the record of the activities of Axis agents in our several countries which the past two years have brought to light.

We know how the Axis diplomatic representatives—taking advantage of the immunity which international custom has granted them for their legitimate functions—have been doing their utmost to poison Inter-American relations; to create internal discord, and to engender domestic strife, so as to try and pave the way for subversive movements financed with funds obtained through extortion from residents in our midst, or transferred from the loot they have procured in the occupied countries of Europe.

We know that their so-called consular officials have in realty been the directing heads of espionage rings in every part of this hemisphere. The full history of this record will some day be published in full detail when the divulging of this information will no longer be of assistance to the enemy.

So long as this hemisphere remained out of the war, all of our governments dealt with this ever-increasing dangerin the manner which they believed most effective, exchanging intelligence one with the other, as existing agreements between them provide, whenever such exchange was mutually helpful.

But today the situation has changed. Ten of the American republics are at war, and three others have severed all relations with the Axis powers. The continued presence of these Axis agents within the Western Hemisphere constitutes a direct danger to the national defense of the republics engaged in war.

There is not a Japanese, nor a German consul, nor a consul of Hitler's satellite countries, in the New World at this moment who is not reporting to his superiors every time a ship leaves the ports of the country where he is stationed, for the purpose of having that ship sunk by an Axis submarine.

There is not a diplomatic representative of the Axis powers anywhere in the Americas who is not seeking to get for his masters information regarding the defense preparations of the American nations now at war; who is not conspiring against the internal security of every one of us; who is not doing his utmost, through every means available to him, to hinder our capacity to insure the integrity of our freedom and our independence.

Surely this danger must be of paramount concern to all of us. The pre-eminent issue presented is solely that those republics engaged in war shall not be dealt a deadly thrust by the agents of the Axis ensconced upon the soil, and enjoying the hospitality, of others of the American republics.

The shibboleth of classic neutrality in its narrow sense can, in this tragic modern world, no longer be any real neutrality as between the powers of evil and the forces that are struggling to preserve the rights and the independence of free peoples.

It is far better for any people to strive gloriously to safeguard its independence; it is far better for any people to die, if need be, in the battle to save its liberties than, by clinging to the tattered fiction of an illusory neutrality, succeed only by so doing in committing suicide.

Our devotion to the common cause of defending the New World against aggression does not imply necessarily engagement in war. But it does imply, I confidently believe, the taking over of all measures of cooperation between us which redound to the great objective of keeping the Americas free.

Of equal importance with measures of political solidarity, defense cooperation, and the repression of subversive activity are economic measures related to the conduct of war against the aggressor nations and the defense of the Western Hemisphere.

All of the American republics have already taken some form of measures breaking off financial and commercial intercourse between them and the non-American aggressor States and to eliminate other alien economic activities prejudicial to the welfare of the American republics.

It is of the utmost importance that these measures be expanded in order that they may prevent all business, financial and trade transactions between the Western Hemisphere and the aggressor states, and all transactions within the Western Hemisphere which directly or indirectly redound to the benefit of the aggressor nations, or are in any way inimical to the defense of the hemisphere.

The conduct of war and the defense of the hemisphere will require an ever-increasing production of the implements of war, and an ever-increasing supply of the basic and strategic materials necessary for their production. The spread of the war has cut off many of the most important sources of strategic materials, and it is essential that the American republics conserve their stocks of such commodities, and byevery possible means encourage the production and the free flow within the hemisphere of the greatest possible quantity of these materials.

The universal character of the war is placing increasing demands upon the merchant shipping facilities of all of us. The increased production of strategic materials will be of no avail unless adequate transportation can be provided, and it is consequently of vital importance that all of the shipping facilities of the Americas be mobilized to this essential end.

The Government of the United States is prepared to cooperate whole-heartedly with the other American republics in handling the problems arising out of these economic warfare measures. It stands prepared to render financial and technical assistance where needed to alleviate injury to the domestic economy of any of the American republics which results from the control and curbing of alien economic activities inimical to our common defense.

It is ready to enter into broad arrangements for the acquisition of supplies of basic and strategic materials, and to cooperate with each of the other American republics in order to increase rapidly and efficiently their production for emergency needs.

Finally, it stands ready through the United States Maritime Commission to render every assistance in the efficient operation of merchant vessels in accordance with the plan of August 28, 1941, of the Inter-American Financial and Economic Advisory Committee.

My Government is also fully aware of the important role which imported materials and articles play in the maintenance of the economies of your nations. On December 5, 1941, I advised the Inter-American Financial and Economic Advisory Committee in Washington that the United States was making every effort consistent with the defense program to maintain a flow to the other American republics of materials to satisfy the minimum essential import requirements of your economics.

I added that the policy of my Government was being interpreted by all of the appropriate agencies as calling for recognition of and provision for the essential needs of the American republics equal to the treatment accorded United States civilian needs.

The attack by Japan and the declarations of war by the other members of the tripartite pact have resulted in greater and unprecedented demands upon our production facilities. But I am able to state today, as I did on the 5th of December, that the policy of the United States toward the satisfaction of your essential requirements remains firm.

On December 26, 1941, after the outbreak of war, the Board of Economic Warfare of my Government resolved unanimously:

"It is the policy of the Government of the United States to aid in maintaining the economic stability of the other American republics by recognizing and providing for their essential civilian needs on the basis of equal and proportionate consideration with our own."

Pursuant to this declaration of policy our allocation of 218,600 tons of tin plate for your needs during this year has been followed by further allocations, which I am privileged to announce today.

The Office of Production Management has advised me that allocations have been made to you for the next quarter in amounts adequate to meet your needs for rayon; for twenty essential agricultural and industrial chemicals, including copper sulphate, ammonium sulphate, soda ash, and caustic soda; for farm equipment; and for iron and steel products.

In addition, I am able to announce that a special mechanism has been organized within the Office of Production Management which is now facilitating the clearance of your individual priority applications.

In the light of this action, it seems appropriate to recognize that the arsenal of democracy continues mindful of its hemisphere responsibilities.

I am confident that your people will join the people of the United States, who are sharing their civilian supplies with you, in recognizing that military and other defense needs must continue to be given precedence over civilian demands.

All of these economic measures relate directly to the conduct of war, the defense of the hemisphere, and the maintenance of the economies of our several nations during the war emergency.

Obviously our greatest efforts must be extended toward victory. Nevertheless, the full consummation of victory must include the building of an economic and social order in which all of our citizens may subsequently enjoy the blessings of peace.

My government believes that we must begin now to execute plans, vital to the human defense of the hemisphere, for the improvement of health and sanitary conditions, the provision and maintenance of adequate supplies of food, milk, and water, and the effective control of insect-borne and other communicable diseases.

The United States is prepared to participate in and to encourage complementary agreements among the American republics for dealing with these problems of health and sanitation by provision, according to the abilities of the countries-involved, of funds, raw materials and services.

The responsibility with which we are all charged requires that we plan for broad economic and social development, for increased production of the necessities of the world, and for their equitable distribution among the people.

To this end we must plan for broad economic and social development, for increased production of the necessities of the world, and for their equitable distribution among the people.

If this economic rehabilitation of the world is to take place it is indispensable that there be a resurgence of international trade—as was declared by the second meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs at Havana, "conducted with peaceful motives and based upon equality of treatment and fair and equitable practices."

I urge upon you all the imperative need for unity between us, not only in the measures which must presently be taken in the defense of our western world, but also in order that the American republics, joined as one, may prove to be the potent factor which they should be of right in the determination of the nature of the world of the future, after the victory is won.

We, the American nations, are trustees for Christian civilization. In our own relationships we have wished to show scrupulous respect for the sovereign rights of all States, we have sought to undertake only peaceful processes in the solution of controversies which may have arisen between us, and we have wished to follow the course of decency and of justice in our dealings with others.

When peace is restored it is to the interest of the whole world that the American republics present a united front and be able to speak and act with the moral authority to which, by reason of their own enlightened standards, as much as by reason of their number and their power, they are entitled.

The prayer of peoples throughout the world is that when the task of peace-making is once more undertaken it will be better done than it was in 1919. And we cannot forget that the task this time will be infinitely more difficult than it was the last time.

In the determination of how these stupendous problemsmay best be solved, the united voice of the free peoples of the Americas must be heard.

The ideals which men have cherished have always throughout the course of history proved themselves to be more potent than any other factor. Nor conquest, nor migrations, nor economic pressure, nor pestilence, nor revolt, nor assassinations have ever yet been able to triumph over the ideals which have sprung from men's hearts and men's minds.

Notwithstanding the hideous blunders of the past generation; notwithstanding the holocaust of the present moment, that great ideal of "a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free" still stands untarnished as the supreme objective of a suffering humanity.

That ideal will yet triumph.

We, the free peoples of the Americas, must play our full part in its realization so that we may hasten the daywhen we can thus insure the maintenance of a peaceful world in which we, and our children, and our children's children, can safely live.

At this time the issue is clearly drawn. There can be no peace until Hitlerism and its monstrous parasites are utterly obliterated, and until the Prussian and Japanese militarists have been taught in the only language they can understand that they will never again be afforded the opportunity of wrecking the lives of generation upon generation of men and women in every quarter of the globe.

When that times comes men of good will must be prepared and ready to build with vision afresh upon new and lasting foundations of liberty, of morality, of justice, and, by no means last perhaps, of intelligence.

In the attainment of that great achievement the measure of our devotion will be the measure of the world's regeneration.