"This War Is America's Vocation"


By IRVING T. McDONALD, Librarian of Holy Cross College, Worcester, Mass., and New England Radio War-Analyst

Delivered at the Annual Conference of the New England Home Loan Bankers' Association Parker House, Boston, January 24, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 281-282.

THIS war is not a sporadic thing. It is not something that we can take in our stride, something to which we must give our respectful, patriotic attention for a while until we lick a few foreign enemies—and then come back and pick up where we left off. This war has become America's vocation. Nations have destinies as well as men. And in the inscrutable intentions of an all-wise Providence, the United States of America was created to be the bulwark of human liberties. The history of our nation is the story of emancipation—the freeing of slaves from their bonds of servitude; whether those slaves were the humble immigrants from whom so many of us sprung, or were within our own boundaries the slaves of social and economic injustices, which have been remedied as far as human vision has seen the way.

Regardless of what mistakes of judgment have been made, regardless of how we have differed and disputed among ourselves over economic, social, and political theories, the foundation stone of our national dedication has never been shaken —the doctrine that all men are, and of right ought to be, free.

Today, we are engaged in a truly cosmic conflict to determine whether this nation, or any nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, can long endure—an issue more poignant today than it was when those hallowed words were said at Gettysburg. For this is not merely a war between nations. This is a crusade for the emancipation of mankind.

Dr. Goebbels, Signor Gayda, and Koh Ishii accuse us of imperial ambitions. They charge that we are out to rule the world, that we plutocratic capitalists in America would dominate the peoples of the earth. They say that—and sure, they are honorable men, singing canticles of praise to their tyrannical trinity whose honest, compassionate souls are scorched by the curses of a score of raped and plundered countries. There is no issue now of Capitalism versus Socialism, or any other economic system. America seeks no territorial aggrandizement. Our war aims have been set down for all men to read since 1787, when the perpetual policy of our nation was established "to provide for the common defense" and "to secure the blessings of liberty." And by a stroke of mysterious circumstance, which I reverently attribute to Divine intention, the defense of our liberties now confronts us with enemies whose defeat will free uncounted millions of their pitiable captives and their pitiful subjects. For the subjects of Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito are no less slaves than are the gaunt and hollow-eyed French, the starved and suffering Greeks, or the unhappy Filipinos, whose Gethsemane has now begun.

Who are our enemies? And who are our friends? We have only one enemy, whether he lives in Berlin, Rome, or Tokyo. And that enemy is the vicious, criminal spirit which makes beasts out of men, which like the slimy cobra of the jungle, coils itself around promises of peace, while it plans to strike its poisoned fangs into the hearts of trustful nations; the single undivided spirit of depraved malignity, whether it wears the face of Nazism, Fascism, or Japanism. This is our enemy. And thank God it's not our friend, for it is the very epitome of vice, which, "to be hated, needs but to be seen."

And our friends—who are they? They are people of all tongues, of all colors, of all creeds. They range from theArctic to the Antarctic, and there is no meridian where they do not live. They are the embattled Britons, who were toughened, not softened, by Hitler's bombs; they are the fighting furies of the Russian armies, who didn't believe Herr Hitler when he told them they were dead, but got up out of their graves to start him on the road to his; they are the inexhaustible Chineses who, after resisting Japanese aggression for four and a half years, now place their limitless resources of man-power at the disposal of the United Nations; they are the indomitable Dutch, who did not wait to be attacked, but launched an offensive against our enemy the moment he struck at us; they are the glorious Greeks, who chased Mussolini's myrmidons out of their country, until they were crushed, but not conquered, by the Nazi rescue army's overwhelming weight; they are the undefeatable Chetniks of the Serbian hills, whom Hitler thought he had destroyed many months ago, but against whose 80,000 free-fighting guerrillas he must repeatedly send new armies; they are the Free French of de Gaulle, men who have been teachers, doctors, priests, as well as farmers, laborers and mechanics, but who now, with a single, living purpose, crawl and swim through the snake-infested jungles and crocodile rivers of Equatorial Africa to swear allegiance to the free flag of Lorraine, the banner of Joan of Arc; and they are the noble Norwegians and the dauntless Danes who escape their captors in cockleshells through the roaring gales of the North Sea to train in British camps to do the only job that life has made worth doing; and they are the intrepid sons of Poland, who land their bullet-riddled planes on British flying fields to ask only for gas and more bombs that they may fly back across the channel at once for another crack at the enemy.

These are our friends, gentlemen. These are our comrades in arms. And in the litany of America's glories let it be written to our undying fame that we have been found worthy to march in that company.

For they are fighting and dying without stint or thought of self, to get back what you and I have never lost: our freedom. Can any other purpose on earth compare with this: that we, who have never been unfree, will fight and sacrifice, with every fibre of our beings, to safeguard that which our comrades must die to regain!

In this war, the very document of democracy is at stake, for now we must pay our hidden debt to Freedom—we must vindicate the American Way by winning this war within the framework of the democratic system. For that's one more of Hitler's bad mistakes of judgment. He believes that only a totalitarian government can command an all-out effort of any kind, because only in a totalitarian system can a single, undivided will prevail. He does not know the meaning of democracy. For only in a democracy can you have true unanimity. For unanimity is a meeting of many minds, and only in democracy is it possible for citizens freely to forge their pulsing hearts into a single purpose, to consecrate their myriad wills into a single will. And the will of America to-day is a single will. But it is the sanctified will of a solidly united people, and not the terroristic tyranny of a madman.

And now, let's look at the job that's cut out for us. During the First World War, it was possible to measure the effort that would be required for victory—to form some reasonableidea, even if it wasn't an accurate one, of what it would take to win. We Americans are not the dreamy-eyed Babes in the Woods we used to be. We used to think a war was over when the last shot was fired. We know differently now. We don't know how many ships, tanks, planes, guns and men it's going to take to finish the first fighting phase. But we know already that when the last Jap throws down his gun, and the last Nazi throws up his hands, and the last Fascist picks up his heels, our job will still be far from finished. A world will have to be rehabilitated. Revolutions will break out in countries that have been occupied by the aggressors, and in the aggressors' own lands. For the lessons of war are only learned by those who do not need them, and the ambitious Hitlers of tomorrow are already plotting in their captive countries, the stratagems and treacheries by which they will contend for power in the postwar confusion of demoralized continents.

By the Atlantic Charter, we have pledged ourselves to join in the control of all such ventures—and the scope of effort required for that purpose, too, is unpredictable.

And then, whole nations will have to be reconstructed, morally and economically, physically and spiritually. Like the victims of a dread disease, they will have to be taught to walk again. They will have to be helped until they can stand alone. And we cannot, either in charity, or in prudence, refuse our hand to the invalids. Ours is bound to be the major share.

Am I calling on the United States to be the Santa Claus of the world, to be ruthlessly exploited by any who wish to use us as an easy mark? I certainly am not. But from a thoroughly practical and realistic point of view, I must point out that, for our own American sakes, we can never again afford to isolate ourselves from an intimate concern in everything that happens any place on earth. We tried that once. Never again.

We seek no territorial empire, and we have no busybody ambitions. But when anything starts, wherever on earth, that threatens to impinge, however remotely, on American interests, American influence must be in there at the start. Andthat American influence cannot prevail unless it is established at the very outset by a full participation in the reconstruction of the post-war world. Our inevitable union with the foreign scene has been forecast time and again, from both sides of the Atlantic. Henceforth it will be impossible to resist its implications in one form or another, whether we like it or not.

A threat to any freedom holds a threat to all freedom. And the day will never come when the freedoms of humanity will not be endangered by the avaricious and the criminal. Those freedoms will have constantly to be protected, for eternal Vigilance will always be the price of freedom.

And the new order which is destined to dawn in foreign I lands must not be the New Order of Herr Hitler, nor the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity, nor the failing Fascist fantasm of the Palazzo Venezia. For the future order of the Old World will inevitably be the order of the Western Hemisphere, too. The world has shrunk to too small a compass to contain two mutually repugnant systems, and the day has come when the earth, no more than a nation, cannot exist half slave and half free.

Therefore, gentlemen, we have a task of unpredictable proportions ahead of us, a task of such incredible dimensions as to demand the full, solemn dedication of every American heart and every American will. And it is fruitless to speculate on the post-war world unless we win the war itself. For if we don't win it, we're going to have nothing whatever to say about it. We have seen the practise patterns of the Hitler order set up in every country where his withering foot has trod. And if anyone can yet believe that these despotic monsters have no designs on the western hemisphere, I would remind him of the letter written over a year ago by the Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Fleets, Admiral Yamamoto, in which he declared that he was looking forward to the day when he would dictate peace terms to the United States in the White House in Washington.

It can happen here. But it won't happen here unless we let it. It's better to lick the Axis in Russia, Africa, and Malaya, than to wait for the Battle of Boston.