"Win the War—Or Build the St. Lawrence?"


By WALTER C. PLOESER, Congressman from Missouri

Over the Columbia Broadcasting System, Washington, D. C., February 10, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 383-384.

WIN the war—or build the St. Lawrence—sounds ominous, doesn't it? In fact such is not the case in so many words. When I say, "Win the war or build the St. Lawrence" I can just hear my critics saying that Ploeser is trying to tell the people that if we should by chance build the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway that America is doomed to lose the war. For the benefit of these critics let me say: That every bit of waste on the part of the people, or the government, sets back the date of victory; every bit of waste on the part of the government also places a greater burden upon our people. The way to win the war is to spend all of our energy on the necessary things. There isn't any stretch of the imagination that permits a logical person to argue that the St. Lawrence Seaway is necessary to the war effort.

The Billion Dollar Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway is a plan to open the Great Lakes to ocean traffic and international trade by building a 27-foot channel through the lakes and rivers from Lake Superior to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in Canada.

This Seaway, as projected, would be built jointly by the United States and Canada, with the bulk of the cost falling on the American taxpayers. Aside from the cost, this project, if constructed, would enable foreign nations, with their control of the world's shipping and their cheap labor, to invade our own great inland industrial and agricultural empire. It would, therefore, irreparably damage American labor, agriculture, rail transportation, motor transportation and industry in general.

I would like to confine myself to the real arguments pro and con. I would like to confine myself to the harm and dislocation it will bring to our present methods of commerce, to the direct and indirect injury to industry, to the lowering of the living standards of labor and to the disadvantages that will be created for agriculture. All these impairments are of fundamental importance. But, because the proponents of the St. Lawrence Waterway have falsely labeled it a "defense" project and because these same proponents have out of sheer desperation abandoned all original account, the issue will probably be brought clearly to the point of defense or waste. This project is so clearly not defense that the proponents will soon realize that the defense label is the thinnest thread of all the arguments they have created.

On May 28, 1941, I outlined to the nation the specific damage the building of this seaway would bring to the Coal Industry, the Iron-ore Industry, the Railroads and Truck lines and the great inland waterway system which the government has already built at the expense of hundreds of millions of dollars. I then carefully detailed the injury to the American seaports. Tonight, Americans are awake to the fact that economically the St. Lawrence project would be a harmful undertaking. This is evidenced by volumes of opinion in opposition received by Members of Congress in recent months.

There is an attempt to muzzle opposition by falsely applying a war label. Last June the cry went out that the St. Lawrence must be built for defense. This defense label was directly attributable to the fact that the proponents of the measure in the Congress simply could not get enough votes to pass the bill.

Last July I pointed out the gross contradiction between American proponents, and between Canadian and American proponents, in their meager efforts to make their defense claims hold. Not to be outdone the proponent forces in the Administration proposed to the proponent forces in the Congress the idea of a great Omnibus Bill, which would include hundreds of projects in a great many States and Congressional Districts. To get this Bill together they included a few needy and worthy projects, to lend an air of respectability. Frankly, worthy helpful war projects have been purposely delayed to help force the entirety of this unworthy measure. Also, into this Bill went many projects which have already been defeated by the Congress in past sessions. Most notable of these rejected and repudiated projects was the monstrosity known as the Florida Ship Canal. To even mention the Florida Ship Canal is to dig into the grave of inglorious events. It isn't my intention to make ghosts walk, but the offensive boldness of the Omnibus Rivers and Harbors Bill, when before the House for debate, will put ghosts on parade.

With the new projects, all in all the Bill contains some 250 different projects for 31 States. Most important of all, the St. Lawrence Seaway, was written into this Bill. Here was the meat of the huge pie securely nestled in with all the trimmings, concocted for the sole purpose of tempting Congressional votes. It was expected that the good people from home would display so much interest in their "pet project" that the Member of Congress representing their District would have to vote for the entire Bill in order to avoid voting against a home project.

On September 23, 1941, I went before the House and described this Pork-Barrel legislation which was then—as yet—in the making. At the time, I revealed by authentic estimates that this Bill would cost American taxpayers well over One Billion, probably near Two Billion Dollars. This seemed to disturb the proponent planners considerably and I was inexcusably denounced as having let the public look at something they should not see. I am sure all proponents did not feel that way about it, but the record reveals that at least one or more did, I entitled it, "Pork-Barrel Orgy." I meant just that. It is just that. The whole scheme was and is a discouraging attempt on the part of some to take advantage of the defense situation then, and the war now, to pass into law the authorization for the building of a lot of wasteful pet projects. Two weeks after the speech, "Pork-Barrel Orgy," a Washington newspaper—The Washington Daily News, printed a very revealing story exposing the setup of "A far-flung lobbying campaign to 'turn the heat on Congress' and pass one of the biggestpork-barrel Bills in history." This article was published just two months before Pearl Harbor. The lobby had an important sounding title. It was called, "The National Economic Conference." Its job was to approve the pork and stir up the folks back home as a part of the "pet project" idea. All this goes to prove that even the proponents of the St. Lawrence Waterway, as sincere as they undoubtedly are in other arguments which they have made, have little or no faith in the false label of "defense project."

The Pork-Barrel has been bogging down in the marsh of untruth and waste. Strategy a few weeks ago was to attempt to salvage the electric power portion of the St. Lawrence development. According to Committee estimates this was the most expensive part of the plans. However, it was considered, if they could build the power end of the project, sufficient preliminary work, common to both power and navigation, could be completed so that only about $38,600,000 of work would remain out of an estimated $266,170,000. These figures are the inadequate figures being used by proponents. Building of power portion would construct so much of the work necessary to the ultimate completion of the deleterious navigation scheme that proponents reasoned the balance would fall into approval much more easily at a later date. You must remember, however, that many of the proponents of the entire project are sincere believers in results to be derived from the navigation portion and, therefore, this strategic move temporarily met a snag.

If defense had been a competent argument the measure would have been passed many months ago. I can, with pride, say that I do not know of any Member of the Congress, with whom I have the privilege of serving, who would not do everything in his or her power to expedite true war and defense measures.

The Rivers and Harbors Bill as such is not defense and the true war items will be hurt because of the insistence that they be left in the Bill to help pass the pork. To save the Bill it is planned to report it to the House as a war measure. It will be dressed up in war uniform by attaching a specially designed amendment. This is the most recent strategy right from the Central Command of the pork-barrel strategists. The amendment reads, "Provided, that no project herein authorized shall be appropriated for or constructed until six months after the termination of the present wars in which the United States is engaged." . . . that much indicates that the proponents have lost faith in their war argument. It will be argued that this is the authorization of a backlog of public works for after the war. But, it is a shame that there should be a catch or an out. The following language of the amendment is the door in for the wasteful St. Lawrence, as well as other useless, needless projects. Moreover, the following language passes the buck. It reads, "unless the construction of such project has been recommended by an authorized defense agency and approved by the President as being necessary or desirable to the interest of national defense and security and the President has notified the Congress to that effect."

Such language abrogates the peoples Congressional representation. You and I know that the President called this a national defense project last June. You and I know that it will take six to seven years to build the St. Lawrence Seaway, and we also know that it will do nothing for defense. We also know that if we had started the construction ofsteam operating electric power plants in the same vicinity, and at the same time the proposed St. Lawrence was introduced, they would be producing power within a few short months. This emergency action was intentionally delayed to force the St. Lawrence. We can start now building steam plants and be years ahead of St. Lawrence in the production of electric power. I am for prosecuting this war effort expeditiously—and efficiently—eliminating every unnecessary non-war expenditure. St. Lawrence will waste labor and material which are sorely needed for war production. War is the problem of the day. This war must be won as soon as we can win it. I am for forgetting all pet non-war schemes and projects until after this war has been won. Action—not waste—must be the pace of the day. Straightforward purposes and not vacillation is the need of the day.

The St. Lawrence alone will not lose the war for the United States, but the principle of waste and spending being followed in the attempt to promote the St. Lawrence program will add absolutely nothing to the winning of this war.

Using the St. Lawrence Seaway as an example, I appeal to the people of America to help WIN THE WAR by defeating waste and non-war extravagance. It is a fair question for you and your Congressman to answer—Shall we—win the war, or build the St. Lawrence?