"Let Us Do More Proposing Than Opposing"


By WENDELL L. WILLKIE, Presidential Candidate in 1940

At the Lincoln birthday dinner of the Middlesex Club in Boston, February 12, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 297-299.

WE have met here tonight to honor the memory of Abraham Lincoln, who guided our people through the hardships and suffering of a war between the States and left us the heritage of a united nation.

Today the nation again is confronted with one of the great crises of its history. It is particularly important for us, the Republicans, to remember that Lincoln's sufficiently difficult task was made vastly more difficult by purely negative opposition and criticism. For we of the party of Lincoln now stand in the minority in our national politics. Traditionally the role of the minority is one of negation—of all-out opposition. What the party in power stands for, the party out of power is against.

Almost it may be said, whatever the issue, whatever the method, whatever the emergency, the attitude of the minority has been that those in power are notoriously incompetent and grievously wrong. I do not exaggerate when I assert this.

Now the strategy of this minority attitude of continual negation is based on the assumption that the majority, being composed of human beings, must ultimately commit an error. When it does so there is the fond dream that the public gaze will shift to the minority, standing there in its habitual opposition role, vindicated at last. And if the issue be grave and the error sufficiently consequential, the public, it is hoped, will applaud the minority for its acumen and reward it for its perseverance.

Now I believe the mistakes of any great political party, entrusted with the responsibilities of the American Government, in times of a national emergency, are inevitably less than in normal times. For the emergency itself often determines a course which any party in power would follow. So as a matter of practical politics, when you always oppose, under such circumstances, you take the short odds.

Furthermore, and this is more important, such a policy permits the majority to dictate not only its own, but its opposition's course. It can establish its policies with the assuredness that the minority will show up punctiliously on the other side. It can clean the tree of the best apples, knowing that the minority will run to get the blemished fruit. A program that cares for nothing and strives for nothing except to show that the majority is mistaken and untrustworthy, never has impressed me as being worthy of public confidence, even in ordinary times. It is politics in its dullest and most unworthy aspect.

Now, I recognize the merits of intelligent debate and believe in the right of protest and criticism. But I do not intend in the formation of my opinion to be chained by a need to oppose any more than I intend to be rendered innocuous by a need to acquiesce. A man or a party that is under a compulsion either to agree or to disagree is a controlled mind or party. I want to be a free mind. Now I want the Republican party to be a free party—free to develop its own policies; free to stand on the side of sound thinking and right, whoever may espouse it or whoever may oppose it.

I see no way of preserving the principles for which the Republican party stands, except by preserving the America of which it is a part. Now, unfortunately, there are a fewwho are imbued with the partisanship that blinds them to all other considerations. They would, perhaps unconsciously, risk even national defeat in order to discomfort the party in power.

But there are many more who would simply follow a passive course. They go along. They vote the necessary war powers. But they counsel that the Republican party should not develop an affirmative program at this time. It should await the inevitable reaction from this war. They draw attention to the annoyances of war. They point to the high taxes and the enormous national debt. They recall the throwback to intense nationalism which followed the first World War. They insist that the United States, in the grief and the distress and inconvenience that must be a consequence of the present conflict, will turn from the party in power. And they believe, therefore, that the Republican party will then come back into office on an inheritance of discontent. I have no faith in such a theory.

We have reached a point in public enlightenment where I am sure the people will see through such narrow self-interest and give it its just due. But even if I thought it would work, I would still be against such a course. For I would not see the United States of the future made up of the backwash of the past. I would not have my party rely on the logic of luck or the calculus of expediency. I would not have the party of Abraham Lincoln merely "going along" when freedom itself is at stake.

To the Republican party I would say, let us not use magnifying glasses solely to seek flaws in the program of the majority, but let us focus the lens on our own program as well and adjust it directly on the national welfare. For the two-party system can be preserved only if the Republican party becomes and remains a constructive force. Let us do more proposing than opposing. Let us exercise our freedom by developing our own policies. Let us work to put every resource of this great nation into the struggle for victory. Let us sacrifice every partisan advantage, if that is necessary, to win this war. Let us venture all, for all is at stake.

Many people are impatient—and justly impatient—with the conduct of the war. It has not opened auspiciously. Pearl Harbor undoubtedly stands as the greatest naval reversal of our history, and there was added to it the loss of many of our air resources of the Pacific. But we have the strength and we have fortitude to sustain initial defeat. It is not new in our history that our entry into warfare has been accompanied by disaster. In the first battle of the Revolution our Army was driven from Breed's Hill. Almost the earliest news of our War of 1812 told of Hull's ignominious surrender of Detroit. The War for the Union began with the debacle of Bull Run.

In all of these instances, defeat proved salutary, and awakened the nation to the gravity of the conflict. Such, I hope, will be the case of Pearl Harbor. For in spite of the tragic waste of men and materials, it may have the advantage of really stiffening us to the knowledge that this struggle is no mere paper war; that its end will be no rah, rah, easy American victory.

Let's take a look at the balance sheet of this war to date. There are things on the credit side. And I like to believe that the party of which I am a member is in a measure responsible for some of these credits. President Roosevelt, after twenty months of insistent demand, has at last appointed a supreme director of industrial production and so has unleashed our great productive capacity. And now our airplane production is not just talk. We shall not meet this year the extravagant predictions that official quarters have made. But we shall, despite a slow start due to confused organization, produce an astonishing number of planes.

I have every reason to believe that our industry will produce at least 50,000 aircraft engines this year. The Administration has finally realized that planes are useless unless brought into contact with the enemy. And by the end of June pilots will be in training at the rate of about 40,000 a year. The $5,000,000,000 automobile industry is being converted almost overnight to war production.

And this year we shall launch 6,000,000 tons of merchant shipping, more than the whole merchant fleet of Japan. These ships will be an auxiliary arm of our naval forces. Our production of tanks has been tremendously accelerated. Our large-scale manufacture of guns and ammunition is beginning to function. The Japanese bombs that fell on Pearl Harbor brought realization of what we have long advocated: that America can become strong and remain free only through production. So, at last, the mainsprings of American industry have been touched off and it is in motion.

These things we may be glad of.

Now let's look at the debit side. It is, of course, in relation to this side that the Republican party can be most useful. For we can exercise our influence to bring about correction of abuses and mistakes. And that influence will be great if the people of the country are convinced that our criticism is honest and our remedies constructive.

There is no need to say more about the well-nigh incredible lack of alertness at Pearl Harbor. Nor the lack of awareness in Washington that the command in Pearl Harbor was not alert. There is no need, either, to point out the preposterously ineffectual manner in which the government's labor policy—if anything so vacillating can be called a policy—has been handled. The country is well aware of it.

That problem will not be solved by temporary expedience nor will it be solved by plans for labor peace in which the President of the United States acts as arbitrator of jurisdictional differences between rival unions. In times such as these the President has not the time or the strength to give attention to each individual problem; nor is it proper that he should. The confusion in the labor situation arises from the same cause as the confusion which we had so long in the industrial field: the inability of this Administration to understand that effective executives know how to delegate authority.

The next great need in the organization and smooth running of our defense program is the appointment of an individual respected by labor to deal with labor problems. In other words, we need a Bevin, not a Perkins.

On the debit side we have the startling fact that the Secretary of State, Mr. Cordell Hull, no longer is completely entrusted with full authority in the handling and the enunciation of the government's foreign policy. In his place, however, Secretary of the Navy Knox has come forward as a ready volunteer. It is to be recalled that this doughty public servant was assuring the nation in the morning papers of Sunday, December 7, 1941, in bold headlines, that "the Navy is ready." It was on that very afternoon that the radio frantically broadcast the news of Pearl Harbor.

In his spokesman's role (whether self-assumed or administration inspired), Mr. Knox made known to the other nations that we were fighting Hitler first, which meant we could not be so concerned about the affairs in the Far East. Such gratuitous comment could not be expected to serve our best interests or encourage our associates battling against the aggression of Japan.

Mr. Knox subsequently has found out that we are fighting everywhere. It is to be hoped that he will hereafter confine his attentions to that fighting and leave statements of policy in regard to other nations to our Secretary of State. The country, irrespective of party, and the world outside has confidence in Mr. Hull. Mr. Knox is another matter, even under censorship.

Economic warfare, though not as glamorous as military warfare, is almost as important and is inherently related to the conduct of the affairs of state. Recently, the President transferred its planning to a group under the direction of Vice President Wallace, thus further reducing the prestige and the effectiveness of the State Department.

Organizations independent of the State Department have been set up within the government to collect information about and disseminate information to foreign countries. This again is a disorganizing influence in the conduct of our foreign affairs. And it does not help to have the clearance of the statements by government officials and Cabinet Ministers affecting international problems put into the hands of Mr. Archibald MacLeish—however able—instead of into the hands of the Secretary of State.

In the case of production and labor the confusion has arisen from failure to appoint administrators. In the case of the State Department we see our most respected department of government gradually being destroyed by a process of nibbling at the authority of the administrator, whose office dates from the very inception of the country itself. And all because this Administration did not know and has not learned by experience the basic principles of organization.

In forcing the necessary reforms in organization to correct these situations, Republicans will find God's plenty to do. For the resultant confusion of these and similar failures permeates the entire government.

Lincoln faced the same problem that the Administration faces today; but he learned. Again and again, he experienced the failures of divided Army leadership. Then he appointed Grant to supreme command, and unity of military movement was established. In a message to Congress he explained his reasoning. And I want to quote to you from that message of his:

"It has been said that one bad general is better than two good ones; and the saying is true, if taken to mean no more than that an army is better directed by a single mind, though inferior, than by two superior ones at variance and cross-purposes with each other. And the same is true in all joint operations wherein those engaged can have none but a common end in view, and can differ only as to the choice of means." These were the words of Abraham Lincoln.

I am not a military expert; I should not presume to tell trained military experts how to conduct this war. It is obvious, however, that there is unnecessary waste of effort, lack of mutual confidence and central "direction" among our various fighting forces. One thing stands out clearly to any man of experience. The Army and Navy are old services in this country's history. As in any other established profession, they have collected deadwood, more perhaps than in any other profession, they have collected red tape.

We are now engaged in fighting a modern war against the greatest exponents of modern warfare. Our older services, with, naturally, their oldest men at the top, have found it hard to change their old methods; hard to realize the value and proper use of new ones. The air force, on the other hand, is a relatively new branch of the armed forces; it has not had time to acquire much deadwood; by its very nature it has encouraged individual initiative—not discouraged it, as has been too often the case in the regimentation of the older services, particularly in the Army. It has the advantage over those services of being largely made up of young men whose whole experience has been that of modern warfare.

Many of the men of the air service are bitter today. They say: "We are engaged in a war where the importance of the air forces has been demonstrated again and again! Yet airpower is not being properly used. Congress has just voted large sums of money to build a gigantic air fleet. Training camps for pilots are springing up all over the country. But air officers have come up against stone walls of prejudice and ignorance in the War Department in the proper use of that fleet and those pilots. The man who offers constructive criticism risks court-martial." And these airmen add bitterly,-"The Navy still believes that an air bomber cannot sink a battleship."

I am not trying to argue that the air force is the most important force. I speak of this feeling among air men only as an insistence that proper coordination of the air force seems lacking. That once more organization has failed.

It seems fairly apparent even to an inexpert mind, that each of the services has a proper and important function; that each should fulfill that function to a common end. The government's aim, therefore, should be to see that deadwood, red tape, jealousies and prejudices do not obstruct that end. To bring about effective cooperation one man should direct the military services. Ordinarily it might be hard, it might be almost impossible to find such a man.

But as the last two months have proved, we have the man —the one man in all our forces who has learned from first hand, contemporary experience the value and the proper use of Army, Navy and air forces fighting together toward one end; the man who on Bataan Peninsula has accomplished what was regarded as the impossible by his brilliant tactical sense; the man who almost alone has given his fellow countrymen confidence and hope in the conduct of this war—General Douglas MacArthur.

MacArthur has long known the nature of this war. In 1933, when Chief of Staff, he foresaw the complete strategy of the Blitzkrieg as the method of modern warfare and so reported to the War Department. Steadily he carried on his fight against the opposition of Congress and of his fellow officers to convince them that the new war would demand a mechanized army; swift mobility of small units; and complete coordination of the air force for defense of coast lines, attack against ships and ground troops and for bombardment of supply lines. He argued that the new war would not be fought by an army or a navy or an air force, but by, and I want to quote from his report, "a nation at war, rather than a nation in arms" with the fighting forces "only the cutting edge"; he saw that a great proportion of the employable population would find its war duty in developing economic and industrial resources for an adequate munitions supply and the sustenance of the civilian population; he pointed out that "any major war of the future will see every belligerent nation highly organized for the single purpose of victory."

Bring Douglas MacArthur home. Place him at the very top. Keep bureaucratic and political hands off him. Give him the responsibility and the power of coordinating all the armed forces of the nation to their most effective use. Put him in supreme command of our armed forces under the President.

Then the people of the United States will have reason to hope that skill, not bungling and confusion, directs their efforts.

My fellow Americans: Millions on millions are on the march with fanatical zeal and ruthless determination to blot out forever the ways of freedom everywhere. They will surely succeed unless all our resources are mobilized immediately and directed wisely. The day of phrase making and showmanship for those in government is past. The time for petty political opposition and negation is over. This is the day for tough and resolute men; this is the hour for patriotic men.