"Pearl Harbor Angered Business But It Did Not Frighten It"


By PERCY C. MAGNUS, President of New York State Chocolate and Confectionery Association

At the Hotel Pennsylvania, New York City, February 20, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 338-340.

DEEPLY conscious of the honor that you have afforded me in speaking tonight, I am mindful also of the responsibilities of a businessman who speaks in Public during these momentous times. This is a most significant gathering of our industry.

We are, all of us, in a very sober mood, and I address you in that vein.

There are some here, whose gray and thinning hair give evidence that they were active in business during World War No. 1. But most of you heard the story from your Dads, and this is your baptism of Fire, conducting business under war conditions.

The first war, horrible, as it was, with its tragic loss of lives and property, was small compared with this one. Over all lands, over all seas and in all the air above the entire surface of the earth, mortal combat is raging. Therefore, you youngsters, and we oldsters face conditions without precedent. We must conduct ourselves with no experience to guide us.

Since there is no previous experience, and since we cannot learn the true course from others who have preceded us, We, as intelligent men must resort to our faculties of reasoning. We must think, as we have never thought before. We must summon every faculty of mind and heart to keep our objectives clear, and our courses pointed in the right directions.

Let me emphasize that we must think our way through this. We must think clearly, rationally, and honestly. Unfortunately, for many, that will be a new experience.

During the kaleidoscopic changes that have been taking place, for the past decade, in our social, political, and economic institutions—many of us are guilty of having allowed others to do our thinking for us.

We subscribed to this and that service, we read the headlines of the newspapers, we listened to our favorite radio commentator, and we accepted certain statements and certain conclusions without challenging them.

Many of us have been blinded by traditions, and by our emotions. We said a thing was wrong because up to that time, it had never been done. Or we discarded an idea because we did not like the person who advanced it. We substituted passions for reasoning, or we accepted that which pleased us instead of thinking things through to a logical conclusion.

May Heaven help us, if in this hour of trial, we allow ourselves to be motivated by this process which I choose to call "Synthetic Thinking." It is not real thinking at all. It only resembles thinking.

There is not a man here tonight, who at sometime, during the day, has not thought of his country, and its place in the World War.

Let me say, for the businessmen of America, that we shall not fail.

have perfect confidence in ultimate victory. If the manpower and natural resources of this country are properly organized and properly used, no nation on earth can gain a victory over us.

And let me make it also emphatically clear that businessmen of the United States are 100 per cent behind the President, as the Commander-in-Chief of our Armed Forces, and as the Spokesman of this country in International affairs. The times call for and demand a United America. And business is part of that great union.

And also let me make it emphatically clear that American businessmen are not discouraged, nor are they deeply concerned about the temporary set-backs, and reverses which our Armed forces appear to be suffering at the present time. Pearl Harbor angered business, but it did not frighten it. Our losses in the Philippines, the Malaya Peninsula, and Singapore raise no doubts in the minds of businessmen as to the ultimate outcome. On the contrary, these temporary victories on the part of our enemies, and the losses, that we have sustained, were expected. They caused no surprise, and no chagrin. Their only effect is to make business tighten its belt and take another reef in the sleeves as it buckles down to the tasks.

Let no one doubt the loyalty, the determination, or the power of American business.

But American business is not going to be content with merely synthetic thinking. All over this country American business is buckling down to the hard task of thinking and fighting our way through. And the thing that is uppermost in our minds is the clarion call of democracy.

This is not merely a contest between geographic locations on the earth. This is a war between ideologies of Governments. This is a conflict between a form of Government that recognizes the individual, and the rights of the individual against forms of Governments where the individual is subordinated to the needs and requirements of the State. This is a war between liberty and serfdom. As the American flag is carried into battle on fighting ships, fighting planes, and fighting tanks, carrying fighting men, they are fighting for a Cause, a Cause that was born in this country more than a hundred and fifty years ago, and that has been cherished by succeeding generations.

They are fighting for democracy, for free democratic principles, for democratic institutions, for the rights of individuals, for free speech, free religion, free assembly, and a free press. The right of individuals to own property, the right of men to work, to think, to live, and to worship as they, themselves determine. They are fighting against the forms of government, that regiment them, that shut their mouths and their minds, and against the forces that take their property without the due process of law.

With this thought uppermost in our minds it follows logically that no citizen comprises his Americanism, nor yields in patriotism if he defends those principles against forces within our own country as well as from without.

Oh No! American business is not frightened by Pearl Harbor, the Philippines or Singapore. American business is not the sidewalk Superintendent looking down into that deep excavation where a new building will rise, wondering why the men are shovelling a little dirt here and there, and pouring a little concrete here and there.

They are not impatient to see the Steel structure rise, enclosed by bricks and mortar. Businessmen know that strong and firm foundations must be sunk deep to hold the building when it is erected.

They can see in their minds' eyes, the present potato patch, and corn-field, as the site for the factory which in a few days will be turning out planes and equipment.

Business knows that machine tools must be made before Armament can be fashioned. They are not discouraged, they are not impatient, and they are not thrown into a panic by these temporary military and naval set-backs.

But they would be concerned, and seriously concerned if with their expert knowledge and business experience they saw foundations of government wrongly placed or improperly constructed. They do become aroused and raise their voices if they see the buildings to house society improperly designed or wrongly constructed.

They raise their voices not to the purposes which they shall serve, but to the manner in which they are being done.

So American business today while supporting the President of the United States, and while loyal to this country, feels that it is its duty to point out to the Congress, and to our Chief Executive certain basic things, and respectfully asks that they be corrected without delay.

The American public has just raised its voice in wrath against certain proposed expenditures for Civilian Defense, because the American people desire to send planes and tanks to Douglas MacArthur instead of surrounding a distinguished lady with fan dances.

I cite this, as perhaps an extreme case of the more basic principle which I have in mind.

Unfortunately, the many other criticisms are of deeper implication than the mere appointment of a very minor employee at $4,600 a year. We are spending billions, 26 billions last month, and already 16 billions this month.

Now, clear thinking demands that this money be spent to prosecute the war. We have got to send against Hitler, and Mussolini, something more effective than Donald Duck.

America is willing to spend, but no synthetic thinking should permit the squandering of a single cent. And let me illustrate—when the Depression descended upon us with its devastating force, our Government, wisely, or unwisely, set up a number of highly specialized Depression agencies. These agencies were designed and put into operation because we were in a condition of surpluses. We had surplus manpower, hence unemployment, and distress. We had surplus agricultural products, hence slaughtered pigs, plowed under cotton, and the taking of land under production.

We had surpluses from our mines and our factories. Government agencies were put into being to alleviate the distress caused by a condition of surpluses.

Today, the picture has changed completely. Instead of unemployment, we have labor shortages. Faced with the necessity of feeding the world, the Department of Agriculture is urging increased production.

Large factories have ceased producing for civilian needs, and have gone into war work. Shipyards that were idle are now humming with activity.

Clear thinking leads to the inevitable conclusion that we are in a period of scarcity.

Yet the appalling fact stands out sharply, that all the Government agencies created to deal with surpluses are still in existence in a period of shortages. And they are costing the American people billions of dollars to maintain.

American business most respectfully, and most loyally recommends to the Congress and to the President of this nation that all non-defense activities of Government be drastically curtailed, so that the public's money, and the manpower may be used effectively for war purposes.

We hear that this war is going to cost the American people the staggering sum of one hundred and fifty billions of dollars. The American people approve and business joins in the chorus. The job must be done whatever the cost. But again, please let us keep our thinking straight. Let us not go off on any tangents of synthetic thinking. Merely spending money is not going to win this war. We are not going to defeat Germany, Italy and Japan simply by an orgy of spending.

We didn't succeed in spending our way out of the Depression. Are we too naive as to hope that we can spend our way to victory!

Most respectfully, most sincerely, and may I hope to add, most patriotically, do businessmen point out to Congress and to the President, that Victory can only come, not by how much we spend but by how wisely we spend it.

If synthetic thinking measures national strength in terms of natural resources and available cash funds, then it must follow that Germany, Italy and Japan were licked even before they started.

We were told that they had no steel, no oil, no coal, and were short on foodstuffs. We were told that their bankruptcy economy could not stand up but would collapse. Well perhaps so, but to the average American citizen, they don't look like "Push-Overs" right now. And it is pretty safe to assume that "social advances," "labor's gains," and "Agricultural parity" are not at the top of the enemy's war program.

In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act was passed, and the Labor Board was established. Employers were berated and condemned in the preamble to the Act. This was hailed as a great social gain.

Businessmen, with no thought of taking advantage of labor, respectfully point out that the best interests of the United States, at this time of crisis, lie at the end of the production line, and not in the social implications at the employment gate.

It won't do our Government any good to drop a new labor decision of the Supreme Court on a Japanese destroyer, and a new ruling of the National Labor Relations Board won't be very effective on Bataan Peninsula.

Business wishes that the American public would become aroused over these more fundamental issues rather than merely objecting to fan dancing our way into Berlin or Tokio.

Our America now needs Organization. It needs management. It needs production. A law marking a new social gain can never build an aeroplane. A fireside chat won't produce a tank, and a host of Government propaganda bureaus won't yield a single capital ship.

Businessmen most respectfully petition—our Government to save money, save time, save manpower on non-defense items and utilize them fully for war purposes.

The People of the United States received a recent statement by the President of the United States. It should go down as one of the greatest statements of all American history. It went to the core. President Roosevelt said insubstance that all parasites should get out of Washington. Businessmen hasten to add that many who are filling Federal offices, spending taxpayers' money, who are there hoping to change our form of Government, and who are contributing nothing to the war effort should be in the vanguard of those who are to be driven out of Washington.

Now, if anyone here is shocked by what I have said tonight, or have reservations in their own minds as to the propriety of such statements, let me assure them that I have one firm belief. We in the United States are still in a democracy. And let me remind them that our Allies in this war namely, Great Britain is a Democracy.

It is not treasonable, nor is it unpatriotic in those countries that are part of the British Commonwealth of Nations to raise a voice in protest to the manner in which public affairs are conducted.

At this very moment there is raised, all over the British Empire, the strongest kind of resentment over the debacle at Singapore, and the escape of the German navy. Citizens, the British Press, and members of Parliament are at perfect liberty to express opposition views.

They do it there and really contribute to a better plan of action and a better choice of leaders.

No one has ever told me that America is not a democracy.

No one has ever told me that the right of free thinking and free speech has been abridged and can only be exercised, during the war, by "yes" men.

If they do tell me, I won't believe them, but will continue to exercise the constitutional right of every American.

I, for one have no intention of accepting platitudiness utterances, and phrase making in lieu of fighting American qualities. I refuse to let anyone, or any group tell me that I can't understand and reason things for myself. I, for one, refuse to have my thinking done for me, and I respectfully call upon all of you even in this hour of emergency to discard synthetic thinking.

I implore businessmen, throughout the United States to think clearly, and then take vigorous action based upon sound conclusions.

My Fellow Businessmen, throughout the United States, e have the biggest job and the greatest responsibilities that have ever been assigned to anyone. We can win this war. We are going to win this war. But let us not make too many costly mistakes at the start. Let us resolve to think clearly, and to work hard.

"To the victor belong the spoils." The spoils of victory of this war will be the responsibilities of a new world and a new kind of a peace. The best formula for victory, for peace and for the new world is a mixture of brains and sweat.