America and the World Crisis
"IS THE BRITISH EMPIRE WORTH SAVING?"
By DR. D. F. FLEMING, Teacher and Author
Over radio station WSM, Nashville, Tennessee, February 25, 1942
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 347-348.
SINCE the fall of Singapore, there has been a great volume of criticism of the British, especially for their poor defense of Malaya. There has also cropped out a lot of anti-British feeling on broader grounds. Tonight I would like to consider the whole question of our relation to Britain. Can the British Empire be saved? Do we want it saved? Would it injure us especially if the Empire disintegrated?
Let us begin with Singapore and Malaya. There undoubtedly was great incompetence in the leadership of the local tycoons and military men. They relied on the jungle to defend them; they under-estimated the enemy completely; they did not organize and arm the natives. They fled before the enemy. It must be added in fairness that they had too few weapons, especially planes. Without equality in planes, they could hardly have held Malaya indefinitely, but nevertheless, the defense should have been prolonged much more than it was.
Something is clearly wrong with British colonialism in that area. Something is wrong, too, with the Tory mentality which has governed Britain most of the time since the last war and which relied on appeasing Hitler and Mussolini because the Tories feared the loss of their possessions, including colonies, if war came. The whole appeasement policy was as short-sighted as it was selfish. I have condemned it by the hour, in print and otherwise. I am convinced also that the people of Britain, as distinguished from the Imperialist class, must and will have hereafter a larger share in the control of Britain's destinies.
I think it is clear, too, that a much larger degree of self-government will have to be conceded to India—and should be conceded at once. On our side, the war cannot be a war to defend liberty in the West and to deny it in the East. The people of India won't fight as we need them to fight on any basis like that. The war must be a struggle to defend and advance freedom in all parts of the world.
Yet it does not follow automatically that India should be given full independence at once. The demand of the Indian non-party conference for full dominion status seems to me more reasonable. The situation in India is complex in the extreme, racially, religiously, and in other respects. The survival of a large number of semi-independent princes also complicates the problem. It is not certain that a people
which has never governed itself successfully by democratic methods should be suddenly called upon to do so. Democracy is strongest today where its growth has been longest. It has perished lately in countries like Italy and Germany where its growth was new and its roots shallow. We may grant that Ireland should have had full self-government much sooner, without it being necessarily true that India is ready for full independence now.
What is clear beyond doubt is that the British have led the Indian people a long way toward independence. I am not certain that the British Imperialists have so intended, but they have educated young Indians, both in England and in India, in the whole philosophy of free institutions. They have also, even if grudgingly, granted the Indians successively greater degrees of participation in their own government.
The point which it is absolutely vital for us to understand is that throughout her imperial history the rule of Britain over her empire has been a relaxing one. Our own history proves that. Nobody in London ever planned or desired the American Revolution, but they did give us as colonials so much practical freedom that we rebelled against comparatively mild restraints and took complete control of our affairs. At the start of our Revolution, we were not seeking independence, but only to defend the ancient rights of Englishmen.
From 1776 to this moment, also, the very same process has been going on—not by revolution mainly, but by evolution. Consider Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Eire—the great self-governing dominions. Each of these countries is now an independent nation in everything but name. Both in law and in practice, they are in a position of full equality with the United Kingdom; and, with the possible exception of Ireland, whose territory is vital to British security, they could assume a totally independent status at will. That with the exception of Eire they fight when Britain fights is due to their own free choice, not to any compulsion that Britain could or would exercise.
This state of affairs is one of enormous significance for democracy and for human freedom. If we miss the point here, we misread the whole world situation. We must keep the free British dominions in mind to understand the terrible calamity which would befall the world if the German and
Japanese Empire grabbers took over. Then the relaxing, educating, civilizing hand of Britain would be replaced by the iron grip of ruthless exploitation, with permanent degradation and enslavement for the people of Malaya, India, China and every other territory taken over.
About this the Nazis and Japanese have not left the slightest doubt. There is nothing whatsoever in any of their doctrines which points to anything but slavery for the conquered, and their acts in every conquered country—Korea, Manchuria and China; Poland, France and Greece—have not left the smallest doubt about the fate of the peoples conquered by them.
If then we must choose between the British Empire and the Nazi or Japanese brands, every instinct of self-preservation demands that we choose the British. In every part of the British Empire the wind is moving slowly, perhaps, but surely, toward greater self-government; in the totalitarian empires, it blows in the other direction with cyclonic force.
But there is a more urgent sense in which we require the survival of the British countries. Nobody can doubt that all the dominions are more like us and closer to us than any other peoples in the world. They also occupy strategic lands which in hostile hands would make our defense precarious, to say the least. Britain herself, too, is the chief bulwark of our defense. We have partly forgotten that lately, but we dare not forget it. If Britain had fallen or should fall, our position today would be nothing short of desperate. Whatever else Britain is, her island is the principal fortress in our defenses. As things now stand our coasts are besieged by hostile war craft, both East and West. Should Britain fall—and Australia—we would know at once what it means to stand alone, without allies, in a gangster world.
Are we not obliged then to temper our criticism of British weakness and blundering? If they have disappointed us, we have also let them down—at Pearl Harbor, and by entering the war so late with so little. There is muddling and in-
efficiency on our side as well as theirs, and we have only the truly heroic stand of MacArthur's men to match against the immortal grit with which the plain people of England stood in the breach, holding in the Nazi tide, when nobody else could or would. There is a debt we shall be long in repaying.
For more than two years, also, the British have been holding a thin line stretching all the way around the world, with only the help of our lend-lease aid. That aid was generous, in our own self-interest, but the feat of the British is still stupendous. It is not true, either, that the British themselves have shirked. More than seventy per cent of all casualties so far have been among the men of Great Britain, not the dominions or colonials.
Now what of the future? Can we get along without the British nations? On the contrary, we need their help more than ever—still to hold the lines until we finally get mobilized, then to aid in the hard fighting that may long continue. We do not have a single ally that we can spare and we must be careful that our criticism of British errors does not weaken morale where we greatly need it to hold.
Beyond the war, too, the aid of the many units of the British commonwealth of nations is essential to the new world which must be organized. Without them what chance would we have of getting a world organization strong enough to keep the peace? Or if you should prefer to think of trying to enforce peace by our own power alone, what chance of success would there be without control of the strategic points lying in the British domains?
From any standpoint our partnership with the nations in the British commonwealth is absolutely vital to a stable world. True enough the center of power is moving to the United States. We shall have to assume the leadership hereafter, but it can only be leadership. We shall require the help of many other peoples to get—and keep—a decent, livable world.
American Finance and Business in Khaki
THE TIME TO TALK CONSTRUCTIVELY TO THE PUBLIC IS NOW
By MERRYLE STANLEY RUKEYSER
At Mid-Winter Meeting of the Ohio Bankers Association, Columbus, Ohio, February 12, 1942
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 348-34 .
1AM glad you were able to stay, Governor Bricker, because I never like to attack a public man when he isn't present. Happily today I don't have to perform that job because I say with all sincerity that it has been a matter of inspiration to many of us in other commonwealths to know that you have in Ohio a chief executive who has found a way to succeed in politics while at the same time remaining faithful to simple arithmetic.
It is a great matter of discipline and inspiration to all of us to know that you have a chief executive in Ohio, a man who doesn't find that a state surplus burns a hole in his pocket. Don't just applaud him here in front of his face; go out on the street corners where that doctrine isn't so much appreciated and fight for that principle because, as our great President once said, more democracies are wrecked on the rocks of fiscal ineptitude than in any other way.
I have been very much impressed with the streamlined meeting that your Ohio Bankers' Association holds at its midwinter conference, selecting a holiday and crowding it
into a few hours. I think that is a good example for all of the other banking associations of the nation and for all the other business conventions of the nation. Why, we can end the job of licking the Japs and the Germans and the Italians by at least a month if we conserve on the time of bankers and business executives and men who can be more productive than sitting around at protracted wartime sessions of hot air.
I want to say a few words to you today about the opportunities that you men in finance have to be of service to your nation at this very critical time. As I see it, bankers are intelligent centers in their communities and they are privileged to take an overall view of their local economy to see not only the problems of one business, but the interrelations of all business, and as such they are in better position than the individual businessman to interpret the effect of putting the national economy in khaki on individual enterprises and they can render a great patriotic service by preparing their townsmen for the inevitable and getting them ready for the bumps so that they are not taken by surprise. And that involves