The Road to Peace


By JOHN W. BOEHNE, JR., Congressman from Indiana

Delivered Before the Bronx Real Estate Board Dinner, March 21, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 446-448.

WE are engaged in a mortal combat with a ruthless enemy. This enemy has for his controlling purpose the destruction of everything that has been built in the last 150 years, an enemy determined to plow under the civilization we know, an enemy who has no respect for the property of others, and whose determination to win is complete and absolute. In spite of the patriotic and oratorical outburst of statesmen and politicians, that enemy is winning and we are losing. Today, that enemy laughs at our feeble efforts to protect ourselves, confident that the millennium of tyranny is at hand, confident that destiny has decreed the death of all popular government, and that we, the United States of America, the arch conspirator of the age, can and will bow in homage and adoration to the self-appointed rulers of the world. History is about to end another volume. The last chapter in that volume is being written now. We, living in the last stronghold of freedom, where human rights are still respected and protected, are privileged to write that last chapter, but just as surely as we are gathered here tonight, just so surely are we writing either our own epitaph or the birth certificate of a new freedom for the peoples of the world. The patriotism in our hearts translated into heroic and positive action is the one thing left to us, which can tip the scales toward the side of freedom and justice for all.

Although it is immaterial now to lay the blame for our precarious position on any strata of society, yet it is well to remind ourselves of our own shortcomings, so that we may not only avoid the pitfalls that previously beset us, but will teach us what to avoid in the light of the immediate past history of fallen and decadent nations. Naturally, I use the word "we" in its all inclusive sense.

Everyone of us, regardless of our station in life, has been asleep at the switch. Twenty years ago we were lulled into an unnatural sleep, dreaming all the while that the world had finally emerged from the maelstrom of power politics. We believed that all of the world held us in the highest esteem, and that allies and conquered alike would go their way with serenity, and that war had been forever erased from the face of the earth. We not only dreamed that dream, but we believed it even after we were awakened. While we were thus engaged in this unconscious nationalism, the very thing that we had fought to eradicate reared its ugly head. We believed Adolf Hitler when he said following his marchinto Sudetenland, that that was the extent to which he desired to go, that he wanted only to relieve the German oppressed in the territory of Czechoslovakia. That was the beginning of the march. Of course, as citizens and as a Government, we denounced the conquest of the Scandinavian countries, and it was not until the fall of the Republic of France, that we awakened from the dream to realize that time and space was not the fortress we believed them to be.

Then came December 7, 1941, a day that will be remembered throughout all history, first, because of an unprecedented attack by one nation upon another while at the moment envoys of one nation were in the capital of the other, promising nothing save peace and good will. That day changed the course of all twentieth century history, because, in the course of 1 hour, a disunited nation became a united nation, with the primary objective of the complete annihilation of those forces of the world which had for their weapons tyranny and ruthlessness, whose ultimate objective was the complete domination of the entire world.

We hear much of complacency. One group blames the other. Industry blames labor; labor blames industry; Government blames both. The American people should tonight rise up in righteous wrath and indignation to blame all three, because all three have been found guilty.

Wherein lies the guilt of industry?

When the United States Government under the leadership of the President of the United States, determined upon an aggressive policy of hemisphere defense, business was invited to accept contracts for the manufacture of the sinews of war. Show me one manufacturer who came to Washington in the early days of our defense program inquiring about the needs of the Federal Government, and displaying a willingness to do a job, and I will show you a hundred who veered away from the very idea of giving up a part of their plant for this purpose. It can even be shown that many firms refused contracts because they were sure that the people of the United States would never again permit this country to engage in a war, and with that certainty, they wanted to be in a position to keep their own lines open, and continue the manufacture of products for domestic consumption. Many businessmen advised their Representatives in Congress that the Federal Government would have to offer an inducement, and in most cases, a compensatory inducement, for them to even consider a change. This is noidle talk, because any man who occupied the responsible position of a Representative in Congress during the past 5 years has ample evidence in his letter files of the charge that is made.

Wherein lies the guilt of labor?

During the past 10 years, labor has risen from a commodity status to a service status. It had been held in subjection to the point, that in 1932, a revolt of the masses occurred. Since that time, labor has risen as a service, and quite properly so, but unless it can divorce itself soon from those who are using it as a pawn for their own agrandizement, it will again be relegated to the status of a commodity, and no right-thinking American citizen wants that to occur. Honest men may differ, not on the position of labor in human society, but in the method to be used to attain that equilibrium so necessary for the production of war material. In peace, it is entirely legitimate for industry and labor to spar for advantage. In war, it is equally legitimate for the Government, which after all is the people of the United States, to see to it that neither spar for an advantage, but be obliged to act in perfect harmony looking only toward the one goal, the winning of an all-out war. A patriotic American workingman needs no inducement in order to prove his patriotism. He does insist upon equal treatment under the law, no more and no less.

Therefore, it is high time that a very definite wartime labor policy not only be framed, but energetically lived up to. The important thing now is not hours of labor. The important thing now is total production so that our sons, who are going out on the far-flung battlefields of the world, risking their lives 24 hours of the day, may know that the folks at home are not only cheering them on, but working like madmen to produce the things they need to defend themselves with. Wherein lies the guilt of Government? For the past few years the Government in Washington, and I am a small part of it, has been dangling the gold of Midas before an unwary public, not realizing that the sword of Damocles was hanging perilously close to the thread between life and death. Spending and more spending was the watchword, and be it said for the defense of Congress, the American people, at least most of them, felt that there was no limit to the capacity of this cornucopia in the Treasury of the United States. However, the frailties of man were clearly shown in the huge appropriations made by the Congress of the United States, which listened only to the pleas of organized minorities for pork and more pork. A case was made for the farmer, for labor, for the businessman, for the social security of all men, but the case for the soundness of the structure known as the United States of America was not made, much less considered. Boondoggling was rampant then and is worse today. We are still issuing pamphlets on the love life of a bullfrog, and fiddling while civilization is being burned at the stake. Buildings are being erected probably for the purpose of getting officeholders from out of the rain. Bureaus have been set up that have no earthly use except for the housing of political pap, and what pap some of it is! Just the other day a manufacturer came to Washington who was in need of a small amount of copper to complete a given job so that he could clear out his plant for defense contracts. He came into the office of a bureau chief and told this chief of his absolute need for 10 tons of copper. The chief replied that that would be an easy matter to secure. Thereupon, the businessman said, "Do you realize how many pounds that is?" The chief was stumped, turned to his secretary and asked, "How many pounds are there in a ton of copper?" Another incident, which at first blush is funny, but uponsecond thought is frightful. About 5 weeks ago, another businessman came into the office of a bureau, which has since been merged with another, and told of his need for 40 tons of brass. The Government official said he could probably get an A-1 priority rating, but that he would first have to find out where the largest mineral deposits of brass might be found.

Unless this wanton waste of wealth is stopped and stopped immediately, our sons need not continue their fight for freedom, because not even freedom will be left when the last shot is fired. Your Representatives in Congress need to be aroused, and it seems as though there may be only one method left to arouse them now, and that is for the American people to get tough, promising their legislators that if they vote for this or that useless appropriation, they would meet them with a brass band at the polls next November and retire them forever from public office.

Every one of us needs to be awakened to the grave peril that confronts this Nation. We need to be told again and again of the humiliating defeats that we have suffered in the first 3 months of this war. We need to be told that we can lose this war, and are consistently losing it now. We cannot pride ourselves on the fact that we have never lost a war. History shows that in all of our past wars, something has intervened to bring about victory, something outside of the military strength of this great country. That was true in the Revolution, that was true in the War of 1812, that was true in the Spanish-American War, and that was true in the first World War. Today, however, it is equally true that the two oceans, which up to now had been considered fortresses of incalculable strength are mere highways for all kinds of engines of destruction, and our enemies lie off the coast on both sides of the country.

Recently, the brilliant director of all war production, Donald M. Nelson, appealed to the American people, and particularly to industry and labor, for a 168-hour workweek for every plant and machine. He asked for maximum production. He was applauded from one end of the country to the other. I was interested in an editorial following that address to the Nation, which was a very timely one. It bears repetition here, in answer to the question, "Can we get this necessary industrial output?":

"Not on the present basis—not under the psychology of recent years.

"Not until we quit thinking in terms of less work for more money.

"Not while there is greater concern about overtime pay than overtime production.

"Not while farmer politicians are more interested in higher prices than raising more essentials.

"Not while Government bureaus—created to meet a depression emergency that is ended—continue to grab for themselves money needed for armaments.

"Not while an army of Federal press agents clamors to promote and perpetuate activities that have no present need or value.

"Not while Congressmen try to put over useless canals and river schemes and take up the time of defense officials clamoring for factories and contracts as if war were a great gravy train.

"Not while Work Projects Administration, despite a shortage of labor, seeks to carry on projects which it doesn't have the men to perform or the need for performing.

"Not while the Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Youth Administration stretch greedy hands for funds to pamper young men who ought to be in the armed forces or the war plants.

"Not while strikes hamper war production, despite a solemn promise that they would stop.

"Not while the life-and-death need for uninterrupted production is used as a weapon to put over the closed shop.

"Not while double time is demanded for Sunday work which is only part of a 40-hour week.

"Not while a man can't be employed on an Army project or in a plant until he pays $20 to $50 or more to labor racketeers.

"Not while criminal gangs control employment and allocation of men to work on the Normandie and the other ships along New York's vast water front.

"Not while fifth columnists are pampered and enemy aliens move freely in defense areas,

"Not while the grim job of preparing our home communities against air raids and sabotage is gummed up with a lot of highfalutin, boondoggling, social-service activity.

"Not while pressure blocs clamor for higher benefits, bounties, and pensions.

"We will not get maximum production, in short, unless, first, we fully realize our awful peril; and, second, get over the gimmes of recent years.

"Gimme shorter hours; gimme higher wages; gimme bigger profits; gimme more overtime; gimme less work; gimme more pensions; gimme greater crop benefits; gimme more appropriations and patronage; gimme plants for my congressional district; gimme fees and dues to work for Uncle Sam; gimme ham'n eggs; gimme share-the-wealth; gimme $30 every Thursday.

"France had the gimmes, too—had them till the Germans were too close to Paris. Then everybody went frantically to work—too late.

"France has no gimmes today—except gimme food for my baby; gimme a place to lay my head; gimme death."

Many of the hardships man has endured are brought upon himself, and that, is especially true of war and the depressions which usually follow the mass destruction of men and things. For many years there has hung on the right wall of the rotunda of our National Capitol, as you enter from the House side, a beautiful mural depicting De Soto's discovery of the Mississippi, where he was buried. Bancroft, speaking of that discovery, said, "He traveled across half a continent in search of gold, and all he found was his burial place." While the profit motive is the mainspring of human action and private enterprise the foundation of a democratic way of life, it has been difficult for men and nations to put into actual practice a fundamental principle of the English common law, founded, of course, upon the ethical teachings of the Bible, that a man must so use his own as not to injure another.

Future historians, after describing the search-of-gold policy which actuated the nations of the world, including particularly our own, following the Versailles Treaty, will then record the many popular misconceptions which preceded the new World War and have marked its various phases. The first dangerous error was that everybody remembered how terrible the last war was and, therefore, assumed Hitler was just bluffing. Then we had the misconception of what autumnal rains would do to the German armies in Poland, the phony war period while Germany was gathering strength to move through the Low Countries and overwhelm France, the invincibility of the so-called best-in-the-world French Army, the inability of England to survive after Dunkirk, the unwillingness of Hitler to fight on his eastern front while still engaged on the western, the inability of the Russians to trade blows with the Germans, and last but not least, the dangerous fallacy so widespread in this country that Congress could vote for a war program and the deed was done.

But there are some in the South who remember the South Carolina fire eater who proudly proclaimed in the spring of 1861, "We can beat the Yankees with cornstalks." The same southern leader, later, running for public office, after the South had been overwhelmed, not because it lacked bravery or military genius, was reminded of his previous boast, to which the colonel replied, "My friends, I did make that statement, but the damned Yankees wouldn't fight us with cornstalks."

Let there be no more talk about Army morale. Let our concern be with those who do not wear the uniform. While condemning communism, on the one hand, and national socialism, on the other, let us be frank enough to admit that in Russia, as well as in Germany, they have a faith and are willing to die for it. We believe the democratic way of life to be the best, but hesitate about sacrificing for its maintenance. We believe the Christian faith to be the true faith, yet hesitate to die for it. When men on far-flung battle fronts are falling like leaves in wintry weather and untimely graves are being dug in every corner of the earth, the heart of man grows callous and faith in God becomes the major casualty of the conflict.

Since the last bastion for freedom and human rights lies down the road America has traveled during the last 150 years, it behooves every one of us to cast aside our prejudices and our fears, our greed and selfishness, our pocketbooks and our lives, if need be, to give everything we have, no matter what the cost, so that when the flags of the United Nations are furled to the mast over the oppressed peoples of the world we will know that we have traversed the only road to peace.