Our Heritage of Freedom



Delivered at Dinner Inaugurating the Greater New York - USO - Joint War Appeal, Hotel Astor, May 11, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 572-574

AS a military man I feel that the United Service Organization is filling a human need which is invaluable to our military effort. And, I welcome this opportunity to discuss with you matters pertaining to our common interest, America's Fighting Men and America's Forces Behind The Lines.

The other day, I saw in a newspaper a sketch showing a woman presenting herself for enrollment in some defense organization, with the announcement,

"I want to do something I can get a medal for."

In lieu of a medal I present the good will and esteem of the Army Air Forces to all who join the effort of your campaign.

You have asked me to speak to you on the subject, What Are We Fighting For? If the question were one for information, if we both did not feel the truth of the answer in our hearts, the logical procedure would be for the soldier to ask the civilian such a question, because it is a function of the civil powers of government to say Why those armed forces, they have established and provided for, shall fight. It is the responsibility of the armed forces to plan the fight and fight it in defense of that Why.

Nevertheless, Why we fight is a fundamental factor contributing in large measure to victory in any war. Therefore, I am as much concerned in the Why as you who are civilians.

Wars are fought with trained men and arms for a cause. Trained men, arms, and a Cause. Victory depends upon that triple strength.

What are we fighting for? I shall discuss the question only in relation to my job, and to your valued help in supporting that job, air warfare.

Briefly speaking, it's the job of the Army Air Forces to see to it that no enemy bases are established within the Western Hemisphere or our territories; to knock out any that might have been established; to fight by air warfare any part of the enemy who may threaten America by land or sea or air; and to wage offensive warfare from the air against the sources of enemy strength wherever they may be found. Why? To safeguard and maintain those values the American people think worth fighting for,—the American people of whom the men in the Army Air Forces form a part.

To perform these functions, we train men and school age boys from 18-26 years of age, in more than a hundred schools throughout the land, in the skills and tactics necessary to air warfare. For the most part, these schools are away from urban centers where there is ample space for airfields, fields for bombing practice, camps, gunnery practice, barracks, hangars, etc. Air Corps men, officers, and enlisted men of aircrews and ground crews are stationed at proving grounds and bases located from the Caribbean to Alaska, from Iceland to the far islands of the Pacific, and in parts whose identification is withheld from public knowledge. With our forces thus spread over the four corners of the earth, the individual in the forces often wonders if he still counts with the fellows back home.

Our men are the best trained airmen in the world, the best fighters. They've got guts. They can take it. They have proved that they can take it. But they're men, men separated from life in the home town, home traditions, home standards, the folks they love. Separated from their civilian interests and ambitions, they're pitting their strength of muscle and nerve to wield machines against machines. But if they do it with a will they must believe in our way of life,the men they fight with, their leaders, the folks at home, their cause.

Therefore, I shall discuss the topic of why we fight from the standpoint of the individual force of will behind the training and the skill of airmen; from the standpoint of that human force which operates the machines of warfare, the planes, the bases, the bombs, the machine parts, the instruments, and the charts. As a military man I know too well the value of that force of human will applied to the tactics, even to the strategy of air warfare.

But the will to perform painstaking, nerve wracking precision jobs, in order to destroy the enemy and the sources of his strength, that will is lacking unless the men performing those jobs have faith in their cause.

The cause must beget the will to fight.

What are we fighting for? Why carry the fight as far as ten thousand miles from home? Why are we training and fighting and redoubling, tripling our plans for victory? Why are the Forces Behind the Lines making the planes and the bombs, producing the food and the materials for us to fight with?

It is hard for a military man to analyze those intangible values of life which make men feel akin to one another and fight together for a cause. But we do! On Bataan our heroes, American and Filipino, fought with a will against the Japs. They fought in spite of lack of planes and equipment, in spite of poisonous dirt, scanty rations of mule meat and rice, torture from lack of drugs and medical supplies. They were more than military pawns in the strategy of warfare. They fought for their lives. But they fought against the Japs because they wanted to live the American and Filipino way, not the Jap way.

They fought because life at home in The States had made them believe in a free self-determined way of life for all peoples. General MacArthur has said, "Men cannot fight unless they know what they are fighting for." They knew what they were fighting for, and they hoped for a lasting peace based upon human consideration and understanding, sympatic a the Filipinos call it, among the peoples of the earth.

Our way of life, freedom for all people. Freedom, a broad term. Those who fight for it must know that it is not just a word to spur them on, but rather the symbol of a living fact,—their heritage claimed by struggle and strife since America began. They must know that those for whom they fight keep faith with their effort.

How can they be sure? The Axis would have them doubt.

Inasmuch as the present war is dependent to a large degree upon Air Power, our airmen must have all the strength of arms, all the will to fight we can give them, for the faith of the suffering nations of the world depends upon their faith in the American way as proved by the folks back home.

When America entered the war, hope was awakened in the hearts of the oppressed nations of Europe: Czechoslovakia, Austria, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Jugoslavia, Greece, France. They, too, had the cherished cause of freedom. They fought to defend their homes and their families against the enslavement of the aggressor. Theirs was a strong cause, but their arms and their men were not prepared to meet the ruthless challenge to their cause.

America has had time to train men, to produce planes, to work the mines and turn the soil, to test her cause.

When America entered the war, England renewed her courage, China her long endurance, Russia her confident effort. Their cause is dependent upon our forces as well as their own, our cause upon theirs.

Allied unity but demonstrates our cause. The Axis would have dissension belie our cause, muddle our thinking, undermine our training, curtail our arms.

A cause to flourish and bear fruit must be fed by the strength of the soil from which it springs. Men, thinking, feeling men, though trained to fight, do not kill others without faith in their cause. Neither do they have the will to fight for barren, degrading or pernicious fungi of thought. Their cause must give promise of endurance and well-being to those things they hold dear in life.

If the truth were known, I feel sure that the Italian people have little will to fight for Hitler's cause. If the truth were known, I suspect that many in Germany consider Hitler's cause the delirium of a paranoid. They have no will to fight for it. So far, Hitler's greatest strength has been Germany's acceptance of his leadership and his cause. When the majority no longer accepts it, it cannot for long endure.

People cannot long accept ideas that make for continued unhappiness and tribulation, ideas whose demonstration do not effect a balance of individual happiness and the common weal.

From the material side, Air Power depends upon a ready supply of trained men: pilots, bombardiers, navigators, observers, engineers, engine and aircraft maintenance crews,— ten men on the ground for one in the air. Air Power depends upon a ready supply of planes of various types: fighter planes, bombers, divebombers, transport and cargo planes. It depends upon air bases manned with service crews, technicians, supplies.

But the material side is not enough to win the war.

The men in the Air Forces are a democratic lot. Each respects and values the training, skill and effort of the others; because all know too well their interdependence, each upon the others. The Bombardier must release his load of bombs over the target, or the air mission has failed. He must play his part exactly, but his success depends, not only upon him and his well coordinated team but also upon the success of every other man of the Air Corps who has contributed in any measure to that bombing mission. In fact, the Bombardier's success depends upon every other man in the Forces Behind The Lines who has made possible the plane and the armament, the instruments and the materials necessary to the mission.

How can those of the Air Forces, those in the Forces Behind The Lines know that they are united each to the fullness of his ability in the mission of warfare? The Axis would have them at odds.

How can the men of the Army Air Forces be sure that they are not just poor saps up against it while the wise guys have it soft back home? That's what the Axis would have them believe.

Don't the home folks have parades, play bands and throw confetti when heroes return, to show them they care? Don't they reward them with medals and acclaim, those heroes? But all are heroes, each one who plays his part. While one has died or lives to lasting glory, thousands more die or live to be forgotten except to their dearest loved and their nearest of kin.

Is it worth it? The Axis would have them doubt.

What about the men and boys in training; those waiting at lonely posts and bases? A psychologist now in active service overseas, when asked what seemed to him the worst thing about the war, said,

"Well, when the battle's on you fight. There's nothing else to be done. It's when you're waiting to begin to fight that's hardest. And then you try not to think about it."

What token of trust can the folks back home give our Fighting Men to think about in order to insure their will to fight the harder when the battle comes? The Folks at home, all of the American folks at home, care. America cares for the lot of each individual man, they care about his loved ones, his interests and ambitions put aside for the duration. The Folks at Home may have been ignorant of a soldier's individual human needs, or they may have lacked the ways and means to help in supplying those needs. But they care. If I did not believe it, I could not do my job.

Through the United Service Organizations, Americans can show that they care.

Our cause should have its first proof in our service to one another. A nation united in a common effort for a cause. It is fitting that civil groups such as those sponsoring and comprising the United Service Organization should give those of the armed forces assurance in the worth of the cause for which they fight.

Some may ask why men trained to fight with planes and bombs should need such trifles as symbols of faith to spurthem on? I do not know. But they do. Not long ago news-papers printed the story of two men who risked their lives to replace the stars and stripes over Corregidor. MacArthur refused to take the flag down from his quarters in Manila.

Perhaps to the human mind symbols mean more than all of reason can explain.

Spring is here. The ice is breaking in the Northland. It's the dry season in the tropical lands of the Pacific beneath the Southern Cross. To the War Lords, spring means a wider range of military operations in the theatre of war. To the Forces Behind The Lines, longer hours of daylight in which to produce food, materials, implements of warfare that their soldiers may fight.

P-40s pilot on patrol above the church spires and deaden the song of the lark. Yet spring has been a symbol of faith since man has been. All is not right with the world. But I believe that our united effort can make it right!

America's entrance into the war is like a symbol of faith to the bleeding countries of the earth, a challenge to our own way of life. We cannot fail.