A Nation's Call to Duty


By J. EDGAR HOOVER, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Delivered at the Commencement Exercises, St. Johns University Law School, Brooklyn, N. Y., June 11, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 554-556.

TEMPESTUOUS times in a war-inflamed world add a deep note of seriousness to the happiness of your commencement day. World events have deprived you of the immediate choice of your life's work. You are leaving the yesterday of scholastic life and stepping into a realistic today when your Nation is nobly struggling to maintain all of the concepts of civilization which you have taken for granted. Peaceful pursuits for which you planned must be postponed until we succeed in another task—the defeat of the destructive forces of totalitarianism. You are being called to duty for your country. You must, as Americans, answer the call to public service. This year, instead of choosing, you are chosen for a crusade to protect this, our beloved land, from the savagery of those who would destroy our God, our Homes, and our Country.

From the dawn of civilization, nations have warred in order that humanity might have peace and justice. With bloody swords and bludgeoning fists, the aggressors have endeavored to stifle prayers of peace. Throughout the ages, peaceful peoples have been forced to fight or submit to tyranny.

But the recurrence of war should not dash all hope, because there is an answer. Science, however, is not the answer. Science as applied to war merely enables men more skilfully to destroy each other. Commerce cannot supply the answer. Education in itself is not the answer. Highly educated nations at times have been the most militaristic. Progress and civilization are not the answer, for they do not make men unselfish. Human nature, intoxicated by greed, vengeance, and the quest for power, manufactures the incidents which cause wars. These forces of evil can be overcome only by a superior force of spiritual development that brings justice to all peoples. The answer to our hope is a speedy and decisive victory in this war and a long-lasting peace predicated upon sound Christian and Democratic principles.

In the quest for universal justice, we can hold our heads high in the realization that America has never fought an unjust war. We have fought only to uphold Christian principles in order that America might live in freedom under God. But now, as never before, our Nation calls us to a re-consecration of our talents, our energies, and our spirits. Nothing less will destroy forever the Axis forces and the pagan evil behind their stand. We must win—justice must be triumphant. Then, we will have won the peace we lost twenty-four years ago.

Today, we should benefit from our mistakes of the past twenty years. We have allowed ourselves to become soft and compromising, making concessions to wrong when interference with our personal indulgences and pleasures would have been the price to be paid to further the principles of Democracy. We Americans allowed the spirit of Americanism to be drugged with alien ideologies planted here by the henchmen of foreign dictators and even lent our support topacifist groups fathered by these same henchmen in their planned efforts to blind us to the real peril which faces us. We can be peace-loving and yet remain uncompromising. Justice has no middle ground. The very word becomes a hollow mockery when it is compromised with wrong. Happily, America has her youth to depend on. With your fresh outlook and real zest for living you will accept the responsibilities which today are thrust upon your capable shoulders, sustained by the teachings and examples from which you have benefited here in the past few years.

As you seek success in the competition between men, stand by the principle of "no compromise" where decency must bow to wrong. The members of graduating classes this year have been reared in an era which considered success in superficial terms. Some thought that power and influence were criteria of success; others looked upon wealth as the yardstick. Few, unfortunately, have sought to measure success in terms of Christian service. In the turbulent days that lie ahead, however, success must take on a new meaning. It must be measured in the broad and beneficent terms of unselfish service to mankind.

All of us are inspired and thrilled by the exploits of the early Colonists who settled on our Eastern shores, by the Patriots who fought for our freedom, by the Pioneers who opened the Westward trails. Those courageous men and women unselfishly dedicated their lives to service that liberty-loving Americans in future generations might live and enjoy freedom under law. Those were the times when faith in God, superior physical endurance, high courage, utter fearlessness, and the ability to thrive on adversity were requisites of success. Today, those same attributes must be duplicated by our Country's defenders if we are to preserve America for tomorrow.

We live in a mechanized age which tends to make man subservient to machinery. Simple living and honest toil have bowed to ease and superficial thinking. Derision of expression of faith in God, accompanied with a veneer of agnosticism, has too often raised its head over the tried and true devotion to the rugged teachings of Christ, creating the shallow smartness of sophistication and travestying the better fundamentals of life. Our democratic way of life rests upon the fundamental principles of dignity of man and his right to freedoms, essential for the well-being of his nature, but all the freedoms we hear so much about will vanish without the practice of our Christian faith.

There is no easy road or magical formula for success. It resolves itself to fundamentals, the chief of which is a motivating spirit of service. For all who seek liberty under law, it means integrity, industry, imagination, initiative, and character. With these, goes a readiness to fight in order that principles and peaceful pursuits shall prevail. We must win this world-rocking struggle, or there will be no opportunity for service to mankind, for we are now engaged in a titanic battle for self-preservation.

In these trying days, which increasingly demand greater sacrifice for the good of mankind, we may suffer setbacks, but we dare not fail in our Country's crisis. Failure would result, not because of ignorance, lack of ability, or lack of energy in so far as the people of America are concerned. Failure would result because fundamentals have been overlooked while we were too busy in selfish pursuits to distinguish the fruit from the leaves.

We must, now, set a straight course to conquer the foe and protect the home front. With the pages of history open before us, one fundamental lesson stands out. No great nation or civilization ever perished solely by the sword of invaders. When nations have succumbed, it was due to internal disintegration. By protecting the home front and lending every effort to furnishing the materials and man power, our beloved Country's safety can be assured.

Patriotism reaches its fullest flower in love of country in time of national emergency. True patriotism is the outward manifestation of inner convictions. It is the motivating force that makes men challenge the tank and submarine. Patriotism is that force which makes men rise as one when their nation is menaced. It is the moulder of great deeds. It has been aptly described as forgetfulness of self. It keeps the home fires burning and the hearts of mothers, wives and sisters staunch and true. Patriotism stems from necessity like the law of self-preservation.

Patriotism, translated into action for the public good, is a noble virtue—but it is too often the "refuge of scoundrels." A false sense of patriotism, like bigotry, leads man into treacherous pitfalls. Vigilantes who condemn without knowing, who suspect and oppress without cause, become the tools of tyranny. Even in times such as these, when there should be unity of thought and concert of action by liberty-loving peoples to stop the common foe, we find envy, jealousy, hatred, malice and even revenge seeking justification in the false name of patriotism, leading neighbor to distrust neighbor without cause. True patriotism unites a country's peoples in times of national peril.

Hitler's much vaunted boast that he could deal with America when he chose, and the outburst of fatuous ego of the Japanese war lord that he would dictate peace terms in the White House, show how misguided these enemies of humanity have been. True, they hit first. But we are only beginning. The time will come when the Nazis and Japs will have to eat their words.

America is on the march. No dictator can long withstand our terrific assault once we get into action. But in fighting Hitlerism and all it stands for, we still have the racketeers and the lawless to battle at home. This is not a new fight; crime we have always had.

There was a time when lawlessness swept through the land like a pestilence. Otherwise good citizens were so busy with their golf or bridge scores that what was happening all about them mattered little. Underworld alliances became so powerful that they spread and grew like weeds in some communities, grasping control of the upper-world. Every citizen paid a huge tribute to racketeers and gangsters who scoffed at decency in any form.

Gangsters contributed with a flourish to the campaigns of corrupt political machines. In return, they demanded concessions to operate their ruthless rackets. Then, something happened. One by one, public-spirited citizens arose in righteous indignation. They fearlessly testified in criminal cases, they welcomed jury duty, and corrupt political machines in city after city were crushed. With this rise in civic spirit and shouldering of the responsibility of citizenship, came more effective law enforcement, and a stiffening of the moral fiber of our people.

Less than ten years ago, in battling the kidnaping menace, one of the FBI's biggest jobs was to secure the cooperation of the citizens involved. Time after time, we had our first reports of kidnaping and other crimes from the underworld itself. Then when we sought the citizens' cooperation, we were frequently hindered in our efforts to get the facts. This refusal to accept civic responsibility definitely aided the underworld. Had it not been for an extreme sense of gullibility and an attitude of apathy on the part of too many citizens, foreign agents by the hundreds would not have flocked to America to sow their poisonous hates, too often with the aid of American citizens.

We of the FBI were seriously handicapped time and again by the obstructionists efforts of those who had been beguiled by sinister apostles of hate in creating confusion and blocking preparedness. In many of the espionage cases we have handled, the initial information came from persons far removed from spheres of spy activities. Even after the arrests of enemies of our Country, persons of good repute were so beguiled that they actually sought to bring pressure to bear in a useless attempt to influence the FBI in the discharge of its duty.

The Nation's call to duty to fight on the battlefronts also brings us the task of seeing that justice is afforded every person—foreign and native-born. There are thousands upon thousands of God-fearing people who have sought our shores as a refuge from tyranny and oppression. It is our duty to protect those who have kept themselves above reproach. Here again, however, we must be realistic. The first duty of the day is to protect our own homeland. The rights of all Americans transcend any privileges of a few who would destroy our way of life.

Our Nation was founded by liberty-loving peoples from all parts of the world. Once they entered the portals of our freedom under law, they left behind Old World loyalties. However, some alien groups have endeavored to transplant foreign oppressions and noxious "isms" to our native soil. Such was the mission of the German-American Bund and Japanese organizations by the score. To them, America must say, "You must live as Americans." This applies to the espousers of all Godless and treacherous "isms." These brigands of American freedom too long roamed at will, sowing their obnoxious seeds of hate and discontent.

The fifth column of confusion, intimidation, and destruction which undermined many occupied countries was no real surprise to some people. It was a surprise to a populace that had been lulled into a false sense of security by propaganda purveyors. Only lands that put vigilance and security first have been saved from this insidious and deadly military weapon.

Democracy finds its level in the character of its citizens. The home is the first line of defense of our Democracy. Therefore, you graduates should resolve here and now to dedicate yourselves to the task of preserving the traditional foundations of the American home.

The home, in many ways, is imperiled. When the home is destroyed, everything in our civilization crashes to its doom. Satisfaction of selfish desires destroys the things of value. In far too many homes reverence of God does not exist. Religion and the Guidance of God are not sufficiently considered. The home is threatened by a social world filled with frivolities and surrounded by a confusion of silly theories that disregard the lessons which courageously guided such stalwart leaders as Washington, Lincoln, Lee, and a host of patriots, both men and women, who gave America its fiber and steadfast foundation.

When the home totters, a nation weakens. Every day it is my task to review the histories of scores who obey onlythe laws of their own choosing. Always the one thing that stands out is a lack of moral responsibility and any feeling of religious conviction. This is not difficult to understand if we merely read some of the literature of writers who decry religion and argue that distance from God makes for happiness. While we fight for religious freedom, we must also fight the license sought by the atheist and those who ridicule, scoff and belittle others who would seek spiritual strength.

The crime problem is a problem of the home. It is a lack of religious training in the home and the school that usually breeds criminals. If this country ever hopes to root out crime, it must begin at the cradle. It must instill in the youth through religious instruction a moral sense. With almost twenty per cent of all persons arrested under 21 years of age, the challenge becomes real. Present trends showing an increase in lawlessness are not heartening. Wartime abandon, broken homes, fewer recreational facilities, greater opportunities for inexperienced youth to earn large salaries are the factors creating the problem. Good homes are the answer. We can protect those homes by surrounding them with decent careers of public service. There is nothing new in these principles, but there is a desperate need today for the practice of them, earnestly and staunchly, by parents, teachers, public officials and all Americans worthy of the name.

While many of you who graduate from this fine university here today will take your place in the ranks of the armed services, there exist many opportunities for others of you in the field of public service. It is a formidable task to preserve the normal, desirable and traditional American way of life in every possible and conceivable manner, during the period of national emergency. Only those who believe implicitly in the American way can safely be entrusted with that task. One of the greatest threats to democracy in ourcountry can be the lack of interest among American citizens in their government leaders who have the power to decide and exercise American policies. True defense of a democracy is made with mind, and soul, and body. Dedicate yourselves to a definite contribution in your Country's service.

In a career of public service, there will be times when you will be discouraged. Others will gain the benefits, you will have the heartaches. Each decision may mean new enemies. The penalties of public service are ingratitude, denunciation, petty jealousies, unjust accusations, and vicious smears. There is compensation, however, in the knowledge of a job well done for a Country worth serving and worth saving.

Freedom under law finds its highest expression in America. It is the translation of high ideals into practical life. Nowhere in the world do people enjoy so many blessings— spiritual and material; yet, if we would preserve these we must do our duty. There is no higher calling than the dedication of all of your talents; all of your energy; and all of your training to the perpetuation of these precious ideals. As you leave this institution today, your goal is set, your path clearly defined. The challenge is made—the burden is upon you to prove your fitness for the blessings that are yours as Americans. Your Nation today calls you to duty— to the high calling of patriotic service, to the reviving of traditional homes, and to the discharge of your moral and civic responsibilities. To answer this call means sacrifices which will bring great rewards. Physical and mental development alone are not sufficient, for without spiritual strength your lives will be thwarted and futile. Our Nation was ordained from on High and from on High comes our inspiration, our strength, and the call to service that has echoed down the ages, ". . . stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong."