The Challenge to America


By THE HONORABLE JOSEPH C. GREW, former Ambassador to Japan

Delivered to the Remington Arms Company, Bridgeport, Conn., and broadcast by The National Broadcasting Company, September 14, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VIII, pp. 746-749.

YOURS is the first large group of fellow countrymen that I have had the privilege and pleasure of meeting face to face since returning from Japan. For me it is therefore a thoroughly memorable occasion. But the real inspiration of this meeting springs from what you are, what you have done and what you are doing. You symbolize the backbone of the civilian participation in the war effort of our country, and in your contribution to that effort you have achieved outstanding success. Permit me to express my sincere and hearty congratulations to the workers and the management of the Remington Arms Company on your having won the thanks of our Government and country as expressed in the award of the five "E's" which you received today. Effort, efficiency and effectiveness. Whatever those "E's" may officially and specifically stand for, those three words seem to me accurately and appropriately to represent your record and your achievement up to date. There is still a long road, probably a very long and difficult road ahead. You have given concrete evidence that you can, and clear indication that you will—to the end—meet the test.

Other speakers will have dealt with the statistics of the expansion and production achieved by you in this time of war. I confine myself to the simple statement that this well-merited honor stands as a splendid example to our country and, more than that, it stands as a ringing plea, a plea that this great record of yours, this record of strikeless effort, efficiency and effectiveness, this record of almost unexcelled expansion and progressive intensiveness in production, be emulated from end to end of our embattled but still grouping land.

Our still groping land. Groping for what? Well, I will try to tell you of my impressions on returning home after long and difficult years abroad. From many talks with many different elements of our people I sense the most earnest desire of all to contribute, individually and collectively, their maximum potentialities of service to our national effort toward winning this war. But many of those with whom I have talked seem to have no real comprehension of what we are up against, no real comprehension that we are not fighting distant enemies merely to preserve our national "interests" but, in fact, to preserve our national life—our existence as a free and sovereign people. Make no mistake about this. I know at least one of our enemies intimately, the Japanese, and I know beyond peradventure that the dearest wish and intention of that enemy is so to extend their victories and conquests and power that ultimately they will be in a position to subject us also to the status of the people of the lands already conquered. That means just one thing. Our freedom, the freedom of our priceless American heritage, disappears. Yes, that is their dearest wish—to control not only their Oriental neighbors but Occidental peoples, especially those of America. Megalomania—if you will—but it's true. Hitler suffers from the same disease, and it needs no doctor to diagnose the symptoms. "It can't happen here." But, alas, it can. Pearl Harbor couldn't happen. But it did. And all the rest of it will happen if some of our countrymen continue to grope—to grope blindfold for the facts which are clear before them, if they will only remove the bandage from their eyes. Little by little I hope to bring before my fellow-countrymen the salient facts concerning the widely misunderstood effectiveness and power and the all-out do-or-die fanatical spirit of the Japanese military machine against which we are fighting today. Unless that effectiveness and power and spirit are correctly assessed by the American people as a whole, our road to victory will be doubly long and hard and bloody.

And now, another side of the picture. Many have said to me that the American people are ready but that our leaders must show us the way. Show the way? If anyone feels that our leaders have not pointed out the way,let him read again and again the statements and declarations of our President, of our Secretary of State and others of our high officials, with the fullest support and cooperation of many other leaders of public thought. Haven't our leaders month in and month out given us our bearings, charted our course, told us what lay ahead, what we now are fighting for and what we may expect if we fail in that fight? Haven't they asked for our maximum efforts in production, for our individual and collective self-sacrifice of the nonessentials of life, for hard thinking and resolute action on our part, not in terms of our daily convenience but of our daily contribution? Why waste invaluable time and energy in bickering about details, about non-essentials? Why not lets come to the fore and give full play to our American initiative and resourcefulness and the inherent toughness of earlier difficult days? A very great number of our fellow-countrymen are imbued with the finest spirit of self-sacrifice and determination to go all out in their war effort. They are wide awake and functioning to their full capacities. Others among our fellow-countrymen are similarly eager to serve but are not yet fully awake to the realities of the situation. They have failed to analyze the dangers which confront us or to realize the full grimness and potential desperate demands of this war which we are waging actually to preserve our liberty—waging to preserve the very principle of liberty. Others among our fellow-countrymen are quite simply still asleep.

Let me merely say to you this: since coming to Washington I have seen at close hand, personally and intimately, the grim determination and decisiveness of those leaders of ours. The problems which they have to face are among the greatest and most difficult in the history of our nation. But those problems, one by one, are being faced and dealt with in that very spirit of determination and decisiveness which fills me with patriotic pride. I was in Washington in 1917. The war effort of our country then was amateurish compared with our war effort now. I have talked directly with the officers of our joint Chief of Staff, with large groups of our army and navy officers, with the production management, with the members of our strategic services, and with many others from the President down. Some of their problems seem almost insuperable, but the spirit of their determination to solve those problems is absolutely invincible, and they are solving them, hour by hour and day by day. If only our people, our people as a whole, will realize the dangers which we are up against, what we stand to lose by failure, what we must and will gain by victory—if only our people as a whole will get in and push to the maximum of their several capacities!

Do you know what use the foreign propaganda radio stations are making of this groping of the American people? They constantly broadcast our disunity, our domestic bickerings, our strikes and political schisms. Every instance of such disunity that appears in our press is avidly seized upon and amplified and flaunted throughout the enemy countries. They believe, or pretend to believe—those enemies of ours—that we are an effete nation, reared in the lap of personal comfort, vitiated by luxury, unable to meet the supreme test of war.

You, the employers and managers and workers of this company, are proving the utter futility and falsity of that propaganda. Your record and accomplishments stand forth for all to see. May your example inspire others from end to end of our beloved land.

And now, a word about the Japanese, especially the Japanese workers. To you, I am sure there is nothing unusual about free workers and free management assemblingin a free country. Benjamin Franklin once said that we never miss the water until the well runs dry. I have spent the last ten years in a country where the well of liberty has always been dry. A meeting such as this in Tokyo or Osaka or Nagoya would be unthinkable. Neither in those cities nor anywhere else in Japan, is the worker more than an unresisting pawn of the militarists who are driving his country to destruction.

Indeed, I can picture the worker of Japan only in his working clothes, bearing upon his back a huge Japanese character—the name of his employer. Each man bears upon his back this rubber stamp, a symbol of his servitude, a symbol of the fact that he is merely an impersonal tool in the hands of those who rule his country's destiny. A tool to be used indiscriminately and without regard for his personal and individual well-being.

The Japanese worker has nothing to say about his wages, which before the war were barely enough for his subsistence, and still undoubtedly are. He has nothing to say about his hours, which are long and backbreaking. If he has any union at all, it dare not lift its voice. It has been driven underground by the brutal methods of the "thought control" police. In fact, there is almost nothing that he has any say about, from the moment that he comes into the world until the moment when, worn out by unhealthful working conditions, long hours, and poor diet, he takes his leave of it forever.

This is what it means to be a worker in Japan. This, or far worse, is what it means to be a worker in any country which falls before Japan's armed forces.

Yet we must not be misled by the abject poverty and regimentation of our enemies. The conditions I have described would lead free Americans to revolt. But Japan is a country far different from our own in every conceivable way. Under these conditions the Japanese workers have docilely toiled to build a military machine which has swept across eastern Asia like a tidal wave, and will sweep still further if allowed to do so.

The Japanese people have been accustomed to regimentation since the very birth of their nation. There are Japanese living today who were born when their country was still a feudal land, when every feudal lord held the power of life and death over his so-called common people. We in the West shook off feudalism many centuries ago. In Japan it existed so recently that it has left a vast heritage of almost prostrate subservience to birth and authority.

The men who rule Japan today have taken full advantage of the docility of the Japanese people to create a formidable military and economic machine. If a man will yield himself to hypnotism, it is as easy to convince him that he is a roaring tiger as to make him believe he is a gentle lamb. The Japanese militarists have hypnotized their fellow-countrymen into believing they are roaring tigers, and they will continue to try to act like tigers until the black spell has been broken.

These ruthless architects of aggression have carried out their plans with diabolical cleverness. Their campaign of propaganda has been long and incessant. Even Japan's handicaps have been used to strengthen her for war. The low standard of living of the Japanese people, for example, has been used to inure them to a spartan life. Today the Japanese soldier on the fighting front, the Japanese sailor in his cramped ship, and the Japanese worker in his gloomy factory, can alike live an a diet so meager that any American on the same diet would soon collapse. The traditional subservience to authority has been used to lead the Japanese workers to accept a degree of regimentation which in somerespects exceeds that of better known Nazi Germany. And this regimented industrial machine has been turned to one purpose—the production of the tools of war. The very failure of Japan's war against China has been used to induce the Japanese people to accept placidly severe measures of control and rationing—measures of such severity that without the psychology of war they would surely lead to revolt.

Above all, the men who rule Japan have used their efficient propaganda machine to instill in every Japanese a fanatical devotion to his country. Even those who hate their nation's entry into this present war have buried their personal feelings. Even they have come to accept the belief that the future of their country depends upon the outcome. We would be deluding ourselves if we believed that any personal sacrifices which the Japanese people might be called upon to make would lead to any cracking of their morale. Yamato Damashi—the spirit of Japan—has been stronger during recent months than ever before. The undeniable successes of their Armies, sweeping across Malaya, Burma, the Philippines, the Netherlands East Indies and many of the islands of the southwest Pacific, have given them tremendous confidence in their ability to win. They know that they have a long and difficult fight before them. They believe that by grim endurance they will grasp victory.

This confidence is based not only on the successes of their own forces, but on false contempt for the fighting ability of their enemies. The Japanese are well aware of the technical achievements of the Western powers,—so well aware, indeed that they have taken many of these achievements and adapted them to their own use. They are well aware of the high standard of living of Western peoples. But they believe that this high standard has brought a softness—even a degeneracy—to Western civilization. They believe that we Americans and our allies are too complacent, too well fed, to be willing to make the sacrifices necessary for victory.

This is the real challenge to America—the challenge of people who have been hypnotized into believing that democracy weakens those who possess it, that a high standard of living weakens those who enjoy it, that peace and the love of peace weaken those who cherish them. It may come as a shock to some of us to realize how scornful of us are those with whom our relations have been too often governed by a careless sense of superiority. Too long have we nurtured the illusion that the Japanese is an insignificant person whose achievements are poor imitations of our own achievements. The Japanese is physically small, but he is sturdy. We might say that he is half starved, but he is spartan. He is imitative, but he is also capable of adapting himself easily and quickly to new conditions and new weapons. He is subservient, but his very subserviency is the expression of a fanatical loyalty toward his country and his emperor. He is a clever and dangerous enemy—one who will compel us to use all the intelligence and all the strength of which we are capable in order to bring about his defeat.

And for us, what is our answer to this challenge from across the Pacific? What is our reply to these little islanders who believe that we are weak and of divided mind in our hour of peril?

I do not know that I have been back in the United States long enough to have a final answer to this question. But do believe that I have seen enough and talked to enough people to get something of the feel of my native country in this year of crisis. Perhaps the very fact that I have been away from America for some time may enable me tosee somewhat more clearly the changes which have taken place in the transition from peace to war than if I had been here to live through them from day to day.

No one returning to this country after a long absence can fail to be impressed by the way our great industrial capacity has been converted to the production of munitions. No one can fail to be impressed by the vast armies which are being mustered around us and the great fleets which are being hammered into shape. But we have by no means neared the limits of achievement. What we have done to date, we have accomplished through the comparatively easy, first stages of transformation of our industrial machinery and our vast store of man power from the purposes of peace to those of war. We are like a football team running through its practice plays against the scrubs. The players carry out their assignments; but the punch, the determined plunge which brings victory in the big game, is lacking. We must pull ourselves up short. We must stop groping. Let us make no mistake. This is the real thing, played for keeps. An easy-going transformation is not enough. Our effort must be an extraordinary one—one which exceeds anything that we have undertaken heretofore. In winning this broad continent which is our heritage, in preserving it from attack within and without, the American people in the past have performed the tasks of giants. Today we face the greatest task in our history.

A friend of mine recently wrote me: "You will find this country sound in feeling, but still unable to realize that we are involved in a desperate war."

I understand very well how difficult it is for the people of this country, many thousands of miles from the fronts where the actual fighting is taking place, to realize fully just what this war means. I myself sometimes find it difficult to believe that but a few short weeks ago I was, for all practical purposes, a prisoner in a country ruled by fanatics determined to destroy the United States and all that she stands for. But we must not allow this remoteness from the battle-front to lull us into a sense of false security. This is war to the finish. The Japanese understand this—peasants as well as admirals and generals. They have gambled everything on their belief that we are too soft, too divided among ourselves, to stand before the fury of their attack—indeed a furious attack. This war was bred by fanatical militarism. That fanaticism is being met now by the heroism and the righteous fury of our own air forces, by dauntless frontal attack by our marines, by the ships, the guns and the heroic men of our navies and our armies. I need not recount for you how our men on the firing lines face to face with the enemy, and our women behind those lines—with their spirit, determination, effectiveness and sacrifice—are beating back the enemy's ambitious will to conquer. They at the fighting fronts can handle anything the Japanese can send against them if, and it is an important "if", each and every one of us—you and I—gives them his utmost support. The ruthless will which is driving the Japanese nation toward conquest knows neither gentleness nor mercy. It is utterly ruthless, utterly cruel, and utterly blind to any of the values which make up our civilization. The only way to stop that will is to destroy it.

It is up to each one of us, to every American, to see the picture as a whole, to realize that we are fighting for our individual and national existence and for everything that each one of us holds dear, to gain from that realization inspiration, zeal, courage, and determination to harness all our energies into a tremendous effort, an epochal effort that will make our victory sure. Each individual must pourout everything which he has to accomplish his individual task at hand and to make the most of every opportunity for service. Each and every one of us must realize that through his individual and collective efforts new and broader and more effective avenues of service will steadily be opened up and thus each and all of us will gain the opportunity to contribute in ever increasing measure to getting the job done with maximum speed and with maximum effectiveness.

This is our task—the task of our own great country and of our allies of the United Nations. Let us stop groping.

It is a task in which you, employers and workers of America, have an immense part, a vital part to play. Play it well. If you fail—please mark my words—you pass into slavery, and all America passes into slavery with you. But you will not fail; we will not fail—because we are free men living in a free country, able and determined that we, our country, shall remain free, that our homes, our traditions, our civilization, our principles, our standards, our humanity, shall remain free—and that henceforth we shall also be and shall remain secure.