Let It Be Victory, Not Armistice


By STEPHEN F. CHADWICK, Former National Commander of the American Legion

Delivered before Seattle Rotary Club, November 11, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 188-190.

THE privilege of appearing before your membership is one that I always prize, for here I feel that I have an audience of men who have distinguished themselves in the competition which is life and who yet have never been so concerned with their own affairs that they could not put the welfare of their fellow men, the safety and security of country, about their personal or business affairs.

Armistice Day has been variously considered. The most unfortunate thing about it is that by too many it was accepted as a Victory Day, a day of celebration and rejoicing by service men and by a nation who unthinkingly accepted as a fact that they had participated in and had won "the war to end war."

Had greater heed been given to the dictionary, to the rules of land warfare, to the international conventions, many mistakes of our past might never have happened, for the armistice of 1918 was after all but an armistice.

From the French "solstice," meaning "after," and the Latin "arma," meaning "arms," plus "stare," from "statum," to "stand still," all of which combined to mean in 1917-18 just what it means today, it was but "a brief cessation of arms by convention, a temporary suspension of hostilities by agreement, a truce."

Why it was ever exalted, why it was ever celebrated, since the foregoing has always been its meaning, becomes a question. It is my hope that when the time comes for consultation with reference to the terms of the peace to follow this war, that the word "armistice" may never again be revived.

This, by the election of our enemies, is to be a war of extermination, and by the will of the free people of the United Nations is to be a war in which our enemies can come forward only in complete surrender. The day to be celebrated after this war must be Victory Day, not Armistice Day.

It was my custom for a period of more than 20 years, in discussing Armistice Day, to tell of a generation which had been taken from the length and breadth of America, had been whipped into a competent fighting force and had been dispatched from America, an America which for 140 years had been concerned primarily only with the occupation and development of its vast unoccupied and undeveloped territory; a generation that had then been sent in the army and navy to the far corners of the earth; Americans in England and France and in the army of occupation in Germany; Americans in Murmansk, in Siberia, in China and the Philippines; men of our navy visiting the ports of the world, touching South America and Africa; a generation that returned to America with thoughts of America's place and position in world affairs, a group who organized themselves to counsel America for its security and safety in an endeavor to keep faith with those of that generation who died that the survivors might live, a group who organized to see to it that a grateful nation provided for the maimed and disabled of the struggle, and a group who, knowing that the spirit of the Hun had not been conquered, knowing the underlying ambition of the Japanese who then were allied with us, felt a responsibility to the youth of America that it should be prepared for the inevitable day in history when the ideologies of freedom and democracy should again be locked in mortal combat with the ideologies of racial destiny and the dominance of force.

There were those who knew that a mistake was being made in the two conferences of the nations held for the limitation of armament, who in the exclusion of cruisers and submarines and aircraft carriers from the material covered by the substance of the treaties, saw the danger which lay ahead and the shape of things to come.

I cannot avoid thinking over the days of America's dwindling army, of the dissipation of its accumulated war materials, of the attitude assumed by sincere but unthinking mothers' groups, yes, of the attitude assumed by men from whom better might have been expected.

No mother's son was ever again to fight over seas—America by precept and example was to bring to a world in which war never ceased the day of the millennium. No American officer, reserve or active, in uniform, was permitted to address assemblies in our high schools to call the attention of youth to that which the service men had fought for as an obligation owed to youth by a nation which might some day call that youth to arms, the existence of Citizens Military Training Camps.

I recall vividly the argument before the Board of Regents of our University of Washington where one who is at present a member of our School Board led the argument in favor of the abolition of military training while some of us who had served over seas told that same Board of Regents that we had lived through a day when we thanked God for the modicum of military training which had been given us in connection with our higher education.

I recall the remark of our then adversary that if military training were continued in the University of Washington his son would never be permitted to matriculate in that school!

I wonder, as his son must by this time have been called to serve his country in arms, as his son must today regret the fact that he has not a greater knowledge of his own defense in arms, if that man recalls that day, as he should recall it, with regret.

Oh, there were storm clouds even in those days and those who had the prescience to know and understand them sought an audience, but the Billy Mitchells, the Rickenbackers, and others of that day and time were unheeded. Yes, as in the case of General Mitchell, driven from the councils of the national security, broken in heart, martyred.

Statesmanship in the sense that it recognized America's position and destiny and the responsibilities which went with it, was almost forgotten, and then came the time when Japan in utter disregard of international agreement, moved into Manchukuo and on into China, spreading rapine and murder upon a defenseless people, a peace-loving people.

Mussolini stepped forth as the international bully and with machine guns in the hands of troops that have never been able to stand up against an equal power, mowed down in ruthlessness the spear-carrying Ethiopians.

In the instance of Manchukuo we as a people spoke, but the spirit of appeasement was in the air and we found no nation willing to join us in vigorous action, if we had been capable of vigorous action at that time, which we were not.

In the instance of Ethiopia again the American citizens of Harlem could pass resolutions but the inability of the so-called free nations to move effectively again made appeasement the way of least resistance.

Had we in our stalling for time had the courage or had it been politically expedient to adopt a policy of universal military service and to train and equip a fighting force, a sorry day in history might have been avoided.

And then after Austria came Munich, and the appeasing diplomats said "We will have peace in our time." One realist apparently saw through the situation and I sometimes think the more I read of Munich and its aftermath, that Litvinoff is the greatest diplomat of our time, stalling for time but yet preparing for the inevitable, Russia entered into a pact with Germany, a pact which permitted her to at least meet Germany half way in Poland, and yet gain more time.

In the meantime in this nation, though many of us saw the inevitability of our participation in the ultimate struggle, we continued with appeasement, closed our eyes to what was going on in our own community and in the Orient, took up a collection for medical supplies for China while our waterfront was busy with ships carrying scrap iron and copper and high test gasoline to Japan; and with regard to Germany we refused to believe the full implications of the new German Bible, Mein Kampf.

The pattern for progress was there for us in black and white and yet there were those who in the face of his racial persecutions, his forced mass migrations, sat by and said "perhaps it is just what the propagandists would have us believe, a racial struggle against what Hitler describes as a 'non-assimilable' element."

We were told that our defense was at the Rhine, and as others were driven from there, as the Maginot Line failed, as Dunkerque followed, our defense was at the Channel, and then our defense was in the battle of the Atlantic.

In the meantime we approached the problem of our rearmament hesitatingly, haltingly, seemingly giving first thought to political implications rather than to military considerations. Given more than two years to develop a stock pile of essential war materials such as rubber, tin, quinine, camphor, fats and oils, we continued with diplomatic conversations.

Nine-tenths of our population, looking with the eyes of Washington, saw only the European struggle, the situation in the Orient seemed of little concern. Though leading correspondents tell us that they endeavored in every way possible to advise America as to what was going on, we were content to believe that China would ultimately absorb the Japanese. Nomura and Kurusu sat with Mr. Hull, and a Sunday morning dawned in Hawaii.

While watching the devil's right hand, we forgot to watch the left. Our fleet was divided; what there was at Pearl Harbor was concentrated. Enemy agents, unapprehended and undisturbed, had given to the attacking force the exact location of every military target. Men whom we had been told were so physically constituted that they could not fly planes, who were incapable of making planes that would properly function, who were incapable of shooting straight, delivered a hay-maker, and the rest of it is the news of the day in which we live.

While the ex-service men of the first phase of the World War had been endeavoring to rouse the citizenry to confidence in itself, a confidence in which the individual would have some assurance that he could properly perform his duties of citizenship under arms, America had been slipping into a system of paternalism. People no longer had to be self-reliant, there was no necessity to be thrifty, to save or plan for the rainy day, to be ready for the holocaust which may hit the individual at any time. Such was the appeal of the politicians.

The starry-eyed boys occupied the chairs in high places. Having no confidence in the ability of people to plan for themselves they arrogated to themselves alone the ability toplan. In a world starving for the very bread of life, they inaugurated a program to destroy that bread.

In a world dying for the need of a nation strong enough to be determinative in the cause of right we dissipated our substance. Some who remembered the lesson learned from Pershing in that other phase of the war besought the people and the government to rearm, prepare, to be ready to strike in our own name and right and might. When it was suggested to General Pershing that he brigade his troops with those of our Allies, he held out in the bitterest struggle of his life for an American army, an American sector, a place where under the American flag, which all Americans understand, America could be determinative in her own right and when he won this struggle the first phase of the World War was soon ended. It was the American army in the Meuse-Argonne that proved the irresistible force which the Kaiser could not withstand.

And now we are fighting a war to carry out the second great principle for which Pershing contended, and that is there must be no peace by Armistice, there must be no opportunity for the enemy to rebuild, the peace must be one of absolute surrender; the terms of this peace must be written in Berlin and Tokio.

Can it be done? It can and will be done when the leaders of our war effort acknowledge the ability of the American people to think with their own heads and act with their own strength.

Some of you may have heard a local radio program describing the insufferable hurdles which business must surmount in order to produce and distribute even essential war materials. Those of our Chamber of Commerce charged with the responsibility of organizing local manufacturers and bringing them in touch with war contracts must tolerantly, patiently untie the knots and unravel the red tape. With one fell swoop Washington could eliminate much of it.

But, here we are, the modern Gulliver of the nations, enmeshed in a web of our own weaving, frustrated as we thrash and fume, impotent to do that which we know we could accomplish were our hands released.

In spite of a situation which through taxation would seem to have bled this community white, we, the people of Seattle in the last few weeks have over-subscribed a war chest of gigantic proportions. The drive was organized under local leadership and was executed by the same type of American who, given the chance to take pride in himself, will win this war wherever chance and fate may take him.

To Washington on this Armistice Day, we can say "give us the facts, we have ever been our strongest after the full appreciation of our darkest hours."

George Washington emerged from the despair of Valley Forge to win our independence; the people rose after a full knowledge of the defeat at Bull Run. We can rebuild the faster when facts such as those which should be authoritatively stated from Pearl Harbor or the Solomons are known to every man, woman and child in America.

I do not deny the immediate military necessity of withholding for a time specific information but problems attendant upon labor strife and cessation of work, hysteria in connection with rationing, can only be dissipated when the people know the facts and accept the so-called sacrifice as their duty, and in connection with that word "sacrifice," and I say "so-called" for I for one agree with a statement made by General Ben Lear to the American Legion Convention that except you have a member of the armed forces of the combat troops in your immediate family, you had better reserve that word "sacrifice" for use by those who fully understand its meaning.

What he said on that occasion cannot be too often repeated. I close with a quotation, a little long but I wouldscar every word of it into an imperishable memory, for what boots it to keep faith with the dead, if we fail to keep faith with the living.

"You can do much for us—for these young men whose losses will be many times as great as those you experienced—if in every community in America you tell them this. Tell them that except for those whose loved ones are serving among combat units they should never mention the word sacrifice. If these men of ours keep war away from our shores, our people will never learn what the word sacrifice means, no matter how many bandages they roll or bonds they buy. Whatever their taxes, their gas and tire rationing, and the petty little things they may have to do without—they will have secure homes to return to . . . they will wear warm clothes; they will enjoy their usual comforts, far greater comforts than their grandfathers ever enjoyed; they will have plenty to eat; they will enjoy the movies and soft drinks and juke boxes, their newspapers, radios, social whirl, bridge games, swimming pools, golf courses and benefits for Army and Navy Relief.

"But over desert wastes and in jungle depths, in the frozen north and in tropical climes, our combat soldiers will be fighting. They will know hunger and thirst and squalor. They will fight lost battles against hopeless odds—some of them—and yet go on, fighting to the end. They will see the ugly sights of war and feel its terrible furies. They will become acquainted with endless fatigue and dreary days and nights. They will bury their dead,bind the wounds of comrades and take last messages from dying friends. Toil, exertion, danger, death and boredom will be their lot; and over thousands of miles of distance they will ever be thinking of home, of this fair land that needs to ennoble itself that it may be worthy of such sons.

"These are your men—the salt of the earth, the finest of the breed—the men who will keep war away from American homes, so that you may never hear, where freedom walks today, the ominous, terrible tramp of enemy boots, or witness the horrible sight of local traitors elevated to positions over you.

"A united nation, soberly, ardently, faithfully, unselfishly, doing its work cannot ask too much of these men. You cannot do too much for them." Words—yes words—unless they be accepted as the hard and bitter truth. This is no pollyanna war, it cannot proceed as an exalted WPA project. The men out there are your sons. Given the chance by our leaders to perform the necessary tasks on the home front—the chance combined with the inspiration of a government devoted to its essential war tasks, and suspending for the duration its socialistic experimentation, a government working as hard at the task of winning the war as the people are willing to work—rationing, if you please, its social agencies, its harassments of business and enterprise,—we will again show the world what free men can do. We will again demonstrate that slave labor and forced service cannot stand up to free labor and the willing service of informed and intelligent free men.