Eternal Vigilance Is the Price of Liberty


By ROANE WARING, National Commander of the American Legion

Delivered before the families of "Freeport Fighting Men" under the auspices of the William Clinton Story Post 343of The American Legion, Freeport, N. Y., December 5, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 228-230.

IT is an honor to be your guest here at Freeport tonight. It is not an unusual experience for me to speak to gatherings of The American Legion. It is a new and deep responsibility to be asked to address the parents of such a considerable number of the fighting men of the present war. I too have a son serving overseas. He is thousands of miles from here tonight. So I know you will understand that I am speaking straight from my own heart.

Those of you who have a son in service may take a just pride in having raised a youth who proved ready and fit, in the hour of need, to serve his country. These sons of yours possess the basic qualifications which bring a glow of satisfaction to all parents—sound minds in sound bodies. You have a right to be thrilled in knowing your own flesh and blood today is part of that living wall of defense that stands between our Country and its enemies. There are three points I want to emphasize tonight. FIRST: In serving our Country in the military or naval service in this war, your sons and my son, are acquiring an education that no school in our nation could give them.

Our sons in service are getting a broadened outlook on life that will enable them to cope with the complexities and problems of our future national welfare. The World has shrunk. No nation can any longer exist in isolation from the rest of the World. Social, economic and political upheavals in one part of the World today, spread like wildfire to all other parts. American citizens of tomorrow must be equipped with a wider outlook and broader grasp of World affairsthan we have ever before possessed. Provincial thinking in the future will be suicidal.

Within our own lifetimes have come the advents of the radio and the automobile which revolutionized our own outlook. These two inventions alone increased the scope of our perception, of our thinking, and of our activities. Within our own generation Americans got on wheels. I dare say every one of us has traveled more and farther, than our parents did. Now the march of progress is putting Americans on wings. Our sons have been projected by progress just as much ahead of us in perception, in thinking, and in travel, as we were ahead of our parents. We must recognize this.

These changes of material progress have been beneficial in raising the standard of human life. They have enabled us to live richer lives, to accomplish more in our lifetimes, to add to the span of our usefulness.

We must not forget, however, that in one respect mankind has not advanced. Human nature remains the same. In this we haven't changed from our parents, and our sons are not different from us.

Since human nature remains the same, we must recognize that the checks which 5,000 years of history have developed to restrain our elemental emotions and instincts, must remain essentially the same. Those checks are the laws and rules conceived by man to restrict the unbridled exercise of these traits in their relations to each other. Those laws and rules constitute what we can call governments.

Down through the ages men have experienced with different types of governments, ever searching for a perfect one. It was here in America 167 years ago that there was developed the form of government under which has been achieved an ideal balance between the best interests of the individual on the one hand, and the greatest welfare for all on the other. Under that form personal freedom and liberty reached a new high in human history. America became the mightiest nation on earth, and Americans the happiest and the most prosperous people.

Our sons are going to experience, through their service for God and Country in this war, just what we Legionnaires learned through our bit in the last war, a great awakening of their sense of appreciation of the blessings of America. They are going to come home some day convinced that no other land under the sun has as much to offer as America. They are going to return with the conviction that the American form of Government, as we have known it in our days, is the best that the mind of man has yet conceived.

It will be that knowledge that will infiltrate into every fiber of their being, that will make them better Americans for the rest of their lives. It will make them, as it made us Legionnaires, the champions of militant Americanism, It will make them determined to hold the heritage of blessings they now have as American citizens. It will make them ardent guardians of the Constitution of the United States, and of the Bill of Rights, the greatest bulwarks of human happiness the World has ever known.

SECOND: While we glory here tonight in the valorous service of our sons, let us recognize our own responsibility.

We must back up our sons. They are fighting our battles. Our lives and our liberty depend on their success. But their lives depend on our support.

We must keep them supplied with the ships, the tanks, the planes, the guns, the munitions, and all the stuff they must have to whip our enemies and to survive at the many fighting fronts.

These essentials of modern warfare must be kept flowing in a steady and continuous stream. This is an absolute necessity. Beside that need nothing else is important in America today.

The real fighting hasn't started as yet in this war as far as we are concerned. Victory is nowhere yet in sight. The war has not yet entered any decisive stage. We are facing months, yes, years of deadly combat.

We must not be misled by over-enthusiastic and sensation-seeking headline writers into believing that we have started rolling toward victory. Frankly, we haven't started rolling as yet on any great scale. But we are picking up momentum. The slugging has started. It's going to be costly in sacrifices and heartbreaks.

It is up to us on the home front to show the same courage and the same tenacity that our fighting men show on the bullet line. They don't let go of that line when the going gets tough. We must hold our Sector, too.

Our job is the production job.

We must keep at that job, day and night and week after week. There must be no breaks on the production front. Break there may mean the lives of sons at the fighting front. You can't stop a charging tank with a bare breast, no matter how gallant a heart beats in that breast! You can't bring down enemy planes with empty guns!

There must be no work stoppages.

There is no reason that can justify a work stoppage now. No matter how good the cause may seem, it means nothing to our fighting men.

A strike in this war of survival is a strike against our soldiers and sailors. It is a strike against our own security.

That makes a strike in this war an act of treason!

We've got to get tough with everybody who tries to sabotage our war efforts. That includes any individual or group. This is no time for horseplay here at home. This war is grim. It is a game of death with the lives of our boys as the stakes. I don't propose to have the life of my son wasted by any greedy employer, worker, or bureaucrat. I know you feel the same about yours. This war calls for teamwork. Everybody has to do his share. Those who shirk must be dealt with, and dealt with promptly, and dealt with severely!

THIRD: That brings me to my third point. Our fighting men have taken over the job of repelling the enemy who has come storming from without.

We must take over the task of repelling the enemies that bore from within.

God forbid that we become so lacking in alertness on the home front, that while our sons are fighting overseas, we, by our indifference permit the loss of our cherished freedoms and liberties at home. Our sons left their freedom and liberties in our hands while they are on the firing line. We must keep the faith! We must preserve their rights!

We have to fight fire with fire. We have to regiment, too, for unified defense. But we don't want any wartime regimentation carried over into peacetime! That ideal balance between the best interests of the individual and the greatest good of all the people, which is the backbone of our form of government, must not be disturbed. Even before this war there have been marked tendencies and trends in this country that have worked to unsettle that balance. We do not want the scales to tip either to the right, or to the left. We want the scales to remain in balance. Only by keeping them so, can we be assured that we as individuals, and we as a people, will retain our priceless heritage—the right to rule ourselves.

Our total war effort must not be permitted to become the cloak of advancement for new-fangled social reforms and the spread of freak ideologies, the chief purpose of which is to uproot those most cherished possessions of ours—individual initiative and private enterprise. Those are the two factors in our democracy which have made America great. America has always been the land of unlimited opportunities. We want it to stay that way. We are going to see that it does. We do not want this war to foist upon the American people the alien philosophy that our principles of self-government are outmoded and out of style, and that we ought to adopt a new fashion—a fashion under which the state is to owe everybody a living, and everything is to come from and be controlled by the state. That's exactly why we are fighting this war. We didn't want the Axis powers to impose that kind of life on us. Let's not beat the armies of the Axis only to succumb to their poisonous "isms".

We have to guard against having permanently with us after this war a government by regimentation, a government by starry-eyed social reformers, a government by bureaucrats, a government by labor, capital, agriculture, or any other clique or class.

We have cause to be concerned. On every hand we have encroachments on our rights as self-governing citizens and on our high estate as sovereign citizens. Some of them are necessary in the war effort. Others have absolutely no relation to the war effort.

We must not forget, even though some of us may need never worry, about a $25,000 ceiling on salaries, that if we consent to a ceiling at that height, we are setting the groundwork for other ceilings—ceiling of $15,000, $10,000, and perhaps as low as $5,000. In short the whole idea is Communistic in its tendency and is un-American. Because it is

a war emergency we must carefully guard any effort to retain it in time of peace. One of our most prized possessions is the right of the individual to rise to the height limited only by his abilities and capacities! For my part, I'd rather be dead, than give up that right!

Take this whole idea of ceilings over salaries, wages, and prices. As a temporary war expedient, I am for them, of course, if necessary to win the war. If we lose the war, then the ceiling problem won't be a problem. There won't be any living salaries, wages or prices. There will be onlyslave wages. 

But as a peacetime proposition, this ceiling idea is absolutely cockeyed. It would be repugnant to every principle of American independence. It would stifle individual initiative and ambition, scuttle private enterprise, close the horizon of opportunities, exclude America from the land of promise. Let us accept these ceilings now, as a war measure, as a patriotic contribution to the war effort. But let's accept them only with the solemn pledge to our own fighting men, and to ourselves, that we will reject them, and reject them with all the forces at our command, just as soon as this war is over.

We must be alert to every kind of development on the home front, in order that we may appraise its significance, and guide ourselves against the continuous encroachment of bureaucracy.

Take this injunction suit on the ground of monopoly that has been filed by the Department of Justice against the Associated Press. Possibly very few of you here tonight have bothered to read about this litigation. Let me tell you here and now that you had better watch this suit. It is loaded with dynamite that may explode suddenly to shatter one of our most precious rights—the freedom of our press.

In the first place, even in ordinary times such a suit would be deplorable as it attacks also the right of contract. There is absolutely no justification for the filing of this suit in time of war. It has no relation to the war effort.

It has a deep significance.

Public services are subject to regulation by our government because they are considered as being impressed with public interest. Public utilities, therefore, are required to get franchises to operate. Part of the franchise consideration is the condition that the utility perform efficient service, and make that service available to one and all who desire it. Another part of the consideration is regulation and control by the government.

There is the meat in the A. P. suit. This suit is the entering wedge to have the gathering and dissemination of news declared a public service. That may sound all right to a lot of people. But here's the danger. If the collection and dissemination of news is declared a public service, the government will move in then to regulate and control it.

If that happens, the freedom of our press is gone.

God forbid that the good old Associated Press, and

United Press and International News Service ever become a consolidated American D. N. B.!

If the Nazis win this war, your news will be dished out by the D. N. B. But if you remain apathetic while this attack on our freedom of the press is going on now, you will let an American D. N. B. crop up here right in your midst!

The success of our whole democratic form of self-government depends on the extent to which our citizens from whom all the powers of government should stem, keep themselves informed. They must know about everything that is going on. They must know both sides of every controversial question. The American Press, led by our news gathering associations, has always done a magnificent job of keeping us informed of all the news that is fit to print.

For my part, I am opposed to these attacks under the guise of war necessity, and to any unnecessary extension of government red tape, that takes our executives and workers from their important jobs on the production lines. With the crisis in our man power so acute, why drag executives away from their desks in order to appear in courts to testify in suits that can be filed and disposed of after the war? Why the the hands of our production managers with yards of red tape?

That's in the cards, fellow citizens, unless the Associated Press with your help and mine, can beat this suit.

The things I have outlined to you here are but some of our home front responsibilities. My desire is to impress upon you that winning of this war, winning of the peace, and the perpetuation of our cherished way of life demand not only service above self from every citizen, but also call for eternal vigilance. Those always have been and always will be the price of liberty.

The American Legion is very proud of our fighting men. As a demonstration of our admiration and affection for these fighting men, we Legionnaires have acted to secure the amendment of our 1919 Congressional Charter to make honorably discharged veterans of this war eligible for membership. Since October 29, 1942, when the President signed the bill amending our charter, we are a two-war American Legion. Already hundreds, nay thousands, of honorably discharged veterans of World War II are members of The American Legion.

The American Legion is proud to take the leadership in battling on the home front to preserve the birthright of our fighting men while they are far from home. We want them to be proud to join us when they come back.

To you fathers and mothers and wives of our fighting men, I say, God bless you! You have given your sons to our Country, to the cause of justice and humanity. May God grant them safe return! We of The American Legion know the anguish of your hearts. We humbly join you in a prayer to God Almighty that he crown the efforts of your sons, and your sacrifices, with an early and complete victory that will bring peace and good will to all men, and life everlasting to the ideals of freedom, liberty and justice.