May 30, 1942
Office of War Information, Washington, D. C.
Today, as our Nation faces the gravest danger it has ever confronted since it gained its independence, the American people are once more meeting together in every State of the Union to commemorate the observance of Memorial Day. In the elm-shaded churchyards of the New England hills, in the more newly consecrated burial places of the West, here in the quiet century-old cemeteries of the South, men and women throughout the land are now paying tribute to the memories of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and for their fellow men.
Eighty years ago our people were engaged in a fratricidal war between the States. In the fires of that devastating struggle was forged the great assurance that, within the boundaries of the United States, men were, and would remain, free. The lives of those who died in that contest were not laid down in vain.
Forty-four years ago the United States went to war to help the gallant people of Cuba free themselves from the imposition by a nation of the Old World of a brutal tyranny which could not be tolerated in a New World dedicated to the cause of liberty. Through our victory in that war there was wrought a lasting safeguard to the independence of the Republics of the Western Hemisphere. Our citizens who then gave up their lives did not do so in vain.
Twenty-five years ago the United States declared war upon Germany. Our people went to war because of their knowledge that the domination of the world by German militarism would imperil the continuation of their national existence. We won that victory. Ninety thousand of our fellow Americans died in that great holocaust in order to win that victory. They died firm in the belief that the gift of their lives which they offered their country would be utilized by their countrymen as they had been promised it would be-to insure beyond doubt the future safety of the United States, through the creation of that kind of world in which a peaceful democracy such as ours could live in happiness and in security.
These ninety thousand dead, buried here on the slopes of Arlington and in the fields of France where they fell in battle, fulfilled their share of the bargain struck. Can we, the living, say as much? Can we truly say, on this Memorial Day, that we have done what we, as a nation, could have done to keep faith with them, and to prevent their sacrifice from being made in vain?
The people of the United States were offered at the conclusion of the last war the realization of a great vision. They were offered the opportunity of sharing in the assumption of responsibility for the maintenance of peace in the world by participating in an international organization designed to prevent and to quell the outbreak of war. That opportunity they rejected. They rejected it in part because of the human tendency after a great upsurge of emotional idealism to seek the relapse into what was once termed "normalcy." They rejected it because of partisan politics. They rejected it because of the false propaganda, widely spread, that by our participation in a world order we would incur the danger of war rather than avoid it. They rejected it because of unenlightened selfishness.
At the dawn of the nineteenth century an English poet wrote of his own land:
". . . she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men."
In 1920 and in the succeeding years we as a nation not only plumbed the depths of material selfishness, but we were unbelievably blind. We were blind to what constituted our own enlightened self-interest, and we therefore refused to see that by undertaking a measure of responsibility in maintaining world order, with the immediate commitments which that might involve, we were insuring our people and our democratic ideals against the perils of an unforeseeable future, and we were safeguarding our children and our children's children against having to incur the same sacrifices as those forced upon their fathers. Who can today compare the cost in life or treasure which we might have had to contribute toward the stabilization of a world order during its formative years after 1919, with the prospective loss in lives and the lowering of living standards which will result from the supreme struggle in which we are now engaged?
During the first century of our independence our forefathers were occupying and developing a continent. The American pioneer was pushing ever westward across the Alleghenies into the fertile Ohio valley, the Mississippi and Missouri country, the Southwest, and finally to the Pacific Coast. The shock of disaster elsewhere in the world was hardly felt; relief from recurring depressions could always be found by expanding our frontiers, by opening up new lands and new industries to supply the needs of our rapidly expanding population. Thus cushioned against the impact of events abroad, the American standard of living steadily improved and became the hope of down-trodden peoples of other lands.
Protected by two great oceans to the east and to the west, with no enemies to the north or to the south, the nineteenth century imbued into the minds of our people the belief that in their isolation from the rest of the world lay their safety.
But the oceans shrank with the development of maritime communications, and the security which we enjoyed by reason of our friendly neighbors vanished with the growth of aviation. And even in our earlier days our industries became increasingly dependent upon raw materials imported from abroad; their products were sold increasingly in the markets of the Old World. Our urban industrial areas in the East became more and more dependent on our agricultural and mining areas in the West. All became increasingly dependent on world markets and world sources of supply.
With the close of the first World War the period of our isolation had ended. Neither from the standpoint of our physical security, nor from the standpoint of our material well-being could we any more remain isolated. But, as if by their fiat they could turn back the tides of accomplished fact, our leaders and the great majority of our people in those post-war years deliberately returned to the provincial policies and standards of an earlier day, thinking that because these had served their purpose in the past, they could do so again in a new and in a changed world.
And now we are engaged in the greatest war which mankind has known. We are reaping the bitter fruit of our own folly and of our own lack of vision. We are paying dearly as well for the lack of statesmanship, and for the crass errors of omission and of commission, so tragically evidenced in the policies of those other nations which have had their full share of responsibility for the conduct of human affairs during the past generation.
What can we now do to rectify the mistakes of these past two decades?
The immediate answer is self-evident. We must utterly and finally crush the evil men, and the iniquitous systems which they have devised, that are today menacing our existence, and that of free men and women throughout the earth. There can be no compromise. There can be no respite until the victory is won. We are faced by desperate and powerful antagonists. To win the fight requires every ounce of driving energy, every resource and initiative, every sacrifice and every instinct of devotion which each and every American citizen possesses. None of us can afford to think of ourselves, none of us can dare to do less than his full part in the common effort. Our liberty, our Christian faith, our life as a free people are at stake. Those who indulge themselves in false optimism, those who believe that the peoples who are fighting with us for our common cause should relieve us of our due share of sacrifice, those who are reluctant to give their all in this struggle for the survival on the earth of what is fine and decent, must be regarded as enemies of the American people.
Now more than ever before must we keep the faith with those who lie sleeping in this hallowed ground-and with those who now at this very hour are dying for the cause and for the land they love.
And after we win the victory-and we will-what then? Will the people of the United States then make certain that those who have died that we may live as free men and women shall not have died in vain? I believe that in such case the voice of those who are doing the fighting, and the voice of those who are producing the arms with which we fight must be heard, and must be heeded. And I believe that these voices of the men who will make our victory possible will demand that justice be done, inexorably and swiftly to those individuals, groups, or peoples, as the case may be, that can truly be held accountable for the stupendous catastrophe into which they have plunged the human race. But I believe they will likewise wish to make certain that no element in any nation shall be forced to atone vicariously for crimes for which it is not responsible, and that no people shall be forced to look forward to endless years of want and of starvation.
I believe they will require that the victorious nations, joined with the United States, undertake forthwith during the period of the armistice the disarmament of all nations, as set forth in the Atlantic Charter, which "may threaten aggression outside of their frontiers."
I believe they will insist that the United Nations undertake the maintenance of an international police power in the years after the war to insure freedom from fear to peace-loving peoples until there is established that permanent system of general security promised by the Atlantic Charter.
Finally I believe they will demand that the United Nations become the nucleus of a world organization of the future to determine the final terms of a just, an honest, and a durable peace to be entered into after the passing of the period of social and economic chaos which will come inevitably upon the termination of the present war, and after the completion of the initial and gigantic task of relief, of reconstruction, and of rehabilitation which will confront the United Nations at the time of the armistice.
This is in very truth a people's war. It is a war which cannot be regarded as won until the fundamental rights of the peoples of the earth are secured. In no other manner can a true peace be achieved.
In the pre-war world large numbers of people were unemployed; the living standards of millions of people were pitifully low; it was a world in which nations were classified as "haves" and "have nots," with all that these words imply in terms of inequity and hatred.
The pre-war world was one in which small vociferous privileged minorities in each country felt that they could not gain sufficient profits if they faced competition from abroad. Even this country with its rich natural resources, its vast economic strength, a population whose genius for efficient production enabled us to export the finest products in the world at low cost and at the same time to maintain the highest wages; a country whose competitive strength was felt in the markets of the world-even such a nation was long dominated by its minority interests who sought to destroy international trade in order to avoid facing foreign competition.
They not only sought to do so, but for long years following the first World War largely succeeded in doing so. The destruction of international trade by special minority interests in this and in other countries brought ruin to their fellow citizens by destroying an essential element upon which the national prosperity in each country in large measure depended. It helped to pave the way, through the impoverishment and distress of the people, for militarism and dictatorship. Can the democracies of the world again afford to permit national policies to be dictated by self-seeking minorities of special privilege?
The problem which will confront us when the years of the postwar period are reached is not primarily one of production. For the world can readily produce what mankind requires. The problem is rather one of distribution and purchasing power; of providing the mechanism whereby what the world produces may be fairly distributed among the nations of the world; and of providing the means whereby the people of the world may obtain the world's goods and services. Your Government has already taken steps to obtain the support and active cooperation of others of the United Nations in this great task, a task which in every sense of the term is a new frontier-a frontier of limitless expanse-the frontier of human welfare.
When the war ends with the resultant exhaustion which will then beset so many of the nations who are joined with us, only the United States will have the strength and the resources to lead the world out of the slough in which it has struggled so long; to lead the way toward a world order in which there can be freedom from want. In seeking this end we will of course respect the right of all peoples to determine for themselves the type of internal economic organization which is best suited to their circumstances. But I believe that here in our own country we will continue to find the best expression for our own and the general good under a system which will give the greatest incentive and opportunity for individual enterprise. It is in such an environment that our citizens have made this country strong and great. Given sound national policies directed toward the benefit of the majority, and not of the minority, and real security and equality of opportunity for all, reliance on the ingenuity, initiative, and enterprise of our citizens rather than on any form of bureaucratic management will in the future best assure the liberties and promote the material welfare of our people.
In taking thought of our future opportunities we surely must undertake to preserve the advantages we have gained in the past. I cannot believe the peoples of the United States, and of the Western Hemisphere, will ever relinquish the inter-American system they have built up. Based as it is on sovereign equality, on liberty, on peace, and on joint resistance to aggression, it constitutes the only example in the world today of a regional federation of free and independent peoples. It lightens the darkness of our anarchic world. It should constitute a cornerstone in the world structure of the future.
If this war is in fact a war for the liberation of peoples it must assure the sovereign equality of peoples throughout the world, as well as in the world of the Americas. Our victory must bring in its train the liberation of all peoples. Discrimination between peoples because of their race, creed or color must be abolished. The age of imperialism is ended. The right of a people to their freedom must be recognized, as the civilized world long since recognized the right of an individual to his personal freedom. The principles of the Atlantic Charter must be guaranteed to the world as a whole-in all oceans and in all continents.
And so, in the fullness of God's time when the victory is won, the people of the United States will once more be afforded the opportunity to play their part in the determination of the kind of world in which they will live. With courage and with vision they can yet secure the future safety of their country and of its free institutions, and help the nations of the earth back into the paths of peace.
Then, on some future Memorial Day, the American people, as they mark the graves of those who died in battle for their country in these last two World Wars, can at last truly say-"Sleep on in quiet and in peace; the victory you made it possible for us to win has now been placed at the service of your country and of humanity; your sacrifice has not been made in vain."