The Battle on the Home Front


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

Delivered before the Annual Convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Detroit, Mich., August 9, 1943.

Broadcast over National Broadcasting Company Network

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 734-736.

I LOOK forward each year to the opportunity of meeting with the members of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Here, we gather on a common ground of understanding to seek a solution to our mutual problems. From these gatherings comes a renewed inspiration and confidence to carry on, often in the face of obstacles of tremendous proportions.

That law enforcement, handicapped by the fact that there are fewer police officers today than a year ago, has been able to keep the home front secure is a tribute to its courageous men and women. The turnover in police personnel has assumed alarming proportions, ranging as high as 60 per cent in various cities. I believe the danger point has been reached and some real understanding and appreciation of the strain and stress already placed upon law enforcement must be shown if the internal security of this country is not to be imperiled.

The efficiency of law enforcement has increased materially, as shown by the fact that more crimes were cleared by arrests last year than in the previous year. While we have gamed some measure of success, dangerous days lie ahead. Whatever the difficulties, we must and will fight on. The men of law enforcement in every sense of the word are soldiers at heart—brave and courageous, persistent and determined—and they are fighting a battle that must not be lost.

This Nation in reality is waging war on two fronts. One is against the international purveyors of tyranny and barbarity that spring from the hellish hates of duplicity and chicanery which fester in chancelleries and palaces abroad. Their guns, bayonets, bombs, and tanks are aimed to crash the liberties of free people everywhere. Pillage, plunder, and destruction are their goal.

The other front is against our enemies at home who are just as determined, just as ruthless. The war could be won on the sea, in the air and land campaigns and yet be lost on the home front. We of law enforcement fight less conspicuously, but our part of the conflict, like the other, affects every home in the land and every man on the foreign fighting fronts.

As a people, our energies must be unified and directed toward final and glorious victory on the far-flung battle fronts of the world. Any activity which imperils that effort must be pushed aside. Life cannot go on as usual; we have a war to win. I fear at times that our blessings as Americans have clouded our vision of duty. We have become accustomed to rights, but all too often we forget that for every right there is a duty, for every privilege a responsibility, and for every joy a sorrow.

We should keep foremost in our minds the real task of law enforcement. It is the protector of law and order—the corner-stone of civilization, the very keystone of democracy. It is the first step in the administration of criminal justice. Unless the investigator first gets the facts and apprehends the real wrongdoer, the most vigorous and gifted of prosecuting attorneys are powerless to act. Then, too, there must be a real spirit of cooperation between investigating officers and prosecutors. The only excuse for the existence of law enforcement is the protection of society. The general welfare of the people transcends the convenience of confirmed sex offenders, confidence men, check passers, arsonists, burglars, robbers, and murderers. Yet it appears that at times the convenience of the criminal transcends the welfare of society in some circles.

You know and I know that human lives are taken daily, homes are plundered, hard-earned life savings are stolen, and crimes by the score occur only because some gullible parole board or pardon dispenser has released upon society some un-reformed criminal; or because some politically expedient prosecutor lacks the fortitude to prosecute, or compromises with defense counsel to allow the criminal to plead to a lesser offense though definitely guilty of the major crime; or because technical and capricious interpretation ofstatutes and rules of procedure theoretically takes the handcuffs from the criminal and places them upon law enforcement. When human jackals are loosed to prey upon society without even fundamental regard for the responsibilities of law enforcement, we should not hesitate to speak out.

The attitude of law enforcement in this respect is not due to a spirit of avengement but arises simply and solely from considerations for the safety of society. I submit it is an obligation of judicial administration to see that justice is done, rather than an obligation looking toward preferential treatment of criminals. You will be vilified and smeared by the special interests who are always vociferous in their championship of the enemies of society, but who give all too little thought to the long-suffering public.

It is no secret that hardened convicts in many instances leave prison at will; others enjoy privileges of "sob-sister" prisons closely akin to a country club atmosphere, with money, guns, and the comforts of life to be had for the asking. Likewise, it is no secret that criminals have bought their way to freedom from slimy renegades who slander the good name of law enforcement.

Law enforcement has gained much ground in the crusade against dishonesty and crime during the past decade, but recently we have suffered reverses. The present trend, unless abated, foretells difficult days ahead on the home front. We have the experience of the past to guide us. When law and order break down, you will find that public desire for law and order has first weakened.

The American daily press and magazines worthy of their name have performed a great service for law and order. For the most part, they have made a sincere effort to focus the healing rays of the spotlight of public opinion on law enforcement problems. But there still remains, to besmirch the good name of journalism, certain psychopathic canard purveyors and others who, from motives best known to themselves, are constantly seeking to undermine public confidence in law enforcement agencies. These oracles of disaster, who by some rare gift are able to answer every question, at least in their own estimation, should have the opportunity sometime to face a practical problem and wrestle with reality.

I think that every law enforcement administrator, when such situations arise, should take steps at once to insure that the facts are known to the public. This will, of course, require courage. But, the cause we serve is greater than any one of us. This thought must ever be in our minds.

Another trend which is again manifesting itself is the tendency on the part of some motion picture producers to return to the formula which glorifies the criminal and ridicules the law enforcement officer. This, combined with the gross distortion of historical facts indulged in by certain segments of the motion picture industry, should receive the serious thought of the mothers and fathers of this Nation. You know how much damage such pictures can do in warping the impressionable minds of our American youth. Whenever any force seeks to glorify gangsterism and prostitute history, then it is time for those interested in law and order and real freedom to let themselves be heard.

Another problem which is rapidly reaching flood time proportions involves civil violence, race riots, and insidious campaigns against minority groups. It is a national disgrace and a reflection upon all Americans that altercations between individuals can touch off community-wide conflagrations, which are often seized upon, by young teen-age hoodlums, of both sexes, to indulge in depredations of all kinds against property and persons.

Law enforcement is not responsible for such outbreaks.But, once lawless bands of people begin to take matters into their own hands, law enforcement does become responsible. When outbursts occur, pitting race against race, creed against creed, every officer must recognize his responsibility and realize that the only intelligent course of action is to adopt vigorous, prompt, and firm measures to restore peace. If force must be met with force, see to it that the protectors of law and order are marshalled in superior strength without delay and that they function for the good of all, with proper regard for the rights of all. Remember that crime thrives, violence and murder rage, only where law and public resistance are weak.

The real trouble causing these public outbreaks lies underneath, and we of law enforcement have a right to expect that the situation be recognized and corrected by those civic forces directly charged with such responsibilities. We are fighting for freedom of speech, but I hope the day will come when it will be recognized that freedom of speech does not carry with it the license to destroy, incite, subvert, and misrepresent the truth. Persecution or discrimination that takes place far away is often much easier to recognize than that which occurs in our own community, yet sane tolerance and democracy, like charity, ought to begin at home. They go together. Every victory for intolerance in America is a menace to democracy for all of us.

Our enemies in the war on crime include others than those who murder, rob, and steal. We have the harborers, the perjurers, and that countless class of criminal scum that subsist on the crumbs from the tables of the criminal overlords. And these include the crooked politician, the war racketeer, and the professional loose-mouthed, vacuum-minded rabble-rousers who subsist on the sweat and toil of the decent law-abiding citizen.

Among the enemies of society, we also must include those operators of dens of iniquity, debauchery and crime, whose love of money eclipses their sense of decency. Then, too, there are the unethical physician and the shyster lawyer, both of whom are driven by the mad desire for money to give aid and assistance to our sworn enemies in this conflict.

Another element that is just as dangerous, yet less apparent until brought into bold relief by the spotlight of public attention, is the subversive group—those termites of discontent and discord, always alert to seize upon racial differences, economic stresses and political difficulties to advance their selfish and venal purposes. These "ism" termites scoff at our Democracy and belittle the cherished freedom, liberty and fair play that characterize America. The threat against the American people from within is not merely a Nazi threat. It is the insidious infection of other foreign "isms" creeping up the pillars of the Republic under the false guise of Democracy.

I am sure you will agree that delinquent and thoughtless parents are another problem facing us today. Some are victims of circumstances, but others, by their disregard of parental responsibilities and their frenzied chase after the extra pleasures or dollars available in these extraordinary times, forget the most sacred duty of all—that of rearing their children as self-respecting, law-abiding citizens who truly are worthy of the name American. The facts are stark and revealing, and possibly hold the key to this sad situation. Time and time again, children have admitted they did not consider their fathers as representative of honorable manhood, or that they were ashamed of them; and some have even said they were ashamed of their mothers.

What is needed above all else is more enlightened parents, to create better homes and take proper care of their children. Keep boys and girls from becoming criminals when they are young, and you can keep most of them from becoming criminals later in life.

Last year, the number of persons under voting age who were arrested and fingerprinted reached alarming proportions. Today, the situation is worse. The tragedy revealed by our latest survey is found in the fact that the arrests of boys and girls 17 years of age increased 17.7 per cent. In reviewing further the trends for the past six months, we find an 89 per cent increase in the arrests of girls for offenses against common decency. These girls are the future mothers of America. It is tragic that so many lives are ruined which could be useful, simply because right influences were not present at the right time.

Here is a real problem that calls for the intelligence and active interest of every police agency in the land. But this is not law enforcement's problem alone. Our American homes, churches, schools, and youth-serving organizations all must redouble their efforts to help young people make their way successfully to maturity. Law enforcement, having direct contact with crime, is in a better position to curb the perpetration of the actual offense than any other group, but the ultimate solution must come from the home, the church, and the school, through intelligent cooperation.

Yet law enforcement must be in the forefront of crime prevention. It is not alone the problem for sociologists, psychologists, and social reformers. It must be met with realism, understanding and discipline, untempered with coddling, and free from the cloudy mysticisms of new-fangled educational philosophies.

We still have with us those easy-going people who are too busy to vote, too tired to attend community functions or to take a real interest in these matters of public importance. The sad truth is that most of them ill deserve the privileges and the unmatched freedoms we enjoy in this greatest of all lands. They have the fruits without contributing to the labor for its production.

But therein lies a challenge to you. For every one of these indifferent persons and every one of the delinquent parents you can convert by education and effort into an active supporter of law and order, so much easier will your job become. Citizens must be made to feel that they are a real part of the war; they must know the worst as well as the best.

In meeting your problems, please keep constantly in mind that the FBI is ready every hour of the day and night to assist you. Assuredly, the security of America is law enforcement's greatest responsibility. Our problems, it is true, are major ones. They will try the patience and test the perseverance of strong men. But our war is a holy crusade. It is to protect the dearest of all our institutions—the home and the hearthside, under the double blessing of liberty and freedom. America must do some straight thinking and plain speaking in this hour of crisis. We are fighting not only the greatest military war in our history, but also the skulking enemies within our own gates.

Let us forsake all temptations to slip into careless ways. Let us avoid the tragic consequences of inaction and indecision. Let us be men enough, with courage and determination enough, to do our duty fearlessly here on the front assigned to us.

Then, when our men in khaki return after having won their war, they will find that we have not lost ours.