Our Task


By WENDELL WILLKIE, Lawyer and Author

Broadcast over National Broadcasting Co. network from St. Louis, Mo., October 15, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 45-49.

FOR nearly twelve years now we have lived under the Presidency of one man and under the Administration of one group. We are faced with the prospect of being asked to continue that man and that group in power for another four years.

Irrespective of the abilities or the motives of the individuals involved, such long continuance of power is hazardous to the perpetuation of free government. For 150 years the people have instinctively known this. And the people have been right.

For power so long held breeds within itself certain abuses which will ultimately destroy a democratic society. The individuals who hold it inevitably come sincerely to believe that they alone possess the requisite knowledge to govern the people. All other men, because they cannot be possessed of certain detailed knowledge, seem to them unqualified. Even potential leaders in their own parties seem to them pigmies.

Likewise, those who hold power too long begin to distrust the very source of their power; the people seem to them hopelessly ignorant. As a result, entrenched leadership becomes cynical and remote and it fails to take the people into its confidence.

Witness the present administration's failure to tell us of the Japanese threats reported to the President by Ambassador Grew long prior to Pearl Harbor. And its failure now to

inform us honestly of our operations and of our relations with other countries.

"White Paper of a Black Record"

A few days ago, for example, the State Department published a white paper of a black record. It showed that our representatives abroad saw and told our Government of the growing menace of Japan and Germany, of the danger that one or both might strike the United States and involve us in war. But this information was not imparted to our people, apparently on the assumption that diplomacy must be secret.

Yet all of the concealment and appeasement through fear of aggravation delayed the menace not one jot. The only result was that we as a nation remained unwarned and unprepared. Meanwhile our Congress conducted munitions investigations while our President signed futile neutrality acts.

And yet—and this is the tragic irony—the Administration's excuse today for our lack of preparedness for war is that the people and their representatives would not have authorized the building up of an adequate air force, army and navy.

Perhaps if the people had been given the facts which it is now apparent the Administration possessed, they would have, as usual, been wiser than their leaders. Perhaps many of the billions wasted by the Administration between 1932 and 1940 might have given necessary employment and at the same time built a great armed force which would have stopped those marauders in their tracks.

And perhaps today, if the Administration would give us the facts about our diplomatic relations with Great Britain and Russia and China and France and Italy, the people would come to a wiser conclusion than their leaders will reach behind closed doors.

In the United States the people have the right to make the decision.

A Divided Nation Is Pictured

As it stands, we were unprepared mentally and physically for Pearl Harbor and now we are left similarly unprepared for what will come after the war. And this is on the principle power always assumes: that it knows best what is good for the people, and that when it needs the votes of the people it is justified in using pressures and propagandas to lead them to its way of thinking.

The Administration plays the agencies of public information like an accordion—it saturates our newsreels, our radio programs, it manipulates the release of the news to suit its purposes and censors opinion in hundreds of subtle, and little known ways.

It has come to know too well all the divisions in our society—racial, religious and economic—and plays one against another, sometimes really believing it knows best.

And those who gather round and constitute the palace guard, knowing that obscurity will be their lot when change comes, use the multiple powers of Government to perpetuate the leader from whom their only importance stems.

Now even if I agreed with all of the policies of an administration that has held such power for so long, I would think it vital to terminate that power. And, since I disagree with many of the policies, both domestic and foreign, of the Government that presently holds such power, I am dedicated to the removal from office of the man and the group who exercise it.

Since the Democratic party is unable to rid itself of a leadership which millions of its members would like to see changed, and because that party is today a combination of discordant elements held together largely by the manipulation of conflicting social groups, the use of long entrenched patronage and the vast power of its leadership, I, who have never been accused of excessive partisanship, believe that the only instrumentality that can be used to end that power is the Republican party.

I furthermore believe that the ending of that power is necessary not only for the preservation and the development of a free society in the United States, but for the hope of a free society in the world.

Unity as Republican Aim

I understand that you like many others have questions in your mind as to the policies which the Republican party must adopt and the practices it must avoid in order to be entrusted by the people with the leadership of our country

And I assume that you want me tonight to discuss these problems not in the manner of a schoolboy answering questions, but with the calm reason you are entitled to expect from a man whom the party has signally honored.

Let me say first: of one thing I am sure, the Republican party will not deserve leadership and cannot win if it merely attempts to coalesce under its banners the various negative groups within the country. Nor can it afford in formulating its policies to yield to the special pleas of self-interested economic pressure groups.

It must find its strength not, as does the present administration, in dividing and ruling but in a national policy that unifies the people.

It must seek to make America, after this war is over, a land of ever-expanding opportunity—opportunity not just for a few top men to make their fortunes with the help of all other men, but opportunity for every man to work, to develop his abilities, and to receive the rewards of his effort, economic, social or political. In other words, a society in which every man is guaranteed a job and the chance to get ahead.

Now you can't get ahead unless you are willing to take a risk. From the family in every prairie wagon to every ambitious worker, farmer and businessman of today, the same courage, the same boldness, the same will to get ahead has been the key to American progress.

Free Enterprise Defined

The present administration would have us believe that enterprise is the private, selfish and abused possession of a few big business men and as such is to be watched like a hawk and have its wings clipped and its tail-feathers pulled out every time it shows the least sign of flying—or even of hopping.

That is a ridiculous conception and shows a basic misunderstanding of what makes America tick. The spirit of enterprise lies in every energetic American and is the basic factor in any society of expanding opportunity.

Risk capital is the name today for money which people stand ready to risk in backing a new invention, organizing a new air route, or in any other pioneering enterprise. It is what America and the world will need most for growth and expansion in the tough and adventurous days certain to follow the war.

Television, the new automobiles, the new planes, the new houses, the new plastics, the new farm crops—and the endless list of new discoveries, born of war research, cry aloud to be developed.

And risk capital is not, as the administration would have us believe, any more the private possession of big business than is enterprise. Every farmer who takes a chance and

buys the next-door farm on a shoestring is risking his savings in exactly that spirit. By working extra hard, with luck and good management, he knows that he can literally lift himself up by his bootstraps.

When a family saves pennies and sends a boy to college, that is risk capital. When that boy does chores to help pay his tuition he is risking his capital. It is by such risks that men in America have gotten ahead.

For Sound Social Insurances

A land of expanding opportunity, however, must do more than give men and women a chance to get ahead. It must provide not alone opportunity; it must provide protection and care. Though not built on the fear of want, it must courageously face the problem of want, and in doing so must learn how to protect everyone in the event of unemployment, accident, bad health, incapacity and old age.

It must bring about a constant improvement in the successive generations of Americans. As it is an expanding society, it must expand, not reduce, social insurances. And it must put them on a sound actuarial basis—not the present basis of politics and confusion of funds.

Social insurances, however, are not worth the paper they are written on unless a great and a growing America stands behind them. And such an America can be built neither by setting up an all-powerful state, nor by turning over our economic system to a few self-appointed private individuals.

A growing America can be achieved only by one means: A productivity big enough, expanding fast enough, to absorb the unleashed energies and the aspirations of all of our people. And such a productivity can come into being only if America joins with other nations to establish a world at peace in which trade can flourish.

For trade held too tightly within our own borders will lead to our own economic stagnation. As a matter of fact, even those who are interested solely in an unregimented economic society in America should be ardent advocates of world cooperation.

Policies to Widen Opportunity

And now let me suggest in broad terms some of the measures for which the Republican party must stand in order to bring about expanding opportunity for every American.

First—While we are engaged in this war to which we have dedicated all of our resources and our lives, we must insist that those in power eliminate every wasteful, socially unnecessary expenditure of the people's money so that the people themselves, when the war is won, may have in their hands the seed corn from which the crop of tomorrow can grow.

And after the war is over, though taxes on inheritances must be maintained, taxes on income must be modified so that there is left the incentive to individuals, whether it be men who labor, or farm, or are in business, to plant the crops of production and of enterprise.

Second—We should demand the enforcement of present laws, and, if necessary, the passage of additional laws, to make our enterprise system completely competitive—and this irrespective of whose toes are tramped upon. When enterprise, whether by necessity or by default, excludes competition, such enterprise must be regulated in the interest of the people.

Third—The adoption of a wise labor policy is of the utmost importance. It must not be in the punitive spirit of the Southern Democrat's Smith-Connally Act. Nor do we want a policy like the present one that divides our country into warring factions of labor leaders and business executives, forcing each to jockey for power and struggle to convert political parties to its purposes.

We must, of course, recognize the fact that men who work, and do not own, have no adequate economic and social protection except in their collective strength. And we must see to it that that strength is not taken away from them.

Labor's Part in Government

But basically we must proceed on the knowledge that we will never solve the problem of the relationship of labor to management, or of either to government, by mere modification of this law or that law. We will solve it only by making labor an essential part of government.

I do not mean just by appointment of a labor representative as Secretary of Labor. I mean that in addition to real representation in a real Cabinet, labor's representatives shall help determine government's fiscal, domestic and international policies. Thus, labor will share the responsibility and the results.

Fourth—Our agricultural policy should not be based upon the Administration's doctrine of scarcity during the years of the great depression nor upon its paternalistic, petty interferences, its manipulated and its distorted markets in these war days of unlimited demand and higher prices. Ours must be a far-seeing policy, recognizing the necessity for soil conservation and the fact that the real hope of the farmer lies not in an expanding economy of scarcity but in expanding markets.

Indeed, no member of our society has a greater stake in markets than the farmer; if these are not strong and thirsty for his products, all other schemes will fail him in the end. There lie ahead amazing new agricultural possibilities for a wise leadership to open up.

New standards of health, new sources of earning power, can, if opportunities are created, enormously increase agricultural demand. New uses of nutritive foods, new uses of agricultural products in industry, will help swell the total. Yet even this great domestic expansion will not be big enough.

It is only when we contemplate expanding foreign markets, which will come with a world of peace and cooperative effort among the nations, that we begin to glimpse the mighty forces that we can bring to the aid of the American farmer.

Fifth—We recognize that violent swings in the economic cycle with all of their attendant distresses and suffering are largely the result of the fluctuation in durable goods expenditures—as in the building and enlargement of industrial plants, railroads, utilities and public improvements. A method of cooperative effort between industry and government must be found for the more orderly, long-term adjustment of these expenditures.

Answer to Burden of Debt

Now these are measures designed to build in America the kind of a life we want. But neither these nor other measures to that end can be accomplished if we try to lock ourselves in from the rest of the world.

After the war we shall have a national debt of probably 300 billion dollars, on which the interest charge alone will be around 7 1/2 billion dollars a year. This charge, together with soldier rehabilitation the ordinary costs of the Federal Government and the equally large cost of State and local governments, will consume up to a third of our national income.

Pause for a moment to consider piling on top of this the astronomical cost of building a hypothetical "impregnable defense," the phrase of those who picture America as going alone in the world of tomorrow use.

Under such conditions all those things against which we cry out now, and endure only as wartime measures—regimentation, bureaucracy, interference with many of our traditional freedoms would, through sheer necessity have to be multiplied again and again.

And any attempt to rid ourselves of our debt through either inflation or repudiation would bring social and economic dislocations, so far-reaching as to destroy our whole social system.

The right way through is plain: expansion and development. Literally millions of people around this world are eager to work with us in cooperative economic effort. And if there is one thing that we have learned in America it is that no man's prosperity needs be had at the cost of another's. That well-being is a multiplying, not a dividing process.

Aims of World Cooperation

You have heard men, who like to stencil other men into categories, call me an internationalist.

I do believe deeply in international cooperation, not because I love America less but because I love her more—the America of well-being, of jobs, of opportunity, of ideals and of free men. And I know that the very existence of these things in America in the future depends upon our finding a method of cooperation with the other nations of the world.

Cooperation in order that there may be peace in the world; that we and the other Great Powers may not waste the substance of the people in building up rival impregnable defenses; that unnecessary and artificial trade barriers and tariffs may be broken down; that a monetary standard may be recognized around which the currencies of the world can be stabilized.

Some men ask: Just what is your blueprint? Now I could give you many. But, in my opinion, we are not yet at the blueprint stage. We have yet, by prospecting with other nations, to find the place on which we may stand together to move the world towards peace and away from war.

The ultimate blueprint will be what we can work out with these nations in mutual accommodation. But first we must discover a common ground on which we can begin to build.

And though I do not presume to know with precision or in detail what that common ground looks like, or the exact way there, I think I know certain things that may be helpful in reaching it.

Economic Basis for Peace

I know that we will never get there if we start by making exclusive offensive and defensive principal allies. Or by indicating that we prefer to make offensive alliance with one rather than with another of our major Allies. Such alliances will but divide, not unite the world. They will in the end originate wars on such a scale that no organization of the nations can possibly stop them.

I know we will never get there if America tries to play a hand at the old game of power politics—a game which is always placed at the price of permanent peace, and a game at which we will find ourselves inept and frustrated.

Another thing I know: In all our dealings with those of the conquered countries of Europe, with our potential friends and, when the war is over, with our vanquished enemies, we must encourage and seek to work exclusively with the forces that are neither Nazi-tainted nor Fascist-stained.

And this I know also: Although America, with all the other nations united on a common ground must be willing to agree to bear its share in any military effort to prevent or repel aggression, the exercise of military power and force alone is not the full or the final answer. It never has been.

The real foundations of peace and development must be economic.

And there is finally the fact that any plan for peace with half a chance of success must be built on a world basis.

I can testify from personal observation that all the world turns to America for leadership. Therefore, tentatively, hopefully, I should like to see this country exercise its utmost qualities of leadership and moral force to bring Great Britain, Russia and China and the United States to a point of understanding where they will make a joint Declaration of Intention as a preliminary to forming a Council of the United Nations and other friendly nations and eventually of all nations.

Out of the practice of cooperation and out of the substance of agreement will come our only chance to realize mans hope for peace.

These are my deep and my strong convictions. It's anyone's privilege to fit me into any category he wishes. That's relatively unimportant.

Party's Position on Vital Issue

The real concern is: What will be the position of the Republican party as expressed both in its platform and in its leadership in 1944?

Recently at Mackinac Island, a selected committee chosen by the National Chairman passed a resolution which stated: "We must do our full share in a program for permanent peace among nations. . . . We consider it our duty to declare our approval of . . . responsible participation by the United States in post-war cooperative organization among sovereign nations to prevent military aggression and to attain permanent peace with organized justice in a free world."

Twenty-five years ago at the end of the first World War our country and our party were faced with a situation similar, but less complicated. Its convention adopted a resolution drawn by Elihu Root. He, too, incidentally, was dubbed an internationalist. That resolution was in these words:

"The Republican party stands for agreement among the nations to preserve the peace of the world. We believe that such an international association must be based upon justice and must provide methods which shall maintain the rule of public right by development of law and the decision of impartial courts, and which shall secure instant and general conference, whenever peace shall be threatened . . . so that the nations pledged to do and insist upon what is just and fair may exercise their influence and power for the prevention of war."

After adopting that resolution, the Republican party accepted as a leader, and elected, a candidate who, when in power, turned away from the clear import of that resolution.

What People Now Ask of Party

The people of America have that example fully in mind. They are watching with an eye of close scrutiny the Republican party today. They are tired and disillusioned with their present leadership. They would like to turn to the Republican party.

But they are resolved that this country will cooperate and cooperate effectively with the other nations of the world that their sons may never again be needlessly slaughtered and that peace may be preserved for their own economic well-being and for the economic well-being of mankind.

They will never elect as President a candidate who hedges or qualifies or whose record is ambiguous or one concerning whose position they have the slightest doubt on this the basic issue of our day.

But once the Republican party convinces the Americanpeople of its sincerity in advocating real international participation, I am confident that the people will recognize and support this party as the party of the future. For in our party there are the able men, there are the progressive traditions, there are the dynamic policies capable of revolutionizing the outlook of mankind.

It is our task to arouse the mighty efforts and enterprises of our people, and through these to make peace a reality for men and women everywhere in terms of work and trade, reward and human hope.

If the party selects from among its many able men, as its candidate for President in 1944, a man whose record leaves no doubt that he is qualified for the leadership of such a cause, I will, of course, support him.

And it is unthinkable that the party will select any other kind.