"Search and Assess the Record"


By ALBEN W. BARKLEY, Senator from Kentucky

Delivered at the Democratic Jefferson Day Dinner, New York City, May 8, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 509-511

MR. TOASTMASTER: It is fortunate that in these tragic days of struggle and sacrifice we can meet in the name and under the continuing inspiration of Thomas Jefferson.

The struggle of which I speak is one that is being waged not only for the preservation of the human rights which Jefferson did so much to establish, but also the right to assemble as we are assembled here, to discuss and debate them.

No such right exists now anywhere in that part of the world controlled by our enemies; and no such right will exist here if our enemies should triumph in this war. We meet, therefore, with a background of a century and a half of political, economic and social development for which Jefferson's philosophy prepared the way.

Faced as we are with the most stupendous and world-embracing battle to preserve a world in which the mind and soul of man may flourish and be free, poised for the impending stroke which may determine its length and final issue, we confront three problems, none of which can be separated from the others.

First, we must win this war so crushingly and overwhelmingly that no class or clique in any part of the Axis nations may again delude their people with the claim that they had not been defeated.

Second, we must work for and help to secure a peace which will be just; a peace that may be durable because if is just.

Third, we must organize the world for peace, so that the peace which we shall earn and set up may be preserved by the united and cooperative activities of those who have brought the enemies of peace to their knees and ushered in some form of world order in which the arts of peace and the will for peace may flourish.

Regarding the first of these three tasks, there is no important or substantial disagreement among the American people.

And there is no substantial disagreement that in the two and a half years since Pearl Harbor the United States, as a government and as a people, have gone farther and faster in getting ready to fight than any nation ever went in the whole history of nations.

That we were not wholly prepared for this war when the Japanese treachery of December 7th, 1941 broke upon us, there is no point in denying.

That we were as well prepared as we were is due to the foresight, the warnings, and the insistence of the Democratic party and the Democratic administration presided over by President Franklin Roosevelt.

I do not like to become partisan in the midst of war, even at a Democratic gathering like this. But a few days ago I read a speech by a prominent candidate for a presidential nomination on the other side of the political fence in which he claimed that our military and naval weakness were due to the negligence of the present administration.

It is necessary to refute this only by recalling that from 1921 to 1933, twelve years, during which the Democratic party was not in power, not a single battleship was laid down for construction in the American Navy.

It might be well for some of these ambitious Governors to do a little cramming on American history between now and next November.

But while we were not prepared for all out war when war was forced upon us, the same can be said of every war in which we ever engaged, beginning with the Revolutionary War itself.

The same can be said of every democracy in the world, including those which lay all around Germany and could look over the back fence and see what was going on under Hitler.

Democracies are never prepared for war at the drop of a hat. If they were, they would not be democracies, but would be the kind of autocracy against which we are fighting to protect ourselves and the world.

Under these circumstances, we, as well as our friends among the United Nations, have been compelled to fight the enemy back and hold him off with one hand, while preparing with feverish intensity with the other to forge the instruments with which to drive him back and crush him utterly and fatally.

In this process, we have transformed our Nation from a peace to a war economy. We had done some things before we were drawn into the war. But in the war effort itself we have exceeded in many respects what we hoped to accomplish in the training and equipment of the largest army and navy that ever fought under a single banner. And the quality of this army and navy is in every way commensurate with their numbers.

Now in the performance of this task, and in the incredible progress we have made toward victory, there has been no distinction of politics, religion, race or color. Industry, labor, agriculture and finance have put on the uniform and shouldered a gun, and turned out the instruments with which men must fight.

This program required organization and concentration of energy. It required the delegation of power to somebody who could use it. For democracies cannot fight against aggression with a sprawling, disjointed, heterogeneous outfit without form and void.

I presume that even our opponents, those who are most critical and most partisan, will concede that this organization, this concentration, this transformation and the magnificent results which have flowed from them took place under the guidance of a Democratic administration, headed by a Democratic President, chosen for the task by the people in a free election.

Again let me say that I prefer not to speak in a partisan vein even at a partisan assembly. But I do not propose that those whose chief business at present is the fomentation of partisan hatred shall fill our backyard with political hand grenades, even though none of them explodes. I shall at least contend for the right to call attention to their presence and their intent.

Some of these things have made it necessary to put into effect restrictions and regulations which have been irksome and irritating. Politicians bent on office and disunity, will undertake to magnify and capitalize these disarrangements.

But the American people know what is involved in this war. They are not children. But even if they were, as some loquacious and mendacious persons seem to think, they would still know that the inconveniences and hardships being experienced by those of us who still live in comparative comfort are not to be mentioned in the same breath with those being endured by the fighting men and women who are honoring the name of America all over the world.

Through all these energies and these efforts, we shall win this war. We shall win it so completely along with our friends of Great Britain, Russia, China, and other peoples who are fighting by our side, that the world will not be bothered by another debate as to who won the war.

We cannot afford to allow the controversies and disunity growing out of a nationwide election to retard by a single item or moment the momentum which we are gathering and shall soon display.

There are some among us who deplore the fact that in the midst of war we must undergo a campaign and an election.

I am not one of them. The people have a right to pass judgment on their government, in war as in peace. We welcome the people's judgment upon our record, in peace and war alike. We entertain no fears upon that score.

The only thing we ask is that the American people search and assess that record for themselves, without prejudice, without malice, without heat, but with all the light they need to enable them to see, keeping in their memories the conditions we inherited, what we have done to alleviate those conditions, and keeping in mind our present task and its final and glorious consummation.

When the war shall end, our task will not be over. In some respects it will have just begun.

We shall reconvert our war economy hack to a peace economy. We shall re-transform our factories, our farms, our financial institutions, our manpower, back to the pursuits of peace.

We shall undertake to do this with speed and care.

We are already beginning this process so far as possible without impeding the war effort.

We shall bring back to their homes and families eleven or twelve million men and women. We shall be confronted with the duty of seeing that these men and women obtain work at fair wages. We shall see to it that they are reintegrated into the social and economic life from which they departed to serve their country. We must make sure that they do not return to an economic situation which requires them to sell apples and lead pencils on the streets in order to eat and sleep and support their families in a land that they have saved.

This great cause cannot be served by a resort to political heroics. It cannot be solved by appeals to ignorance or prejudice.

The kind of life to which our nation and the world will return will be determined by the degree of cooperation, tolerance, patience and understanding that may be brought about between government and business, agriculture, finance, labor, and all other elements of our wonderful people.

None of these can do the job alone. All of them, working together with the same unity and determination which has characterized the war effort, can and will accomplish it.

Along with these national and economic readjustments, the peace itself poses a question of major consideration. Indeed, the kind of peace which will follow this war may determine not only the real outcome and effectiveness of this war, but whether another is to follow soon upon its heels.

Already the groundwork is being laid in a most nonpartisan atmosphere, for our return to economic stability and for our return to peace.

In both houses of the Congress men .of all political parties are serving upon Committees to look in advance at the postwar probabilities, and be prepared to meet them. We have made much progress in preparing for peace. In the international field, conferences have been and are being constantly held, that much of the underbrush in the thickets and jungles and forests of international relationships may be cleared away.

In this undertaking the heads of our government are utilizing the ability, experience and patriotism of men of all political persuasions.

Under our Constitution our President is charged with the conduct of our foreign relations. This is true no matter who is President or to what party he belongs.

President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull have worked together in not only conducting our relations with other nations, but in the formation of the consistent policy of our government.

Sometimes they have conferred separately with the representatives of other governments, as at Moscow, Quebec, Casablanca, Teheran, and in the Atlantic, as well as in London and Washington.

To say that they have worked at cross purposes, or that their right hands are ignorant of what their left hands are doing is a preposterous and fantastic misrepresentation.

It was disappointing, and somewhat disillusioning to hear such a claim come from one who became dry behind the ears on any kind of foreign policy after he had preceptibly slowed down his own synthetic flight from a presidential nomination.

Out of this war must come a peace that is just and honorsable. A peace to which all fair-minded men and men of good will can subscribe.

In order that such a peace may be ordained, the economic problems of impoverished and overrun nations cannot be Ignored. Chaos and disorder cannot be the breeding ground of a durable peace. Hunger, starvation and disease cannot constitute the fertilizer for a healthy growth of peaceful restoration.

It will not be necessary to set up an international WPA as some prominent political candidates now pretend to fear. Nor is it necessary for our own salvation, nor will it shorten the war or hasten the peace, nor make a better peace, for such candidates to seek to destroy the confidence of our people in our allies for some local and temporary purpose.

When peace comes it must come as the result of confidence among the peoples who must win this war.

No blueprint of a peace treaty can now be exhibited. But we are looking and preparing for the day when the peoples of the earth may throw from their backs the burdens of war, stand erect again, and demand that all peoples and all nations that now assert their desire and intention to pursue the arts of peace shall do so in good faith.

When that peace shall come, it must be preserved.

Whether any discussed or projected organization to preserve world peace shall be launched before any treaty of peace is concluded, or shall become a part of it, or shall come afterwards and separately, is a question of details and mechanics. Many nations will have to be consulted and will have to agree.

But the substance is what will count ultimately in determining the value of any organized effort to preserve world peace.

We have learned now that when storm clouds gather overthe world, threatening our own and the security of all peace-loving nations, we cannot rush into a storm cellar thinking that when the storm subsides and passes we may emerge to find our homes and institutions and our traditions untouched.

There is no such thing as individual freedom from flames when the world is on fire. We know that now, and only folly could dictate that we seek to shirk our share of responsibility for the peace of mankind.

I do not wish to disinter the bones of the Versailles Treaty or the League of Nations.

But a coy, demure, unannounced, but palpitating candidate for President a few days ago startled the world by revealing that the defects of the Treaty of Versailles grew out of the fact it was written by a group of tired old men who had enough life left in them to win a war but were too feeble to write a treaty of peace.

The petty implications in this observation are too obvious to need photographic exhibition or blueprint delineation.

That the Treaty of Versailles had defects no one will deny. So have all treaties contained defects and many of them contained the seeds of future wars.

The Treaty of Versailles failed not because it was written by tired old men who had won a war, but it failed because a group of men, some of them malicious, some of them old, and some of them young, destroyed it before it had a fair chance to work or to have its defects cured.

In our own country it became the football of partisan politics and as a result we got nothing but a separate peace with Germany.

It does not serve our present generation, nor compensate for the enormous sacrifice which we are suffering in this war to reflect either upon those who wrote that treaty or those who opposed it. Our task now is to avoid such mistakes as were then made, if we can detect them.

It is our duty to protect future generations from the necessity of going through another slaughterhouse in order to preserve a decent civilization, elevate the ideals of the world in general, develop the resources with which God has endowed the earth, give remunerative labor to all who are able and desire to work, provide an opportunity for profitable investment by those who are able and willing to invest, lay the groundwork for a higher and more universal education, and cultivate the moral and spiritual values which exalt a nation in its own eyes and in the eyes of the world.

In behalf of such a concept of life the Democratic Party has fought for a hundred and fifty years. In behalf of such a concept it calls now for the earnest and devoted aid and cooperation of men and women of all ages, religions, colors, conditions and political persuasions.

A few local or temporary political victories or defeats may inflate or depress minds which look upon them as the supreme object of all life.


Truth crushed to earth
Shall rise again.
The eternal years of
God are hers.
But error, wounded,
Writhes in pain
And dies amid its worshipers.