American Foreign Policy


By FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, President of the United States

Delivered before the Foreign Policy Association, New York City, October 21, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 34, 36-38.

TONIGHT I am speaking as the guest of the Foreign Policy Association, a nation-wide organization, a distinguished organization composed of Americans of every shade of political opinion. I am going to talk about American foreign policy. I am going to talk without rancor, without snap judgment. And I am going to talk without losing my head or losing my temper.

When the first World War was ended, and it seems like a long time ago, I believed—I believe now—that enduring peace in the world has not a chance unless this nation, our America, is willing to cooperate in winning it and maintain ing it. I thought back in those days of 1918 and 1919—and I know now—that we have to back our American words with American deeds.

A quarter of a century ago we helped to save our freedom but we failed to organize the kind of world in which future generations could live with freedom. Opportunity knocks again. There is no guarantee that opportunity will knock a third time.

Today, Hitler and the Nazis continue to fight desperately, inch by inch, and may continue to do so all the way to Berlin.

And, by the way, we have another important engagement in Tokyo. No matter how hard, how long the roads we must travel, our forces will fight their way under the leadership of MacArthur and Nimitz.

All of our thinking about foreign policy in this war must be conditioned by the fact that millions of our American boys are today fighting many thousands of miles from home, for the first objective, the defense of our country, and the second objective, the perpetuation of our American ideals. And there are still many hard and bitter battles to be fought.

Historic Policy of the Nation

The leaders of this nation have always held that concern for our national security does not end at our borders. President Monroe and every American President following him were prepared to use force, if necessary, to assure the independence of other American nations threatened by aggressors from across the seas.

That principle we've learned in childhood has not changed The world has. Wars are no longer fought from horseback or from the decks of sailing ships.

It was with recognition of that fact, that way back in 1933 we took as the basis of our foreign relations the Good Neighbor Policy—the policy, the principle of the neighbor who, resolutely respecting himself, equally respects the rights of others.

We and the other American Republics have made the Good Neighbor Policy real, real in this hemisphere. And I want to say tonight that it is my conviction that this policy can be and should be made universal throughout the world.

At American, inter-American conferences beginning in Montevideo in 1933, and continuing down to date, we have made it clear, clear to this hemisphere at least, and I think to most of the world, that the United States of America practices what it preaches.

Our action in 1934, for example, with respect to Philippine independence was another step in making good the same philosophy that animated the Good Neighbor Policy of the year before.

And as I said two years ago: "I like to think that the history of the Philippine Islands in the last forty-four years provides in a very real sense a pattern for the future of other small nations in the world. It is a pattern of what men of good-will look forward to in the future to come.

And I cite as an illustration in the field of foreign policy something that I'm proud of—that was the recognition in 1933 of Soviet Russia.

And may I add a personal word. In 1933, a certain lady who sits at a table in front of me came back from a trip on which she had attended the opening of a schoolhouse. Andshe had gone to the history class, history and geography, children of 8, 9 and 10, and she told me she had seen there a map of the world with a great big white space upon it; no name, no information, and the teacher told her that it was blank with no name because the school board wouldn't let her say anything about that big blank space. Oh, there were only 180,000,000 to 200,000,000 people in it, it was called Soviet Russia, and there were a lot of children and they were told that the teacher was forbidden by the school board even to put the name of that blank space on the map.

For sixteen years before then the American people and the Russian people had no practical means of communicating with each other. We re-established those means, and today we are fighting with the Russians against common foes, and we know that the Russian contribution to victory has been, and will continue to be, gigantic.

However, we have to take a lot of things. Certain politicians, now very prominent in the Republican party, have condemned our recognition.

I am impelled to wonder how Russia would have survived, survived against the German attack, if these same people had had their way.

Republican Isolationism Recalled

After the last war—in the political campaign of 1920— the isolationist Old Guard professed to be enthusiastic about international cooperation.

And—I remember very well—while campaigning for votes in that year of 1920 Senator Harding said that he favored with all his heart an Association of Nations, "so organized, so participated in"—I am quoting the language—"as" to make the actual attainment of peace a reasonable possibility."

However, and this is history, too, after President Harding's election the Association of Nations was never heard of again.

However, we've got to look at people. One of the leading isolationists who killed international cooperation in 1920 was an old friend of mine—I think he supported me two or three times—Senator Hiram Johnson. Now, in the event of Republican victory in the Senate this year, 1944, that same Senator Johnson, who is still a friend of mine—he would be chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And I hope that the American voters will bear that in mind.

And it's a fact, a plain fact; all you have to do is to go back through the files of the newspapers. During the years that followed 1920, the foreign policy of the Republican Administrations was dominated by the heavy hand of isolationism.

Much of the strength of our Navy, and I ought to know ft, was scuttled, and some of the Navy's resources were handed over to friends in private industry—as in the unforgettable case of Teapot Dome.

Tariff walls went higher and higher—blocking International trade.

There was snarling at our former Allies and at the same time encouragement was given to American finance to invest two and one-half billion dollars in Germany—our former enemy.

All petitions that this nation join the World Court were rejected or ignored.

Administration Record Cited

We know that after this Administration took office, Secretary Hull and I replaced high tariffs with a series of reciprocal trade agreements under a statute of the Congress. The Republicans in the Congress opposed these agreements and tried to stop the extension of the law every three years.

In 1935 I asked the Congress to join the World Court. It so happens, and I put it that way, the Democrats in the Senate at that time voted for it, for joining, 43 to 20, the two-thirds. The Republicans voted against it 14 to 9. And the result was that we were prevented from obtaining the necessary two-thirds majority. I did my best.

In 1937 I asked that aggressor nations be quarantined. For this I was branded by isolationists in and out of public office as an "alarmist" and a "warmonger."

From that time on, as you well know, I made clear by repeated messages to the Congress of the United States, by repeated statements to the American people, the danger threatening from abroad—and the need of rearming to meet it.

Why, for example, in July, 1939, I tried to obtain the repeal of the Arms Embargo provisions in the Neutrality Law that tied our hands, tied us against selling arms to the European democracies in defense against Hitler and Mussolini.

I remember very well—I've got a note on it somewhere in my memoirs—the late Senator Borah told a group, all parties, which I called together in the White House, that his own private information from abroad was better than that of the State Department of the United States and that there would be no war in Europe.

And as it was made plain to Mr. Hull and me—and it was made plain to us at that time—that because of the isolationist vote in the Congress of the United States we could not possibly hope to obtain the desired revision of the Neutrality Law.

Now, this fact was also made plain to Adolf Hitler. A few weeks later after Borah said that to me, he brutally attacked Poland, and the second World War began.

Let's get on. In 1941, this Administration proposed and the Congress passed, in spite of isolationist opposition, a thing called Lend-Lease Law—the practical and dramatic notice to the world that we intended to help those nations resisting aggression.

Alludes to Rival Attacks

Bring it down to date, in these days—and now I am speaking of October, 1944—1 hear voices in the air attacking me for my "failure" to prepare this nation for this war, to warn the American people of the approaching tragedy.

It's rather interesting as a side thought that these same voices were not so very audible five years ago—or even four years ago—giving warning of the grave peril which we then faced.

There have been, and there still are, in the Republican party distinguished men and women of vision and courage, both in and out of public office, men and women who have vigorously supported our aid to our Allies and all the measures that we took to build up our national defense. And many of these Republicans have rendered magnificent services, services to our country in this war as members of my Administration. I am happy that one of these distinguished Americans is sitting here at this table tonight, our great Secretary of War—Henry Stimson.

And let us always remember that this very war might have been averted if Henry Stimson's views had prevailed when in 1931 the Japanese ruthlessly attacked and raped Manchuria.

Let's analyze a little more. The majority of the Republican members of the Congress voted—I'm just giving you a few, not many—voted against the Selective Service Law in 1940; they voted against Repeal of the Arms Embargo in 1939; they voted against the Lend-Lease Law in 1941, and they voted in August, 1941, against extension of the SelectiveService, which meant voting against keeping our Army together—four months before Pearl Harbor.

You see, I'm quoting history to you. I'm going by the record, and I am giving you the whole story, and not a phrase here, and half a phrase there. In my reading copy is another half-sentence. You got the point and I'm not going to use it. [The omitted half-sentence was: "picked out of context in such a way they distort the facts."]

You know I happen to believe, sort of old-fashioned, guess I'm old, that even in a political campaign we ought to obey that ancient injunction—Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

Now the question of the men who will formulate and carry out the foreign policy of this country is in issue in this country, very much in issue. It is in issue not in terms of partisan application but in terms of sober solemn facts—the facts that are on the record.

If the Republicans were to win control of the Congress in this election—and it's only two weeks from next Tuesday and I occupy the curious position of being President of the United States and at the same time a candidate for the Presidency—if the Republicans were to win control of the Congress inveterate isolationists would occupy positions of commanding influence and power. That's record, too.

I have already spoken of the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Hiram Johnson.

One of the most influential members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—a man who'd also be chairman of the powerful Senate Committee on Appropriations—is Senator Gerald P. Nye. Well, I'm not going back to the old story of the last Presidential campaign. Martin and Barton and Fish. One of 'em's gone.

But in the House of Representatives, the man who is the present leader of the Republicans there, and another friend of mine, and who'd undoubtedly be speaker, is Joseph W. Martin. He voted, I'm just giving you examples, he voted against repeal of the Arms Embargo; he voted against the Lend-Lease Bill, against the extension of the Selective Service Law, against the arming of merchant ships, against the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act, and their extension.

The chairman on the powerful Committee on Rules is the other one, would be none other than Hamilton Fish.

These are like a lot of others in the Congress of the United States. Every one of them is now actively campaigning for the national Republican ticket this year.

Can any one really suppose that these isolationists have changed their minds about world affairs? That's a real question. Politicians who embraced the policy of isolationism—and who never raised their voices against it in our days of peril—I don't think they're reliable custodians of the future of America.

Let's be fair. There have been Democrats in the isolationist camp, but they have been relatively few and far between, and so far they have not attained great positions of leadership.

And I am proud of the fact that this Administration does not have the support of the isolationist press. Well, for about half a century I've been accustomed to naming names—I mean specifically, to take the glaring examples, the McCormick, Patterson, Gannett and Hearst press.

Nation Rejected Tyrant's Terms

You know the American people have gone through great national debates in the recent critical years. They were soul-searching debates. They reached from every city to every village and every home.

We have debated our principles, our determination to aid those fighting for freedom.

Obviously we could have come to terms with Hitler. We could have accepted a minor role in his totalitarian world. We rejected that!

We could have compromised with Japan and bargained for a place in the Japanese-dominated Asia, the Japanese-dominated Pacific, by selling out the heart's blood of the Chinese people. And we rejected that!

As I look back I am more and more certain that the decision not to bargain with the tyrants rose from the hearts and souls and sinews of the American people. They faced reality; they appraised reality; they knew what freedom meant.

The power which this nation has attained—the political, the economic, the military and above all the moral power— has brought to us the responsibility, and with it the opportunity, for leadership in the community of nations. In our own best interest, in the name of peace and humanity, this nation cannot, must not, and will not shirk that responsibility.

Now there are some who hope to see a structure of peace, a structure of peace completely set up, set up immediately, with all of the apartments assigned to everybody's satisfaction, with the telephones in, and the plumbing complete, the heating system, the electric iceboxes all functioning perfectly, all furnished with linen and silver—and with the rent prepaid.

The United Nations have not yet produced such a comfortable dwelling place. But we have achieved a very practical expression of a common purpose on the part of four great nations, who are now united to wage this war, that they will embark together after the war on a greater and more difficult enterprise—on the enterprise of waging peace. We will embark on it with all the peace-loving nations of the world —large and small.

And our objective, as I stated ten days ago, is to complete the organization of the United Nations without delay, before hostilities actually cease.

Quick Action for Peace

You know peace, like war, can succeed only when there is a will to enforce it, and where there is available power to enforce it.

The Council of the League of Nations, of the United Nations, must have the power to act quickly and decisively to keep the peace by force, if necessary.

I live in a small town, and I always think in small town terms, but this goes for small towns as well as for big towns. A policeman would not be a very effective policeman if, when he saw a felon break into a house, he had to go to the town hall and call a town meeting to issue a warrant before the felon could be arrested.

So to my simple mind, it is clear that, if the world organization is to have any reality at all, our American representative must be endowed in advance by the people themselves, by constitutional means through their representatives in Congress, with authority to act.

If we do not catch the international felon when we have our hands on him, if we let him get away with his loot, because the town council has not passed an ordinance authorizing his arrest, then we are not doing our share to prevent another world war. I think, and I have had some experience, that the people of this nation want their Government to work, they want their Government to act, and not merely talk, whenever and wherever there is a threat to world peace.

Now it is obvious that we cannot attain our great objectives by ourselves. Never again after cooperating with other nations in a world war to save our way of life can we wash our hands of maintaining the peace for which we fought.

The Dumbarton Oaks conference didn't spring up overnight. It was called by Secretary Hull and me after years of thought, discussion, preparation, consultation with our allies. Our State Department did a grand job in preparing for the conference and leading it to a successful termination. It was just another chapter in the long process of cooperation with other peace-loving nations—beginning with the Atlantic Charter, that's a long time ago, and continuing through conferences at Casablanca, and Moscow, and Cairo and Teheran and Quebec and Washington.

It is my profound conviction that the American people as a whole have a very real understanding of these things.

The American people know that Cordell Hull and I are thoroughly conversant with the Constitution of the United States and know that we cannot commit this nation to any secret treaties or any secret guarantees that are in violation of that Constitution.

After my return from Teheran, I stated officially that no secret commitments had been made. The issue then is between my veracity and the continuing assertions of those who have no responsibility in the foreign field—or perhaps I should say, a field foreign to them.

No President of the United States—there have been quite a lot of them, too—can or would have made the American contribution to preserve the peace without the constant, alert and conscious collaboration of the American people.

Only the determination of the people to use the machinery gives worth to the machinery. Remember that.

We believe that the American people have already made up their minds on this great issue; and this administration has been able to press forward constantly with its plans.

We are thinking to avert and avoid war.

The very fact that we are now at work on the organization of the peace proves that the great nations are committed to trust each other. Put this proposition any way you want, it is bound to come out the same way; we either work with the other great nations, or we might some day have to fight them. And I am against that.

The kind of world order which we the peace-loving nations must achieve, must depend essentially on friendly human relations, on acquaintances, on tolerance, on unassailable sincerity and good-will and good faith. We have achieved that relationship to a very remarkable degree in our dealings with our Allies in this war—as I think the events of the war have proved.

It is a new thing in human history for allies to work together as we have done—so closely, as harmoniously, as effectively in the fighting of a war, and at the same time in the building of a peace.

If we fail to maintain that relationship in the peace—if we fail to expand it and strengthen it—then there will be no lasting peace.

The Problem of Germany

I digress for a moment. As for Germany, that tragic nation which has sown the wind and is now reaping the whirlwind, we and our Allies are entirely agreed that we shall not bargain with the Nazi conspirators, or leave them a shred of control—open or secret—of the instruments of government.

We shall not leave them a single element of military power—or a potential military power.

But I should be false to the very foundations of my religious and political convictions, if I should ever relinquish the hope—or even the faith—that in all peoples, without exception, there live some instinct for truth, some attraction toward justice, some passion for peace—buried as it may be in the German case under a brutal regime.

We bring no charge against the German race, as such, for we cannot believe that God has eternally condemned any race or humanity. We know in our own land, in the United States of America, how many good men and women of German ancestry have proved loyal, freedom loving, and peace loving citizens.

But there is going to be a stern punishment for all those in Germany directly responsible for this agony of mankind.

The German people are not going to be enslaved. Why? Because the United Nations do not traffic in human slavery. But it will be necessary for them to earn their way back— earn their way back into the fellowship of peace-loving and law-abiding nations. And, in their climb up that steep road, we shall certainly see to it that they are not encumbered by having to carry guns. We hope they will be relieved of that burden forever.

Now, the task ahead of us will not be easy. Indeed it will be as difficult, complex, as any task which has ever faced any American Administration.

I will not say to you now, or ever, that we of the Democratic party know all the answers. I am certain, for myself, that I do not know how all the unforeseeable difficulties can be met. What I can say to you is this—that I have unlimited faith that the task can be done. And that faith, that faith, is based on knowledge, knowledge gained in the arduous practical and continuing experience of these past eventful years.

Generation's "Exalted Mission"

And so I speak to the present generation of Americans with a reverent participation in its sorrows and in its hopes. No generation has undergone a greater test, or has met that test with greater heroism and I think greater wisdom, and no generation has had a more exalted mission.

For this generation must act not only for itself, but as a trustee for all those who fell in the last war—a part of their mission unfilled.

It must act also for all those who have paid the supreme price in this war—lest their mission, too, be betrayed.

And, finally, it must act for the generations to come—that must be granted a heritage of peace.

I do not exaggerate that mission. We are not fighting for, and we shall not attain a Utopia. Indeed, in our own land, the work to be done is never finished. We have yet to realize the full and equal enjoyment of our freedom. So, in embarking on the building of a world fellowship, we have set ourselves a long and arduous task, a task which will challenge our patience, our intelligence, our imagination as well as our faith.

That task, my friends, calls for the judgment of a seasoned and mature people. This, I think, the American people have become. We shall not again be thwarted in our will to live as a mature nation, confronting limitless horizons. We shall bear our full responsibility, exercise our full influence, and bring our full help and encouragement to all who aspire to peace and freedom.

We now are, and we shall continue to be, strong brothers, strong brothers in the family of mankind, the family of the children of God.