Avoiding Other Armistice DAYS


By FIRST LT. NEWTON L. MARGULIES, U. S. A., Claims Officer, Fourth Service Command

Delivered before American Legion, Lebanon, Tenn., November 11, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 119-122.

IN Brussels, Belgium, seven years ago today two American students stood outside the Palace of Peace. They had just been told by their cockney-English guide that it was the biggest building in the world. Across its steps a barrier of commercial bill-boards had been erected. When it was suggested by one of the students that it would be pleasant to get around the boards, to enter and "explore" the edifice, the cockney hastened to say, "Hoe no Sir. Hits quite a mess ya-know. Full of sudden twists and many rooms, a bloomin' mystery if you ask me, ya might easily get lost, hits complicated." So the students turned away to the more pleasant offerings of the city.

And as the American students turned away, so too did the American nation. Commerce had created a barrier, not of bill-boards but of special interests, and the threat of complications, of "entangling alliances" did the rest—the nation turned from the Palace to the pleasures of peace.

Today those two students, and millions like them, today that nation, and twenty-seven like it, have swept aside blocking barriers, threats of entanglements, and are sweeping back the very forces of tyranny so as to not only enter the Palace of Peace, but to study its architecture, then build an even greater Palace, not the biggest in the world, but, symbolically, big enough to hold the world.

Today it is fitting that we constitute ourselves a student-body to study peace building—peace building of such endurance that we may celebrate this Armistice Day, the new Armistice Day being won, and then cease forever the creation of armistices between warring nations.

It is not only fitting that we examine peace plans because of the day, but because of the place: this is Tennessee. If mankind is ever to enjoy the fruits of its vineyards Tennessee has the right to examine, and to submit a peace plan at anybody's counsel-table. I know of no State that so early recognized the need and so quickly responded to the call for arms. And I speak of both World War I and II.

Although Tennessee is not quick to temper, she is very jealous of her rights, and once the bloody butchers of Europe and Asia began their inhuman hacking Tennessee just plain reached over for that Smith & Wesson, paused long enough (I suspect) to spit a little tobacco juice and said, "Let's see about this." Germans and Japs have seen. They're dead. Those few that will be left alive won't forget.

Well, "Let's see about this."

In the past eighty years Germany has been the aggressor nation in no less than five wars, as the American Mercury magazine of this month points out. In the seventy years preceding there were the American Revolutionary, Napoleonic, and Civil Wars, and as a background for the foundation of this country, as catalogued in Beards' new book "Basic History of the United States" there were eighty years of major warfare between 1618 and 1776. For the most part, it is sadly true, the history of mankind has been written in letters of blood, and now, when we are so powerful in mechanisms—just think we can fly from Nashville to any spot on earth in sixty hours, we can telephone Moscow for a few dollars, we will all be listening to London sometime this week—when we are so powerful in mechanisms, we are poor in purposes. It took war to unify us, everywhere for the first time in years we are at top production—for the savage purpose of killing men. A superficial glance at history would seem to indicate that enduring peace is more to be hoped for than to be expected.

But, it is submitted, that this conclusion is in error for it fails to embrace all the facts. And it is further submitted that the first beam in the peace building is to face facts. We must brush aside the robes of rhetoric and reach down to the ribs of reality, in doing so we will come to realize that peace can be long lived.

There was a time when a man could not go from village to village without carrying a gun. Then men grew to know that common interests were superior to constant quarreling. Men walked from town to town, then from county to county, then in the Middle Ages it was the boast of England's contemporary historians that a man could walk from coast to coast without fear of being set upon by robbers. Three hundred years ago most men would have doubted that a land as big as England could be completely at ease about itself. But it was done. Individual community life made no difference.

There was a time when we thought two nations could not lie side by side without an Army standing in readiness. We have never had an Army on the Canadian border. Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland have been so long at peace among themselves we have almost forgotten about it. Differences in national life can be frictionless. All central Europe thought it was impossible, but it was done. Individual national life made no difference.

We compete with Canada in nearly every line of productive activity, we do so vigorously, seriously, but without shedding blood. Though history has been written in blood for the most part, there has been less blood in recent centuries, and powerful examples of prolonged calm are proof that war is not part of Adam's curse. The whole struggle of the human race has been the ever-widening of friendship's area and the constant narrowing of the field of hate.

A warped historical perspective will portray a sad picture, but an analytical examination of the facts—and life is a game played upon a checker-board of facts—gives cause for good cheer.

Plagues, not many years ago, wiped out as much as two-thirds of a nation, but science, properly applied, has eradicated the "plagues" from human life—in respect to all but a disease or two. If we can win a victory over physical illness we can do so over the international illness of war. Man's minds are subject to laws of nature as much as their bodies are—the laws are just harder to find and harder to apply, but they can and will be applied.

One of the former causes, we know, of belligerent action has been the lack of alternative. It has been "fight or famine," but now, with the alternative of cooperation—of a kind suggested at Dumbarton Oaks—the fight or famine choice need not be made. We can take a lesson from a man in my home state.

It is said a farmer there heard a nearby explosion. He rushed to his neighbor to ask about it, the neighbor said, "Yep, there was one heck of a bang awright. I just fed my chickens some of that 'lay or Bust' feed and one of 'em was a rooster." That farmer learned that a choice between the impossible and the explosive is a mighty undesirable result.

If we face the facts we recognize that men have learned to be at peace between communities, in large areas, and between nations as such; that because of frequence and universality a curse is not unconquerable—as in the case of physical plagues—therefore we may rationally hope for a peace that may live through the many years.

Throwing aside the fear of ever-present need of war, and addressing our attention to the problems of the several nations our first consideration should be that of prosperity. The choice of "eat or explode" is an easy one to make if there is food to be had. When I say "food" I do not mean it in the narrow sense. "Man cannot live by bread alone." I mean the general goods of prosperity—homes, hospitals, schools, and the many other instruments of progress. Do you realize before this current war two-thirds of the world-population still slept on the ground, and that more than two-thirds of all men had not even seen an electric light bulb? America holds 7% of this world-population and yet we have 60% of the telephone and telegraph communications. Most men have not had a standard of living—but a standard of starving.

I do not suggest that we give up our standard of living, try, with our national happiness to flavor the international sea of despair. But what I do suggest is that we make an effort to lift the standard of living in other nations, so that they too can enjoy healthy bodies, modern homes, and the right to hope. We will profit directly—we will have the dividends of peace and a constant and secure commercial traffic. We need not share our earned wealth, but we can share the method of earning it. Let's encourage the next fellow to make money too.

You know money is like manure, it is no good unless you spread it around a little.

That is my view. As the Honorable Representative McFarland pointed out we are hearing the "views of the speaker, not necessarily the views of the War Department." As a matter of fact I will hazard this remark: the War Department has no views on manure—not in this connection I daresay.

The productive genius of nations other than the United States has been demonstrated. All the citizen needs is an incentive. Without the incentive he will not produce. Did it ever strike you as odd that during the Weimar Republic in Germany the helpless hemmed-in nation, as she styled herself, could not make a living? She repudiated debts, Dawes and Young scaled those debts down, and she repudiated again: she suffered the ravages of inflation and cried for succor from her brethern. That was because she didn't want to make democracy work. But when she had the incentive of going to war again suddenly, miraculously, she became a productive nation. Locomotives, uniforms, sports arenas, training camps, ammunition factories, highways, all were produced in a few short years. And for the most part these products were- non-productive products, i.e., products that did not pay for themselves like a tractor, or a corn-picker. When Germany had the incentive to harnessher forces to destruction she outstripped the world, she demonstrated increditable development. If she could do that for destruction she can learn to do it for production, and so change the ancient channels of her history from one of hate and fear to clear certain streams of peace and of unity.

And production goals can be achieved without Germany's much vaunted "expansion" mood. When Germany was at her greatest, was a world-empire, she had more of her people living in Paris than in all of her possessions. When Italy cried "Tunisia, Tunisia" and wept that she must have more land she shed crocodile tears, because once the land was stolen none of her people would occupy it. There is a contradiction in the advertisement that, for instance "Italy is the Greatest Nation on Earth" and the suggestion that her citizens should go abroad to live. They listen to that "greatness" and then refuse to migrate to pioneer soil. Moreover men are not inclined to leave the homelands of their fathers in any case. How many of you would move to the Philippines, or to the borders of Africa?

History and inclination put the lie to the idea that with territorial expansion national wealth increases. And commerce adds a laugh to the lie—men can make a profit on other lands without gaining sovereign power over its people. Free the world markets and you free the world.

Even as we cooperate that older nations may be taught new ways, we must disabuse their minds of old ways. Japan and Germany have been teaching, and teaching, their youth the false value of fierceness. They have woven into the very fabric of the souls the "beauty" of war. They have changed in the minds of too many the proper position of vice and of virtue. And slowly, if possible, that tapestry of terror must be picked apart.

We hear on the one hand that we must make a "harsh" peace, and on the other a "soft" peace. I think the use of these terms are unhappy choices. Harshness implies "unnecessary" roughness, "softness" implies substituting an indulgent smile for stern measures. I do not believe in a harsh peace nor a soft one. I believe in a necessary peace, and when I say necessary I mean a peace including every measure needed for ripping from the fabric of a nation's political system the rotteness of Fascism.

Firmness. We must have it for the benefit of those so long benighted as well as for ourselves.

You know there is a time when a little cruelty is a great kindness, and a little kindness is a great cruelty. There is a time when a little cruelty is a great kindness, and this time we will insist upon that great kindness. This time we will not use the child's cough-syrup for the ailing Axis country—this time we will cut it out with the surgeons' knife.

Man is in his sixth or seventh historical century. He has spent much of that time, regrettably, in waging war. And now the time comes for waging peace. Lets keep this peace won—if it has taken five or six or seven centuries of fighting then we should have no fear of a half-century or more dedicated to rehabilitation of Japanese and German and other Axis peoples. Comparatively the time-investment is a short one. Let's not worry about 50 years.

It is one of the blessings of this earth that pain is soon forgot. Sometimes our blessings can be our undoings though, for, it is likely, the pains suffered between Pearl Harbor and Victory may be too quickly forgot. Last week's Life magazine illustrates my point: we seem to have a proclivity, we Americans, for helping a nation in need even to our detriment. Already, it is urged by Life we are showing a gentleness toward our enemies. We should resolve that charity is a good thing only when it does not encourage wrong-doing. There can be "too much of a good thing" when it is improperly applied. Not long ago the report came to me of some Tennessee woman who went to a Nashville Psychiatrist with the confession that her friends thought she was crazy. The psychiatrist asked for her symptoms. She said, "I like pancakes, that is all." "Well," the doctor rejoined, "that isn't a sign of insanity. I like pancakes myself." The old girl jumped from her chair, clapped her hands with delight in finding a kindred spirit, and exclaimed, "Really doctor, I'm so glad. You must come visit me some day. I have two trunks full of pancakes in the attic." A good thing can be carried too far.

Do not think it presumptuous that we consider, now, some of the rules for erasing from the minds of the enemy the crazed ambitions for world domination. We are not experts, but we are members of a democracy and schooled in political thought, therefore we can reasonably consider the broad principles of control. If I had two sons who were fond of fighting I know I would not hand them both a pistol and say, "Now, boys, be quiet." And so, sensibly, I would deny the Axis nations munitions factories, armament plants and any allied activity that could be converted to death-machine manufacture. I would not allow Germany, for instance, the use of commercial aeroplanes nor allow any youth of that nation to learn to fly a plane in a foreign land. If aeroplanes are necessary in this swift moving economy of the 20th Century then an American or British controlled and manned commercial route can be flown, with the employees coming from the United States and the profits of the corporation returning to the U. S.

But if the choice must be one of allowing heavy industry to exist in Axis nations for the next several years or retardation I say let those nations go back to basket-weaving until they learn the value of friendly living.

There are two good ways to keep a mean dog from biting—shoot it or pull its teeth. Germany and Japan need some free dentistry.

But in this correction of the European and Far East dogma one thing should, above all else, be avoided: we should not seek to impose novel ways of living that are divorced from the causes of war. We should not hope to make all other countries a uniform society patterned after the American social system. Even as the Russian socio-economic recipe might be alright for them, but not for us, so too our methods, totally, would not do for Europe.

It must be abundantly clear to us all that the traditions of these diversified peoples are worth preserving as a way of life, and a way of life best fitting the geography of the land and the temperament of the people. It should be almost as clear that to try uprooting the folk-ways would be inviting defeat of all we undertake.

When we, as "foreigners" tell a Hungarian that his clothing is improper, neither healthful in cut, nor economical in design, he will resent it to the marrow. Even if we are right it will be resented, we're "foreigners" and there are things in the heart, that the head will never understand. As with his clothings, so with many other phases of activity.

Not only are we foreigners, but we are far from perfect ourselves, and this the European will see. Take the subject of clothing—suppose we say his winter-wear is too heavy. And suppose the person who tells him that is some woman, a social-worker, who happens to be wearing the latest thing in ladies' hats. Who will he think is "nuts"? Suppose we tell him that his diet is all wrong, and so out of balance that he should give up the national age-old foods for something new. And suppose the person who tells him that issome officer who happens to be chewing a little Tennessee tobacco at the time?

We had better perfect ourselves before we set about the task of perfecting all mankind. I suspect that is really a task for Heaven's messengers, not American's.

When I was an officer in an Italian prisoner of war camp I saw some of this "perfection program" in action. We soon gave it up. At first we would send to the prisoners a balanced menu, carrots, peas, turnips (lots of turnips, that is the vegetable they really didn't like) and such things as jello—typical American foodstuffs. Well, the mess officer, Italian, would say, when the truck arrived, "thank you for the carrots and the cocoa. Now where is the flour? The flour! Have you enough for the three meals?" They made their own spaghetti. It was "spaget" for breakfast, "spaget" for lunch and "spaget" for dinner. We told them it wasn't right, and they said, "No. Well, we have eaten it for some time. Before our boy, Columbus, you know, discovered this place." And we said, "You won't live as long." And they said, "What is life without spaget?"

I talked to a prison Captain, the adjutant of the compounds, about this. He was a highly educated Italian, a world traveller. I asked him why an appeal to their reason did no good, and this is what he told me: "Lieutenant," he said, "I understand there is a meat shortage in the United States, (It was quite severe at the time of this discussion.) Suppose I tell you that I know where a good housewife can get all the steaks she wants, sirloins, tender, government inspected, regular market, and for sale at 15c a pound. Would she buy it, and serve it?"

"And how!" I said.

"Oh, one more thing. It is horse-meat. Now would she buy it?"

"Of course not," I objected. "No one eats horse meat in the United States."

"Why not?" he asked.

"Well, I . . . " and I was stumped.

"Is it not clean?" Yes, I admitted a horse was cleaner than a pig.

"Does it carry an odor?" No, none that I know of I said, and less than "G. I." mutton I was sure.

"Well," the Captain said, "the answer is this. There is no real reason why Americans don't eat horse-meat. Scientifically it is more acceptable than most of your meats. But it is a custom, deep-rooted, not to serve it, and that custom is made of stouter stuff than any appeal to reason. Now that is the way we feel about many of our customs in Italy. I'll tell you what: when you Americans start eating horse-meat come tell us to give up spaghetti. When you give up smoking wire me. There is every reason to stop that . . . but until the time that you all become perfect, leave us to our little vices."

What he said is important when universally applied. There are indulgences so old that they are beyond the appeal to reason. And this we must fully recognize. One day my brother and I stepped into a compartment on a train in which a Turk had been traveling. What an odor! As we opened the compartment door two skunks approaching the train were seen scurring away. We had no choice but to travel on this train so we stepped in. The little Turk was the source of the scent. He smelled like a tray of angry hamburgers. My brother leaned over toward me and said, "That little fellow has been eating garlic for fifteen years, and just this minute learned to exhale." And that's a national habit.

Offensive though it may be to us, if the custom is disassociated from war causes I suggest that we leave it alone. We are "foreigners" so resented: we are fighting a thing that is not amenable to the appeal of reason, so there is an obstacle that is nearly insurmountable; and, after all, we are not perfect ourselves, thus cannot teach by the power of example.

But if we will face the facts we must conclude that by insuring prosperity, fighting the will to war, and permitting sister nations their national customs peace can be retained.

We seek to reverse a chapter of history. On this Armistice Day we may reflect that only one hundred and fifty-five years removed from colonial life we are making Europe and the Far East a colony of ours, a colony of ours until they can develop a functional government dedicated to good living.

This supervision will be a tremendous task. But we are a nation of tremendous tasks. When Nazi Germany crushed in her foul claws all of a continent, and the Christian world watched with fearful heart, Russia cried for a new front. When Europe tottered on a brink of a thousand years of slavery the trapped man and women cried for us to struggle for their freedom: world events were in such a horror that even the brave were trembling. And then we came.

Tremendously we came. We gave Russia not one, but three new fronts. We did not struggle across the fields of France; we swept the enemy before us.

We are a nation of tremendous tasks, and with God's help, just the nation to win a full Victory, just the nation to build an everlasting Palace of Peace.

* Delivered with the permission of the Commanding General of the Fourth Service Command, but does not necessarily reflect the views of the War Department.