Save American Neutrality


By GERALD P. NYE, U. S. Senator from North Dakota

Delivered at Republican Picnic-Rally, held at Starved Rock State Park, Illinois, August 24, 1939 and Broadcast over Blue Network of N. B. C.

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. 5, pp. 723-726

IF the Republican party looks for success in 1940, it must first look to the affording of platform and candidates winning the confidence of that great majority of Americans who wish to see their government meet present day challenges with intelligence and without quackery.

We shall get nowhere as a party if our outlook is merely that looking to victory. We shall be woefully defeated if we choose to assume that victory will come alone on the strength of the growing unpopularity of the opposing parties administration. We shall die as a party, if we choose to pursue a policy of government that ignores the tremendous challenges presented these days. We shall be overwhelmingly defeated if our program is to be merely that of destroying the so-called New Deal without a thought to the worthy accomplishments that ought to be retained.

For six years we have had government by leadership that clearly was without a goal, without much more than an ability to cash in on immediately popular processes that have won no permanent remedy or good. It has been too much a government of witch hunters and medicine men pursuing illusive evil connections and influences presumed to be the root of all evil, a government that seemed to be strong in leadership but leading no where. For more than six years we have heard representations of purpose which all too infrequently have been accomplished. Republicans should be ever mindful of the fact that the people want leadership with purposes that will be accomplished, with vision that acknowledges a genuine place for government in rebuilding the economic structure in a way that affords largest measure of opportunity for the greatest number.

For six years we have had a government by leadership that obviously has been hoping for a normal economic recovery to be credited to that leadership striking in-the-dark, guessing and wild spending policies. The result of those six years is the economic status of 1931, plus a drifting and waiting and trusting to luck, plus a futile resignation to the order prevalent that gets nowhere. It leaves us with an air of defeatism and a policy of despair, a condition brought most definitely to a head and into plain view by the President's attitude toward the international situation. The Republican party ought to know that the people are not going to be content with a substitution for this policy in the form of a let-things-right-themselves policy.

The Republican party must, and will, pursue policy that corrects our domestic ills by carrying to the American farmer assurance of cost of production, plus a profit for that part of agricultural production that is consumed by Americans, and to the American people in need of an honest measure of security. But, all of this avails us little or nothing, if the country is to be plunged into another foreign war that willthoroughly disorganize any program of economic recovery even before we have won it. The Republican party must accept the challenge which the present administration lays down, that challenge which would have us involve our country in the power politics of the world and forget or ignore those serious problems which threaten us right here at home.

One does not discuss the Roosevelt foreign policy without first asking what it is. For my own part, I cannot define it except to say that it seems to be one of thrusting and lunging and parrying and playing the game of poker at the international table where more experienced gamblers have been playing for years, without anyone winning from them a pot deserving the name. It is a policy which finds an administration preaching a determination to keep this country of ours out of war, but pursuing a course of activity that can only be inviting ourselves to another war even before we know that about which the next war will be fought, who we will be fighting with, who we will be fighting against.

America wants to be free of another foreign war. Americans have made that particularly plain again and again. America wants peace. Americans have made it plain that they want nothing of involvement in those hates and prejudices which are so exclusively Europe's. We have assumed that we learned a lesson twenty years back that was going to last.

While we are most emphatic in declaring a determination to stay out of foreign wars, we are equally confused about the methods whereby we will help ourselves to stay out of other people's wars. Today the American people, millions of them, are believing that the present national administration wants a neutrality law to help us keep out of war, when, in fact, that same administration really wants to do away with the all-important part of the neutrality law.

Let us, first of all, get the facts straightened out. To hear and see the Roosevelt administration at work today, as it has been for a year, the people are left to believe that congress put something over that the President did not like when the neutrality act of 1937 was passed. That was the law that forbade American exportation of arms, ammunition and instruments of war to nations engaged in war, forbade loans and credits to nations at war and forbade Americans upon the vessels of nations at war. The President not only signed this act and made it the law of the land, but his administration did more than that and asked for the law in its present form.

Let the whole background of the neutrality picture be made clear. True, a neutrality law was first given life by the Senate Munitions Committee. It drafted and introduced three resolutions covering the ground now encompassed by the law. The administration combined these threeresolutions and introduced new legislation which differed from the Munitions Committee programs, only as relates to the discretionary powers given the President under the law. The Munitions Committee program was much more mandatory than is the present law. But what should he made clear is this: The present neutrality law was asked for by the Roosevelt administration. That is the same law that the same administration now condemns and asks repeal of in part.

The President has been demanding change in the law, particularly as respects that feature of it which forbids the sale and exportation of arms, ammunition and instruments of war to nations at war. He demands this change in the name of a truer neutrality. He wants the change made in such a way as will let the law operate to favor of those nations which have command of the sea in time of war, those nations that can come and get what they want in the way of war supplies. That would be, as things stand right now, England and France. It also means Japan. The law the administration wants is one that would favor one group of nations as against another group. And they want the people to accept that kind of law under the title of neutrality.

The administration hasn't yet got what it has so insistently demanded, this repeal of the arms embargo in the neutrality law, the embargo that does deal alike with all nations in time of their wars. Both the House of Representatives, and the Senate, have denied the administration its request. These denials came in the face of terrific pressure. The action of congress in this respect has been severely criticized, even to the extent of calling congress pro-fascist. What congress was really doing was denying power to a president to involve us in war. Congress was striving to maintain the laws that would help us keep out of other people's wars. The administration was bitter about the refusal of congress to grant the presidential wish and repeal the arms embargo. I expect that any of us would have been equally bitter if we had been in the president's shoes and gone as far as he seems to have gone in assuming a leadership in the European squabble.

The pretentions and the actions of President Roosevelt with respect to war and peace have been so utterly contradictory, that there must quite naturally be confusion in the public mind about this whole neutrality consideration. Why would the President be so angry about the refusal of congress to repeal the arms embargo—the arms embargo his administration once asked for—the arms embargo he himself once praised? Let us see if the answer to that is to be found.

It will be remembered that up to a certain point the President consistently preached the doctrine of "keepingout of war." If the people want one picture of the President upon this, and the question of neutrality, they will find it in that famous campaign speech of his delivered at Chautauqua, N. Y. Other most contrary pictures are available of him since.

This administration has drifted from a strict "keep out of war" policy, and the drifting started at precisely the time when that administration saw itself failing miserably in its domestic policy. The drift started and continued through those days when a war boom might save the face of the administration. The administration will deny this most emphatically. But the President himself let the cat out of the bag, and let his tongue slip during those hours when he was spitting cotton because congress would not do his bidding and repeal the arms embargo. Surely, we are not forgetting his words to the effect that failure to repeal the arms embargo had prevented a war boom.

The acrobatics of the President in the foreign situation during the past year would be funny, if it were not for the fact that these moves have carried such complete dangerto the future of a nation that knows that American Democracy can be so easily destroyed, if America lets itself be played into another frightful world war. The administration has actually been playing "sicum-dog" on England and France during the past year.

England and France no more want war than we Americans want our country in war. Both nations were doing a good job of avoiding war. They were permitting an adjustment in Europe of the injustices that they had helped to inflict at Versailles. And up to a certain point we encouraged this. It will be remembered that there were more administration voices than one taking for President Roosevelt credit for what was done at Munich, credit for the avoidance of war there by reason of his letter to the Italian dictator. The administration was proud of the Munich pact up to the hour when there was discovery of the displeasure of the American people with what England and France were doing in surrendering the small democracies to Hitler. It was then that the administration began making faces at England and France, demanding that they stand by their guns and by Democracies, if they expected to retain American sympathy and respect. It doesn't require much imagination to see Ambassador Bullitt representing our displeasure. It requires even less imagination to see England and France, wanting our respect and our help, wanting to know what America would do if they did stand by their guns and demand a halt of Hitler operations in Eastern Europe; to see them being assured by American spokesmen that in the event such a demand led to war, surely they could count on American cooperation, because America wanted to save Democracy. Naturally, England and France would want to know, "well, what of your Neutrality law that forbids access to American war supplies; what of the Johnson Act that forbids more loans to those of us who have not paid up on our last war debt?" Is it difficult to believe that American spokesmen and ambassadors would be caused to assure France and England that these laws would be surmounted at the proper time, that already the arms embargo repeal was pending in congress? Do we forget that during that very time the administration was publicly prophesying that the House of Representatives would vote the repeal with a majority of a hundred or more votes? Surely, England and France were being given every reason to believe that the United States was making ready to give them every possible help. President Roosevelt was being made to stand out as the leader in settling Europe's mess. The "leader" was left in a most undignified position when the House of Representatives, instead of voting the arms embargo repeal as prophesied, voted against the repeal with a majority of more than a hundred votes.

Then followed the terrific pressure upon the Senate to undo the damage that had been done and save the face of the President, the nation, and even Democracy,—a face that had been injured because one lone man had stuck his nose into affairs that the American people have insisted we shall keep out of. The Senate response to demands for arms embargo repeal only made a bad matter worse, and England and France are given notice that if any American pretends to be able to commit America to a given course of action in Europe, he is speaking only for himself, and himself alone.

Now, let's be honest with ourselves. Law, embargoes, and all the resolve in the world to stay out of Europe's wars, may not keep us out of those wars. It is possible that a state of affairs might arise in Europe that would very definitely challenge our own country, and that would make necessary our getting into that war. Frankly, I do not see possible a state of affairs there that would deserve the wasting ofone more American life on European battle fields. But, I'm ready to acknowledge that the condition might develop. Suppose it does. Who shall determine when that time comes and whether the cause is worthy? Shall it be the congress of the United States, or shall it be the President?

In that question is embodied the real nub of the neutrality controversy. It is a question of presidential power, presidential discretion, presidential chance, to commit the country in a way that makes staying out of war exceedingly difficult.

The neutrality law was the result of a complete demonstration of the ease with which American appetite for profit from other people's wars could, and did, lead us to war in 1917. However, much we may like to think we rallied to the cause of Democracy in 1917, the truth is that Democracy became the rallying cry only after decision to go to war had been reached. Up to that time the condition that was leading us to war was our war trade and the security of our war boom trade. Read the communications of the President, his cabinet and his ambassadors, during the many months leading up to 1917, and you will find little or no solicitation about the well-being of European "Democracy." On the contrary, you will find much solicitation about our trade and profit from Europe's war, about American banker loans to the allies, about changing our neutrality policy so as to permit larger help to the allies so that the allies in turn can continue buying our goods and maintain our American prosperity.

Don't forget, fellow Americans, don't ever forget those lessons of 1914, 1915, and 1916, lessons of how our actual direction can be straight to war even while our leadership is talking peace and pretending neutrality. Don't ever forget those letters and conversations which found our Lansings and Pages driving away at and breaking down Presidential resolve to maintain a real neutrality. Don't permit anyone to ever cover up and blind us to the fact that American bankers having bet extensively in the way of investment in the allied cause, prompted English leaders on the program to pursue if they wanted to overcome the determination of the American government to stay out of war. For example, remember how one firm of American bankers advised England by cable, to make it clear to America that England would immediately curtail its purchases in the United States unless the United States changed its foreign policy, a policy which, at the moment, was finding the Federal Reserve Banks advising Americans to get security for what they were selling abroad.

There must be no forgetting that all that time, while the people were being given to believe that their government was conducting a strictly neutral policy, the United States government was actually committing itself to policies that could not lead to anything other than participation in that European war.

Don't ever forget the picture painted by Ambassador Page in his ultimate cablegram to President Wilson, when Page said "our going to war is the only way in which our trade position can be maintained and a panic averted," and further that "the pressure of this approaching crisis has gone beyond the ability of the Morgan financial agency for the British and French Governments." There is nothing about saving Democracy involved in these communications, and yet it was only thirty days after this cablegram that the leaders of the American government and all the rest of us, were declaring war to save Democracy.

If America really means to stay out of foreign war, she needs to remember how easy it is to get in. We need the neutrality law. We need the restraints upon a President. We need to leave the decision of going to war or doing thatwhich will take us to war with the people, if not with them, then with the Congress.

We have our sympathies and our prejudices respecting Europe, of course. Certainly, we cannot like some of the things that take place there. But, we have not learned a thing as a result of the last war if we have not learned that European purpose, causes, and wars are not ours, or that it does not lie within our power to inflict our ideals and our purposes upon Europe even after we have helped a part of Europe in the winning of its wars.

The country has been flooded by foreign propagandists for many months. Those from one land are no more deserving of our hearing and our confidence than those of another. They are still propagandists, and should be registered as such. British propaganda is being woven nicely into what seems to be American foreign policy under Roosevelt. One British authority wrote that perhaps the only way that England could get the United States on her side actively in another war, would be for England to make certain that Japan was against England in that war. Is the present situation in Asia at all significant in light of such an expression of purpose? Lord Baldwin comes to our shores and only a few day ago in New York, declared: "A democrat should be prepared to die for his ideals," and his American audience applauded the thought of rallying their sons to European battlefields to save whatever might be labeled "Democracy" there, once again. Significant, is it not, in light of the written plans for British propaganda, to again appeal to American love for Democracy in order to involve us in European wars?

Democracy! Oh what sins are committed in thy name, what crimes upon the American people, what injustice upon American sons.

In the present European controversy, the cause of Democracy is no more involved than is the cause of American women's suffrage, or liquor prohibition. The cause there, is that old, old, one of power politics. It is a cause that we cannot meddle in unless we are ready and anxious to jeopardize the life of the one remaining great Democracy, our own.

For the reading of those Americans who believe that Democracy calls us to Europe again, I recommend that article published in July of this year in a French magazines—that article written by Andre Tardieu, former French premier. The translation of this article before me has this French leader saying that, in America "the 'great Democracies' of Europe have been accused of not being democratic at all in reality—that opinion is not wholly without foundation." Quite a concession this. When will we Americans learn to resist these appeals from abroad in the name of Democracy? We had better be doing that quickly if we would avoid a course that will have us marching men and dollars once again onto bloody foreign fields to win a war for someone else, only to discover finally, and after it was too late, to do anything about it that every cause for which we had thought we were fighting had been lost.

A policy of minding our own business is good American policy today. That ought to be our policy at least until we can know what that thing in Europe is all about. It is especially good policy since we have so very much of important business to mind right here at home too.

We should be ever ready to help the world to peace without jeopardizing our own peace. We have nothing to gain by throwing our resources into the European hopper even before we know what the next European war in going to be all about.

Mind our own business! America first! That seems tosound cheap to some patriots. We are told that it constitutes an extreme nationalism, an all-time high in selfishness.

Why not America first? Is it selfish? Not one small part as selfish, certainly not more selfish than are those European causes which would seem to invite us to participation. It is no more selfish than the attitude of the father who thinks first of his home and his family. If that be selfish, then even things which touch the Divine are selfish too.

And, more than that, if America doesn't provide for America, who will? England and France perhaps? We ought to know that if America is going to be saved, America is going to have to do the saving. That being the case, then who are more important to America than Americans? Where in all the world is there one foot of soil so important to us as

American soil? Where in all the world is there a cause sufficiently great to invite the shedding of the blood of American boys on foreign battle fields where hates of thousands of years look down and rejoice at the re-enacting of a carnage which has been going on without determination for generations beyond count and will be going on in spite of us and what we do.

When leaders fail at home, they take their people into foreign wars, but let that not be true in America. Some dictators find it possible to continue their days of power by creating a war psychology and an armament economy, but that can never be true in America. Or can it? Not if we will hang fast to America First causes. Not if we can maintain a neutrality in other people's wars. Not if we can keep American leadership from committing us to foreign causes.