This address was delivered at an America First Committee meeting in New York City on April 23, 1941
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New York City Speech:
There are many viewpoints from which the issues of this war can be argued. Some
are primarily idealistic. Some are primarily practical. One should, I believe,
strive for a balance of both. But, since the subjects that can be covered in a
single address are limited, tonight I shall discuss the war from a viewpoint
which is primarily practical. It is not that I believe ideals are unimportant,
even among the realities of war; but if a nation is to survive in a hostile
world, its ideals must be backed by the hard logic of military practicability.
If the outcome of war depended upon ideals alone, this would be a different
world than it is today.
I know I will be severely criticized by the interventionists in America when I
say we should not enter a war unless we have a reasonable chance of winning.
That, they will claim, is far too materialistic a viewpoint. They will advance
again the same arguments that were used to persuade France to declare war
against Germany in 1939. But I do not believe that our American ideals, and our
way of life, will gain through an unsuccessful war. And I know that the United
States is not prepared to wage war in Europe successfully at this time. We are
no better prepared today than France was when the interventionists in Europe
persuaded her to attack the Siegfried Line.
I have said before, and I will say again, that I believe it will be a tragedy
to the entire world if the British Empire collapses. That is one of the main
reasons why I opposed this war before it was declared, and why I have
constantly advocated a negotiated peace. I did not feel that England and France
had a reasonable chance of winning. France has now been defeated; and, despite
the propaganda and confusion of recent months, it is now obvious that England
is losing the war. I believe this is realized even by the British government.
But they have one last desperate plan remaining. They hope that they may be
able to persuade us to send another American Expeditionary Force to Europe, and
to share with England militarily, as well as financially, the fiasco of this
I do not blame England for this hope, or for asking for our assistance. But we
now know that she declared a war under circumstances led to the defeat of every
nation that sided with her from Poland to Greece. We know that in the
desperation of war England promised to all these nations armed assistance that
she could not send. We know that she misinformed them, as she has misinformed
us, concerning her state of preparation, her military strength, and the
progress of the war.
In time of war, truth is always replaced by propaganda. I do not believe we
should be too quick to criticize the actions of a belligerent nation. There is
always the question whether we, ourselves, would do better under similar
circumstances. But we in this country have a right to think of the welfare of
America first, just as the people in England thought first of their own country
when they encouraged the smaller nations of Europe to fight against hopeless
odds. When England asks us to enter this war, she is considering her own
future, and that of her Empire. In making our reply, I believe we should
consider the future of the United States and that of the Western Hemisphere.
It is not only our right, but it is our obligation as American citizens to look
at this war objectively, and to weigh our chances for success if we should
enter it. I have attempted to do this, especially from the standpoint of
aviation; and I have been forced to the conclusion that we cannot win this war
for England, regardless of how much assistance we extend.
I ask you to look at the map of Europe today and see if you can suggest any way
in which we could win this war if we entered it. Suppose we had a large army in
America, trained and equipped. Where would we send it to fight? The campaigns
of the war show only too clearly how difficult it is to force a landing, or to
maintain an army, on a hostile coast. Suppose we took our navy from the
Pacific, and used it to convoy British shipping. That would not win the war for
England. It would, at best, permit her to exist under the constant bombing of
the German air fleet. Suppose we had an air force that we could send to Europe.
Where could it operate? Some of our squadrons might be based in the British
Isles; but it is physically impossible to base enough aircraft in the British
Isles alone to equal in strength the aircraft that can be based on the
continent of Europe.
I have asked these questions on the supposition that we had in existence an
army and an air force large enough and well enough equipped to send to Europe;
and that we would dare to remove our navy from the Pacific. Even on this basis,
I do not see how we could invade the continent of Europe successfully as long
as all of that continent and most of Asia is under Axis domination. But the
fact is that none of these suppositions are correct. We have only a one-ocean
navy. Our army is still untrained and inadequately equipped for foreign war.
Our air force is deplorably lacking in modern fighting planes.
When these facts are cited, the interventionists shout that we are defeatists,
that we are undermining the principles of Democracy, and that we are giving
comfort to Germany by talking about our military weakness. But everything I
mention here has been published in our newspapers, and in the reports of
congressional hearings in Washington. Our military position is well known to
the governments of Europe and Asia. Why, then, should it not be brought to the
attention of our own people?
I say it is the interventionist in America, as it was in England and in France,
who gives comfort to the enemy. I say it is they who are undermining the
principles of Democracy when they demand that we take a course to which more
than eighty percent of our citizens are opposed. I charge them with being the
real defeatists, for their policy has led to the defeat of every country that
followed their advice since this war began. There is no better way to give
comfort to an enemy than to divide the people of a nation over the issue of
foreign war. There is no shorter road to defeat than by entering a war with
inadequate preparation. Every nation that has adopted the interventionist
policy of depending on some one else for its own defense has met with nothing
but defeat and failure.
When history is written, the responsibility for the downfall of the democracies
of Europe will rest squarely upon the shoulders of the interventionists who led
their nations into war uninformed and unprepared. With their shouts of
defeatism, and their disdain of reality, they have already sent countless
thousands of young men to death in Europe. From the campaign of Poland to that
of Greece, their prophecies have been false and their policies have failed. Yet
these are the people who are calling us defeatists in America today. And they
have led this country, too, to the verge of war.
There are many such interventionists in America, but there are more people
among us of a different type. That is why you and I are assembled here tonight.
There is a policy open to this nation that will lead to success--a policy that
leaves us free to follow our own way of life, and to develop our own
civilization. It is not a new and untried idea. It was advocated by Washington.
It was incorporated in the Monroe Doctrine. Under its guidance, the United
States became the greatest nation in the world. It is based upon the belief
that the security of a nation lies in the strength and character of its own
people. It recommends the maintenance of armed forces sufficient to defend this
hemisphere from attack by any combination of foreign powers. It demands faith
in an independent American destiny. This is the policy of the America First
Committee today. It is a policy not of isolation, but of independence; not of
defeat, but of courage. It is a policy that led this nation to success during
the most trying years of our history, and it is a policy that will lead us to
We have weakened ourselves for many months, and still worse, we have divided
our own people by this dabbling in Europe's wars. While we should have been
concentrating on American defense, we have been forced to argue over foreign
quarrels. We must turn our eyes and our faith back to our own country before it
is too late. And when we do this, a different vista opens before us.
Practically every difficulty we would face in invading Europe becomes an asset
to us in defending America. Our enemy, and not we, would then have the problem
of transporting millions of troops across the ocean and landing them on a
hostile shore. They, and not we, would have to furnish the convoys to transport
guns and trucks and munitions and fuel across three thousand miles of water.
Our battleships and submarines would then be fighting close to their home
bases. We would then do the bombing from the air, and the torpedoing at sea.
And if any part of an enemy convoy should ever pass our navy and our air force,
they would still be faced with the guns of our coast artillery, and behind
them, the divisions of our army.
The United States is better situated from a military standpoint than any other
nation in the world. Even in our present condition of unpreparedness, no
foreign power is in a position to invade us today. If we concentrate on our own
and build the strength that this nation should maintain, no foreign army will
ever attempt to land on American shores.
War is not inevitable for this country. Such a claim is defeatism in the true
sense. No one can make us fight abroad unless we ourselves are willing to do
so. No one will attempt to fight us here if we arm ourselves as a great nation
should be armed. Over a hundred million people in this nation are opposed to
entering the war. If the principles of Democracy mean anything at all, that is
reason enough for us to stay out. If we are forced into a war against the
wishes of an overwhelming majority of our people, we will have proved Democracy
such a failure at home that there will be little use fighting for it abroad.
The time has come when those of us who believe in an independent American
destiny must band together, and organize for strength. We have been led toward
war by a minority of our people. This minority has power. It has influence. It
has a loud voice. But it does not represent the American people. During the
last several years, I have travelled over this country, from one end to the
other. I have talked to many hundreds of men and women, and I have had letters
from tens of thousands more, who feel the same way as you and I. Most of these
people have no influence or power. Most of them have no means of expressing
their convictions, except by their vote which has always been against this war.
They are the citizens who have had to work too hard at their daily jobs to
organize political meetings. Hitherto, they have relied upon their vote to
express their feelings; but now they find that it is hardly remembered except
in the oratory of a political campaign. These people--the majority of
hard-working American citizens are with us. They are the true strength of our
country. And they are beginning to realize, as you and I, that there are times
when we must sacrifice our normal interests in life in order to insure the
safety and the welfare of our nation.
Such a time has come. Such a crisis is here. That is why the America First
Committee has been formed--to give voice to the people who have no newspaper,
or news reel, or radio station at their command; to the people who must do the
paying, and the fighting, and the dying, if this country enters the war.
Whether or not we do enter the war, rests upon the shoulders of you in this
audience, upon us here on this platform, upon meetings of this kind that are
being held by Americans in every section of the United States today. It depends
upon the action we take, and the courage we show at this time. If you believe
in an independent destiny for America, if you believe that this country should
not enter the war in Europe, we ask you to join the America First Committee in
its stand. We ask you to share our faith in the ability of this nation to
defend itself, to develop its own civilization, and to contribute to the
progress of mankind in a more constructive and intelligent way than has yet
been found by the warring nations of Europe. We need your support, and we need
it now. The time to act is here.