A Democracy Speaks

The author of “ Canada, America’s Problem “ analyzes the significance of Roosevelt’s latest aid-for-Britain moves

JOHN MacCORMAC February 1 1941

A Democracy Speaks

The author of “ Canada, America’s Problem “ analyzes the significance of Roosevelt’s latest aid-for-Britain moves

JOHN MacCORMAC February 1 1941

A Democracy Speaks


The author of “ Canada, America’s Problem “ analyzes the significance of Roosevelt’s latest aid-for-Britain moves


WASHINGTON.—Twenty-three years ago a new Congress met in Washington to consider how the United States might best guard its neutrality and maintain its interests during a World War which had then been raging for two years and a half. Before the year was out it met again in special session— and declared war.

Another new Congress, the seventy-seventh, has now assembled in the Capitol. Again a World War is raging though it is still the fashion here to call it the European War. The chief, and almost the whole, business of this Congress will be to discuss how the United States can best help Great Britain resist Germany, and by so doing purchase precious time to build up the defenses of the United States.

This time no U.S. ships have been sunk by unrestricted German warfare, because the United States surrendered all claim to the freedom of the seas and withdrew her ships

from belligerent waters as soon as the war began. No two billion dollars of commercial loans have been made through the House of Morgan to Great Britain and her allies, because such loans are barred by the Johnson Act and the neutrality regulations.

The United States has observed at least the letter of all those self-denying ordinances with which, before the war was well under way, she sought to guarantee her isolation. But international law— which was strictly observed by the United States up to the time she entered the World War— has already been thrown overboard in this conflict. International law forbids the grant of arms or credits by a neutral to a belligerent nation. The credits have not yet been granted, but they will be. They are implicit in President Roosevelt’s proposal to “lend” weapons ol war to Great Britain. But the arms were granted when the President traded fifty over-age destroyers for naval bases last summer.

What will the Seventy-seventh Congress do? That it will approve the President’s lease-lending scheme for providing Britain with ships and war material was a foregone conclusion when it met. But will it imitate the fateful example of its predecessor of twenty-three years ago and declare war before its two years term is out? The only group which has publicly predicted this outcome is the small but vocal group of isolationists and appeasers. President Roosevelt’s fireside speech, in which he told the Axis bluntly that its menaces could not weaken the will of the United States to furnish Britain with more aid. was proclaimed by General Robert E. Wood, acting chairman of the America First Committee, to be a “personal declaration of war on Germany.” Rush D. Holt, who has not allowed his failure to secure renomination to interfere with his senatorial fondness for free speech, declared that the President’s lease-loan system meant that the United States had purchased a stake in the war.

U.S. National Policy

NEITHER the President nor his supporters confirm this interpretation. Its correctness will be left to the logic of events. Privately, many well-informed observers in Washington admit that U.S. participation in the war may be only a matter of time, depending on Britain’s ability to hold out on her own for another six or eight months. They accept the President’s definition of U.S. national policy as motivated by the desire “to keep war away from our country and away from our people,” and his assertion that there is no intention to send “armies to Europe.” But that, they argue, does not rule out U.S. participation in the war to a degree so decisive that Germany could scarcely be expected to tolerate it.

Wars they point out, are nowadays made, but not necessarily declared. When a constant stream of U.S. bombers is being flown across the Atlantic to Britain by American transport pilots, and perhaps manned on their arrival in Britain by American volunteers; when the United States is building guns and tanks and dispatching them across the Atlantic in U.S. ships which it has also built and “leased” to Great Britain; when, in short, the United States has turned itself into a huge arsenal freely supplying the British Empire with the weajxms of war —then, they say, an ultimatum would only be an afterthought. The moment U.S. aid to Britain promises to prove decisive, the United States, they admit, will find herself at war, for then Germany will have nothing to lose by keeping up the pretense of peace. The Seventy-seventh Congress, therefore, is unlikely to declare war, but may have to recognize it.

A Washington diplomat nicknamed the President’s speech an “Only Foreign Wars” address, in opposition to the “No Foreign Wars Committee” organized recently by Verne Marshall, an eccentric Iowa editor. The President, the diplomats commented, is so determined to keep the war away from America’s shores that he is quite prepared to risk a declaration of hostilities by Germany. But he will not have the United States declare war herself. Use of this typically German tactic against Germany will put him in a strong position—provided that he has a united public opinion behind him and that the American people, without a declaration of war, can be induced to understand that they are fighting one. Of these two assumptions the first seems truer than the second. The great majority of the American people, as every straw vote has shown, are behind the policy of aiding Britain even if it means the risk of war. But they are not yet ready for the sacrifices that this policy and their own urgent defense needs entail. As a consequence the United States, in the matter of rearmament, is almost six months behind where she should be.

The salient fact of the U.S. aid-to-Britain program is that, for probably another half year at least. Great Britain, in the matter of warplanes, will have to rely largely on her own resources. Meanwhile she will get cargo vessels if her need for them becomes acute, she will be granted the equivalent of credits, she will receive a steady stream of munitions, and she may in an emergency be allowed to purchase more over-age destroyers, although the United States Navy does not look kindly on the proposition.

Meanwhile the moral preparation of the public mind lor the sacrifices necessitated by the desperate urgency of the decision will continue. The mind of the President himself is already made up. That was not the least important implication of the decisive phrases of his fireside speech. Just before and after his re-election Mr. Roosevelt had seemed to hesitate. The boldness that marked his words and actions when he traded destroyers for naval bases disappeared. His entourage was at a loss whether to ascribe his vacillation to his physical latigue or his fatigue to his mental harassment. Both have now disappeared. He has made up his mind that Britain can and must be helped. If he has a reservation, it is that the privileged classes in Britain must be prepared to scrape their coffers clean before drawing on the public exchequer of the United States. That is one of the things Mr. Harry Hopkins had in mind when that special envoy of the White Heuse left on his slightly mysterious mission to London.

U.S. Public Opinion

'T'HE U.S. public also seems to have -*■ made up its mind on aid-to-Britain, almost as decisively as the President. Successive Gallup polls have indicated that a large majority of Americans believe the future safety of the United States depends on a British victory, that their defense program is not proceeding swiftly enough, that labor should not be allowed to interrupt defense production by strikes, that factories which refuse to produce armaments at reasonable prices should be nationalized, and that government control and regulation of industry in connection with national defense should be increased.

That is what the public told those scientific snoopers—the gentlemen who take the straw votes. They also heaped President Roosevelt’s desk with letters and telegrams approving his fireside speech in the ratio of something like nine to one. Most of their leaders agreed with them. From Protestant and Catholic clerics, from bankers and historians, from manufacturers and labor leaders, from college presidents and newspaper editors, came a chorus of almost universal acclaim.

There was no acclaim, of course, from the isolationists and the appeasers--but there was a change of tactic. Senator Vandenberg, of Michigan, a Republican presidential possibility who has spent most of his political life advocating isolation, declared that if Hitler refused to negotiate a fair peace in Europe after being offered the opportunity, he would be ready to support the President’s ¡jolicy even though he knew that it meant war for the United States. Senator Yandenberg’s statement was typical of a general retreat by the isolationist faction before the rising wave of public opinion. Not many months ago most of them opposed even the drafting of an army for the defense of the United States. When this proved unavailing, they concentrated their fire on aid to Britain. Now even Henry Ford, who refused to make Rolls-Royce engines for the British Government. Ambassador Joseph Kennedy. who returned from London appalled

by the prospect of a Socialist postwar government in England, and General Robert Wood, who with Mr. Kennedy represents big business appeasement sentiment, all pay at least lip service to the necessity of continuing to supply Britain with armaments.

Senator Burton K. Wheeler, leader of the Senate isolationist bloc, sounded the keynote of the new strategy in the closing hours of 1940 when he inveighed against aid to Britain of a kind that would involve the United States in war, and offered an eight-point basis for what he claimed might be a speedy Euro¡jean peace. It sounded like a nice ¡xace—if you could get it. But since it required the restoration of Alsace-Lorraine to France along with its freedom, and the restoration of their autonomy to every other victim of German aggression except Austria, the more sophisticated of the Senator’s hearers wondered what Hitler would think of it.

About this time Mr. Verne Marshall appeared on the scene. Hitler, according to Mr. Marshall, was likely to think quite well of it. For Mr. Marshall revealed that “just and honorable” terms for a peace settlement had been drawn up, initialled by the powerful fist of no less a personage than Field Marshal Hermann Goering and brought back to Washington in October, 1939. But the State Department, it seemed, had let the peace offer die, initials and all. This despite the fact that the dove who brought it in his beak was William Rhodes Davis, who should be able to vouch for Nazi intentions since he had done business with them in Mexican oil.

Appeasers—Small Vocal Group

AND SO, it would seem, it will be the new policy of the pacifists, the isolationists, the appeasers and others of more dubious antecedents who walk with them, to cry peace—when there is no peace. It is not a large group, as the straw votes show. But it is vocal; it is organized; it has much money behind it. In its favor is the fact that—for all except the leaders of Nazi Germany with their single will to world power—this is a civil as well as an international war. A section of American big business was getting ready to talk trade with Dr. Gerhard Westrick before the manoeuvres of that economic agent provocateur were smelled out by an enterprising New York newspaperman and he was forced to leave the country, his usefulness gone. It has since been hearkening to the counsels of Mr. Joe Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy, as once did Mr. Neville Chamberlain, has counted the cost of a continuance of the war and decided that not even a British victory would justify it, since it would be at least partly a victory for the British labor party.

And so Mr. Kennedy, like Senators Wheeler and Vandenberg; General Wood of Sears-Roebuck, and Jay Hormel, the Minnesota meat packer; Chester Bowles of the important advertising firm of Benton and Bowles, and R. Douglas Stuart, son of the first vice-president of the Quaker Oats Company; William Castle, Hoover’s Undersecretary of State; Kathryn Lewis, daughter and confidential secretary of John L. Lewis; Henry Ford, pacifist and foe of organized labor, and Colonel Lindbergh, strange son of a Canadian mother and a liberal-minded

father, will call on Americans to cease risking their neutrality by aiding Britain effectively, and instead to collaborate in negotiating a peace that is just around the comer.

The prospect is that the United States, the United States that works for a salary or a wage and has a blind but powerful prejudice in favor of democracy, will not listen to them. But this colossus of democracy, unfortunately, suffers from a malady that has afflicted other giants. Its reflexes are slow; it lacks co-ordination. U.S. industry, for instance, has demonstrated, and is still demonstrating, that same inability to integrate itself behind an all-out war effort that put U.S. soldiers into the World War in 1917 without a single U.S. airplane to keep the air above them.

When Britain found herself facing the imminent prospect of invasion last June, after most of the tanks, guns and mechanized equipment of her army had been abandoned at Dunkirk, the United States supplied her with rifles for a million men;

70.000 anti-aircraft machine guns and

10.000 Browning machine guns; 9,000 field guns; 316 mortars and huge quantities of ammunition and miscellaneous equipment. To an army which had lost eighty per cent of its guns in France, these supplies were a godsend.

But what Britain urgently needs today from the United States is airplanes and still more airplanes, and she is not getting them in quantities that count. She has been able to secure delivery of fewer than 300 a month. And of those which she has received, fewer than 100 have been combat planes. The rest were trainers and auxiliaries. badly needed, but not for use in the front line. In December only ninety-five first-line warplanes were produced by the United States for division between its own forces and those of Britain. Figures for January are not much better. Unless there is an extraordinary change in the situation they will not greatly improve until the end of this year. The 700 airplanes of all types which are now being produced per month will rise to 1,000, but the proportion of first-line craft is not likely to increase.

Early Co-ordination Needed

THE situation is clear enough : the causes are still cloudy. The U.S. Army and Navy have been unable to agree on a landplane for their common use. The

British and United States armies have I not yet standardized their requirements. The U.S. authorities want to put a cannon in their fighters and hang a .75 on their tanks: the British say that you can carry such guns but not enough ammunition to make them worth while. There is talk of a machine-tool bottleneck; of difficulties in the organization of priorities, in the supply and distribution of materials. Manufacturers complain of strikes, and there have been strikes. Strikes delayed camp construction, but they have been too few to be an adequate reason for the delay in warplane manufacture.

The President has been blamed for not appointing a defense co-ordinator with supreme authority over industry. He has met the criticism by making Mr. Knudsen the co-ordinator, with Mr. Sidney Hillman at his side to represent labor. In some quarters Mr. Knudsen, late of General Motors, is held culpable for not bringing those most efficient exemplars of mass production, the U.S. automobile manufacturers, sufficiently into the foreground of the defense picture. Like industrialists generally, these are being criticized for their alleged desire to subordinate defense production to “business as usual.”

It is the 1939 history of English warplane manufacture all over again. The evident impasse at this critical time may have important effects on public thinking. Some are already asking whether it is democracy that is hopelessly inefficient in war, or whether it is actually impossible for private enterprise to beat its plowshares into the sword of a total war effort. For this private enterprise may yet find itself on trial, which is interesting for the future, but does not satisfy the urgent present need of more weapons with which to defend democracy in Great Britain and the United States.