|Franklin D. Roosevelt on War
Chautauqua, New York, 1936
As Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Wilson Administration FDR visited the front lines in France after the United States had declared war on Germany and American troops were already engaged in combat. Thus the vision of war he reports was based upon that experience. FDR himself never served in uniform--his requests to do so were vetoed by the Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels and President Wilson himself.
We are not isolationists except insofar as we seek to isolate ourselves completely from war. Yet we must remember that so long as war exists on earth there will be some danger that even the nation which most ardently desires peace may be drawn into war.
I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen 200 limping, exhausted men come out of linethe survivors of a regiment of 1,000 that went forward 48 hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.
I have passed unnumbered hours, I shall pass unnumbered hours thinking and planning how war may be kept from this nation.
I wish I could keep war from all nations, but that
is beyond my power. I can at least make certain that no act of the United
States helps to produce or to promote war. I can at least make clear that
the conscience of America revolts against war and that any nation which provokes
war forfeits the sympathy of the people of the United States. . . .
The President of the United States, who, under our Constitution, is vested with primary authority to conduct our international relations, thus has been given new weapons with which to maintain our neutrality.
Neverthelessand I speak from a long experiencethe effective maintenance of American neutrality depends today, as in the past, on the wisdom and determination of whoever at the moment occupy the offices of President and Secretary of State.
It is clear that our present policy and the measures passed by the Congress would, in the event of a war on some other continent, reduce war profits which would otherwise accrue to American citizens. Industrial and agricultural production for a war market may give immense fortunes to a few men; for the nation as a whole it produces disaster. It was the prospect of war profits that made our farmers in the west plow up prairie land that should never have been plowed but should have been left for grazing cattle. Today we are reaping the harvest of those war profits in the dust storms which have devastated those war-plowed areas.
It was the prospect of war profits that caused the extension of monopoly and unjustified expansion of industry and a price level so high that the normal relationship between debtor and creditor was destroyed.
Nevertheless, if war should break out again in another continent, let us not blink at the fact that we would find in this country thousands of Americans who, seeking immediate riches--fool's gold--would attempt to break down or evade our neutrality.
They would tell you--and, unfortunately, their views would get wide publicity--that if they could produce and ship this and that and the other article to belligerent nations the unemployed of America would all find work. They would tell you that if they could extend credit to warring nations that credit would be used in the United States to build homes and factories and pay our debts. They would tell you that America once more would capture the trade of the world.
It would be hard to resist that clamor. It
would be hard for many Americans, I fear, to look beyond, to realize the inevitable
penalties, the inevitable day of reckoning that comes from a false prosperity.
To resist the clamor of that greed, if war should come, would require the unswerving
support of all Americans who love peace.
We can keep out of war if those who watch and decide have a sufficiently detailed understanding of international affairs to make certain that the small decisions of each day do not lead toward war, and if, at the same time, they possess the courage to say "no" to those who selfishly or unwisely would let us go to war.
Of all the nations of the world today we are in many ways most singularly blessed. Our closest neighbors are good neighbors. If there are remoter nations that wish us not good but ill, they know that we are strong; they know that we can and will defend ourselves and defend our neighborhood.
We seek to dominate no other nation. We ask no territorial expansion. We oppose imperialism. We desire reduction in world armaments.
We believe in democracy; we believe in freedom;
we believe in peace. We offer to every nation of the world the handclasp
of the good neighbor. Let those who wish our friendship look us in the
eye and take our hand.