The Chinese have a story on this–a story based on three or four
thousand years of civilization: Two Chinese coolies were arguing
heatedly in the midst of a crowd. A stranger expressed surprise
that no blows were being struck. His Chinese friend replied: “The
man who strikes first admits that his ideas have given out.”
I know that neither in the summer primaries nor in the November
elections will the American voters fail to spot the candidate whose
ideas have given out.
September 3, 1939.
My Fellow Americans and My Friends:
Tonight my single duty is to speak to the whole of America.
Until four-thirty this morning I had hoped against hope that some
miracle would prevent a devastating war in Europe and bring to an
end the invasion of Poland by Germany.
For four long years a succession of actual wars and constant crises
have shaken the entire world and have threatened in each case to
bring on the gigantic conflict which is today unhappily a fact.
It is right that I should recall to your minds the consistent and
at time successful efforts of your government in these crises to
throw the full weight of the United States into the cause of peace.
In spite of spreading wars I think that we have every right and
every reason to maintain as a national policy the fundamental
moralities, the teachings of religion and the continuation of
efforts to restore peace–for some day, though the time may be
distant, we can be of even greater help to a crippled humanity.
It is right, too, to point out that the unfortunate events of these
recent years have, without question, been based on the use of force
and the threat of force. And it seems to me clear, even at the
outbreak of this great war, that the influence of America should be
consistent in seeking for humanity a final peace which will
eliminate, as far as it is possible to do so, the continued use of
force between nations.
It is, of course, impossible to predict the future. I have my
constant stream of information from American representatives and
other sources throughout the world. You, the people of this
country, are receiving news through your radios and your newspapers
at every hour of the day.
You are, I believe, the most enlightened and the best informed
people in all the world at this moment. You are subjected to no
censorship of news, and I want to add that your government has no
information which it withholds or which it has any thought of
withholding from you.
At the same time, as I told my Press Conference on Friday, it is of
the highest importance that the press and the radio use the utmost
caution to discriminate between actual verified fact on the one
hand, and mere rumor on the other.
I can add to that by saying that I hope the people of this country
will also discriminate most carefully between news and rumor. Do
not believe of necessity everything you hear or read. Check up on
You must master at the outset a simple but unalterable fact in
modern foreign relations between nations. When peace has been
broken anywhere, the peace of all countries everywhere is in
It is easy for you and for me to shrug our shoulders and to say
that conflicts taking place thousands of miles from the continental
United States, and, indeed, thousands of miles from the whole
American Hemisphere, do not seriously affect the Americas–and that
all the United States has to do is to ignore them and go about its
own business. Passionately though we may desire detachment, we are
forced to realize that every word that comes through the air, every
ship that sails the sea, every battle that is fought does affect
the American future.
Let no man or woman thoughtlessly or falsely talk of America
sending its armies to European fields. At this moment there is
being prepared a proclamation of American neutrality. This would
have been done even if there had been no neutrality statute on the
books, for this proclamation is in accordance with international
law and in accordance with American policy.
This will be followed by a Proclamation required by the existing
Neutrality Act. And I trust that in the days to come our neutrality
can be made a true neutrality.
It is of the utmost importance that the people of this country,
with the best information in the world, think things through. The
most dangerous enemies of American peace are those who, without
well-rounded information on the whole broad subject of the past,
the present and the future, undertake to speak with assumed
authority, to talk in terms of glittering generalities, to give to
the nation assurances or prophecies which are of little present or
I myself cannot and do not prophesy the course of events abroad–
and the reason is that because I have of necessity such a complete
picture of what is going on in every part of the world, that I do
not dare to do so. And the other reason is that I think it is
honest for me to be honest with the people of the United States.
I cannot prophesy the immediate economic effect of this new war on
our nation, but I do say that no American has the moral right to
profiteer at the expense either of his fellow citizens or of the
men, the women and the children who are living and dying in the
midst of war in Europe.
Some things we do know. Most of us in the United States believe in
spiritual values. Most of us, regardless of what church we belong
to, believe in the spirit of the New Testament–a great teaching
which opposes itself to the use of force, of armed force, of
marching armies and falling bombs. The overwhelming masses of our
people seek peace–peace at home, and the kind of peace in other
lands which will not jeopardize our peace at home.
We have certain ideas and certain ideals of national safety and we
must act to preserve that safety today and to preserve the safety
of our children in future years.
That safety is and will be bound up with the safety of the Western
Hemisphere and of the seas adjacent thereto. We seek to keep war
from our own firesides by keeping war from coming to the Americas.
For that we have historic precedent that goes back to the days of
the administration of President George Washington. It is serious
enough and tragic enough to every American family in every state in
the Union to live in a world that is torn by wars on other
continents. Those wars today affect every American home. It is our
national duty to use every effort to keep them out of the Americas.
And at this time let me make the simple plea that partisanship and
selfishness be adjourned; and that national unity be the thought
that underlies all others.
This nation will remain a neutral nation, but I cannot ask that
every American remain neutral in thought as well. Even a neutral
has a right to take account of facts. Even a neutral cannot be
asked to close his mind or his conscience.
I have said not once but many times that I have seen war and that I
hate war. I say that again and again.
I hope the United States will keep out of this war. I believe that
it will. And I give you assurance and reassurance that every effort
of your government will be directed toward that end.
As long as it remains within my power to prevent, there will be no
blackout of peace in the United States.
May 26, 1940.
At this moment of sadness throughout most of the world, I want to
talk with you about a number of subjects that directly affect the
future of the United States. We are shocked by the almost
incredible eyewitness stories that come to us, stories of what is
happening at this moment to the civilian populations of Norway and
Holland and Belgium and Luxembourg and France.
I think it is right on this Sabbath evening that I should say a
word in behalf of women and children and old men who need help–
immediate help in their present distress–help from us across the
seas, help from us who are still free to give it.
Tonight over the once peaceful roads of Belgium and France millions
are now moving, running from their homes to escape bombs and shells
and fire and machine gunning, without shelter, and almost wholly
without food. They stumble on, knowing not where the end of the
road will be. I speak to you of these people because each one of
you that is listening to me tonight has a way of helping them. The
American Red Cross, that represents each of us, is rushing food and
clothing and medical supplies to these destitute civilian millions.
Please–I beg you–please give according to your means to your
nearest Red Cross chapter, give as generously as you can. I ask
this in the name of our common humanity.
Let us sit down together again, you and I, to consider our own
pressing problems that confront us.
There are many among us who in the past closed their eyes to events
abroad–because they believed in utter good faith what some of
their fellow Americans told them–that what was taking place in
Europe was none of our business; that no matter what happened over
there, the United States could always pursue its peaceful and
unique course in the world.
There are many among us who closed their eyes, from lack of
interest or lack of knowledge; honestly and sincerely thinking that
the many hundreds of miles of salt water made the American
Hemisphere so remote that the people of North and Central and South
America could go on living in the midst of their vast resources
without reference to, or danger from, other Continents of the
There are some among us who were persuaded by minority groups that
we could maintain our physical safety by retiring within our
continental boundaries–the Atlantic on the east, the Pacific on
the west, Canada on the north and Mexico on the south. I
illustrated the futility–the impossibility–of that idea in my
message to the Congress last week. Obviously, a defense policy
based on that is merely to invite future attack.
And, finally, there are a few among us who have deliberately and
consciously closed their eyes because they were determined to be
opposed to their government, its foreign policy and every other
policy, to be partisan, and to believe that anything that the
government did was wholly wrong.
To those who have closed their eyes for any of these many reasons,
to those who would not admit the possibility of the approaching
storm–to all of them the past two weeks have meant the shattering
of many illusions.
They have lost the illusion that we are remote and isolated and,
therefore, secure against the dangers from which no other land is
In some quarters, with this rude awakening has come fear, fear
bordering on panic. It is said that we are defenseless. It is
whispered by some that, only by abandoning our freedom, our ideals,
our way of life, can we build our defenses adequately, can we match
the strength of the aggressors.
I did not share those illusions. I do not share these fears.
Today we are now more realistic. But let us not be calamity-howlers
and discount our strength. Let us have done with both fears and
illusions. On this Sabbath evening, in our homes in the midst of
our American families, let us calmly consider what we have done and
what we must do.
In the past two or three weeks all kinds of stories have been
handed out to the American public about our lack of preparedness.
It has even been charged that the money we have spent on our
military and naval forces during the last few years has gone down
the rat-hole. I think that it is a matter of fairness to the nation
that you hear the facts.
Yes, we have spent large sums of money on the national defense.
This money has been used to make our Army and Navy today the
largest, the best equipped, and the best trained peace-time
military establishment in the whole history of this country.
Let me tell you just a few of the many things accomplished during
the past few years.
I do not propose to go into every detail. It is a known fact,
however, that in 1933, when this administration came into office,
the United States Navy had fallen in standing among the navies of
the world, in power of ships and in efficiency, to a relatively low
ebb. The relative fighting power on the Navy had been greatly
diminished by failure to replace ships and equipment, which had
But between 1933 and this year, 1940–seven fiscal years–your
government will have spent one billion, four hundred eighty-seven
million dollars more than it spent on the Navy during the seven
years that preceded 1933.
What did we get for this money?
The fighting personnel of the Navy rose from 79,000 to 145,000.
During this period 215 ships for the fighting fleet have been laid
down or commissioned, practically seven times the number in the
preceding seven-year period.
Of these 215 ships we have commissioned: 12 cruisers; 63
destroyers; 26 submarines; 3 aircraft carriers; 2 gunboats; 7
auxiliaries and many smaller craft. And among the many ships now
being built and paid for as we build them are 8 new battleships.
Ship construction, of course, costs millions of dollars–more in
the United States than anywhere else in the world; but it is a fact
that we cannot have adequate navy defense for all American waters
without ships–ships that sail the surface of the ocean, ships that
move under the surface and ships that move through the air. And,
speaking of airplanes that work with the Navy, in 1933 we had 1,127
useful aircraft and today we have 2,892 on hand and on order.
Nearly all of the old planes of 1933 have been replaced by new
planes because they became obsolete or worn out.
The Navy Is far stronger today than at any peace-time period in the
whole long history of the nation. In hitting power and in
efficiency, I would even make the assertion that it is stronger
today than it was during the World War.
The Army of the United States: In 1933 it consisted of 122,000
enlisted men. Now, in 1940, that number has been practically
doubled. The Army of 1933 had been given few new implements of war
since 1919, and had been compelled to draw on old reserve stocks
left over from the World War.
The net result of all this was that our Army by l933 had very
greatly declined in its ratio of strength with the armies of Europe
and of the Far East.
That was the situation I found.
But, since then, great changes have taken place.
Between 1933 and 1940–these past seven fiscal years–your
government will have spent $1,292,000,000 more than it spent on the
Army the previous seven years.
What did we get for this money?
The personnel of the Army, as I have said, has been almost doubled.
And by the end of this year every existing unit of the present
regular Army will be equipped with its complete requirements of
modern weapons. Existing units of the national Guard will also be
largely equipped with similar items.