The United States destroyer, when attacked, was proceeding on a
If the destroyer was visible to the submarine when the torpedo was
fired, then the attack was a deliberate attempt by the Nazis to
sink a clearly identified American warship. On the other hand, if
the submarine was beneath the surface of the sea and, with the aid
of its listening devices, fired in the direction of the sound of
the American destroyer without even taking the trouble to learn its
identity–as the official German communique would indicate–then
the attack was even more outrageous. For it indicates a policy of
indiscriminate violence against any vessel sailing the seas–
belligerent or non-belligerent.
This was piracy–piracy legally and morally. It was not the first
nor the last act of piracy which the Nazi government has committed
against the American flag in this war. For attack has followed
A few months ago an American flag merchant ship, the ROBIN MOOR,
was sunk by a Nazi submarine in the middle of the South Atlantic,
under circumstances violating long-established international law
and violating every principle of humanity. The passengers and the
crew were forced into open boats hundreds of miles from land, in
direct violation of international agreements signed by nearly all
nations including the government of Germany. No apology, no
allegation of mistake, no offer of reparations has come from the
In July, 1941, nearly two months ago an American battleship in
North American waters was followed by a submarine which for a long
time sought to maneuver itself into a position of attack upon the
battleship. The periscope of the submarine was clearly seen. No
British or American submarines were within hundreds of miles of
this spot at the time, so the nationality of the submarine is
Five days ago a United States Navy ship on patrol picked up three
survivors of an American-owned ship operating under the flag of our
sister Republic of Panama–the S. S. SESSA. On August seventeenth,
she had been first torpedoed without warning, and then shelled,
near Greenland, while carrying civilian supplies to Iceland. It is
feared that the other members of her crew have been drowned. In
view of the established presence of German submarines in this
vicinity, there can be no reasonable doubt as to the identity of
the flag of the attacker.
Five days ago, another United states merchant ship, the STEEL
SEAFARER, was sunk by a German aircraft in the Red Sea two hundred
and twenty miles south of Suez. She was bound for an Egyptian port.
So four of the vessels sunk or attacked flew the American flag and
were clearly identifiable. Two of these ships were warships of the
American Navy. In the fifth case, the vessel sunk clearly carried
the flag of our sister Republic of Panama.
In the face of all this, we Americans are keeping our feet on the
ground. Our type of democratic civilization has outgrown the
thought of feeling compelled to fight some other nation by reason
of any single piratical attack on one of our ships. We are not
becoming hysterical or losing our sense of proportion. Therefore,
what I am thinking and saying tonight does not relate to any
Instead, we Americans are taking a long-range point of view in
regard certain fundamentals and to a series of events on land and
on sea which must be considered as a whole–as a part of a world
It would be unworthy of a great nation to exaggerate an isolated
incident, or to become inflamed by some one act of violence. But it
would be inexcusable folly to minimize such incidents in the face
of evidence which makes it clear that the incident is not isolated,
but is part of a general plan.
The important truth is that these acts of international lawlessness
are a manifestation of a design which has been made clear to the
American people for a long time. It is the Nazi design to abolish
the freedom of the seas, and to acquire absolute control and
domination of these seas for themselves.
For with control of the seas in their own hands, the way can
obviously become clear for their next step–domination of the
United States–domination of the Western Hemisphere by force of
arms. Under Nazi control of the seas, no merchant ship of the
United States or of any other American Republic would be free to
carry on any peaceful commerce, except by the condescending grace
of this foreign and tyrannical power. The Atlantic Ocean which has
been, and which should always be, a free and friendly highway for
us would then become a deadly menace to the commerce of the United
States, to the coasts of the United States, and even to the inland
cities of the United States.
The Hitler government, in defiance of the laws of the sea, in
defiance of the recognized rights of all other nations, has
presumed to declare, on paper, that great areas of the seas–even
including a vast expanse lying in the Western Hemisphere–are to be
closed, and that no ships may enter them for any purpose, except at
peril of being sunk. Actually they are sinking ships at will and
without warning in widely separated areas both within and far
outside of these far-flung pretended zones.
This Nazi attempt to seize control of the oceans is but a
counterpart of the Nazi plots now being carried on throughout the
Western Hemisphere–all designed toward the same end. For Hitler’s
advance guards–not only his avowed agents but also his dupes among
us–have sought to make ready for him footholds, and bridgeheads in
the New World, to be used as soon as he has gained control of the
His intrigues, his plots, his machinations, his sabotage in this
New World are all known to the government of the United States.
Conspiracy has followed conspiracy.
For example, last year a plot to seize the government of Uruguay
was smashed by the prompt action of that country, which was
supported in full by her American neighbors. A like plot was then
hatching in Argentina, and that government has carefully and wisely
blocked it at every point. More recently, an endeavor was made to
subvert the government of Bolivia. And within the past few weeks
the discovery was made of secret air-landing fields in Colombia,
within easy range of the Panama Canal. I could multiply instance
To be ultimately successful in world mastery, Hitler knows that he
must get control of the seas. He must first destroy the bridge of
ships which we are building across the Atlantic and over which we
shall continue to roll the implements of war to help destroy him,
to destroy all his works in the end. He must wipe out our patrol on
sea and in the air if he is to do it. He must silence the British
I think it must be explained over and over again to people who like
to think of the United States Navy as an invincible protection,
that this can be true only if the British Navy survives. And that,
my friends, is simple arithmetic.
For if the world outside of the Americas falls under Axis
domination, the shipbuilding facilities which the Axis powers would
then possess in all of Europe, in the British Isles and in the Far
East would be much greater than all the shipbuilding facilities and
potentialities of all of the Americas–not only greater, but two or
three times greater–enough to win. Even if the United States threw
all its resources into such a situation, seeking to double and even
redouble the size of our Navy, the Axis powers, in control of the
rest of the world, would have the manpower and the physical
resources to outbuild us several times over.
It is time for all Americans, Americans of all the Americas to stop
being deluded by the romantic notion that the Americas can go on
living happily and peacefully in a Nazi-dominated world.
Generation after generation, America has battled for the general
policy of the freedom of the seas. And that policy is a very simple
one–but a basic, a fundamental one. It means that no nation has
the right to make the broad oceans of the world at great distances
from the actual theatre of land war, unsafe for the commerce of
That has been our policy, proved time and time again, in all of our
Our policy has applied from the earliest days of the Republic–and
still applies–not merely to the Atlantic but to the Pacific and to
all other oceans as well.
Unrestricted submarine warfare in 1941 constitutes a defiance–an
act of aggression–against that historic American policy.
It is now clear that Hitler has begun his campaign to control the
seas by ruthless force and by wiping out every vestige of
international law, every vestige of humanity.
His intention has been made clear. The American people can have no
further illusions about it.
No tender whisperings of appeasers that Hitler is not interested in
the Western Hemisphere, no soporific lullabies that a wide ocean
protects us from him–can long have any effect on the hard-headed,
far-sighted and realistic American people.
Because of these episodes, because of the movements and operations
of German warships, and because of the clear, repeated proof that
the present government of Germany has no respect for treaties or
for international law, that it has no decent attitude toward
neutral nations or human life–we Americans are now face to face
not with abstract theories but with cruel, relentless facts.
This attack on the GREER was no localized military operation in the
North Atlantic. This was no mere episode in a struggle between two
nations. This was one determined step towards creating a permanent
world system based on force, on terror and on murder.
And I am sure that even now the Nazis are waiting to see whether
the United States will by silence give them the green light to go
ahead on this path of destruction.
The Nazi danger to our Western world has long ceased to be a mere
possibility. The danger is here now–not only from a military enemy
but from an enemy of all law, all liberty, all morality, all
There has now come a time when you and I must see the cold
inexorable necessity of saying to these inhuman, unrestrained
seekers of world conquest and permanent world domination by the
sword: “You seek to throw our children and our children’s children
into your form of terrorism and slavery. You have now attacked our
own safety. You shall go no further.”
Normal practices of diplomacy–note writing–are of no possible use
in dealing with international outlaws who sink our ships and kill
One peaceful nation after another has met disaster because each
refused to look the Nazi danger squarely in the eye until it had
actually had them by the throat.
The United States will not make that fatal mistake.
No act of violence, no act of intimidation will keep us from
maintaining intact two bulwarks of American defense: First, our
line of supply of material to the enemies of Hitler; and second,
the freedom of our shipping on the high seas.
No matter what it takes, no matter what it costs, we will keep open
the line of legitimate commerce in these defensive water.
We have sought no shooting war with Hitler. We do not seek it now.
But neither do we want peace so much, that we are willing to pay
for it by permitting him to attack our naval and merchant ships
while they are on legitimate business.
I assume that the German leaders are not deeply concerned, tonight
or any other time, by what we Americans or the American government
say or publish about them. We cannot bring about the downfall of
Nazism by the use of long-range invective.
But when you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait
until he has struck before you crush him.
These Nazi submarines and raiders are the rattlesnakes of the
Atlantic. They are a menace to the free pathways of the high seas.
They are a challenge to our own sovereignty. They hammer at our
most precious rights when they attack ships of the American flag–
symbols of our independence, our freedom, our very life.
It is clear to all Americans that the time has come when the
Americas themselves must now be defended. A continuation of attacks
in our own waters or in waters that could be used for further and
greater attacks on us, will inevitably weaken our American ability
to repel Hitlerism.
Do not let us be hair-splitters. Let us not ask ourselves whether
the Americas should begin to defend themselves after the first
attack, or the fifth attack, or the tenth attack, or the twentieth
The time for active defense is now.
Do not let us split hairs. Let us not say: “We will only defend
ourselves if the torpedo succeeds in getting home, or if the crew
and the passengers are drowned”.
This is the time for prevention of attack.
If submarines or raiders attack in distant waters, they can attack
equally well within sight of our own shores. Their very presence in
any waters which America deems vital to its defense constitutes an
In the waters which we deem necessary for our defense, American
naval vessels and American planes will no longer wait until Axis
submarines lurking under the water, or Axis raiders on the surface
of the sea, strike their deadly blow–first.
Upon our naval and air patrol–now operating in large number over a
vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean–falls the duty of maintaining
the American policy of freedom of the seas–now. That means, very
simply, very clearly, that our patrolling vessels and planes will
protect all merchant ships–not only American ships but ships of
any flag–engaged in commerce in our defensive waters. They will
protect them from submarines; they will protect them from surface
This situation is not new. The second President of the United
States, John Adams, ordered the United States Navy to clean out
European privateers and European ships of war which were infesting
the Caribbean and South American waters, destroying American
The third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, ordered
the United States Navy to end the attacks being made upon American
and other ships by the corsairs of the nations of North Africa.
My obligation as President is historic; it is clear. It is
It is no act of war on our part when we decide to protect the seas
that are vital to American defense. The aggression is not ours.
Ours is solely defense.
But let this warning be clear. From now on, if German or Italian
vessels of war enter the waters, the protection of which is
necessary for American defense, they do so at their own peril.
The orders which I have given as Commander-in-Chief of the United
States Army and Navy are to carry out that policy–at once.
The sole responsibility rests upon Germany. There will be no
shooting unless Germany continues to seek it.
That is my obvious duty in this crisis. That is the clear right of
this sovereign nation. This is the only step possible, if we would
keep tight the wall of defense which we are pledged to maintain
around this Western Hemisphere.
I have no illusions about the gravity of this step. I have not
taken it hurriedly or lightly. It is the result of months and
months of constant thought and anxiety and prayer. In the
protection of your nation and mine it cannot be avoided.