President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – “Martin, Barton & Fish” Speech

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October 28, 1940



Mr. Chairman, Governor Lehman, ladies and gentlemen:

No campaign can possibly be complete without this great Garden meeting.

I have had a very wonderful day in New York, in all five boroughs. But, as you know, I have had an anxious day too, because three or four times during the day I have had to be in touch with the Department of State and with the Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, because, unfortunately, it seems that another war has broken out on the other side of the ocean. I am quite sure that all of you will feel the same sorrow in your hearts that I feel—sorrow for the Italian people and the Grecian people, that they should have been involved together in conflict.

Tonight, for the second time, I take up the public duty—the far from disagreeable duty—of answering major campaign falsifications with facts.

Last week in Philadelphia, which is supposed to be the City of Brotherly Love, but isn’t always, I nailed the falsehood about some fanciful secret treaties to dry on the barn door. I nailed that falsehood and other falsehoods the way when I was a boy up in Dutchess County we used to nail up the skins of foxes and weasels. And, incidentally, I think it was a kinsman of mine, about thirty years ago, who invented the term, “weasel words.”

Tonight I am going to nail up the falsifications that have to do with our relations with the rest of the world and with the building up of our Army, our Navy and our air defense. It is a very dangerous thing to distort facts about things like that, because if repeated over and over again, it is apt to create a sense of fear and doubt in the minds of some of the American people.

I now brand as false the statement being made by Republican campaign orators, day after day and night after night, that the rearming of America is slow, that it is hamstrung and impeded, that it will never be able to meet threats from abroad. Those are the whisperings of appeasers.

That particular misstatement has a history. It came into the world last June, just about the time of the Republican National Convention. Before that, the responsible Republican leaders had been singing an entirely different song. For almost seven years the Republican leaders in the Congress kept on saying that I was placing too much emphasis on national defense.

And now today these men of great vision have suddenly discovered that there is a war going on in Europe and another one in Asia. And so, now, always with their eyes on the good old ballot box, they are charging that we have placed too little emphasis on national defense.

But, unlike them, the printed pages of the Congressional Record cannot be changed or suppressed at election time. And based on that permanent record of their speeches and their votes, I make this assertion—that if the Republican leaders had been in control of the Congress of the United States during the past seven years, the important measures for our defense would not now be law; and the Army and Navy of the United States would still be in almost the same condition in which I found them in 1933.

Remember, I am making those charges against the responsible political leadership of the Republican Party. But there are millions—millions and millions—of patriotic Republicans who have at all times been in sympathy with the efforts of this Administration to arm the nation adequately for purposes of defense.

To Washington in the past few months have come not two or three or a dozen but several hundred of the best business executives in the United States—Republicans and Democrats alike. Not holding company executives or lawyers, but men experienced in actual production—production of all the types of machines and tools and steel and everything else that has made this Nation the industrial leader of the world.

I have asked Mr. Knudsen and Mr. Stettinius and Mr. Harriman and Mr. Budd and the many others to serve their Government because I certainly believe that they are among the ablest men in the nation in their own fields. I do not know their politics. I do not care about their politics. All I know is that they are cooperating one hundred per cent with this Administration in our efforts for national defense. And, the other way around, this Government is cooperating with them—one hundred per cent.

All these men all American industry and American labor are doing magnificent and unselfish work. The progress of today proves it.

I shall have occasion on Wednesday or Friday or Saturday of this week to tell more about the work they are doing and about the progress that has been made in our whole picture of defense.

When the first World War broke out, we were pretty weak, but by the end of it we were one of the strongest naval and military powers in the world. When this Administration first came into office fifteen years later, we were one of the weakest.

As early as 1933 the storm was gathering in Europe and in Asia. Year by year I reported the warnings of danger from our listening posts in foreign lands. But I was only called “an alarmist” by the Republican leadership, and by the great majority of the Republican newspapers of the country.

Year by year I asked for more and more defense appropriations. In addition, I allocated hundreds of millions of dollars for defense work from relief funds. The C.C.C. helped, the Public Works helped—as was understood by the Congress when the money was voted by them.

Today our Navy is at a peak of efficiency and fighting strength. Ship for ship, man for man, it is as powerful and efficient as any single navy that ever sailed the seas in history. But it is not as powerful as combinations of other navies that might be put together in an attack upon us. Our Army and our air forces are now at the highest level that they have ever been in peacetime. But in the light of existing dangers they are not great enough for the absolute safety of America at home.

While this great, constructive work was going forward, the Republican leaders were definitely and beyond peradventure of doubt trying to block our efforts toward national defense. They not only voted against these efforts; but they stated time and again through the years that they were unnecessary and extravagant, that our armed strength was sufficient for any emergency.

I propose now to indict these Republican leaders out of their own mouths—these leaders who now disparage our defenses with what they themselves said in the days before this election year, about how adequate our defenses already were.

Listen to this for instance:

The facts are that we have the largest and most powerful Navy we ever had, except for two years after the World War, and the greatest air forces we ever had and a match for any nation.

Now, who do you suppose made that statement a little over two years ago? It was not I. It was not even a member of this Administration. It was the ranking Republican member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Republican leader, Hamilton Fish.

And now listen to the only living ex-President of the United States. He said in that same year, two years ago:

We shall be expending nine hundred million dollars more than any nation on earth. We are leading in the arms race.

And now listen to Republican leader Senator Vandenberg, also speaking at that time. He said that our defense expenditures had already brought us “an incomparably efficient Navy”; and he said further, “I rise in opposition to this super-super Navy bill. I do not believe it is justified by any conclusive demonstration of national necessity.”

And now listen to what Republican leader Senator Taft—the runner-up for the Republican Presidential nomination this year said this past February, 1940:

The increase of the Army and Navy over the tremendous appropriations of the current year seems to be unnecessary if we are concerned solely with defense.

There is the record on that; the permanent crystal clear record. Until the present political campaign opened, Republican leaders, in and out of the Congress shouted from the housetops that our defenses were fully adequate.

Today they proclaim that this Administration has starved our armed forces, that our Navy is anemic, our Army puny, our air forces piteously weak.

Yes, it is a remarkable somersault.

I wonder if the election could have something to do with it. And this seems to be what they would have called “logic” when I was at school: If the Republican leaders were telling the truth in 1938 and 1939, then—out of their own mouths—they stand convicted of inconsistency’ today. And, as we used to say, per contra, if they are telling the truth today, they stand convicted of inconsistency in 1938 and 1939.

The simple truth is that the Republican Party, through its leadership, played politics with defense, the defense of the United States, in 1938 and 1939. And they are playing politics with the national security of America today.

That same group would still control their party in Congress at the next session. It is the Congress which passes the laws of the United States. The record of those Republican leaders shows what a slim chance the cause of strong defense would have, if they were in control.

Not only in their statements but in their votes is written their record of sabotage of this Administration’s continual efforts to increase our defenses to meet the dangers that loomed ever larger and larger upon the horizon.

For example, deeply concerned over what was happening in Europe, I asked the Congress in January, 1938, for a naval expansion of twenty per cent—forty-six additional ships and nine hundred and fifty new planes.

What did the Republican leaders do ‘when they had this chance to increase our national defense almost three years ago? You would think from their present barrage of verbal pyrotechnics (laughter), that they rushed in to pass that bill, or that they even demanded a larger expansion of the Navy.

But, ah! my friends, they were not in a national campaign for votes then.

In those days they were trying to build up a different kind of political fence.

In those days they thought that the way to win votes was by representing this Administration as extravagant in national defense, indeed as hysterical, and as manufacturing panics and inventing foreign dangers.

But now, in the serious days of 1940, all is changed! Not only because they are serious days, but because they are election days as well.

On the radio these Republican orators swing through the air with the greatest of ease; but the American people are not voting this year for the best trapeze performer.

The plain fact is that when that naval bill I was speaking about was submitted to the Congress, the Republican leaders jumped in to fight it.

Who were they? There was the present Republican candidate for Vice President, Senator McNary. There were Senator Vandenberg and Senator Nye. And there was the man who would be the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Congressman Fish.

The first thing they did was to try to eliminate the battleships from the bill. The Republicans in the House voted sixty-seven to twenty against building them; and in the Senate, where they had a much smaller number, the Republicans voted seven to four against building them.

The record is perfectly clear that back in 1938 they were positive in their own minds that we needed no more battleships. The naval expansion bill, of course, was passed; but it was passed by Democratic votes in the Congress—in spite of the Republicans.

You see, I am talking by the book. Again, in March, 1939, the Republican Senators voted twelve to four against the bill for one hundred and two million dollars to buy certain strategic war materials which we did not have in this country.

In March, 1939, the Republicans in the Senate voted eleven to eight against increasing the authorized number of planes in the Navy.

In June, 1939, Republicans in the House voted one hundred and forty-four to eight in favor of reducing the appropriations for the Army Air Corps.

Now that proves this one simple fact: It proves that if the Republican leaders had been in control of the Congress in 1938 and 1939, these measures to increase our Navy and our Army and our air forces would have been defeated overwhelmingly.

I say that the Republican leaders played politics with defense in 1938 and 1939. I say that they are playing politics with our national security today.

Turn another page:

The Republican campaign orators and leaders are all now yelling “me too” on help to Britain. But this fall they had their chance to vote to give aid to Britain and other democracies-and they turned it down.

This chance came when I recommended that the Congress repeal the embargo on the shipment of armaments and munitions to nations at war, and permit such shipment on a “cash-and carry basis.” It is only because of the repeal of the embargo law that we have been able to sell planes and ships and guns and munitions to victims of aggression.

But how did the Republicans vote on the repeal of that embargo?

In the Senate the Republicans voted fourteen to six against it. In the House the Republicans voted one hundred and forty to nineteen against it.

The Act was passed by Democratic votes but it was over the opposition of the Republican leaders. And just to name a few, the following Republican leaders, among many others, voted against the Act: Senators McNary, Vandenberg, Nye and Johnson; now wait, a perfectly beautiful rhythm—Congressmen Martin, Barton and Fish.

Now, at the eleventh hour, they have discovered what we knew all along—that overseas success in warding off invasion by dictatorship forces means safety to the United States. It means also continued independence to those smaller nations which still retain their independence. And it means the restoration of sovereignty to those smaller nations which have temporarily lost it. As we know, one of the keystones of American policy is the recognition of the right of small nations to survive and prosper.

Great Britain and a lot of other nations would never have received one ounce of help from us—if the decision had been left to Martin, Barton and Fish.

And, finally, let me come down to something that happened two months ago.

In the Senate there was an amendment to permit the United States Government to prevent profiteering or unpatriotic obstruction by any corporation in defense work. It permitted the Government to take over, with reasonable compensation, any manufacturing plant which refused to cooperate in national defense. And the Republican Senators voted against this Russell-Overton Amendment on August 28, 1940, eight to six.

The bill was adopted all right- by Democratic votes. But the opposing vote of those eight Republican leaders showed what would happen if the National Government were turned over to their control. For their vote said, in effect, that they put money rights ahead of human lives—to say nothing of national security.

You and I, and the overwhelming majority of Americans, will never stand for that.

Outside the halls of Congress eminent Republican candidates began to turn new somersaults. At first they denounced the bill; then, when public opinion rose up to demand it, they seized their trapeze with the greatest of ease, and reversed themselves in mid-air.

This record of Republican leadership—a record of timidity, of weakness, of short-sightedness—is as bad in international as in military affairs.

It is the same record of timidity, of weakness, of short-sightedness which they showed in domestic affairs when they were in control before 1933.

But the Republican leaders’ memories seem to have been short, in this, as in some other matters. And by the way—who was it said that an elephant never forgets?

It is the same record of timidity, of weakness and of shortsightedness that governed the policy of the confused, reactionary governments in France and England before the war.

That fact was discovered too late in France.

It was discovered just in time in England.

Pray God that, having discovered it, we won’t forget it either.

For eight years our main concern, as you know and as the nation knows, has been to look for peace and the preservation of peace.

Back in 1935, in the face of growing dangers throughout the world, your Government undertook to eliminate certain hazards which in the past had led us into war.

By the Neutrality Act of 1935, and by other steps:

We made it possible to prohibit American citizens from traveling on vessels belonging to countries at war. Was that right?

We made it clear that American investors, who put their money into enterprises in foreign nations, could not call on American warships or American soldiers to bail out their investments. Was that right?

We made it clear that we would not use American armed forces to intervene in affairs of the sovereign republics to the south of us. Was that right?

We made it clear that ships flying the American flag could not carry munitions to a belligerent; and that they must stay Out of war zones. Was that right?

In all these ways we made it clear to every American, and to every foreign nation that we would avoid becoming entangled through some episode beyond our borders.

Those were measures to keep us at peace. And through all the years Since 1935, there has been no entanglement and there will be no entanglement.

And we have had plenty of chances to get into trouble. I know that well.

In July, 1937, Japan invaded China.

On January 3, 1938, I called the attention of the nation to the danger of the whole world situation.

It was clear that rearmament was now, unfortunately, a necessary implement of peace. I asked for large additions to American defenses. Yes, I was called an alarmist—and worse names than that. I have learned by now to take it on the chin.

In March, 1938, German troops marched into Vienna.

In September, 1938, came the Munich crisis. German, French and Czech armies were mobilized. The result was only an abortive armistice.

I said then: “It is becoming increasingly clear that peace by fear has no higher or more enduring quality than peace by the sword.”

Three months later, at Lima, Peru, the twenty-one American Republics, including our own, solemnly agreed to stand together to defend the independence of each one of us.

That declaration at Lima was a great step toward peace. For unless the Hemisphere is safe, we are not safe.

Matters in Europe grew steadily worse. Czecho-Slovakia was overrun by the Nazis. General war seemed inevitable.

Yet even then, in the summer of 1939, the Republican leaders kept chanting, “There will be no war.”

A few months later-on the first of September, 1939—war came.

The steps which we had carefully planned were put into effect.

American ships were kept from danger zones.

American citizens were helped to come home.

Unlike 1914, there was no financial upheaval.

Very soon, in a few weeks, the American Republics set up at Panama a system of patrolling the waters of the whole Western Hemisphere, with success.

I am asking the American people to support a continuance of this type of affirmative, realistic fight for peace. The alternative is to risk the future of the country in the hands of those with this record of timidity, weakness and short-sightedness or to risk it in the inexperienced hands of those who in these perilous days are willing recklessly to imply that our boys are already on their way to the transports.

This affirmative search for peace calls for clear vision. It is necessary to mobilize resources, minds and skills, and every active force for peace in all the world.

We have steadily sought to keep mobilized the greatest force of all- religious faith, devotion to God.

Your Government is working at all times with representatives of the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish faiths. Without these three, all three of them, without them working with us toward that great end, things would not be as clear or as easy.

Shadows, however, are still heavy over the faith and the hope of mankind.

We—who walk in the ways of peace and freedom and light have seen the tragedies enacted in one free land after another.

We have not been blind to the causes or the consequences of these tragedies.

We guard ourselves against all evils—spiritual as well as material—which may beset us. We guard against the forces of anti-Christian aggression, which may attack us from without, and the forces of ignorance and fear which may corrupt us from within.

We go forward with firm faith. And we shall continue to go forward in peace

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