THE PRESIDENCY: Preface to War

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"It is easy for you and me to shrug our shoulders and say that conflicts taking place thousands of miles from the continental United States, and, indeed, 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 our 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."

Mr. Roosevelt then made, yet did not make, the one statement in which his listeners were most vitally interested. Said he:

"Let no man or woman thoughtlessly or falsely talk of America sending its armies to European fields." (He did not say such armies might not eventually go to such fields.)

He next referred to the formal, legal basis of the country's present-day Neutrality. He would, he said, issue two proclamations: one of his own which "would have been done even if there had been no neutrality statute," and one required by the statute, to which he paid his respects by saying: "I trust that in the days to come our neutrality can be made a true neutrality."

"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, women and children who are living and dying in the midst of war in Europe."

He switched his picture ahead and said: "We have certain ideas and ideals of national safety and we must act to preserve that safety today and to preserve the safety of our children in future years."

He injected a political thought: "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."

Finally he acknowledged what all knew to be the fact about himself and probably 99.99% of U. S. citizens: "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."

To all ears this was the most striking sentence in the broadcast. It was underscored by contrast with Woodrow Wilson's words in 1914 ("We must be impartial in thought as well as in action. . . ."). Noble was the Wilsonian formula, and also nonsense, for no thinking man can fail to have convictions about the merits of causes which plunge the world into war. Realistic was the Rooseveltian formula, and also dangerous, for it invited Americans to condemn Hitler as loudly as they liked, possibly a first step to fighting him with arms.

His conclusion: "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. ... As long as it remains within my power to prevent it, there will be no blackout of peace in the United States."

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