National Affairs: Challenge

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We . . . believe in a civilization of construction and not of destruction. . . . Can we continue our peaceful construction if all the other continents embrace by preference or by compulsion a wholly different principle of life?

That question President Roosevelt last week asked of 2,500 delegates to the eighth American Scientific Congress, meeting in Washington's big Constitution Hall; and his words, sent out on a worldwide broadcast, collided with reports of destruction as Germany's armies swept into the Low Countries.

He asked his question in a week in which World War II became concrete and real for U. S. citizens—militarily, diplomatically, emotionally. It was a week in which they read graphic reports of the destructive power of the German air fleet and worried discussions of the U. S. in the air—that with its productive plant working at full capacity, the U. S. was still producing only 351 planes (including commercial planes) a month. It was a week when Adolf Hitler, sending his young men on the errands of total war—his soldiers to invade three peaceful countries without warning, his Fifth Columnists in Belgium and The Netherlands to wreck defenses, sabotage waterworks, jam air-raid alarms, snipe at citizens, seize airports—told them: "The fight beginning today decides the fate of the German nation for the next thousand years!" And it was a week that saw a revolution in U. S. public opinion on World War II, a revolution so swift and sweeping that President Roosevelt's question had become academic almost as soon as he asked it {see p. 17).

Mood. The days before the news broke had a quality of resigned suspense like that of a sick room in which only the doctors know the gravity of the case. Cutting short a Hyde Park rest, the President hurried back to the White House three days before German parachutists plummeted down near Rotterdam and The Hague. To reporters summoned to a surprise press conference in his private car, he said that nervousness over impending developments in Europe was taking him back to Washington. At the State Department Under Secretary Sumner Welles and Assistant Secretary Adolf Berle worked late, let it be known that the crisis in The Netherlands was the reason. As quietly as a family doctor not yet ready to tell the family the worst, soft-spoken Gordell Hull tiptoed into Washington from a brief rest at Atlantic City, waited for the word from abroad.

It came—at 8:30 on the night of May 9, a telephone call from big, indignant Ambassador John Cudahy in Brussels, who called President Roosevelt at the White House, got Secretary "Pa" Watson, and scooped all journalists with the flat statement that the Germans were marching in that night. Official Washington went through the pattern of crisis that eight months of war had made terrifyingly familiar.

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