I want to ask a few simple questions. And then I shall answer them.
What has happened to our vaunted idealism? Why have some of us been
behaving like scared chickens? Where is the million-throated, democratic
voice of America?
For years it has been dinned into us that we are a weak nation; that
we are an inefficient people; that we are simple-minded. For years we have
been told that we are beaten, decayed, and that no part of the world belongs
to us any longer.
Some amongst us have fallen for this carefully pickled tripe. Some
amongst us have fallen for this calculated poison. Some amongst us have
begun to preach that the "wave of the future" has passed over
us and left us a wet, dead fish.
They shout--from public platforms in printed pages, through the microphones--that
it is futile to oppose the "wave of the future." They cry that
we Americans, we free Americans nourished on Magna Carta and the Declaration
of Independence, hold moth-eaten ideas. They exclaim that there is no room
for free men in the world any more and that only the slaves will inherit
the earth. America--the America of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln
and Walt Whitman--they say, is waiting for the undertaker and all the hopes
and aspirations that have gone into the making of America are dead too.
However, my fellow citizens, this is not the real point of the story.
The real point--the shameful point--is that many of us are listening to
them and some of us almost believe them.
I say that it is time for the great American people to raise its
voice and cry out in mighty triumph what it is to be an American. And why
it is that only Americans, with the aid of our brave allies--yes, let's
call them "allies"--the British, can and will build the only
future worth having. I mean a future, not of concentration camps, not of
physical torture and mental straitjackets, not of sawdust bread or of sawdust
Caesars--I mean a future when free men will live free lives in dignity
and in security.
This tide of the future, the democratic future, is ours. It is ours
if we show ourselves worthy of our culture and of our heritage.
But make no mistake about it; the tide of the democratic future is
not like the ocean tide--regular, relentless, and inevitable. Nothing in
human affairs is mechanical or inevitable. Nor are Americans mechanical.
They are very human indeed.
What constitutes an American? Not color nor race nor religion. Not
the pedigree of his family nor the place of his birth. Not the coincidence
of his citizenship. Not his social status nor his bank account. Not his
trade nor his profession. An American is one who loves justice and believes
in the dignity of man. An American is one who will fight for his freedom
and that of his neighbor. An American is one who will sacrifice property,
ease and security in order that he and his children may retain the rights
of free men. An American is one in whose heart is engraved the immortal
second sentence of the Declaration of Independence.
Americans have always known how to fight for their rights and their
way of life. Americans are not afraid to fight. They fight joyously in
a just cause.
We Americans know that freedom, like peace, is indivisible. We cannot
retain our liberty if three-fourths of the world is enslaved. Brutality,
injustice and slavery, if practiced as dictators would have them, universally
and systematically, in the long run would destroy us as surely as a fire
raging in our nearby neighbor's house would burn ours if we didn't help
to put out his.
If we are to retain our own freedom, we must do everything within
our power to aid Britain. We must also do everything to restore to the
conquered peoples their freedom. This means the Germans too.
Such a program, if you stop to think, is selfishness on our part.
It is the sort of enlightened selfishness that makes the wheels of history
go around. It is the sort of enlightened selfishness that wins victories.
Do you know why? Because we cannot live in the world alone, without
friends and without allies. If Britain should be defeated, then the totalitarian
undertaker will prepare to hang crepe on the door of our own independence.
Perhaps you wonder how this could come about? Perhaps you have heard
"them"--the wavers of the future--cry, with calculated malice,
that even if Britain were defeated we could live alone and defend ourselves
single handed, even against the whole world.
I tell you that this is a cold blooded lie.
We would be alone in the world, facing an unscrupulous military-economic
bloc that would dominate all of Europe, all of Africa, most of Asia, and
perhaps even Russia and South America. Even to do that, we would have to
spend most of our national income on tanks and guns and planes and ships.
Nor would this be all. We would have to live perpetually as an armed camp,
maintaining a huge standing army, a gigantic air force, two vast navies.
And we could not do this without endangering our freedom, our democracy,
our way of life.
Perhaps such is the America "they"--the wavers of the future--foresee.
Perhaps such is the America that a certain aviator, with his contempt for
democracy, would prefer. Perhaps such is the America that a certain Senator
desires. Perhaps such is the America that a certain mail order executive
But a perpetually militarized, isolated and impoverished America
is not the America that our fathers came here to build.
It is not the America that has been the dream and the hope of countless
generations in all parts of the world.
It is not the America that one hundred and thirty million of us would
care to live in.
The continued security of our country demands that we aid the enslaved
millions of Europe--yes, even of Germany--to win back their liberty and
independence. I am convinced that if we do not embark upon such a program
we will lose our own freedom.
We should be clear on this point. What is convulsing the world today
is not merely another old-fashioned war. It is a counter revolution against
our ideas and ideals, against our sense of justice and our human values.
Three systems today compete for world domination. Communism, fascism,
and democracy are struggling for social-economic-political world control.
As the conflict sharpens, it becomes clear that the other two, fascism
and communism, are merging into one. They have one common enemy, democracy.
They have one common goal, the destruction of democracy.
This is why this war is not an ordinary war. It is not a conflict
for markets or territories. It is a desperate struggle for the possession
of the souls of men.
This is why the British are not fighting for themselves alone. They
are fighting to preserve freedom for mankind. For the moment, the battleground
is the British Isles. But they are fighting our war; they are the first
soldiers in trenches that are also our front-line trenches.
In this world war of ideas and of loyalties we believers in democracy
must do two things. We must unite our forces to form one great democratic
international. We must offer a clear program to freedom-loving peoples
throughout the world.
Freedom-loving men and women in every land must organize and tighten
their ranks. The masses everywhere must be helped to fight their oppressors
We, free, democratic Americans are in a position to help. We know
that the spirit of freedom never dies. We know that men have fought and
bled for freedom since time immemorial. We realize that the liberty-loving
German people are only temporarily enslaved. We do not doubt that the Italian
people are looking forward to the appearance of another Garibaldi. We know
how the Poles have for centuries maintained a heroic resistance against
tyranny. We remember the brave struggle of the Hungarians under Kossuth
and other leaders. We recall the heroic figure of Masaryk and the gallant
fight for freedom of the Czech people. The story of the Yugoslavs', especially
the Serbs' blows for liberty and independence is a saga of extraordinary
heroism. The Greeks will stand again at Thermopylae, as they have in the
past. The annals of our American sister-republics, too, are glorious with
freedom-inspiring exploits. The noble figure of Simon Bolivar, the great
South American liberator, has naturally been compared with that of George
No, liberty never dies. The Genghis Khans come and go. The Attilas
come and go. The Hitlers flash and sputter out. But freedom endures.
Destroy a whole generation of those who have known how to walk with
heads erect in God's free air, and the next generation will rise against
the oppressors and restore freedom. Today in Europe, the Nazi Attila may
gloat that he has destroyed democracy. He is wrong. In small farmhouses
all over Central Europe, in the shops of Germany and Italy, on the docks
of Holland and Belgium, freedom still lives in the hearts of men. It will
endure like a hardy tree gone into the wintertime, awaiting the spring.
And, like spring, spreading from the South into Scandinavia, the
democratic revolution will come. And men with democratic hearts will experience
comradeship across artificial boundaries.
These men and women, hundreds of millions of them, now in bondage
or threatened with slavery, are our comrades and our allies. They are only
waiting for our leadership and our encouragement, for the spark that we
These hundreds of millions, of liberty-loving people, now oppressed,
constitute the greatest sixth column in history. They have the will to
destroy the Nazi gangsters.
We have always helped in struggles for human freedom. And we will
help again. But our hundreds of millions of liberty-loving allies would
despair if we did not provide aid and encouragement. The quicker we help
them the sooner this dreadful revolution will be over. We cannot, we must
not, we dare not delay much longer.
The fight for Britain is in its crucial stages. We must give the
British everything we have. And by everything, I mean everything needed
to beat the life out of our common enemy.
The second step must be to aid and encourage our friends and allies
everywhere. And by everywhere I mean Europe and Asia and Africa and America.
And finally, the most important of all, we Americans must gird spiritually
for the battle. We must dispel the fog of uncertainty and vacillation.
We must greet with raucous laughter the corroding arguments of our appeasers
and fascists. They doubt democracy. We affirm it triumphantly so that all
the world may hear:
Here in America we have something so worth living for that it is
worth dying for! The so-called "wave of the future" is but the
slimy backwash of the past. We have not heaved from our necks the tyrant's
crushing heel, only to stretch our necks out again for its weight. Not
only will we fight for democracy, we will make it more worth fighting for.
Under our free institutions, we will work for the good of mankind, including
Hitler's victims in Germany, so that all may have plenty and security.
We American democrats know that when good will prevails among men
there will be a world of plenty and a world of security.
In the words of Winston Churchill, "Are we downhearted,"
No, we arc not! But someone is downhearted! Witness the terrified flight
of Hess, Hitler's Number Three Man. And listen to this--listen carefully:
"The British nation can be counted upon to carry through to
victory any struggle that it once enters upon no matter how long such a
struggle may last or however great the sacrifices that may be necessary
or whatever the means that have to be employed; and all this even though
the actual military equipment at hand may be utterly inadequate when compared
with that of other nations."
Do you know who wrote that? Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf. And do you
know who took down that dictation? Rudolf Hess.
We will help to make Hitler's prophecy come true. We will help brave
England drive back the hordes from Hell who besiege her and then we will
join for the destruction of savage and blood-thirsty dictators everywhere.
But we must be firm and decisive. We must know our will and make it felt.
And we must hurry.
Harold Ickes - May 18, 1941