By Aiding Britain, We Aid Ourselves: Our Own Democracy is Threatened

Sen. James Byrnes (D-SC)

January 17, 1941

There is nothing altruistic about the determination of the United States to aid those nations now defending themselves against the forces of aggression. We are moved by reasons more impelling. We know that our own Democracy is menaced by the forces that now seek to destroy those Democracies across the Atlantic. One conquest only whets the dictators’ desire for more power. If Great Britain falls, the United States will stand practically alone on the brink of the precipice.

Because of the threat against the security of this nation and hemisphere, a Bill providing aid for Great Britain, drafted not in the White House, but in the Congress, has been introduced. It is apparent that it will meet the opposition of many of those persons and groups who opposed lifting the embargo in 1939, and opposed drafting an Army in 1940.

They argue that the Bill gives to the President too much power. If speed were not essential, we might proceed differently. We might have Congress pass separately upon each step in the granting of aid. But there are four hundred and thirty-five members of the House and ninety-six members of the Senate. From our experience, we know that what is called legitimate debate would cause Congress to consume from thirty to forty-five days in passing each Bill. These delays would be beneficial to Hitler. They might be disastrous to us.

If power must be lodged with some person, certainly those of us who believe in Democracy can agree that it should be entrusted to the person recently selected by a majority of the voters of this country to be President and Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy.

Over the radio and from platforms, it is argued that it is none of our business whether Britain stands or falls. If this be true, then it was inexcusable for the Congress to draft men for the Army in time of peace, and unanimously to appropriate millions of dollars for equipment and for a two-ocean Navy.

Let us face the facts. The reason we are feverishly working to provide an Army and Navy is to defend ourselves against the Axis powers. If we could be certain that Britain would defeat Hitler we could and would stop appropriating money for military purposes. But we cannot be certain of it. We are certain only that each day Britain holds Hitler we are better able to defend America. If Britain can hold Hitler for a year, we can hold him forever. Self preservation, therefore, demands that we now give Britain aid instead of sympathy.

Well meaning people believe that by wishing war away, they can keep war away. Not one of the nations whose people today lie crushed beneath the German war machine wanted war. In the Fall of 1937, I was in Germany. I saw more men in uniform than I had seen since 1918. In many cities I saw marching troops, generally singing, “Germany Over All.” In Berlin I witnessed the first blackout rehearsal against air raids. On the streets of London three days later I saw a peace parade. Instead of guns the marchers carried banners, with such inscriptions as “We did not raise our boys for cannon fodder”, “Beware of warmongers”, “Peace on Earth.” They were carried by sincere peace-loving people. But while the British prayed for peace, Hitler prepared for war. As a result, today the women of Britain lift their eyes to the skies in fear as well as prayer. and instead of casualties among soldiers, we read of the slaughter of women and children.

There is another group of people who believe that we can rely upon the statement of Hitler that he has no dreams of world conquest. But we cannot forget a long and gory list of broken pledges.

On September 26, 1938, Hitler, speaking of Poland, said: “We are all determined and also convinced that our agreement will bring about lasting and continuous pacification. We are two peoples. They shall live.”

Less than one year after he made that statement, Hitler ordered his war machine to crush Poland.

On the same day that he discussed Germany’s relations with Poland, Hitler said: “We have guaranteed to all contiguous neighbors the inviolability of their territory so far as Germany is concerned. This is not a phrase—that is our sacred will….We want nothing of France, absolutely nothing.”

Less than two years later, France lay prostrate beneath Hitler’s merciless heel.

On two different occasions Hitler reassured uneasy neighbors with these words: “The new Reich has endeavored to continue the traditional friendship with Holland,… We have given guarantees for the states in the West.”

On the morning of May 10, 1940, Hitler’s legions invaded Belgium and The Netherlands.

On October 6, 1939, Hitler issued a message designed to reassure other neighbors of Germany. He said: “Germany has concluded non-aggression pacts with the Baltic States. Her interests there are exclusively of an economic character.”

Every Baltic State that has not yet been invaded today fears invasion.

In the face of such evidence what nation could be so gullible as to believe in the sincerity of the totalitarian leadership? Helpless nations lie along the trail of Hitler’s broken promises and violated pledges.

Great Britain is sorely pressed. But Great Britain fights on, and who can say that the gallant spirit of that democracy has not been lifted glorious heights by the realization that other democracies eventually would realize the true significance of the struggle and would come to Britain’s assistance with ships, with planes, with tanks and other material?

Those who oppose this Bill offer one argument that is designed to strike fear into the hearts of American fathers and mothers. They contend that it will cause us to send American youth to fight in Europe. The President and the Congress of the United States have no intention of sending an American expeditionary force to Europe. Even if we were willing to send men, the military leaders of Britain say they do not want them.

Another argument is that we should not extend aid to Great Britain because that country has owed us large sums of money since the first World War. Greed is an attribute of the dictators, not a part of the creed of democracies. Assuredly Great Britain is in debt to us—but events are proving that we, too, are indebted to Great Britain for having held at bay the madmen who seek, not only wealth, but the power to dominate the World. Free men do not stamp the dollar mark upon their liberty.

Admittedly there is danger in any course we pursue. But if we aid Britain, and the theater of war remains in Europe, our own cities will stand intact, stalwart witnesses to the progress recorded by our way of life. Our citizens will sleep amid the serenity that comes from the realization that no bombs will crash through the roof. Our industrial workers will not find it necessary to abandon their machines and take refuge in bomb-proof shelters. Our children will not crouch in terror while hostile airmen hurl death-dealing explosives at their hiding-places. So long as Great Britain is able to hold Hitler at bay, America can arm and contribute its share to the all-important task of holding him, without suffering any of the ravages of modern war.

On the other hand, if we fail to aid Britain and next Summer the British should succumb to Hitler’s assaults, and the British fleet fall into the hands of Hitler, all this will be changed. With the German fleet in the Atlantic and the Japanese fleet in the Pacific every individual, every institution in this hemisphere, will be in peril. We would stand alone, friendless, in a world ruled by madmen. If that day should come and Hitler’s armies invade Canada, there would be among us those who would argue that it was none of our business, and we should not by opposition endanger American lives. If Hitler should invade Mexico they would argue that it was not our war, and that some years ago the Mexican Government was unfriendly to us, just as they today argue that a century and a quarter ago we were at war with Britain. We can credit them with good intentions, but to please them, we cannot sacrifice the lives and the liberties of the American people.

Democracy was born because men wearied of tyranny. Liberty was won because men were willing to offer their lives on freedom’s altar. We have built on this continent a democratic citadel, wherein free men may dwell. This citadel was conceived by men who loved freedom, who consecrated their lives to its achievement, and it has been handed down to men who cherish their heritage.

Democracies have demonstrated over and over again that they can live and let live. They cherish and foster the spirit of neighborliness. They are committed to the theory that a small, God-fearing democracy has as much right to exist unmolested as has its larger neighbor. Might does not mean right in the democratic code of ethics. Democracies cannot be motivated by greed and remain democracies.

Dictators are innately selfish. Greed is their motivating force. Hitler has declared they cannot ever reconcile them-selves with nations of different conceptions of Government. Dictators cannot live at peace with each other. It is merely a sinister coincidence that the countries now united in aggression against the democracies are fighting side by side. Under other conditions they might be at each other’s throats. Two tyrannical hearts cannot beat as one when interests are at variance. Nor can they live together amicably when spoils are to be divided. Should the democracies fall, the dictators will fight among themselves to determine who shall reign supreme. The death of democracy will in reality mean the birth of chaos.

The blood of heroic Americans need not be shed. Humming machines in American factories can and will enable Britain to hold the enemy and give us time to arm. This is a cause in which capital and labor can unite whole-heartedly. This is a cause which can be won if America does its duty.

All democracies made the same error while this storm was gathering. All of us delayed too long in perfecting our defenses. Many nations are paying in bondage for this error. Great Britain was unprepared, but the sheer heroism of its people has stood off Hitler’s armies for long months. We cannot let Great Britain down. If we do Hitler may never let us up.

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