Harry S. Truman
New York City
March 17, 1948
Mr. President, Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, fellow Americans:
It is a great honor to be a guest of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick tonight. I have been attempting to keep this engagement for 3 years. This is my first opportunity to accept the invitation which was extended to me 3 years ago. I am deeply grateful for the hospitality of a society with such a noble history. A few days ago a friend in Washington sent me a history of this society and I read with interest and pride of the charitable and educational work it has done for over 160 years. May you be as prosperous and as successful in the next 160 years as you have been until now!
I wish I could talk with you tonight about some of the great Americans—sons of St. Patrick—whose deeds have brightened the pages of history. Commodore John Barry—Andrew Jackson—Sergeant Mike Donaldson—Captain Colin Kelly—Admiral Dan Callaghan. We all know their stories, and we are proud of these Americans of Irish descent who defended the United States in time of peril.
I know something about how the Irish fight. I had a Battery in the First World War made up of Irishmen. When you called the roll of that Battery, it sounded as if the Ancient Order of Hibernians were having a meeting on the battlefront!
The ideals for which these men fought are under attack again. And so, instead of speaking about their brave deeds in the past, I shall speak tonight about the present and the future.
As you know, at noon today I addressed a joint session of the Congress. I described the current situation in Europe which is giving all of us so much concern. In the light of this situation I made three recommendations to the Congress.
First, I recommended that the Congress complete its action speedily on economic aid to Europe under the Marshall plan.
Second, I recommended that the Congress enact a program of universal training to provide the reserve of trained citizens which is so essential to the security of the United States.
Third, I recommended that the Congress enact temporary selective service legislation in order to build our armed forces up to their authorized peacetime strength. It is necessary that we call into service enough men to bring our armed forces up to the strength required to safeguard the United States and to meet our foreign commitments at this unsettled time.
It is important for every citizen to understand the reason for these three recommendations.
These recommendations to the Congress have one fundamental purpose.
The purpose is to prevent war.
I know that every loyal American citizen desires lasting peace based on freedom and justice for all men.
The United States has been working steadily and diligently for such a peace.
We took a leading part in establishing the United Nations. We hoped all the nations in the world would work together in the United Nations to solve international problems and to preserve the peace.
As you know, one nation has blocked action in the United Nations by using the veto time and time again. But we have not lost faith in the United Nations. We still believe that it is the foundation for a world order based on law and not on force. And we are going ahead in our efforts to strengthen the United Nations.
Last fall, under the leadership of the United States, the so-called Little Assembly was organized to meet in continuous session to handle international problems as they arise. Our delegates to the Little Assembly are now working with representatives of many other nations, in order to strengthen the mechanism of the United Nations within the framework of the Charter by reducing the excessive use of the veto.
We are taking many other actions toward peace.
Let me give you one example.
Nearly a year ago Secretary of State George Marshall suggested that the nations of Europe work out a cooperative plan to recover from the effects of war. Sixteen nations took up that suggestion and agreed upon a realistic plan which forms the basis for the European aid program now being adopted by the Congress.
But here again one nation has obstructed cooperative effort. That one nation prevented its weaker neighbors from joining in the Marshall plan, and it is doing everything in its power to prevent the plan from succeeding.
This is not all. That nation has steadily expanded its control over its neighbors. It is a tragic record. Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia. Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria. Yugoslavia, Albania, Hungary. And now Czechoslovakia. One after another they have been brought under the domination of one nation.
Nor is this the whole story. For that nation is now pressing its demands upon Finland. Its foreign agents are fighting in Greece and working hard to undermine the freedom of Italy.
Free men in every land are asking: “Where is this leading? … When will it end?”
I can bring you tonight no simple or easy answer.
But I can express my firm conviction that, at this moment in history, the faith and strength of the United States are mighty forces for the prevention of war and the establishment of peace.
Our faith and our strength must be made unmistakably dear to the world.
So long as democracy is threatened in the world, and during the period in which the free nations of Europe are regaining their strength, this country must remain strong in order to give support to those countries of Europe whose freedom is endangered.
Universal training is the best means of building up a large pool of trained civilians who could be called upon in times of emergency. The presence, within this country, of a strong, well-trained group of our young men would be of great importance in preventing future conflicts.
The adoption of universal training by this nation at this time would serve notice on the world that our pleas for peace were not mere idle words, but that we had the strength to back up our will for peace.
Even after we adopt universal training, however, it will take a substantial period of time before the pool of trained reserves can be developed. In the meantime our armed forces lack the necessary men to maintain their authorized strength. Voluntary enlistments have been dropping, and each month we fall further under our authorized strength.
This is why we must have a selective service law.
Our armed forces have to be kept up at the authorized level if we are to meet, our international responsibilities and maintain a minimum force in the continental United States.
Selective service would be used only as an interim measure until the solid foundation of universal training can be established.
That is the meaning of my recommendations to the Congress today.
The United States is not alone in its determination to achieve peace with freedom. Many nations and millions of people all over the world share our devotion to liberty and justice.
The continuing cooperation of 16 European nations working together to help themselves and to help each other is evidence of that fact.
Even more significant is the action of five free nations of Europe who signed at Brussels a few hours ago an agreement under which they will work toward economic unity and common defense of their liberty. It is important to note that this agreement is in full conformity with the Charter and is within the framework of the United Nations. The willingness of free nations, with long histories of past differences, to join together in the present union, is the most encouraging sign in Europe today.
The willingness of the people of the United States to accept our new position of world responsibility is equally encouraging. It was hard for some people to realize at the close of World War II that we could never again retire behind the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans and rely on friends abroad to protect democracy and freedom.
But the swift movement of events has made our new role plainly evident. With few exceptions, our people now understand that the United States has become the principal protector of the free world.
To carry out that responsibility we must maintain our strength–military, economic, and moral. And we must join our strength with the strength of other free men the world over who believe as we do in liberty and justice and the dignity of man.
That, too, is the meaning of my recommendations to the Congress today.
In the present world situation, understanding and agreement among our people strengthen our influence for peace. The bipartisan support of the Marshall plan in the Congress and throughout the country is compelling evidence of the unity of purpose of our people. It is of central importance to the preservation of peace that this unity be maintained.
We must beware of those who are devoting themselves to sowing the seeds of disunity among our people. The age-old strategy of divide and conquer can be as effective now as it was in the day of the aggressors of old.
We must not fall victim to the insidious propaganda that peace can be obtained solely by wanting peace. This theory is advanced in the hope that it will deceive our people and that we will then permit our strength to dwindle because of the false belief that all is well in the world.
I do not want and I will not accept the political support of Henry Wallace and his Communists. If joining them or permitting them to join me is the price of victory, I recommend defeat. These are days of high prices for everything, but any price for Wallace and his Communists is too much for me to pay. I’m not buying.
We must not be confused about the issue which confronts the world today.
The issue is as old as recorded history.
It is tyranny against freedom.
Tyranny has, throughout history, assumed many disguises, and has relied on many false philosophies to justify its attack on human freedom. Communism masquerades as a doctrine of progress. It is nothing of the kind. It is, on the contrary, a movement of reaction. It denies that man is master of his fate, and consequently denies man’s right to govern himself.
And even worse, communism denies the very existence of God. Religion is persecuted because it stands for freedom under God.
This threat to our liberty and to our faith must be faced by each one of us.
We will have to take risks during the coming year—risks perhaps greater than any this country has been called upon to assume. But they are not risks of our own making, and we cannot make the danger vanish by pretending that it does not exist. We must be prepared to meet that danger with sober self-restraint and calm and judicious action if we are to be successful in our leadership for peace.
The people of the United States have learned that peace will not come in response to soft words and vague wishes. We know that we can achieve the peace we seek only through firm resolution and hard work.
We can have confidence in the righteousness of our course. The great ideals of liberty and justice are powerful forces in the hearts of men in every country. The faith in God which sustains us, also sustains men in other lands. Together we can erect an enduring peace.