Dorothy Thompson – Col. Stimson tells the truth (5-9-41)

Reading Eagle (May 9, 1941)


Colonel Stimson tells the truth

Secretary Stimson’s speech Tuesday night was a simple, straight-forward, almost dry statement of the position of the United States in the world today. Its eloquence derived from its contents, not from any excess of rhetoric. It was a statement that is long overdue. And it is quite unanswerable. It leads to an inevitable conclusion – namely, that we must start right now to participate in the battle of the Atlantic with the intention of winning.

Now is not too early. It is already late – but not too late. Every day makes it later, not earlier.

The manner of that participation is a matter to be determined by the government, by those whose business it is to determine the disposition of our naval forces, in view of the composition of those forces and of interior knowledge of the whole situation. It is the business of the people and of Congress to recognize the reality of the threat in the Atlantic and to give the government power to deal with it.

Col. Stimson devoted the first part of his speech to a lucid account of the step-by-step developments of the last seven years, beginning with the building up in secret of the immense military maschine of Germany; the successive conquests which are now known to all; the creation of a mutual aggression pact between Germany, the Mediterranean power of Italy, and the Pacific power of Japan; the abrogation first of all law, as we understand the term law, inside the aggressor countries, followed by the abrogation of all international law in the interest of total war; the inevitable drawing into the conflict of Europe, Asia and Africa, and the unfolding struggle, which will be decisive, for the seaways of the planet.

The struggle involves the United States, which is the greatest oceanic power on earth. It immediately involves the United States and the Western Hemisphere, when the western outposts in the Atlantic are threatened – namely the British Isles, and the French and Portuguese possessions of Dakar, the Azores, and the Cape Verde Islands.

Col. Stimson said:

They [the Axis powers] now confront the world, including ourselves, with the alternative of abject surrender or uncompromising forceful resistance.

And he adds:

I cannot recall that the United States throughout its history – even when it was small and weak – has yielded to such a demand.

Col. Stimson rightly admits that:

…all this might have been prevented if many an unwary sentinel of liberty had not been caught napping at vital moments.

This is true. The cost of those naps is prodigious, but it constitutes no reason for taking another one.

Col. Stimson is, however, convinced that, in alliance with the British Navy, we can render secure all the oceans and thus hold in check the onward rush of the tide of Nazism while our factories build up the defense forces of Britain. He points out that the unrestricted submarine warfare of Germany is not a legal blockade under the rules of marine warfare.

This, of course, is correct. The German government has the right in international law to stop and search ships carrying contraband. It has no right to sink them without warning. Neither do we, in international law, have the right to convoy ships. But if we attempt to observe the rules of international law in a world where our enemies denounced them from the beginning, we will be defeated. We will suffer the most abject defeat ever endured by a great nation and suffer it without going to war to defend our rights and our position in the world.

In the world as it is today, America cannot act as she pleases. That is the weakness of the arguments of the non-interventionists. They seem to think that what is going on is a race between the government and the American people. What is actually going on is a race between the government and the Axis.

If the Axis gets to Dakar, the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands first, we – all of us, interventionists and non-interventionists alike – have lost the greatest American naval battle in history. If we let Britain fall, we – interventionists and non-interventionists alike – have lost a world war and can only sit at a peace table as just another defeated nation.

The first great British defeat was at Munich. No blood was split but it was a military disaster of the first order.

Actually, and from the beginning of this conflict, there have only been three choices for the United States. They are as follows:

  1. Join the forces opposed to the Axis.

  2. Join the Axis, and decide with them to get a cut in the division of the other free peoples of the world.

  3. Sit and wait, and be completely surrounded by a worldwide, hostile combination.

If we had done the first at the outset, or better still, before the outset, the world would have been spared much agony.

The second would have meant and would mean a revolution in the United States.

The third would have been and would be blindness and impotence.

If we let Britain down now, the eventual results will be an alliance of all the rest of the world against us, including a Nazi-dominated British Empire.

The situation is complicated, has been complicated from the beginning, by the fear of political leaders to tell the American people the truth, particularly in the middle of an election campaign. The only promise that any political leader should have made to the American people was to protect the honor, security, and power of the United States without war if possible, with war, if necessary.

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