President Roosevelt’s address to the International Student Assembly
September 3, 1942
It may interest the members of this Assembly of the International Student Service to know that during the past week the Axis radio has given unusual comment to your sessions, and to the speech which you are hearing at this moment.
Our listening stations have picked up an increasing volume of Axis broadcasts, including controlled stations in France, Hungary, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, referring to this meeting of the younger generation from all the United Nations in terms that are not complimentary, in terms of growing hate and, of course, complete falsehood. Our listening stations report that they expect that at this moment the air in all Axis-dominated nations will be thoroughly jammed – blacked out – in order that no sound of what I am saying, either in English or in translation, will be heard by any restless young people who are under Hitler’s heel.
The Nazi radio in Paris, for example, tells the youth of France that this man Roosevelt was solely responsible for the defeat of France; that Roosevelt is not qualified to address a message to the youth of the world because America is a nation that has done nothing for youth.
Berlin reports that four French youth organizations have protested in advance against this speech, since this man Roosevelt must be blamed for the death of more than 100,000 young Frenchmen. Incidentally, it would be interesting to know how many real Frenchmen there are in these so-called French youth organizations.
And a radio in Tokyo says that I am admitting to you at this moment that my people in the United States are decadent weaklings – playboys – spoiled by jazz music and Hollywood pictures. Of course, this broadcast from Tokyo did not originate from any of the Japanese who bumped into our playboys in the Southwest Pacific.
The reason for this hysterically defensive attitude toward this gathering is not hard to find. For many years, they have made their hypocritical appeal to youth – they have tried, with all their blatant publicity, to represent themselves as the champions of youth.
But now the world knows that the Nazis, the fascists, and the militarists of Japan have nothing to offer to youth – except death.
On the other hand, the cause of the United Nations is the cause of youth itself. It is the hope of the new generation – and the generations that are to come – hope for a new life that can be lived in freedom, and justice, and decency.
This fact is becoming clearer every day to the young people of Europe, where the Nazis are trying to create youth organizations built on the Nazi pattern. It is not a pattern devised by youth for youth. It is a pattern devised by Hitler and imposed upon youth by a form of mental forcible feeding – a diet of false facts, distortions, and prohibitions – all backed up by the guns of the Gestapo.
If you have any doubt as to what the decent youth of Europe think about the false promises the Axis masters make to the young people of the world, look to the brave young men of France and all the occupied countries who prefer to face the firing squads rather than a lifetime of slavery and degradation under Hitler.
In such unfortunate countries as Finland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and Italy, whose governments have found it necessary to submit to Hitler and do his bidding, the Quislings have organized youth movements too – but these are only movements of youth by the tens of thousands to the slaughter of the Eastern front, where the Nazis need cannon fodder in their desperate attempts to shatter the stalwart Russian Army.
In China, heroic youth has stood steadfast for more than five years against all of Japan’s attempts to seduce and disarm them with such transparent lies as the promise of “Asia for the Asiatics.” For the Chinese know that this only means “All of creation enslaved by the Japanese.”
We exult in the thought that it is the young, free men and women of the United Nations, and not the wound-up robots of the slave states, who will mold the shape of the new world.
The delegates to this International Student Assembly represent the 29 United Nations. They also represent, in spirit at least, the younger generation of many other nations who, though they are not now actively at war on our side, are with us heart and soul in aspiring for a secure and peaceful world.
Before the First World War, very few people in any country believed that youth had the right to speak for itself as a group or to participate in councils of state.
We have learned much since then. We know that wisdom does not come necessarily with years; that old men may be foolish, and young men may be wise. But in every war, it is the younger generation which bears the burden of combat and inherits all the ills that war leaves in its wake.
In the economic crises that followed the false prosperity after the First World War, many young men and women suffered even more than did their elders. For they were denied the primary opportunities for education, for training, for work, and even for food enough to build up healthy bodies. As a result, they were tempted to seek some simple remedy not only for their own individual problems, but for all of the problems that beset all of the world. Some listened to alien, siren voices that offered glib answers to all the questions they asked. “Democracy is dead,” said these voices.
Follow us, and we will teach you efficiency. We will lead you to world conquest. We will give you power over inferior races. And all that we ask you to give in return is – your freedom.
Other young people in the democracies listened to gospels of despair. They took refuge in cynicism, and in bitterness.
However, the day finally came when all theory had to give way to fact – the terrible, tangible fact of dive bombers, and panzer divisions, the actual threat to the security of every home and every family in every free country in the world. And when that fact became clear to our youth they answered the call to arms – many millions of them; and, today, they are determined to fight until the forces of aggression have been utterly destroyed.
What I am saying here in Washington is being heard by several million American soldiers, sailors, and marines, not only within the continental limits of the United States, but in far distant points – in Central and South America, in the islands of the Atlantic, in Britain and Ireland, on the coasts of Africa, in Egypt, in Iraq and Iran, in Russia, in India, in China, in Australia, in New Zealand, in many islands of the Pacific, and on all the seas of the world. There – in those distant places – are our fighting men.
And to them I should like to deliver a special message, from their Commander-in-Chief, and from the very hearts of their countrymen:
You young Americans today are conducting yourselves in a manner that is worthy of the highest, proudest traditions of our nation.
No pilgrims who landed on the uncharted New England coast, no pioneers who forced their way through the trackless wilderness, showed greater fortitude, greater determination, than you are showing now.
Neither your own fathers, in 1918, nor your fathers’ fathers, in 1863 or 1776, fought with greater gallantry or more selfless devotion to duty and country than you are now displaying on battlefields far from home.
And what is more, you know why you are fighting. You know that the road that has led you to the Solomon Islands, or to the Red Sea, or to the coast of France, is in fact an extension of Main Street, and that when you fight, anywhere along that road, you are fighting in the defense of your own homes, your own free schools, your own churches, your own ideals.
We here at home are supremely conscious of our obligations to you, now and in the future. We will not let you down.
We know that in the minds of many of you are thoughts of interrupted education, interrupted careers, delayed opportunities for getting a job. The solution of such problems cannot be left, as it was the last time, to mere chance. This government has accepted the responsibility for seeing to it that, wherever possible, work has been provided for those who were willing and able, but who could not find work. That responsibility will continue after the war. And when you come home, we do not propose to involve you, as last time, in a domestic economic mess of our own making.
You are doing first things first – fighting to win this war. For you know that should this war be lost, all our plans for the peace to follow would be meaningless.
Victory is essential; but victory is not enough for you – or for us. We must be sure that when you have won victory, you will not have to tell your children that you fought in vain – that you were betrayed. We must be sure that in your homes there will not be want – that in your schools only the living truth will be taught – that in your churches there may be preached without fear a faith in which men may deeply believe.
The better world for which you fight – and for which some of you give your lives – will not come merely because we shall have won the war. It will not come merely because we wish very hard that it would come. It will be made possible only by bold vision, intelligent planning, and hard work. It cannot be brought about overnight; but only by years of effort and perseverance and unfaltering faith.
You young soldiers and sailors, farmers and factory workers, artists and scholars, who are fighting our way to victory now, all of you will have to take your part in shaping that world. You will earn it by what you do now; but you will not attain it if you leave the job for others to do alone. When you lay aside your gun at the end of the war, you cannot at the same time lay aside your duty to the future.
What I have said to our American soldiers and sailors applies to all the young men and women of the United Nations who are facing our common enemies. There is a complete unanimity of spirit among all the youth of all kinds and kindreds who fight to preserve or to regain their freedom.
In Norway and Holland, Belgium and France, Czechoslovakia and Poland, Serbia and Greece, there is a fighting spirit that defies the harsh oppression, the barbarous cruelty and terrorism of the Nazis. Although disarmed, the unconquerable people still strike at their oppressors. Although forbidden to know the truth, they listen at the risk of their lives to radio broadcasts from afar; and, by word of mouth and by secret information and newspapers passed from one patriot to another, they still spread the truth. When the time comes for these peoples to rise, Hitler’s New Order will be destroyed by the hands of its own victims.
Today the embattled youth of Russia and China are realizing a new individual dignity, casting off the last links of the ancient chains of imperial despotism which had bound them so long.
This is a development of historic importance. It means that the old term, “Western civilization,” no longer applies. World events and the common needs of all humanity are joining the culture of Asia with the culture of Europe and the culture of the Americas to form, for the first time, a real world civilization.
In the concept of the four freedoms, in the basic principles of the Atlantic Charter, we have set for ourselves high goals, unlimited objectives.
These concepts, and these principles, are designed to form a world in which men, women, and children can live in freedom and in equity and, above all, without fear of the horrors of war. For no soldiers or sailors, in any of our forces today, would so willingly endure the rigors of battle if they thought that in another twenty years their own sons would be fighting still another war on distant deserts or seas or in faraway jungles or in the skies.
We have profited by our past mistakes. This time we shall know how to make full use of victory. This time the achievements of our fighting forces will not be thrown away by political cynicism and timidity and incompetence.
There is still, however, a handful of men and women, in the United States and elsewhere, who mock and sneer at the four freedoms and the Atlantic Charter. They are few in number; but some of them have the financial power to give our enemies the false impression that they have a large following among our citizenry. They play petty politics in a world crisis. They fiddle with many sour notes while civilization burns. These puny prophets decry our determination to implement our high concepts and our sound principles. And the words of these little men of little faith are quoted with gleeful approval by the press and the radio of our enemies.
We are deeply aware that we cannot achieve our goals easily. We cannot attain the fullness of all of our ideals overnight. We know that this is to be a long and hard and bitter fight – and that there will still be an enormous job for us to do long after the last German, Japanese, and Italian bombing planes have been shot to earth.
But we do believe that, with divine guidance, we can make in this dark world of today, and in the new postwar world of tomorrow – a steady progress toward the highest goals that men have ever imagined.
We of the United Nations have the technical means, the physical resources, and, most of all, the adventurous courage and the vision and the will that are needed to build and sustain the kind of world order which alone can justify the tremendous sacrifices now being made by our youth.
But we must keep at it – we must never relax, never falter, never fear – and we must keep at it together.
We must maintain the offensive against evil in all its forms. We must work, and we must fight to insure that our children shall have and shall enjoy in peace their inalienable rights to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
Only on those bold terms can this total war result in total victory.