Willkie – "Send more destroyers" (2-11-41)

Reading Eagle (February 11, 1941)

England needs 5 to 12 a month fast, he asserts
Britain needs immediate and long-term help, Senators are told
Favors aid bill with some modifications, witness testifies
Washington, Feb. 11 (AP) –
Urging passage of the British-aid bill “with modifications,” Wendell L. Willkie proposed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today that the United States should furnish Great Britain with five to ten destroyers a month.

The 1940 Republican presidential nominee, appearing in the Senate’s big marble-walled caucus room, where packed hundreds had waited for hours to hear him, declared in a prepared statement that Britain needs both “immediate” and “long-term” assistance.

Back from flying over_

Willkie returned to this country Sunday from a flying tour of the British Isles.

As an example of “immediate aid,” he told the committee that:

…if we are to aid British effectively, we should provide her with from five to ten destroyers a month.

We should be able to do this directly and swiftly rather than through the rigamarole of dubious legalistic interpretations. Incidentally, if we are to make more destroyers available to Britain we should recondition them in this country in our own yards.

States modifications

As for modifications, Willkie said it would be “wise” to limit the proposal aid to the British Commonwealth, China and Greece.

Willkie told the committee that in discussing the legislation:

…we must not hide important facts and we must have the courage to draw the proper inferences from the facts – democracy cannot live by dodging around corners.

Willkie said he believed a policy of “isolation” eventually would destroy civil liberties in the United States and would bring economic upheaval.

The witness, last to be heard by the committee, declared that Britain would require some time, even with American planes, to attain superiority in the air.

Aid must be effective

To render ineffective aid would be disastrous. Ineffective aid would give Hitler just as good a pretext against us as effective aid. But if our aid is ineffective, Britain may go down.

Willkie expressed approval of provisions made in the House to set a time limit on the powers granted the President in the British-aid bill and authorizing Congress to terminate the program by a majority vote of both houses.

A study of the bill’s provisions, he said, had forced upon him the conclusion that “the only way to render aid quickly enough is to pass this bill with modifications.”

All modifications should seek to limit any unnecessary authority granted in the bill. I have gone the full limit of my conscience in supporting the foreign policy of the administration because of my great desire for national unity.

The man, who campaigned up and down the country in last year’s presidential campaign, declared:

I have wanted to see America stand united before the world as the friend of all who fight for liberty; the deposer of all aggressors and despoilers of the democratic way

Urges non-partisan vote

It would be truly inspiring for us and liberty-loving people everywhere if this bill could be adopted with a non-partisan and almost unanimous vote.

I urge the majority [in Congress] to examine provisions with the spirit of candor and sincerity to see if the bill’s true objective cannot be accomplished and yet eliminate any unnecessary grant of authority.

Willkie said that while the majority did not need the votes of opponents to enact the legislation, the approval of opponents “and the approval of the millions of Americans whom they represent” would give the nation “the strength of a united people – a strength greater than that of armaments or battleships.

Willkie spoke in the knowledge that 22,000,000 people voted for him to be President.

Needs more warships

Discussing his suggestion for transferring five to ten destroyers a month to Britain, Willkie declared that although 50 destroyers recently had been traded to the Britain for Western hemisphere naval bases, “Britain needs still more destroyers.”

Merchant ships are making the [transoceanic] crossing without nearly enough protection; in some cases, 30 or 40 ships may be “protected” by only a couple of destroyers.

The 50 destroyers that we delivered to the British some months ago have proved extremely valuable. But owing to congestion and the shortage of mechanics, Britain found it difficult to recondition all of them at once.

While supplying destroyers to Britain, Willkie declared, the destroyer construction program should be expanded so vessels transferred could be promptly replaced.

“Aid to Britain” he defined as meaning “not to work for Britain but to work with Britain to defend an area of freedom.” He said that if Britain “prevails” the “enslaved democracies of Europe will revive.”

States requirements

Saying that Britain has both immediate and long-term needs, Willkie added:

The long-term requirements, such as airplanes, munitions and ships, are now very largely on order in this country. We are building them as fast as we can. But it will be many, many months before our efforts begin to show significant results.

Our aircraft program, for instance, will provide a little help in 1941, but it will not begin to give Britain supremacy in the air until 1942.

The hope is that with the fulfillment of those long-term requirements, Britain will attain a complete supremacy over Germany.

Saying that Britain’s greatest hazard was the destruction of shipping, Willkie added that he saw “piteous and heart-rending” destruction in Britain’s northern industrial towns. But, he said, the damage to productive facilities had been relatively small.

Willkie said that if the United States isolates itself,

…Britain may have great difficulty in surviving. No man can say, at this time, whether or not Britain can win this war without our assistance in supplies, ships and armaments.

But we do know that if she is defeated, the totalitarian powers will control the world. They will control not only Europe, but probably also most of Africa. They may also control the Atlantic Ocean.

Possible German drive

Under those circumstances, Germany would probably make a drive – whether economic or military – on Latin America, and perhaps Japan would also make a drive southward toward the East Indies.

Thus, the United States and Canada would be ringed about by totalitarian powers, using totalitarian methods of trade, unfriendly to the United States, and not reluctant to fight.

Willkie said that “such a calamity” would have two results:

First, in order to compete with those powers, we ourselves would have to adopt totalitarian controls.

Secondly, I believe that the United States would eventually be drawn into war against one or more of those powers. They would so cramp and hinder us and infringe upon us that we would be forced to fight.

In that event, we should be fighting, alone, a different battle in the same war that Britain is now fighting.