TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES:
It is obvious to all of us that world conditions have
changed violently since the first American Neutrality Act of 1935. The
Neutrality Act of 1939 was passed at a time when the true magnitude
of the Nazi attempt
to dominate the world was visualized by few persons. We heard it said,
indeed, that this new European war was not a real war, and that the
contending armies would remain behind their impregnable fortifications
and never really fight. In this atmosphere the Neutrality Act seemed
reasonable. But so did the Maginot Line.
Since then-in these past two tragic years-war has
spread from continent to continent; very many nations have been conquered
and enslaved; great cities have been laid in ruins; millions of human
beings have been killed, soldiers and sailors and civilians alike. Never
before has such widespread devastation been visited upon God's earth
and God's children.
The pattern of the future-the future as Hitler seeks to shape it-is now as clear and as ominous as the headlines of
Through these years of war, we Americans have never
been neutral in thought. We have never been indifferent to the fate
of Hitler's victim. And, increasingly, we have become aware of the peril
to ourselves, to our democratic traditions and institutions, to our
country, and to our hemisphere.
We have known what victory for the aggressors would
mean to us. Therefore, the American people, through the Congress, have
taken important and costly steps to give great aid to those nations
actively fighting against Nazi-Fascist domination.
We know that we could not defend ourselves in Long
Island Sound or in San Francisco Bay. That would be too late. It is
the American policy to defend ourselves wherever such defense becomes
necessary under the complex conditions of modern warfare.
Therefore, it has become necessary that this Government
should not be handicapped in carrying out the clearly announced policy
of the Congress and of the people. We must face the truth that the Neutrality
Act requires a complete reconsideration in the light of known facts.
The revisions which I suggest do not call for a declaration
of war any more than the Lend-Lease Act called for a declaration of
war. This is a matter of essential defense of American rights.
In the Neutrality Act are various crippling provisions.
The repeal or modification of these provisions will not leave the United
States any less neutral than we are today, but will make it possible
for us to defend the Americas far more successfully, and to give aid
far more effectively against the tremendous forces now marching towards
conquest of the world.
Under the Neutrality Act, we established certain areas
as zones of combat into which no American-flag ships could proceed.
Hitler proclaimed certain far larger areas as zones of combat into which
any neutral ship, regardless of its flag or the nature of its cargo,
could proceed only at its peril. We know now that Hitler recognizes
no limitation on any zone of combat in any part of the seven seas. He
has struck at our ships and at the lives of our sailors within the waters
of the Western Hemisphere. Determined as he is to gain domination of
the entire world, he considers the entire world his own battlefield.
Ships of the United States and of other American republics
continue to be sunk, not only in the imaginary zone proclaimed by the
Nazis in the North Atlantic, but also in the zoneless South Atlantic.
I recommend the repeal of section 6 of the act of
November 4, 1939, which prohibits the arming of American-flag ships
engaged in foreign commerce.
The practice of arming merchant ships for civilian
defense is an old one. It has never been prohibited by international
law. Until 1937 it had never been prohibited by any statute of the United
States. Through our whole history American merchant vessels have been
armed whenever it was considered necessary for their own defence.
It is an imperative need now to equip American merchant
vessels with arms. We are faced not with the old type of pirates but
with the modern pirates of the sea who travel beneath the surface or
on the surface or in the air destroying defenseless ships without warning
and without provision for the safety of the passengers and crews.
Our merchant vessels are sailing the seas on missions
connected with the defense of the United States. It is not just that
the crews of these vessels should be denied the means of defending their
lives and their ships.
Although the arming of merchant vessels does not guarantee
their safety, it most certainly adds to their safety. In the event of
an attack by a raider they have a chance to keep the enemy at a distance
until help comes. In the case of an attack by air, they have at least
a chance to shoot down the enemy or keep the enemy at such height that
it cannot make a sure hit. If it is a submarine, the armed merchant
ship compels the submarine to use a torpedo while submerged-and many
torpedoes thus fired miss their mark. The submarine can no longer rise
to the surface within a few hundred yards and sink the merchant ship
by gunfire at its leisure.
Already we take many precautions against the danger
of mines-and it seems somewhat incongruous that we have authority today
to "degauss" our ships as a protection against mines, whereas
we have no authority to arm them in protection against aircraft or raiders
The arming of our ships is a matter of immediate necessity
and extreme urgency. It is not more important than some other crippling
provisions in the present act, but anxiety for the safety of our crews
and of the almost priceless goods that are within the holds of our ships
leads me to recommend that you, with all speed, strike the prohibition
against arming our ships from the statute books.
There are other phases of the Neutrality Act to the
correction of which I hope the Congress will give earnest and early
attention. One of these provisions is of major importance. I believe
that it is essential to the proper defense of our country that we cease
giving the definite assistance which we are now giving to the aggressors.
For, in effect, we are inviting their control of the seas by keeping
our ships out of the ports of our own friends.
It is time for this country to stop playing into Hitler's
hands, and to unshackle our own.
A vast number of ships are sliding into the water
from American shipbuilding ways. We are lending them to the enemies
of Hitlerism and they are carrying food and supplies and munitions to
belligerent ports in order to withstand Hitler's juggernaut.
Most of the vital goods authorized by the Congress
are being delivered. Yet many of them are being sunk; and as we approach
full production requiring the use of more ships now being built it will
be increasingly necessary to deliver American goods under the American
We cannot, and should not, depend on the strained
resources of the exiled nations of Norway and Holland to deliver our
goods, nor should we be forced to masquerade American-owned ships behind
the flags of our sister republics.
I earnestly trust that the Congress will carry out
the true intent of the Lend-Lease Act by making it possible for the
United States to help to deliver the articles to those who are in a
position effectively to use them. In other words, I ask for congressional
action to implement congressional policy. Let us be consistent.
I would not go back to the earlier days when private
traders could gamble with American life and property in the hope of
personal gain, and thereby embroil this country in some incident in
which the American public had no direct interest. But today, under the
controls exercised by the Government, no ship and no cargo can leave
the United States, save on an errand which has first been approved by
governmental authority. And the test of that approval is whether the
exportation will promote the defense of the United States.
I cannot impress too strongly upon the Congress the
seriousness of the military situation that confronts all of the nations
that are combating Hitler.
We would be blind to the realities if we did not recognize
that Hitler is now determined to expend all the resources and all the
mechanical force and manpower at his command to crush both Russia and
Britain. He knows that he is racing against time. He has heard the rumblings
of revolt among the enslaved peoples-including the Germans and Italians.
He fears the mounting force of American aid. He knows that the days
in which he may achieve total victory are numbered.
Therefore, it is our duty, as never before, to extend
more and more assistance and ever more swiftly to Britain, to Russia,
to all peoples and individuals fighting slavery. We must do this without
fear or favor. The ultimate fate of the Western Hemisphere lies in the
I say to you solemnly that if Hitler's present military
plans are brought to successful fulfilment, we Americans shall be forced
to fight in defense of our own homes and our own freedom in a war as
costly and as devastating as that which now rages on the Russian front.
Hitler has offered a challenge which we as Americans
cannot and will not tolerate.
We will not let Hitler prescribe the waters of the
world on which our ships may travel. The American flag is not going
to be driven from the seas either by his submarines, his airplanes,
or his threats.
We cannot permit the affirmative defense of our rights
to be annulled and diluted by sections of the Neutrality Act which have
no realism in the light of unscrupulous ambition of madmen.
We Americans have determined our course.
We intend to maintain the security and the integrity
and the honor of our country.
We intend to maintain the policy of protecting the
freedom of the seas against domination by any foreign power which has
become crazed with a desire to control the world. We shall do so with
all our strength and all our heart and all our mind.