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Franklin Roosevelt Administration: Radio Address by Secretary of State Cordell Hull on Danger to Free Nations

(May 18, 1941)

Tonight we inaugurate another annual National Foreign-Trade Week. Again, as a year ago it comes in the midst of war. You know as well as I that now there is little use in our talking about and planning for foreign trade unless the outcome of this war is favorable to the free peoples of the world. For free trade means free bargaining to mutual advantage. To us it does not mean exploitation by military cliques backed by cannon. And so, for the present, our foreign trade consists more and more, and will consist more and more, of making and placing in the hands of nations which are resisting unlawful attack the tools of self-defence. This trade, like all trade, is futile if the goods produced do not reach those for whom they are intended.

We are a practical people. When we set ourselves to a task we finish it. We have set ourselves to the task of arming and supplying those whose successful defense is vital to our security. I have said before, and I repeat: we will not permit this purpose to be frustrated. We will find a way to insure that the weapons pouring in ever greater volume from our factories will reach the hands which eagerly await them. Only as we stand strong and united in this purpose, can we look forward to a brighter day.

We have seen during the past year the continued spread of ruthless aggression by nations bent upon world-domination. We have seen the enslavement of every nation which was so unfortunate as to stand in the way and was not strong enough to repel aggression. Nations which were unable to protect themselves have been crushed by military frightfulness that has known no bounds. In each territory taken over, organized brutality has been carried to the utmost lengths in order to coerce conquered peoples into unwilling support of new conquests and an ever-widening circle of enslavement.

The safety of our Nation, as of every free nation, is in mortal danger so far as our people permit themselves to be lulled into a false sense of security by those who mistakenly assume that two oceans plus a natural desire to be at peace with all the world will protect us. The paramount purpose of the leaders of the movement of conquest is to secure control of the high seas, which control is essential to the execution of their program of world-domination. Every consideration of our own defense and safety requires that we see to it that Great Britain receives adequate supplies for her successful resistance.

At this critical moment we must not be weakened by internal division; we must devote our whole energy to essential tasks. The production and transfer of essential supplies to those countries which are actively resisting aggression demand sacrifice of time and substance and making of maximum effort, on the part of each and every American citizen. Delays in meeting full schedules of production of essential military supplies, whether caused by business complacency or by strikes, can and should be avoided for they gravely endanger the safety of the Nation. Our greatest possible national effort must be made, not for the sale of other countries, but primarily for the sake of and to insure our own security. Either the spread of lawlessness in the world must be brought to a halt or we shall soon find ourselves surrounded by aggressors and compelled to fight, virtually alone and against great odds, for our own national existence.

These are obvious dangers that lie immediately ahead. But they are not the only dangers. To get a more complete picture of what they involve, it is necessary to envisage the kind of an economic world that would exist if the would-be conquerors were to win. Their current pronouncements and practices provide an ample warning on that score.

The key to their economic program is contained in one simple word — conquest. Every territory that they conquer is reduced forthwith to an economic master-and-slave relationship. The economic structure of the enslaved country is forcibly re-shaped and systematically subordinated to the economy of the ruling country. Within the entire tributary area, autarchy or economic self-sufficiency is set up as the central feature of economic policy. At the center of this widely dispersed web of captive nations, the master country wields its vastly enlarged powers in an unceasing effort to ensnare, overwhelm, and enslave every remaining free nation in the world.

The tragic experience of the conquered countries of Europe provides unassailable evidence of how this system is applied in the field of trade. Under it, trade is reduced essentially to enforced barter. The would-be conqueror forces delivery to him, at his own price, of the goods he wants; and enforces this arrangement by every device of discrimination and arbitrary control. There is not the slightest pretense of promoting mutually profitable trade with other countries upon the basis of equality and fair-dealing. It is a system based upon the principle, not of economic cooperation, but of economic spoilation.

In the face of these facts, no one need be in doubt as to the situation that would confront this Nation, in the realm of trade as elsewhere, in the event of an Axis victory. For the past seven years our Government has taken the leadership in an effort to re-open the channels of international trade and thus to assist in world economic restoration, with resulting political stability, from which all countries, great and small, would benefit. It has proceeded throughout upon broad principles of cooperation and fair-dealing, and has recognized that only mutually profitable trade can be truly beneficial and enduring. These principles are broad enough to include every country willing to cooperate in a program of economic peace. By the same token they stand at the opposite pole from the predatory policies and methods of the totalitarians. Between the two systems there can be no workable adjustment.

After the first World War an attempt was made to reorganize the world on a sound basis. New institutions were created, and new methods of cooperation were established. All peoples shared the hope that a new era in international relations had begun.

Unhappily, shortly after the close of the World War, power fell into the hands of groups which advocated political and economic nationalism in their most extreme forms. The inevitable effects, politically, economically, and socially, during the years that followed were utterly disastrous. The outcome was division and weakening, and final break-down, of the necessary international foundation on which peace is based.

Knowing these facts as we do, it is none too early to lay down at least some of the principles by which policies must be guided at the conclusion of the war, to press for a broad program of world economic reconstruction and to consider tentative plans for the application of those policies.

The main principles, as proven by experience, are few and simple:

1. Extreme nationalism must not again be permitted to express itself in excessive trade restrictions.

2. Non-discrimination in international commercial relations must be the rule, so that international trade may grow and prosper.

3. Raw-material supplies must be available to all nations without discrimination.

4. International agreements regulating the supply of commodities must be so handled as to protect fully the interests of the consuming countries and their people.

5. The institutions and arrangements of international finance must be so set up that they lend aid to the essential enterprises and the continuous development of all countries, and permit the payment through processes of trade consonant with the welfare of all countries.

Measures taken to give effect to these principles must be freely open to every nation which desires a peaceful life in a world at peace and is willing to cooperate in maintaining that peace.

Such a program has strength and endurance. It will stand long after the war-built arrangements forced on disheartened or imprisoned peoples by military conquest have fallen to pieces and have vanished utterly.

There still are people who do not see that if, when the present conflict ends, we do not have a system of open trade, they will not be able either to buy or to sell except on terms really laid down by the military forces and political authorities of the countries with which they have to deal.

Unless a system of open trade becomes firmly established, there will be chronic political instability and recurrent economic collapse. There will never be peace in any real sense of the term.

In the final reckoning, the problem becomes one of establishing the foundations of an international order in which independent nations cooperate freely with each other for their mutual gain-of a world order, not new but renewed, which liberates rather than enslaves.

We shall not be able to do this until we have a world free from imminent military danger and clear of malign political intrigue. At present the world is scourged by both. We can expect no healthy development until the menace of conquest has been brought to an end. Only then will the time have arrived when steel is valued, not in terms of the bombs that can be made of it, but in terms of the instruments of peaceful life into which it can be forged; and when foreign trade has reverted again from cargoes of weapons and explosives to commodities that nourish and heal and enrich their customers.

This nation is resolved to evade no issues and to face harsh facts. We believe that there can be created a safer and more prosperous world. We have the tools-the resources, the brains, the hands-with which to make it such. But first the tide of force must be turned back. Once that is done, we and other nations can reestablish an open, cooperative, economic life in which trade may increase, economic welfare may grow, civilization may advance, and the peaceful and benevolent instincts of masses of now prostrate people may once more flourish in the really worthwhile ways of life.

[Department of State Bulletin, May 17, 1941.]

Sources: ibiblio