Excerpt from "There Can Be No Appeasement with Ruthlessness … We Must Be the Great Arsenal of Democracy," a radio address delivered on December 29, 1940
Reprinted from The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1940 Volume.
Published in 1941.
"We must be the great arsenal of democracy …. We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice as we would show were we at war."
President Roosevelt's calls for mobilization in 1940 were well-founded. By late spring of 1940 German dictator Adolf Hitler had successfully directed his Nazi army in conquests over Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium. In May the relentless Nazis entered northern France, and by June 14 they were in the streets of Paris. The French government was forced to sign an armistice (truce) on June 22. With the fall of France, Hitler turned his attention across the English Channel to Great Britain. The German air force, the Luftwaffe, attempted to destroy Britain's Royal Air Force and commenced bombing London in September. Italy had also declared war on Britain and France. Meanwhile in Asia, Japan had invaded various provinces in China, and Japanese military leaders were eyeing the Southeast Asian countries of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
On September 27, 1940, representatives from Germany, Italy, and Japan (collectively known as the Axis powers) met in Berlin, the capital of Germany. With the ultimate goal of world domination, the three countries boldly signed an agreement that threatened united aggression against the United States if it tried to halt their expansion objectives.
By late fall of 1940 it was clear to Roosevelt that the only way to stop the Axis powers and to keep them off American soil was to supply Britain with war materials. The United States had already been slowly moving toward mobilization in the previous twelve months. When France fell to the Nazis, President Roosevelt had asked Congress to appropriate money to manufacture more military aircraft, and Congress authorized $1 billion for fifty thousand new warplanes. However, these measures would not be enough to stop the Axis powers. Therefore, in late December 1940, Roosevelt asked the nation to become "the arsenal of democracy," that is, to produce and stockpile weapons for the nations that were defending democracy against the dictatorial Axis regimes. The tone of Roosevelt's speech was urgent and determined. Roosevelt spoke to convince Americans that they were indeed vulnerable to attack if the Axis powers were not defeated. America's best defense, Roosevelt said, was to rearm its own military and to supply Britain with everything needed to defeat the German assault.
Things to remember while reading the excerpt from "Arsenal of Democracy" …
- The United States remained detached from international events throughout the 1930s. As the war expanded in Europe and Asia, however, Americans experienced great uncertainty about the nation's future foreign policy.
- Although they hoped British forces would be victorious over Germany and Italy, many Americans opposed giving aid to Britain and other nations involved in the European war. Separated from Europe by the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and from Japan by the Pacific Ocean, Americans generally felt secure against foreign attack, and they did not believe it would serve U.S. interests to get involved in the war. Americans who did not want the United States to become involved in the war in Europe were known as isolationists (people who wanted to remain uninvolved from what they viewed as Europe's problems) or pacifists (people who oppose using military force for any reason).
- President Roosevelt, with his broad overall world vision, believed that the United States needed to provide weapons to Britain immediately; otherwise, he feared, U.S. forces would ultimately be drawn into the war. Roosevelt was deeply concerned about America's lack of military preparedness and wanted to build up all the U.S. armed services as rapidly as possible. Americans who agreed with Roosevelt and supported U.S. intervention into the war in Europe were known as interventionists.
Excerpt from "Arsenal of Democracy"
My friends: This is not a fireside chat on war. It is a talk on national security; because the nub of the whole purpose of your President is to keep you now, and your children later, and your grandchildren much later, out of a last-ditch war for the preservation of American independence and all of the things that American independence means to you and to me and to ours.
Tonight, in the presence of a world crisis, my mind goes back eight years to a night in the midst of a domestic crisis. It was a time when the wheels of American industry were grinding to a full stop, when the whole banking system of our country had ceased to function.
I well remember that while I sat in my study in the White House, preparing to talk with the people of the United States, I had before my eyes the picture of all those Americans with whom I was talking. I saw the workmen in the mills, the mines, the factories; the girl behind the counter; the small shopkeeper; the farmer doing his Spring plowing; the widows and the old men wondering about their life's savings. I tried to convey to the great mass of American people what the banking crisis meant to them in their daily lives.
Tonight I want to do the same thing, with the same people, in this new crisis which faces America.
We met the issue of 1933 with courage and realism. We face this new crisis—this new threat to the security of our nation—with the same courage and realism. Never before since Jamestown and Plymouth Rock has our American civilization been in such danger as now.
For on September 27, 1940—this year—by an agreement signed in Berlin, three powerful nations, two in Europe and one in Asia, joined themselves together in the threat that if the United States of America interfered with or blocked the expansion program of these three nations—a program aimed at world control—they would unite in ultimate action against the United States.
The Nazi masters of Germany have made it clear that they intend not only to dominate all life and thought in their own country, but also to enslave the whole of Europe, and then to use the resources of Europe to dominate the rest of the world. It was only three weeks ago that their leader stated this: "There are two worlds that stand opposed to each other." And then in defiant reply to his opponents he said this: "Others are correct when they say: 'With this world we cannot ever reconcile ourselves'…I can beat any other power in the world." So said the leader of the Nazis.
In other words, the Axis not merely admits but the Axis proclaims that there can be no ultimate peace between their philosophy—their philosophy of government—and our philosophy of government ….
Some of our people like to believe that wars in Europe and in Asia are of no concern to us. But it is a matter of most vital concern to us that European and Asiatic war-makers should not gain control of the oceans which lead to this hemisphere ….
Some of us like to believe that even if Britain falls, we are still safe, because of the broad expanse of the Atlantic and of the Pacific.
But the width of those oceans is not what it was in the days of clipper ships. At one point between Africa and Brazil the distance is less than it is from Washington [D.C.] to Denver, Colorado, five hours for the latest type of bomber. And at the north end of the Pacific Ocean, America and Asia almost touch each other. Why, even today we have planes that could fly from the British Isles to New England and back again without refueling. And remember that the range of the modern bomber is ever being increased ….
Frankly and definitely there is danger ahead—danger against which we must prepare. But we well know that we cannot escape danger, or the fear of danger, by crawling into bed and pulling the covers over our heads ….
There are those who say that the Axis powers would never have any desire to attack the Western Hemisphere. That is the same dangerous form of wishful thinking which has destroyed the powers of resistance of so many conquered peoples. The plain facts are that the Nazis have proclaimed, time and again, that all other races are their inferiors and therefore subject to their orders. And most important of all, the vast resources and wealth of this American hemisphere constitute the most tempting loot in all of the round world ….
The experience of the past two years has proven beyond doubt that no nation can appease the Nazis. No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it. There can be no appeasement with ruthlessness. There can be no reasoning with an incendiary bomb. We know now that a nation can have peace with the Nazis only at the price of total surrender ….
Thinking in terms of today and tomorrow, I make the direct statement to the American people that there is far less chance of the United States getting into war if we do all we can now to support the nations defending themselves against attack by the Axis than if we acquiesce in their defeat, submit tamely to an Axis victory, and wait our turn to be the object of attack in another war later on.
If we are to be completely honest with ourselves, we must admit that there is risk in any course we may take. But I deeply believe that the great majority of our people agree that the course that I advocate
involves the least risk now and the greatest hope for world peace in the future.
The people of Europe who are defending themselves do not ask us to do their fighting. They ask us for the implements of war, the planes, the tanks, the guns, the freighters which will enable them to fight for their liberty and for our security.
Emphatically we must get these weapons to them, get them to them in sufficient volume and quickly enough so that we and our children will be saved the agony and suffering of war which others have had to endure ….
In a military sense Great Britain and the British Empire are today the spearhead of resistance to world conquest. And they are putting up a fight which will live forever in the story of human gallantry….
Our national policy is not directed toward war. Its sole purpose is to keep war away from our country and away from our people.
Democracy's fight against world conquest is being greatly aided, and must be more greatly aided, by the rearmament of the United States and by sending every ounce and every ton of munitions and supplies that we can possibly spare to help the defenders who are in the front lines ….
This nation is making a great effort to produce everything that is necessary in this emergency—and with all possible speed. And this great effort requires great sacrifice ….
If our capacity to produce is limited by machines, it must ever be remembered that these machines are operated by the skill and the stamina of the workers. As the government is determined to protect the rights of the workers, so the nation has a right to expect that the men who man the machines will discharge their full responsibilities to the urgent needs of defense….
The nation expects our defense industries to continue operation without interruption by strikes or lockouts. It expects and insists that management and workers will reconcile their differences by voluntary or legal means, to continue to produce the supplies that are so sorely needed ….
Nine days ago I announced the setting up of a more effective organization to direct our gigantic efforts to increase the production of munitions. The appropriation of vast sums of money and a well-coordinated executive direction of our defense efforts are not in themselves enough. Guns, planes, ships and many other things have to be built in the factories and the arsenals of America. They have to be produced by workers and managers and engineers with the aid of machines which in turn have to be built by hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the land.
In this great work there has been splendid cooperation between the government and industry and labor. And I am very thankful.
American industrial genius, unmatched throughout all the world in the solution of production problems, has been called upon to bring its resources and its talents into action. Manufacturers of watches, of farm implements, of Linotypes and cash registers and automobiles, and sewing machines and lawn mowers and locomotives, are now making fuses and bomb packing crates and telescope mounts and shells and pistols and tanks.
But all of our present efforts are not enough. We must have more ships, more guns, more planes—more of everything ….
I want to make it clear that it is the purpose of the nation to build now with all possible speed every machine, every arsenal, every factory that we need to manufacture our defense material. We have the men—the skill—the wealth—and above all, the will.
I am confident that if and when production of consumer or luxury goods in certain industries requires the use of machines and raw materials that are essential for defense purposes, then such production must yield, and will gladly yield, to our primary and compelling purpose.
So I appeal to the owners of plants—to the managers—to the workers—to our own government employees—to put every ounce of effort into producing these munitions swiftly and without stint. With this appeal I give you the pledge that all of us who are officers of your government will devote ourselves to the same wholehearted extent to the great task that lies ahead ….
We must be the great arsenal of democracy. For us this is an emergency as serious as war itself. We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice as we would show were we at war ….
I have the profound conviction that the American people are now determined to put forth a mightier effort than they have ever yet made to increase our production of all the implements of defense, to meet the threat to our democratic faith.
As President of the United States, I call for that national effort. I call for it in the name of this nation which we love and honor and which we are privileged and proud to serve. I call upon our people with absolute confidence that our common cause will greatly succeed.
What happened next …
In January 1941 President Roosevelt established the Office of Production Management (OPM), put industrial leaders in charge, and directed it to get production of war materials going immediately. Mobilization began in earnest. For example, ground was broken in March to build the gigantic Willow Run plant in Michigan for the production of B-24 bombers. Meanwhile a major problem emerged. As the United States tooled up for massive war production, Britain ran out of money to pay for the U.S. war supplies. In response Congress established the Lend-Lease program in March 1941 to loan Britain money for its purchases. The shipments of American armaments indeed helped Britain to hang on. In May 1941 Germany ended its attempt to defeat Britain from the air. The Lend-Lease program also helped the Soviet Union when Germany invaded Soviet borders in June 1941.
Did you know …
- Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first and only U.S. president reelected to a third term. This unprecedented event occurred in November 1940, a month before the "Arsenal of Democracy" speech.
- Although mobilization had occurred only on a limited basis in 1940, war-related jobs created new work opportunities for many Americans who had been unemployed during the Great Depression. With more people receiving steady paychecks, demand for consumer goods began to rise. Anticipating better economic times and increasing consumer demand, American industries were eager to make civilian goods such as automobiles and kitchen appliances. Therefore, they did not want to switch to war production and resisted President Roosevelt's call to mobilization.
- In 1940, under heavy German air attack, Britain depended for its survival on American-made war supplies including food. The United States shipped these supplies over the Atlantic Ocean on freighters. The freighter traffic led to the so-called Battle of the Atlantic. German U-boats (short for Unterseeboot, which means submarine) patrolled the waters just off the eastern U.S. coastline and sank thousands of tons of supplies before the United States and Britain figured out how to better protect the ships. Soon, the U.S. was making ships, the Liberty ships, faster than Germany could sink them.
Consider the following …
- How did the increasing mobilization in 1941 affect unemployment rates?
- In "Arsenal of Democracy" President Roosevelt addresses Americans who have an isolationist viewpoint. What does he say to contradict their beliefs?
- Note that the United States was not yet at war when President Roosevelt delivered this speech. According to Roosevelt's words, why was the United States mobilizing to build massive amounts of war materials?
For More Information
Adams, Henry H. Years of Deadly Peril: The Coming of the War, 1939–1941. New York: David McKay Co., 1969.
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, the Home Front in World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.
Harris, Mark J., Franklin D. Mitchell, and Steven J. Schechter, eds. The Homefront: America during World War II. New York: Putnam, 1984.
Roosevelt, Franklin D. The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1940 Volume. New York: Macmillan, 1941.