Some amongst us have fallen for this carefully pickled tripe. Some
amongst us have fallen for this calculated poison. Some amongst us
have begun to preach that the "wave of the future" has passed over
us and left us a wet, dead fish.
They shout-from public platforms in printed pages, through the
microphones-that it is futile to oppose the "wave of the future."
They cry that we Americans, we free Americans nourished on Magna
Carta and the Declaration of Independence, hold moth-eaten ideas.
They exclaim that there is no room for free men in the world any
more and that only the slaves will inherit the earth. America-the
America of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln and Walt Whitman -
they say, is waiting for the undertaker and all the hopes and
aspirations that have gone into the making of America are dead too.
However, my fellow citizens, this is not the real point of the
story. The real point-the shameful point-is that many of us are
listening to them and some of us almost believe them.
I say that it is time for the great American people to raise its
voice and cry out in mighty triumph what it is to be an American.
And why it is that only Americans, with the aid of our brave allies
- yes, let's call them "allies" - the British, can and will build
the only future worth having. I mean a future, not of concentration
camps, not of physical torture and mental straitjackets, not of
sawdust bread or of sawdust Caesars - I mean a future when free men
will live free lives in dignity and in security.
This tide of the future, the democratic future, is ours. It is ours
if we show ourselves worthy of our culture and of our heritage.
But make no mistake about it; the tide of the democratic future is
not like the ocean tide - regular, relentless, and inevitable.
Nothing in human affairs is mechanical or inevitable. Nor are
Americans mechanical. They are very human indeed.
What constitutes an American? Not colour nor race nor religion. Not
the pedigree of his family nor the place of his birth. Not the
coincidence of his citizenship. Not his social status nor his bank
account. Not his trade nor his profession. An American is one who
loves justice and believes in the dignity of man. An American is one
who will fight for his freedom and that of his neighbour. An
American is one who will sacrifice property, ease and security in
order that he and his children may retain the rights of free men. An
American is one in whose heart is engraved the immortal second
sentence of the Declaration of Independence.
Americans have always known how to fight for their rights and their
way of life. Americans are not afraid to fight. They fight joyously
in a just cause.
We Americans know that freedom, like peace, is indivisible. We
cannot retain our liberty if three-fourths of the world is enslaved.
Brutality, injustice and slavery, if practiced as dictators would
have them, universally and systematically, in the long run would
destroy us as surely as a fire raging in our nearby neighbour's
house would burn ours if we didn't help to put out his.
If we are to retain our own freedom, we must do everything within
our power to aid Britain. We must also do everything to restore to
the conquered peoples their freedom. This means the Germans too.
Such a program, if you stop to think, is selfishness on our part. It
is the sort of enlightened selfishness that makes the wheels of
history go around. It is the sort of enlightened selfishness that
Do you know why? Because we cannot live in the world alone, without
friends and without allies. If Britain should be defeated, then the
totalitarian undertaker will prepare to hang crepe on the door of
our own independence.
Perhaps you wonder how this could come about? Perhaps you have heard
"them" the wavers of the future cry, with calculated malice, that
even if Britain were defeated we could live alone and defend
ourselves single handed, even against the whole world.
I tell you that this is a cold blooded lie.
We would be alone in the world, facing an unscrupulous
military-economic bloc that would dominate all of Europe, all of
Africa, most of Asia, and perhaps even Russia and South America.
Even to do that, we would have to spend most of our national income
on tanks and guns and planes and ships. Nor would this be all. We
would have to live perpetually as an armed camp, maintaining a huge
standing army, a gigantic air force, two vast navies. And we could
not do this without endangering our freedom, our democracy, our way
Perhaps such is the America "they" - the wavers of the future -
foresee. Perhaps such is the America that a certain aviator, with
his contempt for democracy, would prefer. Perhaps such is the
America that a certain Senator desires. Perhaps such is the America
that a certain mail order executive longs for.
But a perpetually militarised, isolated and impoverished America is
not the America that our fathers came here to build.
It is not the America that has been the dream and the hope of
countless generations in all parts of the world.
It is not the America that one hundred and thirty million of us
would care to live in.
The continued security of our country demands that we aid the
enslaved millions of Europe - yes, even of Germany - to win back
their liberty and independence. I am convinced that if we do not
embark upon such a program we will lose our own freedom.
We should be clear on this point. What is convulsing the world today
is not merely another old-fashioned war. It is a counter revolution
against our ideas and ideals, against our sense of justice and our
Three systems today compete for world domination. Communism,
fascism, and democracy are struggling for social-economic-political
world control. As the conflict sharpens, it becomes clear that the
other two, fascism and communism, are merging into one. They have
one common enemy, democracy. They have one common goal, the
destruction of democracy.
This is why this war is not an ordinary war. It is not a conflict
for markets or territories. It is a desperate struggle for the
possession of the souls of men.
This is why the British are not fighting for themselves alone. They
are fighting to preserve freedom for mankind. For the moment, the
battleground is the British Isles. But they are fighting our war;
they are the first soldiers in trenches that are also our front-line
In this world war of ideas and of loyalties we believers in
democracy must do two things. We must unite our forces to form one
great democratic international. We must offer a clear program to
freedom-loving peoples throughout the world.
Freedom-loving men and women in every land must organize and tighten
their ranks. The masses everywhere must be helped to fight their
oppressors and conquerors.
We, free, democratic Americans are in a position to help. We know
that the spirit of freedom never dies. We know that men have fought
and bled for freedom since time immemorial. We realize that the
liberty-loving German people are only temporarily enslaved. We do
not doubt that the Italian people are looking forward to the
appearance of another Garibaldi. We know how the Poles have for
centuries maintained a heroic resistance against tyranny. We
remember the brave struggle of the Hungarians under Kossuth and
other leaders. We recall the heroic figure of Masaryk and the
gallant fight for freedom of the Czech people. The story of the
Yugoslavs', especially the Serbs' blows for liberty and independence
is a saga of extraordinary heroism. The Greeks will stand again at
Thermopylae, as they have in the past. The annals of our American
sister-republics, too, are glorious with freedom-inspiring exploits.
The noble figure of Simon Bolivar, the great South American
liberator, has naturally been compared with that of George
No, liberty never dies. The Genghis Khans come and go. The Attilas
come and go. The Hitlers flash and sputter out. But freedom endures.
Destroy a whole generation of those who have known how to walk with
heads erect in God's free air, and the next generation will rise
against the oppressors and restore freedom. Today in Europe, the
Nazi Attila may gloat that he has destroyed democracy. He is wrong.
In small farmhouses all over Central Europe, in the shops of Germany
and Italy, on the docks of Holland and Belgium, freedom still lives
in the hearts of men. It will endure like a hardy tree gone into the
wintertime, awaiting the spring.
And, like spring, spreading from the South into Scandinavia, the
democratic revolution will come. And men with democratic hearts will
experience comradeship across artificial boundaries.
These men and women, hundreds of millions of them, now in bondage or
threatened with slavery, are our comrades and our allies. They are
only waiting for our leadership and our encouragement, for the spark
that we can supply.
These hundreds of millions, of liberty-loving people, now oppressed,
constitute the greatest sixth column in history. They have the will
to destroy the Nazi gangsters.
We have always helped in struggles for human freedom. And we will
help again. But our hundreds of millions of liberty-loving allies
would despair if we did not provide aid and encouragement. The
quicker we help them the sooner this dreadful revolution will be
over. We cannot, we must not, we dare not delay much longer.
The fight for Britain is in its crucial stages. We must give the
British everything we have. And by everything, I mean everything
needed to beat the life out of our common enemy.
The second step must be to aid and encourage our friends and allies
everywhere. And by everywhere I mean Europe and Asia and Africa and
And finally, the most important of all, we Americans must gird
spiritually for the battle. We must dispel the fog of uncertainty
and vacillation. We must greet with raucous laughter the corroding
arguments of our appeasers and fascists. They doubt democracy. We
affirm it triumphantly so that all the world may hear:
Here in America we have something so worth living for that it is
worth dying for! The so-called "wave of the future" is but the slimy
backwash of the past. We have not heaved from our necks the tyrant's
crushing heel, only to stretch our necks out again for its weight.
Not only will we fight for democracy, we will make it more worth
fighting for. Under our free institutions, we will work for the good
of mankind, including Hitler's victims in Germany, so that all may
have plenty and security.
We American democrats know that when good will prevails among men
there will be a world of plenty and a world of security.
In the words of Winston Churchill, "Are we downhearted," No, we arc
not! But someone is downhearted! Witness the terrified flight of
Hess, Hitler's Number Three Man. And listen to this - listen
"The British nation can be counted upon to carry through to victory
any struggle that it once enters upon no matter how long such a
struggle may last or however great the sacrifices that may be
necessary or whatever the means that have to be employed; and all
this even though the actual military equipment at hand may be
utterly inadequate when compared with that of other nations."
Do you know who wrote that? Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf. And do you
know who took down that dictation? Rudolf Hess.
We will help to make Hitler's prophecy come true. We will help brave
England drive back the hordes from Hell who besiege her and then we
will join for the destruction of savage and blood-thirsty dictators
everywhere. But we must be firm and decisive. We must know our will
and make it felt. And we must hurry.
The What is an American Speech
by Harold Ickes