|This Week in American History
Nov. 7-13, 1935
Armistice Day 1935: FDR on Permanently Ending the Threat of War
On Nov. 11, 1935, President Roosevelt gave an address at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. In 1935, that day was known as "Armistice Day," and it marked the anniversary of the end of World War I in 1918, a war which had claimed 10 million dead. By 1921, plans were underway to build a memorial to the unknown dead of World War I, and that year President Warren Harding participated in the first burial ceremony on the site. In 1932, the finished memorial was dedicated by the Secretary of War.
President Roosevelt used the occasion of Armistice Day, now called Veterans Day, to present a perspective on what must be done to permanently end the threat of war. Just months before, the Fascist government of Italy had invaded Ethiopia, and the Japanese Army was making a further advance into Chinese territory, after invading Manchuria in 1931.
Roosevelt began his speech by saying: "The living memory of the World War is close to each and every one of us today. Our thoughts return to great objectives of the past, even as the minds of older men go back to their boyhood's ideals.
"We Americans were so placed in those days that we gained a perspective of the great world conflict that was perhaps clearer than that of our fellow men who were closer to the scene of battle. For most of the first three years of the conflict, we were not participants; but during the final phase, we ourselves engaged on many fronts.
"For that reason perhaps we understood, as well as any, the cries that went upthat the world conflict should be made a war to end wars. We were not invaded, nor were we threatened with invasion then or later; but the very distance of our view led us to perceive the dire results of war through days of following peace.
"The primary purpose of the United States of America is to avoid being drawn into war. We seek also in every practicable way to promote peace and to discourage war. Except for those few who have placed or who place temporary, selfish gain ahead of national and world peace, the overwhelming mass of American citizens are in hearty accord with these basic policies of our government, as they are also entirely sympathetic with the efforts of other nations to avoid and to end war.
"That is why we too have striven with great consistency to approve steps to remove the causes of war and to disapprove steps taken by others to commit acts of aggression. We have either led or performed our full part in every important attempt to limit and to reduce world armaments. We have sought by definite act and solemn commitment to establish the United States as a good neighbor among nations. We are acting to simplify definitions and facts by calling war 'war' when armed invasion and a resulting killing of human beings take place.
"But though our course is consistent and clear, it is with disappointment and sorrow that most Americans confess than the world's gain thus far has been small.
"I would not be frank with you if I did not tell you that the dangers that confront the future of mankind as a whole are greater to the world and therefore to us than the dangers which confront the people of the United States by and in themselves alone.
"Jealousies between nations continue; armaments increase; national ambitions that disturb the world's peace are thrust forward. Most serious of all, international confidence in the sacredness of international contracts is on the wane.
"The memory of our hopes of 1917 and 1918 dies with the death of those of us who took part. It is, therefore, your sacred obligation and mine, by conscious, definite effort, to pass that memory on to succeeding generations. A new generation, even in its cradle or still unborn, is coming to the fore. The children in our schools, the young men and women passing through our colleges into productive life have, unlike us, no direct knowledge of the meaning of war. They are not immune to the glamour of war, to the opportunities to escape from the drabness and worry of hard times at home in the glory and heroism of the arms factory and the battlefield.
"Fortunately, there is evidence on every hand that the youth of America, as a whole, is not trapped by that delusion. They know that elation and prosperity which may come from a new war must leadfor those who survive itto economic and social collapse more sweeping than any we have experienced in the past. While, therefore, we cannot and must not hide our concern for grave world dangers, and while, at the same time, we cannot and must not build walls around ourselves and hide our heads in the sand, we must go forward with all our strength to stress and strive for international peace.
"In this effort, America must and will protect herself. Under no circumstances will this policy of self-protection go to lengths beyond self-protection. Aggression on the part of the United States is an impossibility insofar as the present administration of your government is concerned. Defense against aggression by othersadequate defense on land, on sea and in airis our accepted policy; and the measure of that defense is and will be solely the amount necessary to safeguard us against the armaments of others. The more greatly they decrease their armaments, the more quickly and surely shall we decrease ours.
"In many other fields, by word and by deed, we are giving example to the world by removing or lowering barriers which impede friendly intercourse. Our soldier and sailor dead call to us across the years to make our lives effective in building constructively for peace. It is fitting that on this Armistice Day, seventeen years later, I am privileged to tell you that between us and a great neighbor, another act cementing our historic friendship has been agreed upon and is being consummated. Between Canada and the United States exists a neighborliness, a genuine friendship which for over a century has dispelled every passing rift."
President Roosevelt was referring to the joint statement issued by himself and Prime Minister W. Mackenzie King of Canada, dealing with increased trade relations. The document had been issued on Nov. 9, and ended by stating, "It is recognized that such an increase would be beneficially felt in all activities, because trade is but another word for increased employment, transportation and consumption."
"I am, therefore," said President Roosevelt, "happy to be able to tell you almost in celebration of this Armistice Day that the Canadian Prime Minister and I, after thoughtful discussion of our national problems, have reached a definite agreement which will eliminate disagreements and unreasonable restrictions, and thus work to the advantage of both Canada and the United States.
"I hope that this good example will reach around the world some day, for the power of good example is the strongest force in the world. It surpasses preachments; it excels good resolutions; it is far better than agreements unfulfilled.
"If we as a nation, by our good example, can contribute to the peaceful well-being of the fellowship of nations, our course through the years will not have been in vain.
"We who survive have profited by the good example of our fellow Americans who gave their lives in war. On these surrounding hills of Virginia they restthousands upon thousandsin the last bivouac of the dead. Below us, across the river, we see a great capital of a great Nation.
"The past and the present unite in prayer that America will ever seek the ways of peace, and by her example at home and abroad speed the return of good-will among men."