Franklin D. Roosevelt

Address at Arlington National Cemetery.

November 11, 1935

Friends and fellow Americans:

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 up—that 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 that 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 lead—for those who survive it—to 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 in so far as the present Administration of your Government is concerned. Defense against aggression by others—adequate defense on land, on sea and in air—is 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.

Our two peoples, each independent, are closely knit by ties of blood and a common heritage; our standards of life are substantially the same; our commerce and our economic conditions rest upon the same foundations. Between two such peoples, if we would build constructively for peace and progress, the flow of intercourse should be mutually beneficial and not unduly hampered. Each has much to gain by material profit, by spiritual profit, by increased employment through the means of enlarged trade, one with the other.

I am, therefore, 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 rest—thousands upon thousands—in 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.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Address at Arlington National Cemetery. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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