Harry S. Truman photo

Address in Chicago Before the Imperial Council Session of the Shrine of North America.

July 19, 1949

Imperial Sir, nobles and ladies, distinguished guests, neighbors from our North and South, fellow Americans:

I am happy to be present at this Imperial Council Session of the Shrine of North America, and to participate in your Diamond Jubilee celebration.

Among the many activities of the Shrine that have contributed to progress, I have always been especially interested in their program to aid crippled children. It seems to me that this program illustrates one of the best features of our way of life--concern for the unfortunate without discrimination as to race, color, or creed.

The people of the United States have never limited this attitude of concern for their fellowmen to the boundaries of our own country. As the activities of the Shrine in Mexico and Canada demonstrate, we join with the people of other countries in the relief of human suffering. Especially since the end of the war, Americans, through their churches and other organizations, and as individuals, have extended the hand of help and friendship to the unfortunate of many lands. Never before in the history of the world has the victor helped the vanquished as has this country helped its enemies after this war ceased.

We do this because we think of the people of other countries as human beings, not as pawns in the game of power politics.

During the war we established warm ties of comradeship and common purpose between ourselves and other peoples in the struggle against tyranny. We hoped that an enduring peace could be built on these ties of friendship. In part, these high hopes have not been realized. Leaders of some nations have cut off communications and built barriers of suspicion between their people and the outside world.

But, in spite of this, there persists in this country a sincere feeling of friendship and sympathy for those peoples who have been cut off from us by force of political intrigue. We are convinced that if they were permitted to know the facts they would return our friendship.

We shall therefore continue our efforts to help them to learn the facts. We believe that the people of the world should have the facts, not only about ourselves, but about all the things that concern them most deeply. Only if men know the truth are they in a position to work for a stable and a peaceful world.

In this country, where the facts are readily available, we have a special obligation to inform ourselves concerning world affairs and important international issues.

This is vitally important if our country is to carry out the responsibilities of world leadership that it has today. For, in this Nation, foreign policy is not made by the decisions of a few. It is the result of the democratic process, and represents the collective judgment of the people. Our foreign policy is rounded upon an enlightened public opinion.

The importance of public opinion in the United States is not always understood or properly evaluated. Public opinion in a country such as ours cannot be ignored or manipulated to suit the occasion. It cannot be stampeded. Its formation is necessarily a slow process, because the people must be given ample opportunity to discuss the issues and reach a reasoned conclusion. But once a democratic decision is made, it represents the collective will of the Nation and can be depended upon to endure.

Those who rule by arbitrary power in other nations do not understand these things. For this reason, they do not realize the strength behind our foreign policy.

The major decisions in our foreign policy since the war have been made on the basis of an informed public opinion and overwhelming public support.

For example, in 1945 the people of our country were almost unanimously in favor of our participation in the United Nations. The Senate reflected that public sentiment when it approved the charter by a vote of 87 to 2.

In 1948, after almost a year of discussion and debate, it was clear that a substantial majority of the people of this Nation approved our participation in the European recovery program. The Congress translated that approval into legislative action by a vote of approximately 4 to 1.

Our people continue to support the United Nations as fully as they did 4 years ago, in spite of the fact that some nations have obstructed its work through the misuse of the veto. We want to improve the United Nations. This desire was expressed in Senate Resolution 239, which called for the strengthening of the United Nations and the development of regional and other arrangements for the mutual defense of free nations. This resolution was approved by the Senate last year by a vote of 64 to 4.

As a means of carrying out these desires of the people for stronger support of the principles of the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty has been negotiated and is before the Senate. The Senate is now engaged in discussing the treaty with the deliberation and close attention that is part of the democratic process. All points of view have been made known. Public opinion among our people is overwhelmingly in favor of ratification of the treaty, and I am very sure that the Senate will give it its approval.

These momentous decisions are the decisions not of the Government alone, but of the people of the United States. For this reason, it is clear that this country will steadfastly continue, together with other nations of like purpose, along the path we have chosen toward peace and freedom for the world.

The formation of foreign policy on the part of the democratic nations may be a slow and painful process, but the results endure.

It is only in the totalitarian states, where all decisions are made by a few men at the top, that foreign policies can be reversed or radically altered in secrecy, or changed abruptly without warning. Between totalitarian states, disagreements can suddenly become open conflicts, and allies can change into enemies over night. The democratic nations, by contrast, because they rely on the collective judgment of their people, are dependable and stable in their foreign relations.

Today, the great quest of mankind is for a world order capable of maintaining world peace.

Just as the democratic nations formulate their foreign policies after due consideration for the opinions of their citizens, so they formulate their plans for international order with due regard for the independence and sovereignty of other nations.

The kind of world organization for which this Nation and other democratic nations are striving is a world organization based on the voluntary agreement of independent states.

We are familiar, in our own history, with this kind of organization. Our country began as a federation--an association of local democratic sovereignties within a larger whole. The existing states, whether large or small, were brought together on the basis of voluntary agreement.

This principle of mutual respect and voluntary agreement is essential to the creation of a strong world organization for maintaining a just and lasting peace. In this respect, associations of nations are like associations of individuals--they will not survive and prosper unless the rights and the integrity of its members are respected.

This is the principle on which the United Nations is based. The United Nations is designed to give every nation a share in forming decisions on world issues. Such an organization will have its difficulties. We all know, from our own experience in business, in unions, in cooperatives, or fraternal groups, how much hard work and honest give and take is required to make this kind of organization successful. But we also know that in the long run an organization based on voluntary agreement among its members will command greater loyalty, speak with greater authority, and have a greater chance for success than any other kind. We must therefore continue to support and continue to improve the United Nations, as the way to lasting peace.

In contrast to the United Nations is the concept of a world order based on the rule of force. In the past, attempts to organize the world by force have always failed. The most recent failure was the attempt of Nazi Germany to establish European unity through the rule of force. This attempt to create an empire by conquest lasted only a few years.

In spite of the record of history, the leaders of some nations today appear still to be relying on force as a method of world organization. Their doctrine calls for the destruction of free governments through the use of force and the effort to create class warfare. To achieve their aims, they make a false appeal to men's sense of justice; they play upon the common desire of men to improve their conditions of life.

But, in practice, this system of world organization is no better than the old tyrannies that have failed. It is incapable of satisfying the needs and desires of men for a better life. In its inner structure, it manifests the fatal weaknesses of all dictatorships. Within the circle of its control today, tensions and conflicts appear to be increasing. It may have temporary triumphs, but in the long run it must either destroy itself, or abandon its attempt to force other nations into its pattern.

Some people would have us believe that war is inevitable between the nations which are devoted to our concept of international organization and the concept which now bears the name of communism. This is not the case. I am optimistic as I look toward the future, because I believe in the superior attraction for men's minds and hearts of the democratic principles which have been tried and tested in free nations, and which are now winning the allegiance of men throughout the world.

In the battle for men's minds our faith is more appealing, more dynamic, and stronger than any totalitarian force. The world longs for the kind of tolerance and mutual adjustment which is represented by democratic principles.

This country has had a revolutionary effect in the world since it was rounded. Our democracy was born in a world of absolute monarchies. The idea which we made a living reality spread throughout the world and brought the day of absolute monarchy to an end. We have always been a challenge to tyranny of any kind. We are such a challenge today.

Our idea prevailed against the absolute monarchies of the 19th century. It is prevailing today against the new and more terrible dictatorships of the 20th century.

The reason is clear. Our idea of democracy speaks in terms which men can understand. It speaks of opportunity and tolerance and self-government. It speaks of the dignity of the individual, his freedom of conscience and the right to worship as he pleases. It does not exact blind loyalty to false ideas or improbable theories. It does not make a god out of the state, or out of man, or out of any human creation.

The world is tired of political fanaticism. It is weary of the lies, propaganda, and hysteria created by dictatorships. It is disgusted by the practice of torture and political assassination. It is sick of the kind of political allegiance which is inspired solely by fear.

Men want to live together in peace. They want to have useful work. They want to feel themselves united in brotherly affection. They want to enjoy that great privilege--a privilege denied to millions throughout the world today--the right to think their own thoughts and to have their own convictions.

These desires of mankind are satisfied by the democratic principles which we have put into practice. These principles are at work today as they were in the past. In the conflict that exists throughout the world, these are our greatest advantages. They should give us confidence that we shall eventually succeed in establishing the kind of international organization to preserve the peace for which men yearn.

In working toward this goal, we must act wisely and steadfastly. We must realize that many dangers yet lie ahead, and that there are many tasks and problems which will be difficult to master. We must also preserve in this country full enjoyment of these basic democratic principles which are our greatest assets.

In this period of history when our country bears the major responsibility for world leadership, our domestic and foreign policies are inseparable. We must maintain a strong and stable economy as the basis of our own well-being and as the primary source of strength of the free world. We must also support economic health and democratic ideals in other countries, if we ourselves are to remain strong and prosperous.

Both these objectives require action now.

We must take proper steps to see that our economy moves safely through the present transition period, and that employment and production start expanding again. If we were to make our plans on the assumption that employment and production will get smaller, we would only make matters worse, and waste much of our potential economic strength. What we must do, instead, is to make all our plans, private and public, in such a way as to give us more jobs and more output. This is the way toward a stronger economy.

Furthermore, we must take action to insure that the hard-won economic recovery of other free nations does not revert to stagnation and despair. One of the most foolish things we could do right now would be to slash our appropriations for European recovery. If we did that, we would be deliberately throwing away gains for peace and freedom that we have painfully made. Only the Communists would profit if we took such a short-sighted course.

We have been making progress in working toward peace and freedom because we have been willing to make the investment that was necessary. It would be disastrous now to change our policy and settle for halfway measures.

It would be disastrous to lose or impair the understanding and support we have gained among the other democratic peoples. These are priceless assets in the great task of constructing a peaceful and orderly world.

The kind of peace we seek cannot be won at a single stroke or by a single nation. Peace worthy of the name can be assured only by the combined effort of many peoples willing to make sacrifices in the cause of freedom.

The peoples of the world look to the United States for the leadership in this great crusade for peace. We have not taken up this task lightly, and we will not lay it down.

We must go resolutely forward, step by step, toward the creation of a world in which we, and all people, can live and prosper in peace.

Note: The President spoke at 4 p.m. at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill. His opening words "Imperial Sir" referred to Galloway Calhoun of Tyler, Tex., the retiring Imperial Potentate of the Shrine of North America. The address was broadcast over the radio.

Harry S Truman, Address in Chicago Before the Imperial Council Session of the Shrine of North America. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/229727

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