Franklin D. Roosevelt

Graduation Address at United States Military Academy, West Point, New York.

June 12, 1939

Superintendent Benedict, Fellow Officers, Members of the Class of 1939:

I take pleasure in greeting you as colleagues in the service of the United States. You will find, as I have, that that serv-ice never ends—in the sense that it engages the best of your ability and the best of your imagination in the endless adventure of keeping the United States safe, strong and at peace.

You will find that the technique you acquired can be used in many ways for your country, for the Army of the United States has a record of achievement in peace as well as in war. It is a little appreciated fact that its constructive activities have saved more lives through its peacetime work and have created more wealth and well-being through its technical operations, than it has destroyed during its wars, hard-fought and victorious though they have been.

With us the Army does not stand for aggression, domination, or fear. It has become a corps d'e'lite of highly trained men whose talent is great technical skill, whose training is highly cooperative, and whose capacity is used to defend the country with force when affairs require that force be used.

But it has also been made available to organize, to assist, and to construct, when battles have to be waged against the more impersonal foes of disaster, disease, or distress.

This is sound Army work; for the military strength of a country can be no greater than its internal economic and moral solidarity, and the task of national defense must concern itself with civilian problems at home, quite as much as with armed forces in the field.

The alteration of economic life in this past generation has almost completely changed the task which you assume today. Your predecessors, commissioned Second Lieutenants as short a time back as ten years ago, would find many of your problems unfamiliar.

Technical developments have transformed methods of warfare. They have required revision of tables of organization of armies, as aviation, motorization and mechanization became the military necessities of the day. The individual fighting plane of yesterday, of the World War period, has been supplanted by the cohesive squadron; the motor vehicle rumbles where once trod the weary feet of marching men; the infantry tank and cavalry combat car clatter where formerly the dismounted soldier engaged in personal combat.

The machine age has laid its iron grip upon the world's armies; and technical developments have demanded the modernization of our military establishments, a program which has been prosecuted vigorously during the past six years. During recent months international political considerations have required still greater emphasis upon the vitalization of our defense, for we have had dramatic illustrations of the fate of undefended nations. I hardly need to be more specific than that. We seek peace by honorable and pacific conduct of our international relations; but that desire for peace must never be mistaken for weakness on the part of the United States.

Yet experts tell us that though technical change has transformed modern warfare, the coming of the machine does not mean that we shall ever have a robot war from which the primary human elements, courage, heroism, intelligence and morale will have departed. So, far from submerging men, the modern developments emphasize their responsibilities.

Recent conflicts in Europe, the Far East and Africa bear witness to the fact that the individual soldier remains still the controlling factor. The tactics of the future intensify, rather than diminish, the necessity for high qualities of individual leadership. The object of developing aviation, motorization, and mechanization is to attain the highest possible degree of mobility.

And for us especially this is essential; the vast expanse of territory of a nation as large as the United States renders economically impracticable the maintenance of fixed defensive installations at all vital strategic centers, even were these desirable as a matter of military policy. Yet this greater mobility in turn means that units, whether platoon, regiment, or division, may be widely dispersed—the units being broken down to the point where the individual is "on his own."

During campaigns, units are increasingly scattered, as we know; in actual battle, they may be widely apart. The strain upon those who command the individual units calls for qualities of leadership perhaps never before required in military history. Though the day of the individual champion may have passed into history, the day of the leader of small and large units is still young.

Leadership has meaning only as it brings about cooperation. When men are working upon a great problem, but must work by themselves, or in small groups without close contact, there is danger that they may not pull in the same direction. Cooperation, therefore, means discipline, not meticulous though unthinking obedience to guardroom technique, nor blind mass cooperation of a Macedonian phalanx or the close-order attack. Discipline is the well-tempered working together of many minds and wills, each preserving independent judgment, but all prepared to sink individual differences and egotisms to attain an objective which is accepted and understood. When men are taken far apart by mechanics and specialization, teamwork is far more essential than when they are close together; for it must be teamwork of the mind as well as of the body.

Some of you, no doubt, in fullness of time will find yourselves with responsibilities even greater than those of bringing about the cooperation of military units. When the supreme test of war comes- and I hope it never will—an army, to be effective, must command the cooperation of all elements in national life. The men then charged with the national defense, from the Commander-in-Chief, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief, and the same man in his capacity as President of the United States, down to the youngest Second Lieutenant in the Army, and down to the most recently recruited private—must all be able to bring into harmonious action the civilian instruments of production, of transport, and of finance. They must deal with labor, with industry, with management, with agriculture, and with costs.

To do that requires sympathetic knowledge of how other men's minds work and of processes by which non-military life operates. There is no greater quality of discipline than the ability to recognize different techniques and different processes, and by persuasion and reason to bring these divergent forces into fruitful cooperation.

You have seen the problem in its smaller aspects here at West Point. Let me commend to you in your Army careers a continuous study of problems outside as well as inside the military field, as the necessary preparation for the greatest success in your chosen work.

These qualities of cooperation and discipline, and the self-restraint and self-reliance that make them useful, are the very fabric of modern life. If it can be developed internationally as well as nationally, we shall be materially nearer to a realization of our hopes for peace.

Recently our Nation has had the pleasure of a visit from King George VI, as a courteous recognition of the cordiality and the good will that prevail between two great nations. Its significance lay in the fact that friendship could exist between the two countries because both nations were without fear of any act of aggression of the one against the other. To achieve that result, strength is needed: strength which comes, not from arms alone, but from restraint, from understanding and from cooperation, which, in turn, are the products of trained and disciplined minds.

I am sure the lessons you have learned at West Point will be of use in peace, no less than war; and that in you the Nation will take the same pride, maintain the same confidence, as, through the generations it has held for the officers of the Armies of the United States.

Gentlemen of the Graduating Class, I congratulate you upon the completion of your course at the Military Academy; and I wish for you in the days to come all the good luck in the world.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Graduation Address at United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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