Franklin D. Roosevelt

Radio Address Before the Eighth Pan American Scientific Congress. Washington, D.C.

May 10, 1940

My fellow servants of the Americas:

All the men and women of this Pan American Scientific Congress have come here tonight with heavy hearts. During the past few years you and I have seen event follow event, each and every one of them a shock to our hopes for the peaceful development of modern civilization as we know it. This very day, the tenth of May, 1940, three more independent nations have been cruelly invaded by force of arms.

In some kinds of human affairs the mind of man becomes accustomed to unusual actions if those actions are often repeated. But that is not so in the world happenings of today—and I am proud that it is not so. I am glad that we Americans of the three Americas are shocked and angered by the tragic news that has come to us from Belgium and The Netherlands and Luxembourg.

The overwhelmingly greater part of the population of the world abhors conquest and war and bloodshed—prays that the hand of neighbor shall not be lifted against neighbor. The whole world has seen attack follow threat on so many occasions and in so many places during these later years. We have come, therefore, to the reluctant conclusion that a continuance of these processes of arms presents a definite challenge to the continuance of the type of civilization to which all of us in the three Americas have been accustomed for so many generations.

I use this Pan American Scientific Congress as an illustration, and I could use many similar illustrations. It is no accident that this meeting takes place in the New World. In fact, this hemisphere is now almost the only part of the earth in which such a gathering can take place. Elsewhere war or politics in its worst sense has compelled teachers and scholars to leave their great callings and to become the agents of destruction.

We, and most of the people in the World, still believe in a civilization of construction and not of destruction. We, and most of the people in the world, still believe that men and women have an inherent right to hew out the patterns of their own individual lives, just so long as they as individuals do not harm their fellow beings. We call this ideal, by many terms which are synonymous—we call it individual liberty, we call it civil liberty and, I think, best of all, we call it democracy.

Until now we permit ourselves by common consent to search for truth, to teach the truth as we see it— and by learning a little here and a little there, and by teaching a little here and a little there, to allow the normal processes of truth to keep growing for the well-being of our fellow men. In our search and in our teachings we are a part of a great adventure—an exciting adventure-which gives to us even a larger satisfaction than our forefathers had when they were in the midst of the adventure of settling the Americas from the Old World. We feel that we are building human progress by conquering disease, poverty and discomfort, and by improving science and culture, removing one by one the many cruelties, crudities and barbarities of less civilized eras.

In contrast to that rather simple picture of our ideals, in other parts of the world, teachers and scholars are not permitted to search for truth, lest the truth, when made known, might not suit the designs of their masters. Too often they are not allowed to teach the truth as they see it, because truth might make men free. They become objects of suspicion if they speak openly, if they show an interest in new truth, for their tongues and minds are supposed to be mobilized for other ends.

This has not happened in the New World. God willing, it shall not happen in the New World.

At the Pan American Conference at Buenos Aires, and again at Lima, we discussed a dim and unpleasant possibility. We feared that other Continents might become so involved in wars brought on by the school of destruction that the Americans might have to become the guardian of Western culture, the protector of Christian civilization.

In those days, not so long ago, it was merely a fear. Today the fear has become a fact.

The inheritance which we had hoped to share with every nation of the world is, for the moment, left largely in our keeping: and it is our compelling duty to guard and enrich that legacy, to preserve it for a world which must be reborn from the ashes of the present disaster.

Today we know that until recent weeks too many citizens of our American Republics believed themselves wholly safe- physically, and economically and socially from the impact of the attacks on civilization which are in progress elsewhere. Perhaps this mistaken idea was based on a false teaching of geography-the thought that a distance of several thousand miles from a war-torn Europe to a peaceful America gave to us some form of mystic immunity that could never be violated.

Yet, speaking in terms of time-tables, in terms of the moving of men and guns and planes and bombs, every single acre—every hectare—in all the Americas from the Arctic to the Antarctic is closer to the home of modern conquerors and the scenes of the attacks in Europe than was ever the case in those episodes of history that we read about, the efforts to dominate the whole world by conquest in centuries gone by. From the point of view of conquests, it is a shorter distance from the center of Europe to Santiago de Chile than it was for the chariots of Alexander the Great to roll from Macedonia to Persia. In modern terms it is a shorter distance from Europe to San Francisco, California, than it was for the ships and the legions of Julius Caesar to move from Rome to Spain or Rome to Britain. Today it is four or five hours of travel from the Continent of Africa to the Continent of South America, where it was four or five weeks for the armies of Napoleon to march from Paris to Rome or Paris to Poland.

You who are scientists may have been told that you are in part responsible for the debacle of today because of the processes of invention for the annihilation of time and of space, but I assure you that it is not the scientists of the world who are responsible, because the objectives which you held have looked toward closer and more peaceful relations between all nations through the spirit of cooperation and the interchange of knowledge. What has come about has been caused solely by those who would use, and are using, the progress that you have made along lines of peace in an entirely different cause. Those people seek to dominate hundreds of millions of human beings in vast continental areas—and, if they are successful in that aim they will, we know down in our hearts, enlarge their wild dream to encompass every human being and every mile of the earth's surface.

The great achievements of science and even of art can be used in one way or another to destroy as well as to create; they are only instruments by which men try to do the things they most want to do. If death is desired, science can do that. If a full, rich, and useful life is sought, science can do that also. Happily for us that question has been solved—for in the New World we live for each other and in the service of a Christian faith.

Is this solution—our solution—permanent or safe if it is solved just for us alone? That seems to me to be the most immediate issue that the Americas face. Can we continue our peaceful construction if all the other Continents embrace by preference or by compulsion a wholly different principle of life? No, I think not.

Surely it is time for our Republics to spread that problem before us in the cold light of day, to analyze it, to ask questions, to call for answers, to use every knowledge, every science we possess, to apply common sense, and above all to act with unanimity and singleness of purpose.

I am a pacifist. You, my fellow citizens of twenty-one American Republics, are pacifists too.

But I believe that by overwhelming majorities in all the Americas you and I, in the long run if it be necessary, will act together to protect and defend by every means at our command our science, our culture, our American freedom and our civilization.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Radio Address Before the Eighth Pan American Scientific Congress. Washington, D.C. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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