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Dwight Macdonald

Roosevelt Asks Sweeping Powers

Wants Authority to Decide on U.S. War Policy by Himself – Willkie Says O.K.

(January 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 3, 20 January 1941, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

January 10, 1941, may go down in American history as the official death-date of what is left of American democracy..For on that day a bill drawn up in the White House was introduced into the Congress of the United States. Its official title is: “A BILL TO FURTHER PROMOTE THE DEFENSE OF THE UNITED STATES AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES”. (A lot of territory is covered by “for other purposes”.) Some waggish clerk gave the bill the symbolic number, H.R. 1776, but the less people think about the spirit of ’seventy-six, the better pleased the framers of H.R. 1776 will be.

H.R. 1776 is not very long. It goes right to the point. It begins with a definition of the term “defense article” as “(1) any weapon, munition, aircraft, vessel, or boat; (2) any machinery, facility, tool, material or supply necessary for the manufacture, production, processing, repair, servicing or operation of any article described in this subsection; (3) any component material or part of or equipment for any article described in this subsection; (4) any other article or commodity, for defense.” Steel mills, coal mines, rubber plants – these are all “defense articles”, since they are “facilities” for manufacturing boots and trucks and guns. And section (4) takes care of anything forgotten in the first three parts. Just about every product of American industry – and every plant for producing it – can be embraced under this heading if the President merely lays his hands on it and murmurs the magic word, “defense”.

The powers that the President is given by H.R. 1776 over “defense articles” are outlined in Section III. It is probable that this remarkable section will be toned down in the course of Congressional debate. But it is worth reprinting here in full just as it stands as an indication of how far the Roosevelt Administration is prepared by now to go on the road to to war and dictatorship. Its full text is as follows:

(A) Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, the President may, from time to time, when he deems it in the interest of national defense, authorize the Secretary of War, the Secretary of the Navy, or the head of any other department or agency of the government:

1. To manufacture in arsenals, factories and shipyards under their jurisdiction, or otherwise procure, any defense article for the government of any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States.

2. To sell, transfer, exchange, lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of, to any such government any defense article.

3. To test, inspect, prove, repair, outfit, recondition, or otherwise to place in good working order any defense article for any such government under Paragraph 2 of this subsection.

4. To communicate to any such government information pertaining to any defense article furnished to such government under the proposed bill.

5. To release for export any defense article to any such government

(B) The terms and, conditions upon which,any such foreign government receives any aid authorized under subsection (A) shall be those which the President deems satisfactory, and the benefit to the United States may be payment or repayment in kind or property, or any other direct or indirect benefit which the President deems satisfactory.

In non-legal language this means that the President would have the power, if he thinks it in the interest of “national defense” to (1) hand over to England or China, or Peru, or any other nation “whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the U.S.” every gun, plane, and tank now owned by the U.S. Army and every ship of the U.S. Navy; (2) repair and recondition the entire British (or Chinese or Peruvian) fleet in American shipyards and dry docks; (3) accept as “compensation” anything at all he “deems satisfactory”, from $1 up, or, if he thinks best, nothing at all; (4) organize the whole U.S. productive capacity to turn out munitions for England (or China or Peru).

All of this the President can do entirely on his own initiative, without consulting either Congress or Cabinet or another living soul. No wonder the N.Y. Times headlined its London dispatch that day: “ROOSEVELT’S PLANS ENCOURAGE BRITAIN ... Amazement and Gratification Are Expressed Over Terms of Our Defense Bill ... ‘THE ABSOLUTE ULTIMATE’ ...” The “absolute ultimate” indeed!

There has been considerable opposition to the new bill expressed already in Congress, mostly from Republicans, but one Republican has come out boldly for it: Roosevelt’s late “opponent” in the 1940 campaign, Wendell Willkie. Dropping the pretense of being less pro-war than Roosevelt which he had adopted in the closing weeks of the campaign. Willkie not only endorsed the bill but also announced he was leaving by Clipper in a few days for London, so that he could get a first-hand impression of the “international atmosphere”. The State Department, Willkie added, sees absolutely no objection to his proposed trip.

Thus the last footnote has been added to the fraudulent “Willkievelt” campaign, in which the voters of this great democracy were permitted to choose between getting into the war under the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt and getting into the war under the leadership of Wendell Willkie.

Candor compels me to admit that the best summary of the situation was formulated by none other than Alf Landon of Kansas, who said:

There is no essential difference between Mr. Willkie’s position and Mr. Roosevelt’s position, which is to go to war if necessary to help England win. If Mr. Willkie had revealed it before the Republican National Convention, he would not have been nominated, and if Mr. Roosevelt had revealed it before the election, be would not have been re-elected.”

(The last sentence, of course, is a fraud. The only ones who may be said, to have been unaware of Willkievelt’s war policy, were those workers who were deluded into voting for the Boss candidates. Certainly not Landon!)

There is little doubt but that some of the more sweeping powers in the bill in H.R. 1776 will be curtailed in the course of debate in Congress. And one should also remember that in a not-yet-though-going-there totalitarian society like the United States there is always a big difference between the forms of State control, however sweeping, and the actual extent to which they are able, with the best will in the world, to be put into practice. (As I showed two weeks ago, England is far from having a total war economy even today, eight months after the Churchill-Labor government got from parliament the sweeping formal powers of the Emergency Acts.) But there seems little doubt that the bill, in modified form, will be passed by Congress. And even if Roosevelt is able to exercise in fact only a quarter of its formal powers, a great step will be taken on that road to war and dictatorship along which American capitalism is now marching.

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