May 16, 1940 – An ominous address, made more ominous by news that, just two days before, it was announced Holland had surrendered to German forces and the spread of Nazism claimed one more victim. So this address to a joint session of Congress made more potent and more urgent as the news coming from Europe was looking bleaker with each passing day.
Here is a text excerpt of the complete address:
President Roosevelt: “Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives:
These are ominous days—days whose swift and shocking developments force every neutral nation to look to its defenses in the light of new factors. The brutal force of modern offensive war has been loosed in all its horror. New powers of destruction, incredibly swift and deadly, have been developed; and those who wield them are ruthless and daring. No old defense is so strong that it requires no further strengthening and no attack is so unlikely or impossible that it may be ignored.
Let us examine, without self-deception, the dangers which confront us. Let us measure our strength and our defense without self-delusion.
The clear fact is that the American people must recast their thinking about national protection.
Motorized armies can now sweep through enemy territories at the rate of two hundred miles a day. Parachute troops are dropped from airplanes in large numbers behind enemy lines. Troops are landed from planes in open fields, on wide highways, and at local civil airports.
We have seen the treacherous use of the “fifth column” by which persons supposed to be peaceful visitors were actually a part of an enemy unit of occupation.
Lightning attacks, capable of destroying airplane factories and munition works hundreds of miles behind the lines, are a part of the new technique of modern war.
The element of surprise which has ever been an important tactic in warfare has become the more dangerous because of the amazing speed with which modern equipment can reach and attack the enemy’s country.
Our own vital interests are widespread. More than ever the protection of the whole American hemisphere against invasion or control or domination by non-American nations has the united support of the twenty-one American Republics, including the United States. More than ever in the past this protection calls for ready-at-hand weapons capable of great mobility because of the potential speed of modern attack.
Let me analyze for a moment. The Atlantic and Pacific oceans were reasonably adequate defensive barriers when fleets under sail could move at an average speed of five miles an hour. Even in those days by a sudden foray it was possible for an opponent actually to burn our national Capitol. Later, the oceans still gave strength to our defense when fleets and convoys propelled by steam could sail the oceans at fifteen or twenty miles an hour.
But the new element—air navigation—steps up the speed of possible attack to two hundred, to three hundred miles an hour.
Furthermore, it brings the new possibilities of the use of nearer bases from which an attack or attacks on the American Continents could be made. From the fiords of Greenland it is four hours by air to Newfoundland; five hours to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and to the Province of Quebec; and only six hours to New England.”
Here is that complete address, as it was broadcast on May 15, 1940.