Let’s Not Forget
G.I. Joe and G.I. Jim
June 27, 1944 — Republican National Convention, Chicago Stadium, Chicago IL
We have been called together in a time of historic crisis to choose the next President of the United States.
Plainly the honor of speaking to you in this hour so fraught with consequences has come to me because I am a woman. Through one woman’s voice our party seeks to honor the millions of American women in war-supporting industries, the millions in Red Cross work and the thousands upon thousands in civil service, in hospital and canteen and volunteer work. Our party honors the women in the armed services and our truly noble Army and Navy nurses. Their courage has written a new chapter for American history books. Above all we honor the wives and sisters and sweethearts and mothers of our fighting men. The morale of the home front has been largely in their keeping. They have kept it to the height of their morale on the battle fronts.
And yet, I know and you know that American women do not wish their praises sung as women any more than they wish political pleas made to them as women. They feel no differently from men about the ever-growing threats from the government. They feel no differently about the inefficiency, abusiveness, evasion, self-seeking and personal whim in the management of this nation’s business, which are little by little distorting our democracy into a dictatorial bumbledom. And certainly they feel no differently about pressing this war to the enemy’s innermost gates, or creating from the sick havocs of war itself a fair and healthy peace.
Service Men’s Welfare
But there is one thing that women feel, not differently but more deeply about than men. That is the welfare of their sons and brothers and husbands in the services.
In this crowded convention hall, it is rare to see a woman without the little red and white pin whose blue star shows that somewhere on land, in the air, at sea, there is a man in uniform who is very dear to her. It is no more than the truth to say that he is dearer to her than all else in the world. To speak of what is closest to the mind and heart of an American woman today is inevitable to speak of the man who is known affectionately at home and fearsomely on every battlefront as G.I. Joe.
American women want these minutes and, yes, every minute of our thought and concern, to turn to this fighting man. His hopes, his aspirations, his dangerous present, and his still uncertain future, are uppermost in their minds.
Now G.I. Joe’s last name is legion, because there are about 12,000,000 of him. What his immediate wants are today, his generals know best. Mostly they are more tools, and better tools, which will increase his margin of safety and multiple his chances of victory. To the filling of these wants, all Americans are pledged to the limit of their capacity.
But this convention is gathered together to consider not so much G.I. Joe’s immediate wants, as to clarify what his wants are likely to be in the next four years and to plan to meet those wants.
Before this convention is done it will clearly interpret his longterm wants in keynote and platform, and to the honoring of them our candidate will pledge himself.
The great Norwegian, Ibsen, said, “I hold that men most in the right who is most closely in league with the future.”
Prove Right in November
We shall prove to be the most in the right in November. For here the Republican party will choose the man most closely in league with G.I. Joe’s future as he and his family see it.
We know that Joe himself is not thinking of his future wants at this hour. He is too busy engaging a desperate enemy. If you asked him today today what he wants of the future, he would probably say, “I want to go home, of course. But I want to go home by way of Berlin and Tokyo.”
And this tremendous and heroic want of Joe’s to sail into the roadsteads of Yokohama, and march by the waters of the Rhine, is alone a greater guarantee of the future security of our nation than any guaranty we can offer.
This is Joe’s gift, beyond price, to America.
We have come together to nominate a President who will jealously and prayerfully guard that gift all his years in office.
Joe wants his country to be secure, from here out, because no matter how confused some people may be at home, here is no doubt in Joe’s mind what he is fighting for. Joe knew it the minute he landed on foreign soil. A fellow name Colonel Robert L. Scott wrote it in a book called God Is My Co-Pilot. And it was never said better by any man — “Know what we are fighting for?. . . It’s the understanding that comes when you’ve seen the rest of the world, when you’ve seen the filth and corruption of all the hellholes Americans are fighting in today,. . . Then you know … for it’s seared on your soul — that we have the best country in the universe. You know that you have everything to live for and the Japs and the Germans have everything to die for.”
We have come together here to nominate the kind of President who in the years ahead will keep Joe’s America — America; that is to say, a country in which a man and woman have everything to live for.
But wait. If today you asked Joe, in the heat of battle, why he wanted to get to Berlin and Tokyo, why he wanted to keep America, America, you might get a very unexpected and sobering answer. He’d say that the biggest reason was that he wanted to vindicate and avenge G.I. Jim. And because G.I. Jim is the biggest reason today that Joe is fighting like a man possessed of devils and guarded by angels, we had better talk of him in the time that remains to us.
Who is G.I. Jim? Ask rather, who was G.I. Jim? He was Joe’s pal; his buddy, his brother. Jim was the fellow who lived next door to you. But “he shall return no more to his house, neither shall his place know him anymore.” Jim was, you see, immobilized by enemy gunfire, immobilized for all eternity.
But Jim’s last name was not legion. You read casualty lists. You have seen Jim’s last name there: Smith, Martof, Johnson, Chang. Novac, Leblanc, Konstakis, Yamada, O’Toole. Svendson, Sanchez, Potavin, Goldstein, Rossi, Nordal, Wrobleweski, McGregor, Schneider, Jones. . . You see, Jim was the grandson and great-grandson of many nations. But he was the son of the United States of America. He was the defender of the republic and the lover of liberty. And he died as his father died in 1918, and their fathers in 1898, 1861, in 1846 and in 1812, in 1776. He died to make a more perfect union, “that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
His young bones bleach on the tropical roads of Bataan. A white cross marks his narrow grave on some Pacific island. His dust dulls the crimson of the roses that bloom in the ruins of an Italian village. The deserts of Africa, the jungles of Burma, the rice fields of China, the plains of Assam, the jagged hills of Attu, the cold depths of the seven seas, the very snows of the arctic, are the richer for mingling with the mortal part of him. Today his blood flecks the foam of the waves that fall on the Normandy beachheads. He drops again and again amid the thunder of shells, while silently down on the tragic soil of France the white apple blossoms drift over him. Yes, even as it was in 1918. Or, nameless phrase, tantalizing and inscrutable as the misty black and bottomless pit of time. Jim is just “missing in action.” Then all that marks him anywhere is a gold star in the window and the tears that are silently shed for him.
There are many gold stars on the women sitting in these halls. To all who loved Jim, even more than those who love Joe, everything we do and say here must be reasonable and inspiring.
We are come together here to nominate a President who will make sure that Jim’s sacrifice shall not prove useless in the years that lie ahead.
For a fighting man dies for the future as well as the past; to keep all that was fine of his country’s yesterday and to give it a chance for a finer tomorrow.
Do we here in this convention dare ask if Jim’s heroic death in battle was historically inevitable? If this war might not have been averted? We know that this war was in the making everywhere in the world after 1918. In the making here too. Might not skillful and determined American statesmanship have helped to unmake it all through the 30s? Or, when it was clear to our government that it was too late to avert war, might not truthful and fearless leadership have prepared us better for it in material and in morale, in arms and in aims? These are bitter questions. And the answers to bitter questions belong to time’s perspective. Being we human, we Republicans are partisan. But being partisan, we risk being unjust if we try to answer these questions in days so fateful. But this, even as partisans, we dare say: The last twelve years have not been Republican years. Maybe Republican presidents during the 20s were overconfident that sanity would prevail abroad. But it was not a Republican President who dealt with the visibility rising menaces of Hitler and Mussolini and Hirohito. Our was not the administration that promised young Jim’s mother and father and neighbors and friends economic security and peace. Yes, peace. No Republican President gave these promises which were kept to their ears, but broken to their hearts. For this terrible truth can not be denied; these promises, which were given by a government that was elected again and again and again because it made them lie quite as dead as young Jim lies now. Jim was the heroic heir of the unheroic Roosevelt decade: A decade of confusion and conflict that ended in war.
In war itself, Jim learned hard and challenging truths that his government was too soft and cynical, in peace, to tell him. In battle he learned that all his life is a risk: that a fellow has first to rely on himself, before his comrades can rely on him; he learned that perfect teamwork is possible only after a man is willing to stand up to the worst alone. Jim found out that a large part of his security lay in his own willingness to take a lot of responsibility for it. That being the ease, he asked no more than the bent tools, a chance to use his own brains in the pinches and the kind of leaders who were willing to risk their skins a little too, when the pinches came. Of course all his knowledge, born in the struggle to survive, will be of more use to Joe, the veteran, than to Jim. For in the end, Jim also learned that the only perfect democracy is the democracy of the dead.
But Jim did not complain too much about his government. Sure, mistakes, awful mistakes, had been made by his government. But Jim figured that anybody can make mistakes. Maybe his friends and neighbors had made them, too. How could his friends and neighbors tell that they had been going for some promises that could not, or should not, be kept? How could they tell that some of them were never spoken to be kept. Maybe they’d have talked differently, voted differently, if they’d known all the facts. But maybe they wouldn’t. Anyway, Jim has taken the rap for every one from the man in the White House down to the man in the house around the corner. And it was O.K. with him. Jim was ready to pay with his life for his countrymen’s mistakes, any time, if it gave the homefolks and good old Joe and his family a fresh start in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, in a world wiped clean of the Nazi marauders and Japanese spoilers.
Jim Would Skip It
If Jim could stand here and talk to you he’d say, “Listen, folks, the past wasn’t perfect. But skip it. Get on with the business of making this old world better. You’ve got the land, the tools, the know-how and big bunches of people who want to pull together. No country ever had more. And you’ve got great and friendly nations who want to pitch in with you, like they pitched in with me and Joe to fight the Japs and Germans. Take your hats off to the past, but take your coats off to the future. I didn’t look back when I struck the beaches. Is it tougher at home for you fellows?”
This is what Jim would say if he could stand here and talk to you. Well, I suspect Jim is at this convention, although he is no longer, you understand, a Republican or a Democrat. But a man who dies to keep America America just might like to stay on a bit to see whether or not he’s really succeeded. So if Jim were here, it might be the most natural thing in the other world. Maybe he was brought here by some friend who knows his way around American presidential conventions. Yes, maybe he was brought here by General George Washington. All Americans know that the general’s spirit has watched over every gathering where Presidents have been picked for 147 years. And if that is the case, then Jim has learned a lot he never knew before about American Presidents. For example, while Jim always knew from the history books that the general was a soldier without blemish, now he knows that Washington was a President who, if he erred, as all Presidents do, erred with integrity. He knows that General Washington might have become America’s King, and that President Washington might have stayed in power all his days, the early days of our weak and infant republic. They were days of terrible crisis and stupendous emergencies. Wild disorders of frontier life, political confusion worse than any we know, marked Washington’s last years in office. And there were great social and economic injustices still to be corrected. Then every man said that George Washington was the indispensable man. Who understood and could better save the new liberty he had given a new nation? Jim knew that Washington so loved his country and the institutions that he helped to author, that he refused more than two terms.That was a tradition Washington’s spirit never saw broken at any President-making gathering until it was broken by the man who promised in this very city twelve years ago that “happy days are here again,” who promised peace, yes, peace, to Jim’s mother and father. But Jim knows why Washington is calm even so. Why? Well, Washington knows better today than he knew a century and a half ago, that no one man can save our nation’s institutions. But free men always always have another chance to make their own history, because, in peace or in war, free men must always choose their President. Among free men a political choice is inescapable. Even those who refuse to choose and stay home from the polls, make a choice: they choose not to choose. This is the noble paradox of a republic.
Want Us to Choose
Oh yes, Jim and his friend, the father of his country, want us to choose well, as well as we know how here: They want us to choose a man who would rather tell the truth than be President; to choose a man who loves his country and its institutions more than he loves power. But they do not want us to pretend that any one Republican, more than any one Democrat, is indispensable. They want us to think as Americans. And as Americans. They want us to raise here a “standard to which the wise and honest can repair.” They know that the event, today as yesterday, is in the hands of God.
And this we will do, for Jim’s sake. And then we can say, before all our fellow citizens, that his spirit and Washington’s spirit will be happier here than at the Democratic convention.
Then Jim can exultantly say:
“I am the risen soldier. I have come from a thousand towns, the city blocks, the factories, the fields of this fair land.
— “Many am I, yet truly one, the son of many streams that poured the wealth into the common cup, the wide and golden cup of liberty.
“I am the risen soldier, though I die I shall live on and, living, still achieve my country’s mission — liberty in truth.
“Lord it is sweet to die — as it were good to live, to strive for these United States, which, in Your wisdom You have willed should be a beacon to the world, a living shrine of liberty and charity in peace.”
Hurry Home, Joe
It is as Americans that we are gathered here. We come to choose a President who need not apologize for the mistakes of the past but who will redeem them, who need not explain G.I. Jim’s death, but who will justify it. Apology and explanation must suffice for the next convention that meets in this city.
We Republicans are here to build a greater and freer America, not only for, but with the millions of young, triumphant, boastful G.I. Joes, who are fighting their way home to us. Let the next convention that meets here point to Joe’s homecoming with foreboding. Let another party call Joe who has saved us, “the terrible problem of the returned veteran.” Another candidate, not ours, can hold Joe’s return as an economic club over the heads of the people. We are Americans! We say, “Joe, we welcome you. So hurry home, Joe, by way of Berlin and Tokyo. We need you to build this great America!”
Source: Indianapolis News, June 28, 1944.