One of the many troubles, I was going to say of democracy, but perhaps I should say of ourselves as a people is that we do not think enough and that we take too many astonishing things for granted. Too many of us are like the old man in the story who said, "Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits."
Tonight I want to talk to you about one of the most astonishing things that has occurred in this war - a thing which was so staggering when it was initiated that it riveted the attention of the entire world, but which has now become a mere phrase in most people's mouths.
In March of 1941, with America still neutral, with Russia neutral, and with British nations battling along against great odds, the American Congress, at the instigation of the President, passed an act which was called "an Act to promote the defence of the United States", but which has become much better known as the "Lend-Lease Act".
It was a short statute. It defined defence articles in very wide terms, then proceeded to confer upon the President power, from time to time - whenever he deems it in the interest of national defence - to authorize the manufacture of procurement of any defence article (I now quote the exact words) "for the Government of any country whose defence the President deems vital to the defence of the United States".
After providing for the selling, exchanging, leasing or lending of any such defence articles, the Act makes this pregnant and historic provision:
Under this Act and supplementary appropriations the most enormous effort is being put forward in the United States, while in countries like Australia benefits are being received by way of material aid which could probably never have been paid for in dollars under an ordinary commercial system.
When I tell you that the amount of lend-lease aid that may be provided under the various Acts amounted, in March last, to nearly twenty thousand million dollars - to say nothing of many thousands of millions of pounds' worth of goods that can be transferred to Allied countries - you will see that this great scheme represents the most novel and spectacular move ever made by a great nation still occupying, as America did at the time of its passage, a technically neutral position.
You will recall that in the last war vast borrowing and lending transactions took place between the Allies. Great Britain provided enormous sums for Russia, for France and for Italy, and most of those loans were not repaid. The United States of America lent large sums to Great Britain, the interest on which was met for a number of years until, in the depression, its further payment in full became impracticable. This failure of Great Britain to meet her war debt to the United States occasioned a great deal of criticism and discussion, and in some quarters tended to impair the relations between the British and the American peoples. For many years economists and statesmen of all the formerly belligerent countries were exercised about international financial and commercial relations, one of their great problems being international war debts.
As the present war developed and American opinion, under the wise leadership of President Roosevelt, became more and more clearly pro-Ally the President saw with statesmanlike insight that the time was going to come when British dollar resources for the purchase of much needed supply would become exhausted, and that if thereafter British loans had to be sought in the United States a problem full of unhappy potentialities would once more develop. He decided to avoid this, and the result of his decision was the Lend-Lease Act.
Now, what does the Lend-Lease Act really mean?
Its immediate effect is that British and Allied countries, including our own, make requests to the appropriate authorities in the United States for the supply of appropriate materials, and when these requests have been dealt with and approved, and the necessary orders have been issued to American manufacturers or producers, and the necessary goods have been supplied, those goods are delivered to the requesting country without either immediate payment or specific debt.
The Agreement which the United States made with Great Britain in February of this year is perhaps typical of those which will be entered into generally. Its outstanding provisions are:
First, that the Government of the United Kingdom will return to the United States of America at the end of the war such defence articles transferred under the Act as shall not have been destroyed, lost or consumed, and as shall be determined by the President to be of use to the United States. Second, that in the final determination of the benefits to be provided to the United States by the United Kingdom in return for lend-lease aid the terms and conditions shall be such as not to burden commerce between the two countries but to promote mutually advantageous economic relations between us and the betterment of world-wide economic relations. To that end they shall include provision for agreed action by the United States and the United Kingdom, open to participation by all other countries of like mind, directed to the expansion of appropriate international and domestic measures of production, employment and the exchange and consumption of goods which are the material foundations of the liberty and welfare of all peoples; to the elimination of all forms of discriminatory treatment in international commerce, and to the reduction of tariffs and other trade barriers; and, in general, to the attainment of all the economic objectives set forth in the Joint Declaration made on August 12, 1941, by the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
In other words, payment as I understand it, is not visualized as a sort of pecuniary rental or purchase price for the goods, but is to be found in post-war economic arrangements which will be for the mutual benefit of all parties and of the world, and will tend to minimize the acute nationalism which preceded the war.
You will at once appreciate the significance of these steps, begun, I remind you, at a time when America was not actually participating in the war, but undoubtedly produced by a profound feeling in the United States that the battle for Britain was in reality the battle for the civilized world.
We in Australia should not take all these things for granted. We should prepare our minds to understand that while the full development of the industrial resources of Australia is something dear to our hearts and, as we think, good for everybody, we cannot expect when the war is over to live in a little watertight compartment of our own.
A world war makes us a world nation; not a parochial community, but a world community. Nothing so contributes to peace among men as the maintenance of ordinary, decent commercial relations, and these relations can be restored only by the most liberal statesmanship when the war is over. That the problems will be difficult nobody can doubt. Making trade a two-way traffic is always more popular with those who buy than with those who sell. It is to be hoped, however, that the people of all nations, and particularly those who come within the lend-lease network, will realize that peace will bring its problems, much more complicated in many ways than the problems of war, and that those problems will admit of solution not by people who have abandoned reason and clear thinking, but by those who really believe that a permanent new order for the world will demand hard work, tolerance, a wide vision and mutual understanding.
Looked at in this way, this great lend-lease movement, though for the moment it appears to solve great problems, will produce even greater ones, which it will be one of the principal tasks of post-war statesmanship to overcome.
29 May, 1942