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Congressional hearings on Bill 1776 are repeating the omissions of the 1940 campaign: the real issues are not coming out into the light. The big, overwhelming factor that hangs over all the squabbling in Washington is the probability that a terrific crisis is heading this way fast--namely, invasion of England by Germany in the first half of 1941. What will America do in that crisis? Can anyone picture President Roosevelt, and those enthusiasts Henry Stimson and Frank Knox, sitting back cautiously at such a time? Perhaps they have nothing definite in mind. They say they have to wait and see how things develop. But it is essential that we get from them some indication of what they might or might not do, if we are to place such wide discretion in their hands.
The Lend-Lease Bill gives them huge powers; the American people by passing it will turn over vital decisions to these men, and will be responsible for what they do. No matter how you look at it, this is a shackle on the people; it is an advance commitment to decisions in which we will have no part. There is no denying that this is the only efficient way of doing some things. But a lot--everything, in fact--depends upon the attitude of the men who are going to exercise this power. It is up to them to try to show fairly and openly what acts the people may be shackling themselves to, what moves they will be held responsible for, and above all, why they should take on these responsibilities.
When Mr. Stimson was asked by the House Committee what he thought of a ban on sending U. S. warships into war zones, he said he thought it would be a "shackle" on the American people! This is a favorite expression of his; he uses it often. Here he uses it to gain executive power to send battleships into war zones.
Apparently he does not understand his duty in making such an extreme request. To justify himself, he has to show how the people may benefit from sending ships there, to show that the act of sending them, to which he asks us to commit ourselves now, will have less serious consequences than not sending them. This is the only fair and frank way of discussing the issue. Instead, Mr. Stimson resorts to a cheap trick of distortion. He calls the proposed ban a "shackle." By this philosophy, the Constitution is a suffocating strait-jacket instead of a charter of freedom:
This question of sending warships into war zones means everything, in view of the approaching crisis. Mr. Stimson's tricky evasiveness shows that he would rather not discuss the issue openly. The recent speeches of the President indicate that he will go the limit under Bill 1776. Congress must find out what the limit of the bill is, what is the maximum power that it confers upon the President. If the people do not want the President to go this limit, then the ceiling must be lowered. Otherwise, America will probably find itself committed to a course it never considered and does not approve.
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