As had been his practice for some time, FDR chose to use Latin American affairs to offer comments on the broader international environment.
Address to the Governing Board of the Pan American Union, Washington,

   D. C., April 14, 1939

Gentlemen of the Pan American Union: 

I am glad to come here today on our Pan American forty-ninth birthday. 

The American family of Nations pays honor today to the oldest and most 

successful association of sovereign Governments which exists in all the 


Few of us realize that the Pan American organization as we know it, has 

now attained a longer history and a greater catalogue of achievements 

than any similar group known to modern history. Justly we can be proud 

of it. With even more right we can look to it as a symbol of great hope 

at a time when much of the world finds hope dim and difficult. Never was 

it more fitting to salute Pan American Day than in the stormy present. 

For upwards of half a century the Republics of the Western World have 

been working together to promote their common civilization under a 

system of peace. That venture, launched so hopefully fifty years ago, 

has succeeded. The American family is today a great cooperative group 

facing a troubled world in serenity and calm. 

This success of the Western Hemisphere is sometimes attributed to good 

fortune. I do not share that view. There are not wanting here all of the 

usual rivalries, all of the normal human desires for power and 

expansion, all of the commercial problems. The Americas are sufficiently 

rich to have been themselves the object of desire on the part of 

overseas Governments; our traditions in history are as deeply rooted in 

the Old World as are those of Europe. 

It was not accident that prevented South America, and our own West, from 

sharing the fate of other great areas of the world in the nineteenth 

century. We have here diversities of race, of language, of custom, of 

natural resources; and of intellectual forces at least as great as those 

which prevailed in Europe. 

What was it that has protected us from the tragic involvements which are 

today making the Old World a new cockpit of old struggles? The answer is 

easily found. A new, and powerful ideal-that of the community of 

nations-sprang up at the same time that the Americas 

became free and independent. It was nurtured by statesmen, thinkers and 

plain people for decades. Gradually it brought together the Pan American 

group of Governments; today it has fused the thinking of the peoples, 

and the desires of their responsible representatives toward a common 


The result of this thinking through all these years has been to shape a 

typically American institution. This is the Pan American group, which 

works in open conference, by open agreement. We hold our conferences not 

as a result of wars, but as the result of our will to peace. 

Elsewhere in the world, to hold conferences such as ours, which meet 

every five years, it is necessary to fight a major war, until exhaustion 

or defeat at length brings Governments together to reconstruct their 

shattered fabrics. 

Greeting a conference at Buenos Aires in 1936, I took occasion to say 


"The madness of a great war in another part of the world would affect us 

and threaten our good in a hundred ways. And the economic collapse of 

any Nation or nations must of necessity harm our own prosperity. Can we, 

the Republics of the New World, help the Old World to avert the 

catastrophe which impends? Yes, I am confident that we can." 

I still have that confidence. There is no fatality which forces the Old 

World towards new catastrophe. Men are not prisoners of fate, but only 

prisoners of their own minds. They have within themselves the power to 

become free at any moment. 

Only a few days ago the head of a great Nation referred to his country 

as a "prisoner" in the Mediterranean. A little later, another chief of 

state, on learning that a neighbor country had agreed to defend the 

independence of another neighbor, characterized that agreement as a 

"threat" and an "encirclement." Yet there is no such thing as encircling 

or threatening, or imprisoning any peaceful Nation by other peaceful 

nations. We have reason to know that in our own experience. 

For instance, on the occasion of a visit to the neighboring Dominion of 

Canada last summer, I stated that the United States would join in 

defending Canada were she ever attacked from overseas. Again at Lima in 

December last, the twenty-one American Nations joined in a declaration 

that they would coordinate their common efforts to defend the integrity 

of their institutions from any attack, direct or indirect. 

At Buenos Aires, in 1936, all of us agreed that in the event of any war 

or threat of war on this continent, we would consult together to remove 

or obviate that threat. Yet in no case did any American Nation regard 

any of these understandings as making any one of them a "prisoner," or 

as "encircling" any American country, or as a threat of any sort or 


Measures of this kind taken in this hemisphere are taken as guarantees, 

not of war but of peace, for the simple reason that no Nation on this 

hemisphere has any will to aggression, or any desire to establish 

dominance or mastery. Equally, because we are interdependent, and 

because we know it, no American Nation seeks to deny any neighbor access 

to the economic and other resources which it must have to live in 


In these circumstances, my friends, dreams of conquest appear to us as 

ridiculous as they are criminal. Pledges designed to prevent aggression, 

accompanied by the open doors of trade and intercourse, and bound 

together by common will to cooperate peacefully, make warfare between us 

as outworn and useless as the weapons of the Stone-Age. We may-proudly 

boast that we have begun to realize in Pan American relations what 

civilization in intercourse between countries really means. 

If that process can be successful here, is it too much to hope that a 

similar intellectual and spiritual process may succeed elsewhere? Do we 

really have to assume that nations can find no better methods of 

realizing their destinies than those which were used by the Huns and the 

Vandals fifteen hundred years ago? 

The American peace which we celebrate today has no quality of weakness 

in it! We are prepared to maintain it, and to defend it to the fullest 

extent of our strength, matching force to force if any attempt is made 

to subvert our institutions, or to impair the independence of any one of 

our group. 

Should the method of attack be that of economic pressure, I pledge that 

my country will also give economic support, so that no American Nation 

need surrender any fraction of its sovereign freedom to maintain its 

economic welfare. This is the spirit and intent of the Declaration of 

Lima: the solidarity of the continent. 

The American family of Nations may also rightfully claim, now, to speak 

to the rest of the world. We have an interest, wider than that of the 

mere defense of our sea-ringed continent. We know now that the 

development of the next generation will so narrow the oceans separating 

us from the Old World, that our customs and our actions are necessarily 

involved with hers, whether we like it or not. 

Beyond question, within a scant few years air fleets will cross the 

ocean as easily as today they cross the closed European seas. Economic 

functioning of the world becomes therefore necessarily a unit; no 

interruption of it anywhere can fail, in the future, to disrupt economic 

life everywhere. 

The past generation in Pan American matters was concerned with 

constructing the principles and the mechanisms through which this 

hemisphere would work together. But the next generation will be 

concerned with the methods by which the New World can live together in 

peace with the Old. 

The issue is really whether our civilization is to be dragged into the 

tragic vortex of unending militarism punctuated by periodic wars, or 

whether we shall be able to maintain the ideal of peace, individuality 

and civilization as the fabric of our lives. We have the right to say 

that there shall not be an organization of world affairs which permits 

us no choice but to turn our countries into barracks, unless we are to 

be the vassals of some conquering empire. 

The truest defense of the peace of our hemisphere must always lie in the 

hope that our sister nations beyond the seas will break the bonds of the 

ideas that constrain them toward perpetual warfare. By example we can at 

least show them the possibility. We, too, have a stake in world affairs. 

Our will to peace can be as powerful as our will to mutual defense; it 

can command greater loyalty, greater devotion, greater discipline than 

that enlisted elsewhere for temporary conquest or equally futile 

glory. It will have its voice in determining the order of world affairs 

in the days to come. 

This, gentlemen, is the living message which the New World can and does 

send to the Old. It can be light opening on dark waters. It shows the 

path of peace. 

See Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1939 Volume 

pp. 199-201, for work of Pan American Conferences. Note Papers I, VI, IX 

and XV of this series.

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