John Curtin’s speech to America, 14 March 1942
John Curtin was Elected 14th Prime Minister of Australia on 7 October 1941, 8 weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour
‘Curtin replaced James Scullin as leader of Australia’s Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition in 1935’
Curtin brought some Australian troops back from Middle East to defend Australia. He convinced Australians to support an enduring defence alliance with the USA.
JOHN CURTIN’S SPEECH TO AMERICA
Men and women of the United States:
“I speak to you from Australia. I speak from a united people to a united people, and my speech is aimed to serve all the people of the nations united in the struggle to save mankind.
On the great waters of the Pacific Ocean war now breathes its bloody steam. From the skies of the Pacific pours down a deathly hail. In the countless islands of the Pacific the tide of war flows madly. For you in America; for us in Australia, it is flowing badly. Let me then address you as comrades in this war and tell you a little of Australia and Australians. I am not speaking to your Government. We have long been admirers of Mr Roosevelt and have the greatest confidence that he understands fully the critical situation in the Pacific and that America will go right out to meet it. For all that America has done, both before and after entering the war, we have the greatest admiration and gratitude.
It is to the people of America I am now speaking; to you who are, or will be, fighting; to you who are sweating in factories and workshops to turn out the vital munitions of war; to all of you who are making sacrifices in one way or another to provide the enormous resources required for our great task. I speak to you at a time when the loss of Java and the splendid resistance of the gallant Dutch together give us a feeling of both sadness and pride. Japan has moved one step further in her speedy march south; but the fight of the Dutch and Indonese in Java has shown that a brave, freedom-loving people are more than a match for the yellow aggressor given even a shadow below equality in striking and fighting weapons.
But facts are stern things. We, the allied nations, were unready. Japan, behind her wall of secrecy, had prepared for war on a scale of which neither we nor you had knowledge. We have all made mistakes, we have all been too slow; we have all shown weakness – all the allied nations. This is not the time to wrangle about who has been most to blame. Now our eyes are open.
The Australian Government has fought for its people. We never regarded the Pacific as a segment of the great struggle. We did not insist that it was the primary theatre of war, but we did say, and events have so far, unhappily, proved us right, that the loss of the Pacific can be disastrous. Who among us, contemplating the future on that day in December last when Japan struck like an assassin at Pearl Harbour at Manila, at Wake and Guam, would have hazarded a guess that by March the enemy would be astride all the south-west Pacific except General MacArthur’s gallant men, and Australia and New Zealand. But that is the case. And, realising very swiftly that it would be the case, the Australian Government sought a full and proper recognition of the part the Pacific was playing in the general strategic disposition of the world’s warring forces. It was, therefore, but natural that, within twenty days after Japan’s first treacherous blow, I said on behalf of the Australian Government that we looked to America as the paramount factor on the democracies’ side of the Pacific.
There is no belittling of the Old Country in this outlook. Britain has fought and won in the air the tremendous battle of Britain. Britain has fought, and with your strong help, has won, the equally vital battle of the Atlantic. She has a paramount obligation to supply all possible help to Russia. She cannot, at the same time, go all out in the Pacific. We Australians, with New Zealand, represent Great Britain here in the Pacific – we are her sons – and on us the responsibility falls. I pledge to you my word we will not fail. You, as I have said, must be our leader. We will pull knee to knee with you for every ounce of our weight.
We looked to America, among other things, for counsel and advice, and therefore it was our wish that the Pacific War Council should be located at Washington. It is a matter of some regret to us that, even now, after 95 days of Japan’s staggering advance south, ever south, we have not obtained first-hand contact with America. Therefore, we propose sending to you our Minister for External Affairs (Dr H.V. Evatt), who is no stranger to your country, so that we may benefit from his discussions with your authorities. Dr Evatt’s wife, who will accompany him, was born in the United States. Dr Evatt will not go to you as a mendicant. He will go to you as the representative of a people as firmly determined to hold and hit back at the enemy as courageously as those people from whose loins we spring… those people who withstood the disaster of Dunkirk, the fury of Goering’s blitz, the shattering blows of the Battle of the Atlantic. He will go to tell you that we are fighting mad; that our people have a government that is governing with orders and not with weak-kneed suggestions; that we Australians are a people who, while somewhat inexperienced and uncertain as to what war on their own soil may mean, are nevertheless ready for anything, and will trade punches, giving odds if needs be, until we rock the enemy back on his heels.
We are, then, committed, heart and soul, to total warfare. How far, you may ask me, have we progressed along that road? I may answer you this way. Out of every ten men in Australia four are wholly engaged in war as members of the fighting forces or making the munition and equipment to fight with. The other six, besides feeding and clothing the whole ten and their families, have to produce the food and wool and metals which Britain needs for her very existence. We are not, of course, stopping at four out of ten. We had over three when Japan challenged our life and liberty. The proportion is now growing every day. On the one hand we are ruthlessly cutting out unessential expenditure so as to free men and women for war work; and on the other, mobilizing woman-power to the utmost to supplement the men. From four out of ten devoted to war, we shall pass to five and six out of ten. We have no limit.
We have no qualms here. There is no fifth column in this country. We are all the one race – the English speaking race. We will not yield easily a yard of our soil. We have great space here and tree by tree, village by village, and town by town we will fall back if we must. That will occur only if we lack the means of meeting the enemy with parity in materials and machines. For, remember, we are the Anzac breed. Our men stormed Gallipoli; they swept through the Libyan desert; they were the ‘rats’ of Tobruk; they were the men who fought under ‘bitter, sarcastic, pugnacious Gordon Bennett’ down Malaya and were still fighting when the surrender of Singapore came. These men gave of their best in Greece and Crete; they will give more than their best on their own soil, when their hearths and homes lie under enemy threat.
Our air force are in the Kingsford-Smith tradition. You have, no doubt, met quite a lot of them in Canada; the Nazis have come to know them over Hamburg and Berlin and in paratroop landings in France. Our naval forces silently do their share on the seven seas.
I am not boasting to you. But were I to say less I would not be paying proper due to a band of men who have been tested in the crucible of world wars and hallmarked as pure metal. Our fighting forces and born attackers; we will hit the enemy wherever we can, as often as we can, and the extent of it will be measured only by the weapons in our hands.
Dr Evatt will tell you that Australia is a nation stripped for war. Our minds are set of attack rather than defense. We believe in fact that attack is the best defense; here in the Pacific it is the only defense. We know it means risks, but ‘safety first’ is the devil’s catchword today. Business interests in Australia and submitting with good grace to iron control to drastic elimination of profits. Our great labour unions are accepting the suspension of rights and privileges which have been sacred for two generations, and are submitting to an equally iron control of the activities of their members. It is now ‘work or fight’ for every one in Australia. The Australian Government has so shaped its policy that there will be a place for every citizen in the country. There are three means of service – in the fighting forces; in the labour forces; in the essential industries. For the first time in the history of this country a complete call-up, or draft, as you refer to it in America, has been made. I say to you, as a comfort to our friends and a stiff warning to our enemies, that only the infirm remain outside the compass of our war plans.
“We fight with what we have and what we have is our all. We fight for the same free institutions that you enjoy. We fight so that, in the words of Lincoln, ‘government of the people, for the people, by the people, shall not perish from the earth’. Our legislature is elected the same as is yours; and we will fight for it, and for the right to have it, just as you will fight to keep the Capitol at Washington the meeting place of freely-elected men and women representative of a free people.
But I give you this warning: Australia is the last bastion between the West Coast of America and the Japanese. If Australia goes, the Americas are wide open. It is said that the Japanese will by-pass Australia and that they can be met and routed in India. I say to you that the saving of Australia is the saving of America’s west coast. If you believe anything to the contrary then you delude yourselves.
Be assured of the calibre of our national character. This war may see the end of much that we have painfully and slowly built in our 150 years of existence. But even though all of it go, there will still be Australians fighting on Australian soil until the turning point be reached, and we will advance over blackened ruins, through blasted and fire-swepted cities, across scorched plains, until we drive the enemy into the sea. I give you the pledge of my country. There will always be an Australian Government and there will always be an Australian people. We are too strong in our hearts; our spirit is too high; the justice of our cause throbs too deeply in our being for that high purpose to be overcome.
I may be looking down a vista of weary months; of soul-shaking reverses; of grim struggle; of back-breaking work. But as surely as I sit here talking to you across the war-tossed Pacific Ocean I see our flag; I see Old Glory; I see the proud banner of the heroic Chinese; I see the standard of the valiant Dutch.
And I see them flying high in the wind of liberty over a Pacific from which aggression has been wiped out; over peoples restored to freedom; and flying triumphant as the glorified symbols of united nations strong in will and in power to achieve decency and dignity, unyielding to evil in any form.”
We wish to acknowledge John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. John Curtin’s speech to America, 14 March 1942. JCPML00434/1. (duration c 30 minutes)
NOTE: You’ll need Quicktime 6 to listen to this audio file.
JOHN CURTIN REMAINED Australia’s Prime Minister and Head of War Cabinet until his death in his office, Canberra on 5 July 1945 aged 58 years.
‘Curtin’s death a month before the end of the war was from ‘war-weariness’, over-exertion, stress and heart disease. He was the second Australian Prime Minister to die in office.’
FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT Known as FDR
32ND PRESIDENT OF USA
Below: Roosevelt announces US is at war with Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbour 1941.