WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 1940 (UP) -- The proposition that the defense of America may depend on the United States selling over-age destroyers to Great Britain had been brought into the open today by Gen. John J. Pershing, commander-in-chief of the A.E.F.
Pershing advocated this means of defense in a speech broadcast on all radio networks last night, a few hours after another of America's heroes, Col. Charles A. Lindbergh, had advocated defense of an almost opposite nature to an audience as large.
There had been much private talk of the United States selling destroyers to Great Britain to aid her defense against blitzkrieg attack, but Pershing was the first to present it direct to the public. Last spring there were reports that Great Britain was seeking to buy destroyers. Then it was discovered that the Navy was planning to permit the British to buy 20 torpedo boats that were being manufactured for it. Attorney General Robert H. Jackson ended this plan by declaring it illegal.
The Committee for Defending American by Aiding the Allies, three of whose members visited President Roosevelt last week, began a campaign of newspaper advertising advocating the sale of overage destroyers to Britain. William Allen White, Kansas editor, is chairman of the committee.
First official reaction to Pershing's suggestion was sparse. Chairman David I. Walsh of the Senate Naval Affairs Committee and Senator Rush D. Holt (D., W. Va.) said the sale of destroyers would be an act of war. Chairman Sol Bloom of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senator Claude Pepper (D., Fla.) agreed with Pershing. Senator Walter F. George (D., Ga.) a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, thought we ought to keep the old destroyers for our own defense.
Upright and hearty despite his 79 years, Pershing spoke with great earnestness. He said that this may be the last moment that the United States could keep war from its shores by "measures short of war."
"I am telling you tonight, because it is my duty to warn you before it is too late, that the British navy needs destroyers and small craft to convoy merchant ships, to escort its warships, to hunt submarines and to repel invasions. We have an immense reserve of destroyers left over from the other war and in a few months the British will be completing a large number of destroyers of their own.
"The most critical time, therefore, is the next few weeks and months. If there is anything we can do to help save the British fleet during that the time, we shall be failing in our duty to America if we do not do it."
Pershing began thus:
"It is my duty to tell you that, in my opinion, we face problems of the utmost seriousness, that all the things we hold dear are gravely threatened. I must tell you that we can defend them only if we make up our minds now to speak the truth without concealment; if we make up our minds to face the truth without flinching; if we make up our minds to act upon the truth without hesitating...
"It is not 'hysterical' to insist that democracy and liberty are threatened. With democracy and liberty overthrown on the continent of Europe, only the British are left to defend democracy and liberty in Europe.
"By sending help to the British we can still hope with confidence to keep the war on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, where the enemies of liberty if possible should be defeated. But some are bold about what they would do tomorrow, if Great Britain is defeated and the war comes to this hemisphere.
"I say to you solemnly that tomorrow may be forever too late to keep war from the Americas. Today may be the last time when by measures short of war we can still prevent war."
Pershing coupled his pleas for naval aid to the British with an assertion that it would "absolute folly" to send another expeditionary force abroad.
"No one is considering it and those who may say that anyone is considering it are deceiving themselves and deceiving you," he said. "We must have the strength of character to face the truth. Foremost among the truths which we will ignore at our peril is that the time needed to build our own defenses may be lengthened if we have the courage to make the small but important contribution which is still within our power toward the sustaining the British defense."
The Navy's official list of warships issued Jan. 25, 1940, showed 162 destroyers overage -- that is, over 20 years old. Many of these, since then, have been reconditioned and placed in service on neutrality patrol or other duty. Others are being refitted.
An act of Congress would be needed before any naval vessel could be sold to Britain.