An Open Letter to Benito Mussolini

Virgin Islands Daily News/June 13, 1940

By Dorothy Thompson

Duce: Before you take your nation into this war, think well and long concerning the United States of America

We are an odd people, Duce. Our democracy may seem to you sprawling and uncompact, composed of all the peoples of Europe, divided in its opinions, quarreling among ourselves as often over trivial as over important matters.

But that is only one America. The other is the America that files together in an emergency; that being slow to anger, is terrible in wrath; that detesting imposed discipline, can impose it upon itself; that, being individual, can be briefly or for long, united in gregarious self-discipline.

We are a nation of sportsmen. On Saturday afternoon millions of Americans participate in sports. We love a fair game. We are a peace-loving nation, Duce, but we have fought plenty of wars.

Although we detest aggression, particularly the aggression of the strong against the weak—we despise the vulture who strikes down, the wounded, who waits until his prey is locked in a life and death struggle and then falls upon him from behind.

We are idealistic nation, Duce. In us is still a crusading and evangelistic spirit. Not dead in us, Duce, is a sense of historic mission, a chivalric impulse, a sympathy for the under-dog—a sympathy which our strength allows us to indulge.

For we are very strong, Duce. We are stronger than you know; stronger, even, than we know. From Italy, Germany looks mighty to you. You see her great industries, her imposing furnaces, mills, factories, storehouses, turning out and boarding for these many years airplanes, and tanks, and explosives, and great guns.

These do not impress us, Duce. The potential industrial power, the backbone of modern warfare, is not in Germany. It is in the United States. That potential of power is five times that of all Europe combined. We have at this moment the capacity to produce 8,000,000 automobiles yearly in factories running only on day shift; our tractor production runs into millions; and motorized equipment and tanks are only automobiles and trucks with tin hats on. We can produce more steel than all of Europe combined; we are a land built of skyscrapers and steel construction; our workers know how to handle steel, and their numbers are legion.

We have no desire to turn the instruments of peace into death-dealing instruments, but if we choose to do so, then, beware! If fifty thousand planes a year are not enough we can double the number. We could swarm the seas with torpedo and mosquito boats. Our resources will not run out. They are within our borders. They are in our own hands.

Do not be deceived, Duce, by what is termed “public opinion.” Ours is a genuine public opinion, and moves with and responds to events. Did you observe that defense vote in the Senate, Duce? Can you recall another time when the Senate of the United States has passed a unanimous vote 78 to 0?

Duce, you have spoken of Roman pride. It is no mean or empty word. Yours are a great people, skillful, lucid, intelligent and brave. Brave, Duce, in a cause in which they believe. The world has said of them that they desert alliances, and that, no doubt, has rankled in your mind. The world also has said that they wait to choose the winning side.

Proudest is the nation that chooses what is right, in harmony with its own instinct. Your people Duce, do not want this war. Let a stranger who has been briefly in your country tell you what you yourself must know. They do not believe in this war. They believe in neither side though their spontaneous sympathy goes out to France. But not to Germany, Duce, no more than to England.

Their instinct tells them that Italy will not win this war for Italy, if she goes into it. But she may lose it for Europe—for the Europe which Italy cradled and of which she is an indissoluble part.

Your people have good instincts, Duce. A fortnight ago, in Italy, when for a moment it seemed as though a detente had occurred and Italy would stand aloof, your people were wreathed in smiles and expressed their joy even to the casual traveling stranger. A leader is great in so far as he expresses and incorporates the instincts of his people. When he runs athwart then his star is lost.

You said some days ago, “Italy cannot stand permanently aloof from the vicissitudes of Europe.”

Duce, the vicissitudes of Europe are the vicissitudes of the world. Do you think that the United States of America can stand aloof from the vicissitudes of the world? This continent lying between two oceans; these forty-eight entities looking westward, looking eastward, vast and free? Do you think that the United States will live in this world on the terms of any power or combination of powers?

We, too, Duce, shall help write those terms, or we shall oppose those terms.

And when we oppose them it will not be we who will be exhausted by wars, or short of materials. Not we. And we shall have no sympathy for the vulture, for the profiteer on the misfortunes of others.

Contempt, Duce, is more poisonous than anger. It smites casually and surely. And nations recognize it and feel it themselves. Even in moments of power, they know self-contempt.

(Source: Google News, https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=757&dat=19400613&id=sp9NAAAAIBAJ&sjid=jkMDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5411,3636238)

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