OCTOBER 17, 1946
NEW YORK, Wednesday—I am glad to report that some one has taken the trouble to write me about those idle ships tied up in the Hudson River—which I mentioned in a recent column. My correspondent tells me that, not only in the Hudson River but in other waters, ships belonging to the U.S. Government are laid up for lack of employment.
Our Merchant Marine, which was large and active during the early days of our republic, later faded out of the picture because, with the rising economy in this country, the building and operating of American ships became more costly than the use of foreign vessels. "Subsidy and other laws, designed to offset these economic handicaps, were permitted to lapse or were not administered with sufficient vigor and continuity to revive American shipping in the foreign trade, writes my correspondent. Less than 30 percent of American foreign commerce was being carried in American ships in 1939.
My correspondent apparently has had a long experience in shipping, and one paragraph in his letter interested me greatly. "A comparatively small amount of money spent earlier, in peace, would have made it unnecessary to build so many ships in war. ... Admiral King has warned the country against reverting to such prewar maritime inadequacy ... There was good reason to believe that the Axis leaders realized the United States would eventually come into the war, but they also knew that we had too few ships to make our attack quickly effective. They thought to conquer first."
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The ships we see laid up are mostly of the slow freighter type. Congress has authorized the sale of the Government's surplus ships, with the exception of those which the Army and Navy deem necessary for a national reserve. Foreigners can buy these ships on the same terms as American citizens. I, for one, wish that it would be made easier for foreigners, who have lost much of their shipping, to obtain these ships if they need them, for in peacetime slow ships are not so valuable to us.
However, I hope that this past war has taught us that we must vigorously and consistently administer the Merchant Marine Act which was passed in 1936. If we do so, we will not be caught again with as inadequate a supply of ships as we had on entering both World War I and World War II.
All of us should work to prevent another war. One of the ways of doing this is to distribute goods in our own ships throughout the world. Many of my forebears and my husband's forebears were seafaring people, because they believed that trade was the basis of our prosperity and promoted good feeling among nations.
One of the contributions which we must make to future world peace is to help raise the standard of living in many countries where the standard has been extremely low in the past. It will pay us as an investment to subsidize an American Merchant Marine because it will help us to keep peace in the world.