MAY 29, 1961
HYDE PARK—First I want to thank the many people who have sent in money and checks for the Tractors For Freedom fund. It will be impossible for me to thank them individually because of the volume of mail.
In the Congress it may not be very popular to be trying to free those who landed on the beach and were captured in Cuba. But the people of this country seem not only to want freedom for their soldiers but to be anxious to help the farmers of Cuba. It is good to know that there is kindly feeling for the Cuban people all over the U.S.
I must say I have been completely surprised by the reaction in Congress. None of the three members of our committee ignored the Logan Act, which forbids individuals to negotiate with foreign governments, and there was consultation with our government before any announcement was made of a reply to President Castro. That a humanitarian gesture by our people in response to an offer by the leader of a small nation like Cuba could be considered as an act of weakness on the part of our people or of our government, however, is beyond my understanding. The U.S. has too much strength and too much dignity, it seems to me, ever to consider an action which will save lives and help the people of a small and neighboring country as an act of weakness. Rather it seems to me to be the action of a strong nation and its people to help the people of a weaker nation.
There is no comparison with such a situation as occurred during the Hitler regime in Germany. Then an exchange was offered of human lives for trucks, but the war was on and this was war material. No answer at that time could of course be made. The only similarity that can be noted in the two offers is that some types of minds seem to link together human lives and machinery. President Castro has been careful to state, however, that he considered the tractors are to benefit the farmers, to help them grow more food and raise their standard of living; hence, he considers the machines as an "indemnification" for any harm done during the invasion. Since the harm done was comparatively slight, indemnification may be somewhat exaggerated. But this was the way the offer was made, and the people of the U.S. do not seem to quibble about what they pay if they can free human lives. President Castro stated that if the prisoners did not return from the U.S. with a firm agreement, they would serve from 30-35 years of hard labor.
The reaction of South American countries seems to be in sympathy with the people of the U.S. There have been student demonstrations and collections are apparently being taken up to add to this fund. Mr. Reuther, Dr. Milton Eisenhower and I were not the only ones who wanted to do something in answer to President Castro's offer. There were already started a number of different groups who want to collect money for this purpose. I think most of the people will send what they collect to Tractors for Freedom, P.O. Box Freedom, Detroit, Michigan.
I am indeed saddened by the attitude of some of the members of the Senate and the House. Had it been only an attack on the part of Republican members, I might have felt that it savored of partisan politics. But that is not true, so I realize it is a genuine difference of opinion. I regret it particularly where I have high esteem for those who are in opposition.
I do not believe that there is any weakness or kowtowing to President Castro in taking up his offer, nor do I think it hurts the dignity of the U. S. in any way. Neither do I think that the law of the land is flouted by the manner in which this is being done. I not only believe in obeying the law but I hope that respect for the law is going to grow in our own country, since we are the nation who would like to see a world governed by law rather than by force.
I fully realize, however, that even where the law is concerned it is man-made and people must live according to their consciences. With the deepest respect for those who differ, therefore, I still am glad that the three of us serving on this committee felt our consciences dictated some kind of action in view of the responsibility we carried. I hope very much that the great warmth of response from the people of the U. S. will in the end be of great service to our country.