WASHINGTON (May. 13)
Secretary of Interior Harold L. Ickes appealed to Congress today for swift passage of the King-Havenner bill providing for the settlement and development of Alaska, largely through colonzation by refugees, as an urgent national defense measure. Testifying before a special subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Territories and Insular Affairs, he said that the settlement of Alaska was necessary to protect the territory from aggression, as well as on humanitarian and economic grounds.
The secretary also pointed out that many organizations interested in refugee relief would rather invest their money in a place where the refugees could be self-sustaining than in temporary havens abroad.
Ickes said: “I know that the word ‘humanitarian’ is in bad odor these days, and I don’t suggest that this committee take any action at all on humanitarian grounds. I do propose that if a proposition is good for business and good for the national defense and good for the american people we ought not to turn it down merely because it has some humanitarian by-products.”
Saying that the type of immigrants is an important consideration, he added: “I think that I can say without fear of contradiction that the Alaskans are as tolerant and democratic a group of human beings as exist anywhere in the world. By and large they will judge newcomers, whether from the U.S. or from abroad, on their merits and not on grounds of race or religion. They will ask of a new Alaskan ‘What is he good for?’ not, Where does he come from?”
Of national defense he said: “An unpopulated country, rich in natural resources and poorly defended, offers a standing temptation to overpopulated, resource hungry and militarized nations. There are few territories in the world as rich in resources and as capable of absorbing a new population as Alaska. The industrial development in populating of Alaska by American and immigrant stock, carefully selected to insure physical hardihood and loyalty to American institutions, would constitute an important contribution to the defense of American territory generally.”
Pointing out that Alaska lies closer to Russia and Japan by thousands of miles than do any other parts of the U.S., Ickes said:
“Alaska has been called the Achilles’ heel of our national defense. Both the War Department and the Navy Department have expressed their willingness to cooperate with and support other departments in formulating plans for developing the facilities in Alaska that contribute to the national defense.”
“At the present time,” Ickes said, “many American citizens are sending substantial sums abroad for the relief of victims of war and persecution. Rather than pour these funds for an indefinite period into countries where the recipients are not allowed to earn a living, the donors, I believe, would deem it a privilege to establish permanent sources of livelihood in a territory where some of these victims may utilize their abilities and become self supporting. It is expected that persons and organizations interested in refugee settlement will be in a position to invest considerable amounts of capital in the development of Alaska.”