The War, the Far East and the United States


By DR. BROOKS EMENY; Director, Foreign Affairs, Council in Cooperation with Cleveland College;

Author, The Strategy of Raw Materials: A Study of America in Peace and War; etc.

Delivered at Institute of Public Affairs, University of Virginia, June 17, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 669-672

IT is my rather thankless task tonight to present the case of the "Trojan Jackasses"—for such is the disagreeable title conferred upon American "isolationists" by Jimmy Cromwell, the ambitious senatorial aspirant from New Jersey. The Trojan Jackasses still hold to certain fundamental facts which even the emotions and hysteria of the moment

cannot entirely destroy. Their thesis rests primarily upon the proposition that America is so constituted as to National power, geographical situations and political and social make up as to render relatively easy the waging of a transoceanic war, but impossible the waging of a transoceanic peace—at least so long as Europe remains Europe and Asia, Asia.

While the Atlantic and Pacific provide ready highways for trade and the possible transport of our naval and military power abroad, they at the same time serve as insuperable barriers to our effective participation in the political systems of these extra-American regions. We are, in other words, geographically as well as constitutionally and psychologically incapable of functioning on a day to day basis as a part of the political life of Europe and Asia. The paradox of our position arises, therefore, from the fact that the incalculable costs of transoceanic crusades can now only be justified by remaining after the war a dominant part of the regions in which we have gone to fight,—a thing which geography makes politically impossible.

It is my purpose tonight to raise a few leading questions concerning the future of American Foreign policy in relation to the conflicts in Europe and Asia. If we can somehow by superhuman effort put aside from our minds for a moment intense emotional reactions we now hold with regard to the Nazi-Fascist revolutionary programs and actions—if we can view these last few years in the cold light of power politics and the natural processes of history, we shall probably come nearer to an understanding of this contemporary period as the future historian will view it. The hysteria which has seized upon our people in recent weeks is a most discouraging phenomenon to those who still cling to the hope of our own national salvation. Those who listened to the President's speech in Charlottesville but a week ago will realize how far along the road to war executive leadership has already carried our people. Before hysteria completely submerges reason, therefore, with consequent suppression of freedom of thought and action it is not entirely out of place for the Trojan Jackasses to state in the cold light of reality the follies of America's participation in the present war as an active belligerent.

There is no doubt that despite all the trappings of "isms" and conflicting ideologies the present conflict is but a repetition in more acute form and under different circumstances of similar cataclysms which have periodically shaken Europe. For the past three centuries since Britain, an island power off Europe, gained naval supremacy, the keystone of her policy has been the prevention at all times of the rise of a single nation upon the Continent powerful enough to dominate that region of the world. The reason for British action is obviously in direct response to the peculiarities of the geographic, economic and strategic circumstances of Britain and her Empire vis a vis Europe.

Just as in the Wars of Religion, the Wars of Spanish Succession under Louis XIV, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and the World War of 1914-1918, Britain in the present conflict has assumed the task of forming a coalition to prevent the rise of a single dominant power on the European Continent.

We in America, therefore, are facing a problem which in our history we have run up against on at least five previous occasions. Since the days of our independence, moreover, we have become directly involved in armed conflict in the two ideological conflicts of the Napoleonic Wars and the World War. We also sided with the French Revolution which was at that time viewed in Europe in much the same light as the Nazi Revolution is today. As a result of our experience in the early 19th century we declared it to be the basic policy of this country to avoid further entanglements in European affairs. During an entire century we held to this principle, only to abandon it in 1917. Since then we have again questioned the wisdom of our action—whether direct involvement in European wars is really worth the sacrifice.

In this regard I want to make one observation concerningour entry into the European war in 1917. As usual that conflict arose from the fact that a single power, Germany, had arisen to challenge the security of the British in Europe. The rise of Germany in turn, however, had occurred largely because of the British attempt to maintain a policy of isolation from Europe following the Napoleonic wars. The British, of course, called it the "role of the honest broker", but this role of "dis-entanglement" permitted the creation of the modern Germany in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and led eventually to the hardening of the lines of the balance of power system to the extent that the threat of the challenging First Reich had eventually to be met by a British-created and financed coalition in 1914-1918.

Events of the past score years, moreover, in so far as British policy is concerned, seem to be but a repetition of the mistakes in policy during the 19th century, though these mistakes have followed one another in much more rapid succession. The contribution of the British, however, to the breakdown of postwar international society can only be understood in the light of America's contribution to the same cause.

When the United States intervened in the World War in 1917 the coal fields of the Appalachians turned the balance in the stalemate which had already developed in the death struggle between the coal fields of the Ruhr and the coal fields of the Midlands. But America's intervention meant more than that, for it produced a set of circumstances in Europe which were not only un-European but which otherwise would not have occurred. Without America's intervention we, of course, do not know whether the France-British allies would have been defeated or could have fought Germany to a standstill. In any event neither of these alternatives occurred, but rather the aid of America resulted in an overwhelming Allied victory and a punic peace. We likewise know that America in her wisdom, or more probably in her lack of knowledge of things European, made so bold as to impose upon Europe a new system of world relations which could only function provided this country stood by the consequences of the victory for which we were so largely responsible. We had insisted upon the new and very important principle of self-determination of peoples, with the result that there had arisen in Eastern Europe a series of small, backward little states which with one or two exceptions succeeded in disrupting any possibility of effective economic and political cooperation upon the distracted Continent. This principle of self-determination, moreover, was applied to one group of minorities at the cost of the largest single European minority, the German peoples.

As has already been inferred, the collective system could probably have worked if it had been possible for the United States to stand by the League of Nations which it had been more responsible than any other nation in establishing. From the American point of view the League system had been insisted upon not only as a means of peacefully revising the unworkable clauses of the Treaty of Versailles and other similar settlements, but also for the purpose of providing an adequate substitute for the badly discredited but ancient European system of the Concert of Powers and the "balance of power" game. Nations, no matter what their size or power, were to participate in the new international order on terms of complete equality. The conference table and not the battle field was to be the focal point for decisions affecting the peaceful revision of the status quo.

As we now know, however, this beautiful scheme for the regeneration of mankind was killed almost at birth. When France was forced immediately to assume alone the heavy obligations of maintaining peace and order in Europe because of American and British withdrawal, she was forced atthe same time to revert to the old alliance system. And, indeed, if you follow the course of history since 1920, it is amazing to realize that it was not until 1938 after the Ethiopian conquest, that Britain and France, who alone could have made the collective system work tolerably well, finally came together. This belated cooperation, however, was achieved not under the new collective system but at the time when the old "balance of power" game, with all its devastating consequences to the hopes of peace, had come into full being.

Let us recall that it was in March, 1935, that Hitler first announced German rearmament, in violation of treaty obligations. This was followed in March, 1936, by the occupation of the Rhineland. In March, 1938, two years later, Austria was occupied, to be followed a year later almost to the day by the German occupation of Prague.

If it had been the purpose of Britain and France to stop the march of Hitler it would certainly appear, in retrospect, that the more timely and less costly moment would have been in 1935, in 1936, or even in 1938. There seems to be at work in all democracies, however, a most distressing law, under which necessary action is seldom taken at the most expeditious and least costly moment. France had been trying unsuccessfully for 18 years to persuade British statesmen to guarantee the security of the nations of Western Europe against a possible German challenge, even if they were not willing to extend that guarantee to the East. Yet two days following the occupation of Prague by Hitler's troops in March, 1939, Chamberlain announced the British intention to resist any power attempting to dominate the Continent, whether in Eastern or Western Europe!

From March to September, 1939, a brief space of but six months, there occurred a series of diplomatic strokes and counter-strokes which offered the most revealing laboratory example in modern times of the "balance of power" game gone completely berserk. The processes of degeneration in international society were more rapid than at any period of peacetime history and led inevitably to the tragic circumstances of the present day.

In deciding upon the future of American policy, therefore, we must keep in mind these facts of history and reality, as a balance to the present fears of conflicting ideologies. In the light of cold historical perspective it is still apparent that the present war is basically a repetition in another but more acute form of the same old European problem that the security of Britain rests upon the prevention of the rise of a single dominant power in Europe. These circumstances, however, in so far as they concern the United States are certainly different in many respects from those in 1914.

One of the most outstanding differences in the contemporary struggle lies in the fact that American public opinion is better informed. We have not been in ignorance of what has been transpiring since the first World War, though the hysteria of the present is rapidly causing us to forget. Hope still exists, therefore, that reason may yet triumph in the determination of the destiny of this great Republic.

The most important long-term factor in world relations today is the power position of the United States. This derives not only from the size of our industrial structure, based upon raw material and financial wealth, but also upon the inter-oceanic situation of our Continental base. No nation in history has been so richly endowed with the prerequisites of territorial and economic security. Thanks to protecting seas and the development of our land transport system, an adequate navy and air force and a mobile, well-equipped army assure that no foreign troops shall set foot upon our soil. It is one thing to carry through a blitzkrieg across the plains of Poland or northern France. It is quite another to "blitz" across 3,000 miles of ocean.

While it is true that the United States does not possess at present military equipment or air strength equal to that of Germany, it is likewise true that our potential industrial capacity for producing these instruments of war is equal to that of the rest of the world. The United States alone has a steel capacity four times that of greater Germany. The steel output of the City of Cleveland is equal to that of Japan, Manchukuo, Italy and Abyssinia combined. In addition to these basic factors of power, moreover, the United States is capable of maintaining almost complete self-sufficiency in raw materials, given naval control of the regional waters of the West Coast of South America and the Caribbean Sea. As to gold and silver, we have already accumulated 70 per cent of the World's supply. At the end of the present wars we shall probably have added to this amount up to 90 per cent. While it is perfectly true that our industrial and economic life have not become entirely keyed to blitzkrieg demands, it is likewise true that no power or combination of powers on earth can match the armed might of America once its national life is turned to such purpose. These are the sober realities of the case; and just as circumstances beyond our conscious control have placed us on the dizzy heights of unchallengeable security and overwhelming potential strength at home, so must our ability to guide intelligently the future destiny of this country rest upon the development of a true consciousness of our inherent power. "Consciousness of power", however, denotes both the ability to time its utilization as well as the wisdom to know when to withhold its use.

The question before the American people today is whether or not we shall again pour forth our substance, life and power upon another trans-oceanic adventure as a "preventive measure" as well as for making the world safe for something else. Before deciding let us first contrast briefly the world situation today with that America faced in 1917.

Strategically speaking our position is vastly different today. For while we are more secure at home we are definitely less so abroad. During the first World War there was no question as to our security in Asia. The Anglo-Japanese alliance still existed. We did not realize at the time that the British had actually been forced to withdraw their fleet from Pacific waters and had left the maintenance of law and order in those regions to the policing power of the Japanese navy. Yet the British withdrawal from Asiatic waters in 1914 was as symbolical of the future of Britain's world position as the similar withdrawal of their fleet from the Caribbean Sea at the opening of the 20th century. In both cases the command of American waters by our own navy and a similar command by the Japanese in Asia have been due to the rise of the German menace to British security in Europe. Yet with all these developments there still remained in American consciousness the feeling that somehow the British navy existed for our protection. Today that is no longer true in Asia and British command in Europe is seriously threatened. Nor will the world ever see the time when a single national naval force will dominate the seven seas, as was the case of 19th century Britain unless America attempts such a Herculean task. Today America faces alone the Far East where the Japanese fleet is in complete command, as it has been ever since the first World War. The British in their present death struggle cannot divide their forces and we may be sure that in the secret meetings of the British Cabinet, before their determination to set upon this war, the possibility of having to sacrifice parts at least of the Empire in Asia were taken into consideration. The probabilities now exist, therefore, that any armed crusade on our part in Europe will be by no means as simple from the naval and military point of view as that of 1917-1918 unless meanwhile we withdraw our fleet from the Pacific and leave Asia and the Philippines to the tendermercies of Japan. Moreover a war in Europe would in all probability be the shortest road to another in Asia, with all the consequences of a war on two trans-oceanic fronts.

The situation which America faces today is by and large one of its own making. By our own choice we have consistently refused to support effectively any system of organized peace. Trusting in the morality of others and their strict observance of treaties we have refused to take measures necessary to maintain the resistance of the other "Have" nations in their defense against the depredation of the "Have-nots".

The world is not, therefore, as we should like it, nor can we make it so unless we are determined at this moment to destroy not only the power of Hitler and Mussolini, but likewise to sink the Japanese fleet as a preliminary move in the destruction of Communist Russia and any other Nazi or Communist systems which emerge in any part of the world as the after-math of the gigantic struggle. The price of our conquest of Europe and Asia today is that we remain henceforth the dominant power in both regions following the conflict, with all the burdens and costs involved.

The sober fact is that the mere destruction of Hitler is not the end of the European conflict but its beginning. The problem of Europe through the centuries has been the existence of German peoples more numerous than any other national group. Nothing that the United States can do can solve this problem and yet the price which we must pay for our refusal to again wage war in Europe is the possibility of a Nazi-Fascist victory. This means not only defeat of the French and British Empires, but the existence in Europe of a political and economic system inimical to all for which we have traditionally stood. Even more than that, it means the command in the Eastern Atlantic of a hostile fleet, a circumstance we have not had to face since the Napoleonic Wars.

These, ladies and gentlemen, are the ugly facts—and if I were to curse the symbols of our past errors, I would wish that Senators William Borah and Cabot Lodge might return to earth at this moment to witness along with Hiram Johnson and Gerald Nye the fruits of their handiwork. And yet I realize that they but represented not only the prevailing opinion of America in their time, but illustrated by their actions the basic truth toward which our people instinctively turned, that in a world of sovereign independent states, geography makes impossible the waging of a trans-oceanic peace by the United States.

For years following the war I believed in collective security. I was prepared to pay the price through the surrender of our national sovereignty to international needs in matters of tariff and finance, and in the pooling of our defense forces and restrictions upon any of our domesticpolicies inimical to the best interest of the new world order. I was ready to aid to the fullest extent the collective destruction at birth and source of any subversive movements or ideologies which might arise to challenge the new order. I realized that peaceful change was only possible through tremendous sacrifices to national pride and prejudices,—that free access to trade and raw material wealth had to be extended by the powerful nations to the less powerful.

But if Britain, which is only 20 miles removed from the shores of Europe could not adjust to the realities of the new order after 1920 it is little wonder that continental America which is 3,000 miles removed was likewise blind.

America, which has traditionally steered clear of entangling alliances, has always thought of its defense in terms of independent action. Unlike other states, which have achieved their strength in combination, we have chosen to stand alone. Now that events have not only caught up with us but gone irretrievably past we might as well cease this state of panic and face the realities squarely on the basis of our own national power. Let us accept with courage and clear vision the consequences of our folly. Let us abandon all illusions of the happy collective security world of make believe and pledge our allegiance to the company of Trojan Jackasses. Let us do so without whimpering or hysteria in the full consciousness of the price that must be paid.

America has the power to remain free if we have not the ability to maintain the freedom of others. We must now come to a full consciousness of that power and utilize it in our own self-interest and with maturity of will and judgment. We must become outwardly hard and intransigent on all that affects our security. We must become so armed that none dare challenge our regional domain. We must become steeled to the most incredible tragedies abroad. We must witness the destruction there of much we venerate and admire. But with it all we must preserve intact the power of this nation, not alone because we can thus defend this nation, but in order that we can utilize that power at such times and under such circumstances as we usefully can in rebuilding the world's economic, political and social structure. This does not mean the abandonment today of our material aid to Britain. It does not mean the abandonment of our essential rights in Asia. But it does mean the avoidance of War in Europe at no matter what the immediate cost, in order that we shall remain the one great power still strong and free to maintain a semblance of sanity and stability in a war mad world.

This nation was founded as a refuge from the ever recurring tyrannies and Wars of Europe. Let us keep it so in the knowledge that with wisdom and wise leadership we have the power to ride out the storm—intact and free.