The Proposition Is Peace
THE PATH TO WAR IS A FALSE PATH TO FREEDOM
By ROBERT M. HUTCHINS, President, University of Chicago
Delivered in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, Chicago, Ill., March 30, 1941
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 389-392.
WE hear on every side that war is inevitable, even that we are at war, and that there is nothing we can do about it.
Things look black. The President now calls for "total victory" over "the enemy" and urges upon us the determination needed to win.
Still there is a chance that these remarks are for foreign consumption and do not mean what they seem to mean. They seem to mean that the British, Chinese, and Greeks are our allies. If this is so, it is immoral to let them die for us while we sit safely at home. We should have been in the war from the start. We should fight now. And if we are actually to press on to total victory, we must fight. We are not justified in hoping that the Axis will suffer total defeat without full American participation in the war.
Two days after war broke out in Europe the President assured the nation that he would do everything he could to keep it at peace. He has repeated these assurances again and
again. Every speech he made during the campaign contained a pledge to keep the country out of war. The night before the election he said, "We propose and expect to continue our lives in peace." Two weeks ago he said, "Do not let us waste time reviewing the past or fixing or dodging the blame for it." But I cannot believe that this means that he wants us to forget his promises to pursue a policy of peace.
Until we are engaged in military action we must continue to hope that we can avoid the ultimate catastrophe. We stand on the brink of war. But we have not been attacked. The burden of proof rests on those who claim we are about to be. We have not lost the power to decide for peace or war. We still have a chance to catch our breath, reflect a little, and take a last look around before we plunge into the abyss. The President is a democratic leader. One of his greatest qualities is his sense of responsibility to the people. If he is moving toward war, he must be doing it in the conviction that the people want him to. If this is his conviction, he is mistaken.
The people have never had a chance to express themselves on the issue of war or peace. The election gave them no chance. Both parties declared for peace. Both candidates declared for peace.
No one should know better than Mr. Roosevelt that the newspapers are not always a reliable index of public opinion. Even if most of the newspapers are for war, it is no more significant than that only a third of them were for Roosevelt in 1936 and only a fifth of them for him in 1940.
The Gallup Poll shows that the people are for peace and that they trust Mr. Roosevelt to keep them at peace. The Gallup question published ten days ago was, "If you were asked to vote on the question of the United States entering the war against Germany and Italy, how would you vote—to go into the war or to stay out of the war?" Eighty-three per cent of those asked said they would vote to stay out. The percentage voting to stay out was higher than it was a year ago. On the other hand, when the question has been, "Do you favor aiding Britain at the risk of war?" the majority of those asked have said yes. We can only infer that the people want peace and that relying on Mr. Roosevelt's promises of peace they have been willing to help Britain at the risk of war. The risk of war, with Mr. Roosevelt at the helm, was too slight to worry about.
The country wants to defend itself, aid Britain, and stay out of war. We have been told over and over again that we could do just that. During the hearings and debates on the Lease-Lend Bill man after man announced that this was a bill to keep the country out of war. Mr. Willkie said that was why he was for it. Senator George, who led the fight for the bill, said that was why he was for it. The passage of this bill gave the President no mandate for war. The people want peace.
If we go to war, what are we going to war for? Mr. Roosevelt tells us we are to save "the democracies." The democracies are, presumably, England, China, Greece, and possibly Turkey. Turkey is a dictatorship. Greece is a dictatorship. China is a dictatorship. As to England, in 1928 Mr. Anthony Eden, now Foreign Secretary, speaking in behalf of a bill extending the suffrage, felt it necessary to say to the House of Commons, "We have not got democratic government in this country today; we never have had it and I venture to suggest to hon. Members opposite that we shall never have it. What we have done, in all the progress of reform and evolution of politics, is to broaden the basis of our oligarchy."
There can be no doubt that the people of this country prefer the government of Britain to the governments of its allies or its enemies. Britain is a constitutional state and has been the inspiration of many constitutional states. We prefer the governments of China, Greece, and Turkey to those of the Axis. But we cannot use the word democracy to describe every country that is or may be at war with the Axis. If Russia is attacked by Germany, will she be welcomed into the choir of the democracies?
If we go to war, what are we going to war for? The British propose to defeat the Axis. What they propose to do then they do not say. They have repeatedly refused to say. Yet the United States is entitled to know. Are we to rush to arms every time the British Empire is in danger? If so, we are entitled to know what the future policy of the British Empire is to be. Are we to put down every tyrant that arises in Europe? If so, we are entitled to know what is to be done to keep each tyrant from being worse than the last.
If we go to war, what are we going to war for? The only specific statement the President has made on the course we are to pursue after the war is found in two sentences in his last speech. He said, "We believe that any nationality, no matter how small, has the inherent right to its own nationhood." To the same effect he said, "There never has been, there isn't now, and there never will be any race of people fit to serve as masters over their fellow men." Do these statements imply the restoration of pre-war boundaries in Austria, Czechoslovakia, Memel, Danzig, Poland, France, China, and Rumania? Is this undertaking to be world-wide? If so, hot do we induce Russia to restore the pre-war boundaries of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, and Poland?
If we succeed in re-establishing these boundaries, how do we know they will last? The boundaries we helped lay down the last time fell apart in twenty years. And we tried to lay them down on the same principle that the President proposes now: the principle of self-determination.
And what do we do about the countries which were victims of aggression before 1939? Is everybody who stole anything before that date to keep it, and everybody who stole anything after it to give it up? What do we do about Hong Kong, the Malay States, the Dutch East Indies, French Indo-China, Africa, and, above all, India? If there never has been, isn't now, and never will be any race of people fit to serve as masters over their fellow men, how can we tolerate the mastery of the white race over our yellow, brown, and black fellow men throughout the world?
If we go to war, what are we going to war for? We are stirred, but not enlightened, by the great phrase—the four freedoms—which the President has used as the general statement of our aims. Freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom from want, and freedom from fear—if we go to war, we go to establish these four freedoms everywhere.
The President cannot literally mean that we are to fight on till the four freedoms ring everywhere. If we are to be responsible for the four freedoms everywhere, we must have authority everywhere. We must force the four freedoms upon people who might prefer to do without them rather than accept them from the armed missionaries of the United States. This new imperialism, this revised conception of the White Man's Burden, this modern version of America's Manifest Destiny is a repudiation of the presidential teaching that there never has been, isn't now, and never will be any race of people fit to serve as masters over their fellow men.
Of course, we must extend the four freedoms to our "allies" as well as to our "enemies." We must see to it that British possessions throughout the world have them. The hopes held out to India during the last war, disappointed after it, and now held out again must be fulfilled. China. Greece, and Turkey must reform, too. In the Latin-American countries we shall have no easy task. Few of them have the four freedoms now. From Mexico to Patagonia wo must send our legions to convert our good neighbors by force of arms.
The President cannot mean this, for it is a program of perpetual war, war in Latin-America, war in the Far East war in the South Seas, and even war with Britain. Mr. Roosevelt must mean that by defeating the Axis we rid the world of those governments at present most aggressive in their attack on the four freedoms. During or after the war we shall have to figure out the next steps: how to establish and maintain governments that believe in the freedoms. The first step is war. Here, then, is the real issue Is the path to war the path to freedom?
This war, if we enter it, will be long, hard, and bloody. We do not have the choice between a short war abroad and a prolonged period of militarization at home. The "enemy now controls all of Europe and part of Asia, and is not ft driven from Africa. We have no evidence that the totali-
tarian regimes will fly to pieces when their opponents get superiority in the air, or even that superiority can be achieved.
Total war for total victory against totalitarian states can best be conducted by totalitarian states. The reason is simple. A totalitarian state is nothing but a military machine. A totalitarian state will be more effective in war than any other kind of state. A democratic state is organized for the happiness of its citizens. But their happiness cannot be considered in total war. Every one of them must become a cog in the military machine. If the United States is to proceed through total war to total victory over totalitarian states, it will have to become totalitarian, too.
Is total war, then, the path to freedom? We seek freedom from want, and we impoverish ourselves. We seek freedom from fear, and we terrorize ourselves. We seek freedom of worship and freedom of speech, and we suppress them.
And when total victory has been won, will the totalitarian administration end? We may find a clue in England. A responsible member of the British Cabinet, Sir Archibald Sinclair, publicly supports a proposal that there shall be no elections in England for three years after the war. The reason is clear. Poverty and disillusionment will make democracy dangerous.
What will be America's fate after a long, hard, and bloody war? In times of peace we have had ten million unemployed; we shall have at least that many again. We shall have an enormous debt. Repudiation and inflation may rid us of that—and at the same time of the middle class. Having exhausted our resources in getting guns, we shall have none for butter, houses, relief, social security or education. We shall have want and fear, and we may have the maintenance of order by a government scarcely distinguishable from those which we went forth to fight. We may have the kind of freedom proclaimed by one of Napoleon's marshals to the German towns. He said, "My friends, I bring you perfect liberty. But be prudent. I shoot the first man who stirs."
There are those who say, "Of course, if we go to war, we shall have totalitarianism in this country. But if we try to stay at peace, we shall have all this and Hitler too. Unless we go over and get Hitler, Hitler will come over and get us."
Lord Halifax on Tuesday said that Hitler could never invade England. If he can never invade England, he can never conquer the Western Hemisphere. We in America have a chance to save democracy if we build our defenses and stay at peace. If we enter upon total war to total victory, we lose that chance, even if we win the victory.
War, except in self defense, is a counsel of despair, despair because the world is bad, despair because peaceful change is too slow and hard. It was the counsel of the nihilists, the Russian revolutionaries described by Dostoyevsky. They believed in progress by catastrophe. Our modern American nihilists want catastrophe because they despair of getting progress in any other way. They think that everything will be wonderful after the war because such things as capitalism, which they dislike, will be destroyed.
I think it fairly certain that capitalism will not survive American participation in this war. And since it is the vehicle of the materialism that has brought us to our present pass, I am not altogether sure that it deserves to. But experience after the last war in Germany, Italy, and Russia does not suggest that catastrophe is the road to something better.
The trouble with the doctrine of progress through catastrophe is that you can be sure of the catastrophe, but not of the progress. So of war as the path to freedom. You can be certain of the war. The freedom is another matter. If we enter this war, we shall lose what we have of the four freedoms. We shall lose the hope of realizing them. What we have, in this country, is hope. War, for this country, is a counsel of despair. It is a confession of failure. It is national suicide.
We have far surpassed most other nations in our advance toward the four freedoms. We and we alone have the hope of realizing them. We must bravely and hopefully face the task of realizing them. We must show the world a nation which understands, values, and practices the four freedoms. This is America's destiny.
We cannot run away from our destiny because it is hard. We cannot avoid it by claiming that we must have the British fleet to protect us. We cannot evade it by pleading fatigue from our futile efforts to meet the depression, suggesting that we would like an ocean voyage to recuperate. We cannot be like Stendhal's hero, who at the age of sixteen ran away to join Napoleon to escape from the sorrows that were poisoning his life, especially on Sundays. We must stay here and fight. As Mr. Willkie said so truly during the campaign, "America's battle for liberty is right here at home."
The path to war is a false path to freedom. It is a false path to freedom for America. It is a false path to the four freedoms everywhere. War is for the sake of peace. The spirit of the peace will be determined by the spirit of the countries which make it. An Englishman, J. Middleton Murry, said of England, "This country, as it is, is incapable of winning a Christian victory, because it simply is not Christian." This general principle is sound. No country can win a democratic victory unless it is democratic. Only those who understand, value, and practice democracy know what a democratic peace would be. Only those who understand, value, and practice justice can make a just peace. Only those who understand, value, and practice the four freedoms can make a peace to establish them everywhere.
Fear and ignorance wrote the last peace: the fear of the French and British, the ignorance of all the nations. From this fear and ignorance sprang a peace that made this war inevitable. There is no less fear and certainly no less ignorance today. Have we the courage and the wisdom to bring the world to a peace that shall establish the four freedoms everywhere? If we have, we should do it, no matter what the cost in blood or treasure. We want to serve humanity, and in her cause we should be proud to sacrifice our fortunes and our lives.
We cannot seriously believe that what we have of the four freedoms we owe to our courage and our wisdom. We owe it rather to the courage and wisdom of our forefathers who wrote our constitution and to the Divine Providence that placed enormous resources at our disposal at a distance from the conflicts of the Old World. Do not misunderstand me. We have accomplished much; but when we appraise our opportunities and our obligations we see that it is only a beginning. We are fearful and we are ignorant. Our fear is the result of our ignorance. Our fundamental error is the overwhelming importance that we attach to material goods. Money is the symbol of the things we honor. Only in war can we be united by the call to sacrifice billions for the welfare of mankind. Only at such a time could Mr. Jesse Jones say without bitter protest from the taxpayers, "We are preparing for war. When you do that, you must throw money away." We are frightened and confused by our inability to use our vast resources to obtain a constant flow of more and better material goods. We are dismayed by the long depression and the collapse of our attempts to deal with it. We are easy marks for those who tell us that the way out of our troubles it to march to Berlin,
Are we so ignorant that we think the way to defeat adoctrine we hate is to shoot at it? Are we so naive that we believe that rearrangements in the material order—land, mines, and waterways—will solve the problems of the world? Are we so child-like as to suppose that the overthrow of the Nazis will bring a just and lasting peace? Are we so frightened as to think that if only the British Empire can be preserved, if only the Germans can be crushed, all the ills that have beset us will automatically disappear?
But if we go to war, and preserve the British Empire, and crush the Germans, our fundamental problems will remain. We do not face our fundamental problems by going to war; we evade them. We do not make a just and lasting peace by writing into another treaty the fear, ignorance, and confusion that have marred our efforts to build a democratic community at home. If we would change the face of the earth we must first change our own hearts.
Hitler was right in holding before the German people an ideal higher than comfort. He knew he could not give them that. He offered them instead a vision of national grandeur and "racial" supremacy. These are false gods. Since they are false, they will fail in the end. But Hitler was half right. He was right in what he condemned, and wrong in what he offered in its place. It is our task in this country to realize the true ideals of human life, the true organization of human society, the true democracy. It is our task to work out a new order in America not, like Hitler's, based on slavery and degradation, but based on the premise that society exists to promote the happiness of its members and that happiness consists in the development of the highest powers of men. The good life and the just society—not the luxurious life or the powerful state—these are the goals toward which America must strive.
It is America's destiny to reach these goals. It is her duty to the world to struggle toward them. The war to whichhumanity calls America is the war against poverty, disease, ignorance, and injustice. We must win this war in America now. We can hardly be content with a society in which almost half the people are living below the minimum level of subsistence. We cannot be proud to learn that 250,000 babies were born last year without benefit of medical care. With one-room school houses, scanty libraries, non-existent art museums, and undernourished churches, vast stretches of our country are barren cultural, intellectual, and spiritual wastes. And too often American justice is the interest of the stronger written into law. We must fight on if we are to win America's war.
To win this war we must have peace. Edmund Burke said to the House of Commons: "Judging of what you are by what you ought to be, I persuaded myself that you would not reject a reasonable proposition because it had nothing but its reason to recommend it . . . The proposition is peace."
The proposition has nothing but its reason to recommend it. The war to total victory over poverty, disease, ignorance, and injustice has none of the glamour and draws few of the cheers that accompany a war of mutual extermination. But though tyrants may be put down, tyranny cannot be destroyed by airplanes and tanks. Tyranny can be destroyed only by creating a civilization in which people will not suffer so much that they will trade their liberties for the pitiful security which the tyrant offers. The war to create this civilization is our war. We must take advantage of every day we have left to build a democracy which will command the faith of our people, and which, by the light of its example, will restore the democratic faith to the people of the world.
America has been called the arsenal of democracy. It has been called the larder of democracy. Let us make it the home of democracy. This is America's destiny.