An Examination of the Eight Points
WE MUST NOT COMMIT OURSELVES TO WAR
By HENRY NOBLE MacCRACKEN, President of Vassar College
Delivered before an America First Committee rally at Carnegie Hall, New York City, August 20, 1941
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 679-680.
I THOUGHT a long while before accepting your invitation. I speak as an individual, as a member of no committee or group. My views are uncensored. They are offered in no spirit of bitterness or opposition, but solely in the hope of clarifying the American way over the dark road ahead. I am a registered Democrat. Our President in his first administration addressed his neighbors from my front porch. I believe in his declared intention to keep us out of war. I hold it therefore in no sense obstructive, to examine the eight points of the recent parley at sea, from the position of a citizen who wants the United States to adhere to its true course. The real obstructionists are those who want to block the true road, and want to force us off the road into a detour by way of Suez, Singapore, and Vladivostok, before we get back again to the true road, which is the American road, the Washington-Jefferson road, of honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none. Why quit our own, to stand on foreign shores? That is the American question. Washington asked that question a long time ago, and we ask it now.
I recognize the gravity of the hour. It is because I recognize it, that I deplore the sudden and melodramatic element in the meeting with Winston Churchill, and the apparent attempt to commit our country to what is in effect a treaty without the constitutional provision of a two-thirds concurrence of the United States Senate. The eight-point treaty is signed officially by the British Government through its Prime Minister, and by the President of the United States, who under our system has no such authority as the Prime Minister. It is, first and last, a Churchill treaty, therefore. Let us examine it.
It purports to be an agreement between the President of the United States and Britain, to use their power for purely altruistic purposes. They disclaim territorial aggrandizement; they seek no territorial changes except by the consent of the people concerned; the choice of government is to be only by the same popular voice; equal access to raw materials is promised to all, with due regard for existing obligations; labor conditions in all countries are to be improved; all men are to live in peace, free from fear and want; the seas are to be free to all voyagers, and there is, finally, to be disarmament, at least of the nations that threaten this program.
These are great words. How are the ideals they express to be obtained? It is the final destruction of Nazi tyranny and the permanent disarmament of Germany. How are the tyrannies in other countries to be overthrown, the tyranny of the Communist Party in Russia, for instance? It is implied that the United States and Britain will accomplish it, by wishing to see it. But that, it seems to us, is wishful thinking. We have heard a great deal of this phrase. It has been applied to everyone who opposed the will of the war party. But if ever there was a treaty of commitment to wishful thinking, it is that to which Mr. Churchill would commit the United States.
Why is this treaty forced upon us at this time? We do not know, for we are not told. In the interest of melodramatic suddenness, all this has been left to our surmises. Let us, then, surmise that perhaps it has been done to raise British morale by affirming a closer bond between Britain and the United States than actually exists, an alliance for enforcing peace. It has been done to sustain the surely jus-
tifiable hopes for freedom in the invaded countries, to detach Germany's allies from her by suggesting that their war with Russia is to be in vain, to make the war more palatable to American public opinion by associating purely war aims with those of the New Deal. These are, of course, surmises. Perhaps, as the editorials in many newspapers proclaim, it is to get us further into the war. If that be the aim, we have our President's word for it that we are no nearer war because of the treaty. We may surmise that, in this, he is perfectly right.
But the commitment to the final destruction of Nazi tyranny, and the permanent disarmament of all aggressor nations in future, as well as the respect for existing obligations, which are all mentioned in the treaty; what about these? Are we to be committed to these aims, by accepting the idealism of the other aims? Are we to be so completely committed to the integrity of the British Empire, by scrambling our Wilsonian idealism with that integrity so completely that it can never be unscrambled again? That is the real question before all American citizens. That is what gives us pause, as we contemplate the treaty of the sea in its entirety.
If we really were to commit ourselves to the final destruction of Nazi tyranny, that, certainly, would be war. We cannot destroy it by diplomacy, or just by aid to Britain. No amount of aid can do that. On that point both the war party and the peace party in the United States are agreed. The war party insists that we must make war, and make it now, in order to crush Germany. The peace party has no hope of crushing the Nazi rule at this time. It looks for democratic regeneration of Europe from within, after the fury of war shall have spent itself. But if we go to war now, what kind of war would it be? About that question the war party has left us in no doubt. Three hundred billions of dollars, ten million men under arms, a hundred thousand airplanes, thousands of ships, and an equipment so vast that we could not make it before 1945. But that is the least of the cost. It will cost millions of American lives, the total starvation of Europe so far as blockade can accomplish it, with no doubt forty million deaths from starvation, the total destruction of European cities by bombing, the exhaustion of world resources in oil and metals to accomplish this.
And in the meantime, what of us? How much democracy will be left in these United States, when for five years we have, like Germany, become a militarized state? How much credit, how much financial stability, how much private enterprise will be left? How much freedom of trade unions to bargain with employers? How much freedom of our business to sell to the American public? How many ships, and railroads, and utilities, and banks, and factories, will be left in private hands? These are questions that must beanswered, before our Senate sanctions this treaty of the sea by its two-thirds vote. Democracy and total war seem to us to be incompatible terms.
Can we win such a war? Is it disloyal to ask such a question? We do not doubt the courage of our soldiers, of their tactical skill. But many of us do question the army organization, the genius of our general staff, the composition of the personnel of our senior officers. We question the nature of our equipment, our ability to land in Europe, to maintain supplies both to Britain and to such an army at the same time that our navy is fighting a two-ocean war. We question also the ability to sustain the morale of our people in a war that is to be fought in the East Indies, in Egypt, in Morocco, and Iran, as well as in Europe. We do not know of any authoritative military man who has told us how Germany can land in America, or how we can conquer Europe and Asia. Can a military equipment, which is admittedly built to match Germany's, overtake and destroy that of which it is an imitation? We are not mere defeatists. We believe that perhaps it can; but we must ask the question, and are entitled to an answer.
If we can win such a war, is it well that we should win it? We had a president once, who prayed for a peace without victory. I confess myself to be of Wilson's mind. For I do not see how such a victory could leave us with any idealism to carry out the points of the sea treaty. Instead we should be an empire, either a part of the British Empire, as some would have us be, or an American world-empire, the old independent United States forever gone. We should have garrisons in Germany, Japan, and Italy, commissars of raw materials all over the world imposing an Anglo-American peace on the world, with one indispensable condition as its basis, the integrity of the British Empire. The imperialistic temptation, to be lord of all the kingdoms of the earth, is the greatest of all temptations to a rich and powerful democracy. We know what happened to Athens when she maintained such a peace, what happened to Rome, when she went the imperialist way, and what a dilemma now confronts Britain, as she tries to develop democracy at home, and empire abroad. You cannot evade that issue. Democracy and empire are incompatible terms. What our country needs is not empire abroad, but a new birth of freedom at home, if government by the people is not to perish from the earth.
And so let us hope that the treaty of the sea, this melodrama of Churchill on the coast of Maine, was written in water. Let us forget it, so far as it means the commitment of our country to war or to the imperialist dream. Let us aid Britain so far as is reasonable, without putting ourselves in bankruptcy. And let us work for peace, remembering that the way to make peace is to keep peace.