Will Our Southern Flank Become a Southern Front?


By CARL W. ACKERMAN, Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University

Delivered before the Kiwanis Clubs of Lambertville, N. J. and Doylestown, Pa., at the Doylestown Inn, March 31, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 402-403.

EVENTS of war are forcing upon us a new perspective of Latin America. Each and all of the twenty American republics are today friendly nations on our southern flank. Whether they remain friendly or neutral or become danger zones in the future depends upon world events and our own policies. As world events in the Atlantic and in the Pacific have been going against us, the imminent decisive factor is our own conduct toward our southern neighbors.

Recently I returned from a journey down and up the East Coast of South America with grave concern with respect to our own activities. On a 14,000 mile journey I studied the situation in the Argentine, Brazil, Uruguay and Trinidad. I traveled as an educator, not on a government mission. Last week, as a private citizen, I made a complete report to our government. On this occasion, in the company of my neighbors in this section of the Delaware valley which has been my home for twenty-three years, I wish to make a public report. In war time I think it is the duty of private citizens in a democracy to share information and ideas as a contribution to the development of public opinion.

My concern over the current situation along the East Coast of South America compels me to share with the people of our country facts which in the course of time will compelall of us to adjust ourselves to a new perspective of our southern neighbors.

While the existing situation in each country is complex and different, I believe these facts are generally applicable and must be taken into consideration by public opinion at home:

1. We must recognize as a nation that we have a southern flank, as well as one in the Orient and in the North Atlantic

2. We must recognize the possibility that this flank may become a southern military and naval front.

3. We must recognize that no single American republic and no group is prepared without our aid to defend itself against a "blitz" attack by Axis forces if they should succeed in getting through the lines of our present defenses in the East and West.

In simple terms these propositions mean that public opinion in our country must be on the alert. Not only our fate but that of all American republics is involved in world events and will, in a large measure, be determined by our policies and activities in Latin America.

I regret to report that some of the things we have been doing in recent months have not been in keeping with the traditional character, dignity, and stature of our nation. We have been sending too many cultural missionaries from Hollywood, who have been creating the impression in LatinAmerica that we are engaged in a movie-war. We have promised to deliver machinery and supplies, and we have not kept our promises. For years many of those countries have been dependent upon our shipping, and the submarine warfare along the Atlantic seaboard has paralyzed commerce along both the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts of South America. We have been conducting an extensive propaganda campaign, and our propaganda claims have not equaled our performances.

To be specific, Orson Welles, the actor, succeeded Sumner Welles, the statesman, as our spokesman in Brazil after the Rio conference of foreign ministers. For the solemnity of solidarity, we substituted the theme song of war in the Hollywood manner, when Singapore was falling.

We promised Brazil construction machinery for the building of air and naval bases, and we did not deliver the machinery. We called these our bases, when they were on Brazilian soil and were built by Brazilian labor. They belong to Brazil, and their use by us depends upon friendship, not upon force.

In light of some of the things we have been doing and saying, it is surprising that even today the peoples and governments of South America are friendly toward us. Their friendship is not only due to the traditional character of our diplomacy, but to the far-sighted and inexhaustible devotion to duty and to the faith and courage of our career diplomats. Men like Ambassadors Armour, Messersmith, Caffrey, Dawson, Bowers, Norweb and Braden have been the unrecognized MacArthurs on our friendship front in Latin America. Some of their gravest problems have been with our untrained, fly-by-night missions, not with the statesmen of the countries to which they are accredited.

Our southern flank today is being guarded by friends who, in spite of military and naval unpreparedness for modern war, are eager to remain friendly. Since my return I have been shocked by statements here at home that Argentina is pro-Axis. This is not true. Argentina is pro-Argentine, even if diplomatic relations have not been broken with our enemies. The recent arrests of Nazi and Japanese agents in Brazil does not mean that Brazil is dominated by the Axis. Brazil is pro-Brazilian. Both of these great nations are our friends, and they will remain friendly if we fulfill our role of friendship toward them. Some of our fellow countrymen,

who say that we must do nothing to aid until those countries declare war, are as ignorant of the realities of Latin America as they are blind to the limitations on our own resources and capacity to produce and deliver. Latin American countries need priorities and shipping which are not only essential to their defense, but to the functioning of their economic life in war time.

It is high time for us to be realists and welcome and reward friendship.

Argentina today is supplying vast quantities of meat to both Great Britain and the Soviet Republics as well as to the U. S. Navy. Argentine farmers are almost doubling their production of sun flower seed to provide thousands of tons of edible oils essential to the fighting forces during a Russian winter.

From Brazil we need manganese, rubber, quartz and other minerals and products which we cannot obtain anywhere else. Without Brazilian quartz we cannot manufacture a single submarine detector.

To be realists we should cease immediately the exportation of cultural missionaries from Hollywood. As valuable as the movies are to us and to Latin America, actors do not belong in the role of diplomats.

To be realists we must not expect our Good Neighbors to turn our southern flank into a southern front until and unless we are prepared to aid them with colossal quantities of war materials, until we are prepared to deliver those materials and the other essential commodities these nations need to sustain a war economy.

To be realists we must enlarge our friendships and leave the conduct of our foreign affairs exclusively in charge of the Department of State.

Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil are our friends today. Let us keep their friendship by performances. If we do, we shall not need to export propaganda which at best is no more than a substitute for the Nazi and Fascist exploitation which has been suppressed. Latin America does not need and does not want more propaganda, does not need or desire more cultural missions. Latin America needs and should have our economic aid and cooperation. By this means we shall not only safeguard our southern flank, but we shall build the foundation for the future peace, prosperity and solidarity of the Western Hemisphere.