The Future International Structure
THE BEVERIDGE PLAN—A GENERAL NATIONAL MINIMUM
By LORD HALIFAX, British Ambassador to the United States
Delivered at a Dinner of the Rochester Chamber of Commerce, Rochester, New York, January 18, 1943
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 258-261.
JAM most grateful to you, Mr. Chairman, and to the members of the Chamber of Commerce, for the opportunity you have given me of being here tonight, and of spending a little time—far less than I would like to spend—in Rochester. We all know of your industrial record, and how much your city owes to the enterprise and munificence of public spirited citizens like George Eastman.
The name of your University, which I have been privileged to visit today, is rightly famous among the foundations which have so powerfully influenced the civic life of Rochester.
To visit you in time of peace would always be enjoyable; to visit you today, when so much of the energy of the city has been diverted to war effort, is an inspiration.
For nothing is more impressive than the way in which, right through this country, science, that has played so great a part in developing the American way of life, has been harnessed to the work of production for war. Nothing could be a greater encouragement to us of the United Nations. Nothing could bring more consternation to our enemies, especially in these days when the first hammer-blows of American war production are beginning to fall upon them. And what they have had in these last three months is only a foretaste of what they are going to have during 1943.
As day by day we follow the events of the war, it is not always easy to weigh the significance of what is happening. We are too close to the trees to see the wood. We may get an idea of the tactics, but we cannot always follow the strategy. For an understanding of that we have to wait, and the historian will know a good deal of which we can only guess. But now, when we are halfway through January 1943, we can piece together pretty well the broken fragments of Hitler's strategy in 1942.
We can see it as a quite simple design of victory, basedon the conquest of the Middle East through three converging movements.
In the north, the Russian Armies were to be pushed back across the Volga, the Caucasus was to be cut off and occupied, and an entry forced through the back door into the great oil-fields of the Caspian, Persia and Iraq. At the same time, Rommel was to break the British Eighth Army in Libya, capture Alexandria, the indispensable British Naval Base in the Mediterranean, and establish himself astride the Suez Canal. And while all this was happening, Japanese sea-power was to reach out across the Indian Ocean to meet the Germans coming down to the Persian Gulf and Suez. It was quite a good plan; and Hitler might fairly think that, if he could only bring it off, the whole of the Middle East would fall like a ripe plum into his hands.
But, unfortunately for him, it failed. Not one of its three essential conditions was fulfilled. Success in the northern plan required the fall of Stalingrad, that historic city, which is the key to the great highway of the Volga. By the capture of Stalingrad, Hitler hoped to cut the Russians off from their principal oil supplies, and I believe history will record that in December last quite a small band of men, as numbers run in this war, fighting desperately amid rubble and ruins, stood between Hitler and victory, in that vital part of his design. By the end of the year, Stalingrad was no longer in danger of capture; and its besiegers and the invaders of the Caucasus were themselves in serious danger of being surrounded while, beyond and behind them, victorious Russian armies were pressing on into the fertile lands of the Don and the Ukraine.
And then the Middle East. At first it must have seemed to Hitler that all was going well there.
The British Eighth Army, after a serious reverse, was driven back across the frontiers of Egypt, to within 60 milesof Alexandria. It halted and stood its ground between the sea and the Qattara Depression, on almost the last line of Egypt's defense, and there it broke Rommel's attack of August 31st. We know the rest of the story—how, on the night of October 23rd, the Eighth Army in its turn struck back; and with what result. At the turn of the year, it was not Rommel who was approaching Alexandria; it was Montgomery who was on the road to Tripoli.
There was another condition necessary to the success of Hitler's strategy. When his armies had forced their way south from Russia to the Persian Gulf, and Rommel had forced his way east to Suez, they were to meet the Japanese navy, coming west across the Indian Ocean. But the third party also, after a promising start, failed to keep his date; and his navy has been so roughly handled by the American Pacific Fleet that at present it is perhaps hardly likely to want fresh engagements.
So, if we look back on 1942, two facts stand out. The first is that Hitler's great strategic plan has slipped through his fingers and been smashed to pieces.
At the beginning of 1942, he was in a dilemma. He was short of men and short of oil; and while his military advisers were telling him he must shorten his line to save men, his economic advisers were telling him he must lengthen it so as to get oil. The generals were pulling him back and the magnet of oil was drawing him forward. So he gambled on oil and lost.
He extended his eastern front by 650 miles but, after all those months of fighting, he has not improbably used more oil than he has gained.
Meanwhile the drain on German manpower goes on; and the blockade, besides cutting off oil supplies, is using up more Germans by forcing them into synthetic production.
The second fact is that the Allied design of throwing a ring around Europe has now taken firm shape. The sea approaches are dominated by the Allied navies. On land, a great front line stretches from north Russia to Gibraltar, which we are consolidating and advancing. The Russian armies, day by day give the lie to Hitler's announcements of their annihilation; and in Africa the Allies are slowly closing in on Tripoli and Tunis.
We have no easy time ahead. We shall have to fight hard to clear the last of the Germans and Italians out of North Africa. We can still lose the war if for any reason we fail to keep our great sea lanes open against the operations of enemy submarines.
The expansion of the African front is making great demands upon our shipping and presents new opportunities of destruction which the enemy has not been slow to grasp. During 1943, while we are intensifying our own attacks on submarines both in the seas and in their construction yards, we shall need ships and more ships—all the ships which your yards and ours can build and as quickly as we can build them. At the same time, we shall all have to work hard to maintain the supply of aircraft, tanks and guns, and all the other equipment of war. For we have not merely to supply ourselves; we have also to help the armies of Russia and China.
If we do this, if, so far from relaxing, we increase our efforts, 1943 may well see the prelude to the victory that is coming.
And if that is so, without slacking off on our war effort, it is right that we should give serious thought to the peace that we will one day have to make.
As the President said the other day, "We must keep before our minds not only the evil things we fight against, but the good things we are fighting for." And those good things will not fall into our laps as easy prizes.
When the war is won, large parts of the world will be in want; some will be near starvation—and it will be no easy task to meet the needs by which we can even now foresee that we shall be faced. The problem of relief will demand sacrifices from us all. So complete has been the dislocation of the world's economy that there will be no quick return to normal life.
Some of the relief provided will have to take the form of immediate reconstruction of ruined industries. On every ground, it will be important to get the wheels of production going; and we may well have to send to other countries equipment that we need ourselves. That is not simply altruism. It is also common sense. It will be little use to clear the seas of submarines and reopen the trade routes, if at the end of it no one is able to buy what we want to sell.
There must also be a long-term policy of peace. In my country, there were once many people who believed in what they called "splendid isolation." They did not want to be involved in Europe. They did not want to be caught up in quarrels they did not understand about matters which they thought did not concern them. They saw Great Britain secured from Continental entanglement by a strip of water and an invincible navy. And that, they thought, was good enough.
But, as the years went by, the isolation, which had never been very splendid, became more and more precarious, and finally ceased to be isolation. In a world of shrinking distances, the narrow Channel became a ditch. In a world of aircraft, our navy could no longer alone guarantee us against invasion. The atlas still showed us to be on an island, but the affairs of Europe had become our affairs and, whether we liked it or not, we had to take a hand in them.
Economics have had as much to do with the change as the fact that men have learned to fly. Economic self-sufficiency has proved a mirage as great and as deceptive as political isolation. No autarky, however complete, no tariff wall however strong or high, can make one country independent of all others. We know now that we must not try to keep prosperity in national pigeon-holes; we cannot have a boom in one part of the world and a slump in another; any more, in the long run, than we can have war in Europe and peace in Africa, or war in Asia and peace in America.
All war in these times is total, in the sense that, once it has begun, no country in the world can be certain of not being drawn in. All peace is total, in the sense that no nation in future can afford to be indifferent to the condition of its neighbors.
The future international structure opens large questions. But of one thing I am sure. Whatever form it takes, it is bound in the last resort to rest upon the capacity and the willingness of the four great Powers—the United States, Soviet Russia, China and the British Commonwealth—to guarantee peace and order. We may none of us want this unenviable task but, unless we are prepared to shoulder it, we shall not rid the world of that insecurity which breeds war.
And unless we are prepared to shoulder it, we might as well say goodbye at once to any idea of men and women being able henceforth to live quietly in their homes. For, when law breakers are about, one policeman is worth a hundred good intentions.
Then there is the economic problem. We may take all military measures to secure the world against future aggressions of Germany and Japan. We may destroy their fleets and disband their armies. We may forbid them military aircraft and dismantle their munition plants. But we shall not build a peaceful world by a simple policy of prohibition. Weshall not do it merely by an international police force however important that may be.
During war, men are tempted to look back to the years of peace as though they were a Golden Age, and ask no more than to be allowed to return to them. That danger is not so great now as it has sometimes been. For we remember too well the frustrations of those late years of so-called peace. We remember the tragic load of unemployment, the malnutrition, the evil housing, the failure to make proper adjustments in supply and distribution so that some people had too much to sell and others too little with which to buy. We are not likely to forget that insecurity not only poisoned the life of nations, but also the lives of individuals. Unless we are ready to deal with both kinds of insecurity, we shall be likely to find that we have in fact dealt with neither.
It is right to be thinking about this problem today. It is right that we should resolve to prepare for peace better than we prepared for war. It is right to recognize the determination of all people, when the war is over, never again to fall back into the old insecurity.
Hitler, as we know, has recognized this determination; and has offered his own answer. We have learned by now what that answer is worth. It means the domination of the world by a "master race." It means an economic rearrangement to manipulate everything to the profit of these Herrenvolk. It means the suppression of freedom in all its forms—of worship, speech, and thought. It means the wholesale massacre of people who, for whatever reason, do not fit the scheme. And it means that those who are allowed to survive will be as secure as people are secure in a concentration camp.
The ideas of the United Nations are very different. We have our own compass in the Atlantic Charter and by it we shall set our course. In the Charter, you will remember, we pledged ourselves to a peace which would ensure, among other necessary conditions, that "all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want."
It would be folly to pretend that the task we have undertaken is not formidable; or that to translate our purpose into constructive policy will not make big demands upon us all. In the House of Commons recently, someone criticized the post-war reconstruction policy of the British Government as being all chapter headings. Well, there is a good deal to be said for knowing what a chapter is to be about before you start to write it. But one day it has to be written; and I think the importance of the Beveridge Report, recently published in my country, is that it does represent a serious attempt to write one of the vital chapters. Sir William Beveridge himself has modestly described it as "a basis for discussion." The Government may adopt it as it stands. Or it may amend it. Or it may prefer to tackle it in a different way. And whatever the Government may decide, Parliament, like your Congress, has the last word.
The plan has been called revolutionary, but if this is true, it is a revolution founded, like all British revolutions, on past experiences. It takes something with which the British have been familiar during the last 30 years—the principle of compulsory national insurance. It alters and extends it. It widens its scope and increases its benefits. It brings together into one comprehensive scheme a great number of existing social services. It applies these to all citizens irrespective of income. It adds new types of benefits, and, where the old benefits have appeared inadequate, it increases them. It extends, beyond benefit in sickness or unemployment and pensions in old age, to the provision of allowances for children.
Now all this is revolutionary in the sense that it goes beyond anything of the kind previously attempted in ourcountry or indeed in any other. But the underlying idea is something with which we are familiar enough, and in this sense the plan is revolutionary. The idea is one that has been tried and that has worked, on the whole, very well. Sir William Beveridge, with the assistance of technical experts, carried out an exhaustive survey of our existing social services, which he describes as being "on a scale not surpassed and hardly rivalled in any other country in the world." He then sets out his plan for their development.
The plan might be described as an attempt to establish a general national minimum. It does not profess to deal with unemployment, or bad housing, or disease, or defective education, four of the "giants"—to use Sir William Beveridge's word—who cast their ugly shadows over the democratic way of life. But it does profess to deal with the fifth giant, the giant of want.
It does attempt to ensure that when people are old or sick or in any sort of misfortune they shall not be allowed to fall by the wayside.
With that broad purpose everyone, of course, would agree; but we may expect argument about the actual proposals. If you make life too safe, it may be said, you will also make it soft, or that when you have secured people, as far as you can, against the results of illness, unemployment, and poverty in old age, you may find that you have done all this at the price of weakening the old qualities of thrift and self-reliance, which, once gone, are very hard to regain.
There is always, I suppose, something of that danger in social legislation. But the point can be over-emphasized, particularly by those who themselves have had no experience of insecurity. We should no more accept the necessity of preserving the fine spirit of effort and adventure as a justification of insecurity than we are prepared to accept the Nazi claim that it is a justification of war. There is no greater reason to suppose that social insurance will weaken a man's character than there is to suppose that automobile insurance encourages him to drive to the public danger.
I recall, indeed, these same fears when our first great National Insurance Act was passed in 1912. A whole generation has now grown up under it, and I do not think the record of this war has shown that generation to be soft. There is no question in the Beveridge Report of merely doling out sums of money or providing free services. It is an insurance scheme. The State would pay something, the employer something, and every citizen would also be required to contribute. The scheme carries obligations as well as benefits, and it leaves full scope for any man to raise himself by voluntary thrift to a level far above the assured national minimum.
One of the crucial elements in the scheme is of course finance. The additional contribution to be paid by the State will reach a formidable figure. And whether or not this will be held to be within the National means will depend upon the view taken as to the prospects of vigorous domestic activity and expansion in our world trade when the war is over. Acceptance of the financial implications would also, I fancy, have to assume the readiness of the taxpayer to carry over into peace part of the burden he has been bearing during the war. It is not for me to pronounce upon these large questions, but it is plain that unless, on close study, we can make certain broad assumptions of this kind, it is of little use to consider a bold social policy.
It may be asked how far such a project can be applied to other countries. No one supposes that something which suits one country, with one set of conditions, would necessarily fit another where the conditions are completely different. Here in the United States, you have your own politicalstructure and background; you have a much larger population, spread over a much larger area; you have a different tradition of social legislation and different ways of dealing with your troubles. And so what might be applicable to Great Britain might well be quite unsuited to the United States. At the same time, any plan for solving in one country the tremendous problem of want may be a contribution of value to all others.
As I said just now, it is only a plan; and if and when it is approved by Parliament, its range would still be limited. It does not touch the root problem of unemployment. It does not deal with the necessary conditions of economic restoration and recovery.
But the detailed examination of it, as this proceeds, will give some idea of the way in which thought in Great Britain is moving.
You may feel sure that you will see in the British people a readiness to forego old opinions and approach the problems of post-war reconstruction with an open mind.
Someone said the other day that the British would not be afraid of experiment, and that the only thing they would really fear would be an attempt to restore everything as it was before the war. From my knowledge of the North of England, I would say this was true enough, but I think that with this feeling will go another. Our people are notlikely to underrate the value of individual liberty, or to wish to see it replaced by some universal system of State management. They will, unless I am much mistaken, judge all proposals on their merits in the British way, without too much regard for logical systems or academic theory. They will be rather concerned to see whether this or that idea will help them to secure that equality of opportunity which they want to establish, and they will not be too much concerned with old party labels and positions. For above all, I think there is a desire in all quarters to hold on to the new spirit of unity which we have found through the tragedy of war.
And that surely is something we may hope to retain, not only in your country and mine, but between all the Nations who today are fighting for the things in which they believe. Our thoughts are constantly with the men, on all the far-flung fronts, who are daily giving their lives for these very things. We cannot talk of our debt to them, for the world has no currency in which we could pay.
But we shall break faith with them if, when the hour strikes, we show ourselves unready to face the issues of the peace with equal courage.
We shall be unworthy of them unless we can bring to the work of peace the same spirit of unity and service as inspired them through all the sacrifice of war.