Nationalism in Europe


By HERBERT PELL, Former American Minister to Portugal and Hungary

Delivered at the New York University Pan-European Conference, New York City, March 25, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 470-471.

WE must face the issue. We cannot evade responsibility. If we are to have civilization, peace, comfort and security in the United States, there must be order and a reasonably satisfactory life in Europe.

Discontent, poverty and fear in other countries will inevitably, in the long run, constitute a menace to our own security. Twice, to our tremendous cost, we have disregarded this obvious fact.

We may regard other countries as necessary supports to our common civilization, or as possible dangers to our peace and comfort, but in neither case can we disregard them. We have tried that and it has failed. If you had a mosquito swamp next to your house, you would fill it or cover it with oil. An intelligent man would not just sit back and allow himself to be bitten every time the wind blew from that direction, saying that he did not think much of mosquitoes, which would not trouble him if only they would mind their own business and fly the other way.

No matter what attitude a foreseeing American takes toward foreign countries, he must see in them either a possible danger or a possible aid. He will feel that he will gain by a peaceful civilization in Europe, or he will see a loss in European struggles. He should see both. We cannot hide in a hole unless that hole be our grave.

I do not feel, however, that there is any necessity before this audience, or before any group of average Americans, to labor this point. Any person who has seen two terrible wars forced on this country by foreign struggles, in which he was not primarily interested, must appreciate how necessary world order is to the development and maintenance of a satisfactory civilization in the United States.

This country was developed rapidly by an extremely mobile population. The present Governor of New York was born in the Middle West. A few years ago there were six or eight United States Senators born in New York, and at the same tune neither Senator from New York was born in the state. The present Mayor of New York was born in the West. I have often found myself, in important gatherings in New York, the only person who first saw the light of day in this city. This extreme mobility of our population, and the complete lack of economic barriers, explains the unity of the American people and also our ability to absorb citizens of foreign birth.

The history of Europe has been very different. It was the conditions of the XIX Century that practically entirely shaped our civilization. In Europe, the XIX Century was built on immensely earlier foundations.

The different parts of Europe are divided by ancient traditions, by languages—each has a long history of which it is proud. It would be a far more difficult thing for a Frenchman to settle in England than it would be for a New Yorker to go to California. It would be almost inconceivable for a Dutchman to take a prominent part in Italian politics. There are Englishmen settled all over the Continent of Europe, but they always remain foreigners, as did the large American colony in Paris. When I was United States Minister in Portugal I was in contact with a group of British, many of whom represented families who had been in businessin Portugal for generations, and although they took an interest in Portuguese affairs they never considered themselves as Portuguese citizens, and always kept pretty much together.

It would be impossible to ask the people of Europe to become in one generation or two as homogeneous as are the people of the United States, and there is no reason to think that such a result would on balance be extraordinarily desirable.

This is very difficult for an American to understand. In this country we see Hungarians and Roumanians, Italians and Czechs, French and English working side by side in the same factories, cooperating in peace. Our own regional distinctions, which were never as great as those of Europe, have, in all important phases, been practically ironed out.

Nationalism in Europe, like most things in this world, has its good as well as its bad side. I can see no reason why the good should not be preserved and the bad restricted and suppressed. It is an unfortunate thing that in the past, during the growth of popular nationalism, which is almost entirely a XIX Century creation, it has been the bad side which has been developed. Nationalism, as I said, is a new thing. We cannot forget that the great Conde, the first Prince of the Blood in France, fought in the Spanish Army against his cousin Louis XIV. In the war of the Spanish Succession the General of the British Army was a Frenchman, and the Army of France was commanded by the Duke of Berwick, a son of the King of England. From Marshal Keith down there were thousands of Britishers fighting in foreign armies during the XVIII Century. There were always Frenchmen in the armies against Napoleon. None of these men were looked on as traitors by their associates, or even by their countrymen against whom they were fighting.

Nationalism is, to a great extent, a XIX Century development and, unfortunately, nationalism, as generally known in Europe, tried to strengthen itself by the development of military power and economic resources directed against other nations and peoples. It has made very little attempt to preserve local customs and cultures. Universities all over Europe tried to follow the example set by the great German institutions of learning. The leaders trying to make a great power out of the discordant states of Italy, or of Germany, or to develop local patriotism in the various Balkan states, or to keep aflame the Polish and Hungarian desire for independence, all tried to dress according to London styles and to array their wives in the latest fashion from Paris. They built their houses and furnished them in imitation of other Countries. Local art, music and customs were left to the peasantry, and became a mark of a lower and less cultivated class.

Nationalism, the maintenance of social structures, customs and cultures indigenous to the soil, should be preserved and expanded. We do not want to produce a homogeneous Europe. Economic union—that is to say, the abolition of economic frontiers and a judicial organization able to decide international questions and able to enforce its decisions, would in no way prevent the maintenance of the best side of nationalism in Europe. In fact, it would probably develop it. The countries of Europe freed from the fear of each other would rapidly strengthen their individual cultures, and their ambitions would take a new and better direction.

All of this should be looked on by the United States, not only with equanimity but with approval. With Europe living in peaceful, healthy abundance the United States would be more secure and in every way better off.

Although culturally divided Europe must be an economic unit. Anything which works for the effective well being of Europe, cannot fail in the long run to reflect good on the United States and on all the world. Each particular benefit to a European individual, making him more comfortably happier or more secure, will not be immediately and visible reflected on the life of every American, but it will nevertheless have a far reaching influence. If a Norwegian fisherman makes a good catch, he may buy a new boat, and the boat builder buy some glass from Prague; the glass blower will buy his wife a dress of Italian silk; the Italian silk weaver may buy an American cash register. Eventually the gain of the Norwegian fisherman will spread itself all over the entire world.

The enormous economies in Europe which will be translated into greater leisure for the advancement of civilization new comforts and luxuries for ail, will manifestly be of advantage to every country in the world. We in the United States would be freed from the repeated dangers of great wars, our business would profit by great demands for exports, our lives be made more pleasant by the fruits of invention and of research.

We can hardly imagine the enormous advance of civilization that will be made possible by an orderly social structure in Europe. For a century the first consideration—the prime necessity—of every government in Europe has beer military security. Every other activity was ancillary to thedevelopment of armed strength. The education of every young man was interrupted, and in most cases stopped, by military service. Fear was the basis of international relations. The tax payer was burdened, huge industries and millions of men were occupied in creating the engines of destruction.

It is almost beyond our conception to consider what would be the result of a Europe freed from fear, able to employ its labor and intelligence for the advancement of humanity, rather than for its destruction. It is manifest that such a condition would be advantageous to the United States. We have profited enormously in the past from the inventions and discoveries of Europe, and as these discoveries and inventions increase we, along with all humanity, will profit more.

We are an adaptable people, ready to accept new ideas, new methods, no matter what their source. The automobile was developed in Germany and France, but there are more cars in the United States than in any other country in the world. The telephone was invented by a Canadian. The radio was developed by an Italian from German and English discoveries. The telephone and radio are more used in the United States than in all the rest of the world put together. There is no reason to think that any development of the arts of peace in Europe will be any possible danger to this country. There is no export duty on ideas. We do not have to send to Europe for our X-ray apparatus, nor do Europeans have to come here for the benefit of anaesthesia What helps one helps all. Peace, order and justice in any part of the world must add something to the happiness of all mankind. No sensible American can possibly fear the influence of Europe united to advance civilization, and even the stupidest must appreciate the menace of a Europe divided and dedicated to its own destruction.