The Long Road Ahead
GHOSTS OF OUR GENERATION
By RAYMOND MOLEY, Professor of Public Law, Columbia University
Delivered at the Annual Commencement of Baldwin-Wallace College, Berea, Ohio, May 31, 1943
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 567-570.
TIME was, before the giant events of 1914 lashed at the pillars of civilization, when an occasion like this was an opportunity to offer pious advice to the youth f the graduating class. Those who were the recipients of that advice listened with moderate attention and then moved on to the work of the world. For a brief while in the sweep of history, the generation of which most of us are members was the custodian of our civilization. There were given into our hands a precious tradition and a superlatively rich country. Now, as the long shadows fall on our years, we cannot be sure even that we shall be able to pass on that heritage to our sons. We have not done so well. America has seen two wars, closer together than any two wars in our former history, during our trusteeship. We staged the most godless and the most insane boom of all time, The most profound depression mars our record. Our generation, which inherited more wealth than any other, has spent more, wasted more, destroyed more, endangered more lives and told more falsehoods than any other which Americans can recall. No, we have not done so well. We shall leave to the next generation a poorer, sadder nation.
In light of our record, we would be crowning our blundering with the dunce cap of fatuous impertinence if we should piously offer you advice. Class of 1943, I shall spare you that affront. We all have too vital a sense of humor for me to attempt to give you, or for that matter, for you to listen to solemn injunctions about what to do with the wreckage we leave you. If we have any parting word for you, it can only be not to follow in our footsteps. Look further back in history for your inspiration! Give us leave to shuffle on for our little span and to reckon with our God for our cosmic failures. For "we have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us."
So let me modify the honored custom of a salutation to the graduating class. Let me turn from the class to the parents, the teachers and the well-wishers. To the men and women not of the graduating class:
These young men and women, who have measured their short years since we foolishly thought we saw the dawn in 1919, are in no mere rhetorical or sentimental sense the masters of the civilization which lies beyond this war. The future is theirs, just as the past was ours. They are our masters; we are not theirs. They will judge us; we shall not judge them. Nor will their judgments be kindly, if their foundation is truth. They will be unlikely to accept our, faltering recollections as established wisdom. They will deal harshly with our ersatz progress. Unlike us, they will waste no time finding substitutes for solutions. Their strong young minds will demand solutions.
Unfortunately, we have created not solutions, but problems. Our generation has designed a form of warfare most cunningly calculated to destroy the intelligent, the adventurous and the physically sound. With hideous efficiency, modern warfare places the fittest in the greatest danger. We have improved upon the devil's work, for the devil took the hindmost: modern warfare takes the foremost. Every nation must ultimately reckon with the grievous loss of those whoare the most perfect of its youth. Never, as Mr. Churchill said, have we owed so much to so few. Civilization has always depended upon these few, and it will be the poorer because they have had to give their blood for victory. Thus we have squandered not only the present, but the future.
We have fashioned a so-called new economics, which consists of the simple process of making the future pay for the past. We have reversed the order of thrift. Time was when we left our savings to our children. Now, as a nation, we leave them our debts. And we call that progress! Do not imagine for a moment that our children's bitter laughter will not punctuate that idiotic delusion.
But on us, who are not of this graduating class, there rests, perforce, despite our failures, solemn obligation. With such powers as we possess and such intelligence as we can muster, we must still guard the forms of freedom we have inherited. The boys in uniform have their hands full now. Their job is to determine whether we shall have a country at all. Our job is to preserve for them, while they are away, the kind of country in which we want them to begin their life's work. That is the last thing our generation can do. Let us conclude this spotty drama of ours with a sequence that will lift it from utter futility. Let it not be said that we inherited a free government and altogether dissipated our inheritance for the graven images of expediency. Let us, for our children's sake, preserve these things at home: individual opportunity; freedom of mind and spirit; national independence; and an inviolate republic.
I do not fear that we shall fail in good will, for ours is a generous people. Nor do we lack leaders with warm and humane impulses. We know what the dictates of humanity require of us: that we must stop the horror of war and that, at home, willing hands must not rot in idleness. Americans do care about these things—care profoundly.
Nor are the tragic events of these war times lacking in the power to multiply men's emotions. Never before have so many been called to service in the armed forces. Never before have so many parents, brothers, sisters and friends felt the anxiety of a personal stake in great and unpredictable events. May God grant that the totality of sacrifice in this war will not surpass any other. But that, too, may be exacted of us. We shall, as the months and years unfold, be moved ever more poignantly to the prayer that we may never suffer this again. There will be no faltering in our love for those who give so much, no failure in our wish that this may not happen again.
But, as Santayana tells us, "Love is very penetrating, but it penetrates to possibilities rather than facts." It is not enough to know that wrong exists, nor is it enough to have the mere will to correct it. A desire to destroy ugliness and abuse may stimulate our faith in economic and social miracles, but it does not forthwith achieve order, justice and security. There must be clear thinking as well as good will. Twenty-five years ago the powerful urge to prevent war Quickened the spirits of men. We failed, not because we did not care, but because we discovered no way to harness our emotions to a workable means of ordering the world. To blind our eyes and cloud our minds with mere emotion willsimply be to pave the way for another bitter disillusionment. We must take thought of the future—clear, rational thought—before it is too late. Let us look realistically at foreign policy for a moment. Versailles built the illusion, not the reality of international stability. Fourteen points of earnest idealism constituted the agenda of that conference. But there were fourteen other points which emerged—fourteen ghostly points of failure, which I shall try to recite as briefly as I can.
We hear most about two of those points, but they are not enough to explain what happened. Those two first points are:
1. That we, in America, turned away from Europe when the war was over. So we did. But that was not the sole reason for the failure of the peace.
2. That because our leaders' personal honor, pride and prestige became involved in the debate, the true issues were swallowed up by politics. That, too, is true.
But let us now consider the twelve additional points of failure.
3. The structure of peace was imperfect. Between Russia and Germany we created a cordon of little states—democracies if you will—and based their support upon France alone, a state far too weak to support so distant and rickety a structure. The peace of Versailles resembled nothing so much as an attempt to anchor a bridge on one side of a stream. Russia, the normal and logical eastern end of the bridge, was rejected.
4. We mistook the economic strangulation of a nation for the just punishment of the guilty. Kill the malefactor, if you will! Chain him! But remember that if you starve him, you simply lend him the strength of desperation.
5. Our pitiful political and economic thinking, which assumed that money is essential to life, mistook economic sanctions for force. Hitler and Japan built a war machine without money.
6. Ignoring the lessons of history and common sense, we overlooked the fact that the sources of a nation's physical strength are its natural resources. We put little Czechoslovakia on guard, and ignored the continental power of Russia. In the East, we ignored the continental power of China, and put our faith in a few forts on Manila Bay.
7. We indulged in the false hope that nationalism was passing out of the world in 1918. We know now that nationalism is a living force, and will be for many generations to come.;
8. We failed to realize the lack of reality in political thinking, which deals in impressions—in seeming, not being.
9. We put our faith in phrases, in rhetoric, in words.
10. We set up law before the fact, when all human experience should have shown us that law, to be effective, must follow the fact. The League of Nations was a lawyer's dream. "Woe unto you, lawyers, for ye have taken away the key of knowledge."
11. Nor was our academic thinking without sin. Our learned works on international affairs built a tower of pretentious knowledge upon a conception of the world which belonged to the past. Science, chemistry and industry transformed the very vitals of nations, while our books dealt with the skeletons of things past.
12. In our country we talked about international cooperation, while we were shaping economic policies that ran completely counter to what we called our international policies. Even now, our State Department talks of increasing foreign trade, while our labor boards lift the price of labor so high that we cannot compete in the markets of the world. We cannot have inflation at home and a healthy trade abroad.
13. We failed to prepare militarily, and we did not equip ourselves diplomatically. Intelligence in the conduct of foreign affairs is scarcely assured when ambassadors are measured in terms of their campaign contributions
14. Finally, we failed—and, I regret to say, continue to fail—to appraise accurately our relative interest in various parts of the world. Our interests in Europe are one thing; in Asia, they are another; and in Pan America, still another. We failed utterly to view these interests in proper relation to one another.
These, in brief, are fourteen points of failure. They are the ghosts of Christmases past. We must do better than that for the children who are fighting for us.
Perhaps the greatest weakness of the last peace was the nature of its guarantors. The big five were the United States, Great Britain, France, Japan and Italy. After the victory which ends this war, two of these states will be shattered. A third, France, will need help for a generation to achieve even the secondary rank to which nature had condemned it before this war rubbed out its power.
From the standpoint of effective and potential influence, four great powers will emerge from this war. These are the United States, the British Commonwealth, Russia and China. For better or for worse, the future stability of the world will depend upon their capacity to work with each other and to plan the future intelligently. Three of these powers are unique, in that they stretch over a major continental area, are possessed of vast agricultural and mineral resources and are, to all intents and purposes, capable of supporting a huge population without aid from the outside. Actually or potentially, they are the greatest integrated, unitary powers of the world, each with an immense population which, in general, speaks a common language and enjoys a common heritage. It is extremely important to note that these nations are not likely to be predatory. Their interest lies in an opportunity to live their lives and solve their problems without war. The British Commonwealth has its place for a special reason related to its history, its resources and its relation to us.
If, as seems inevitable, the peace of the postwar world will depend upon the collective will of the big four of the United Nations, let us consider certain conditions of that stability.
Most important of these conditions is a recognition of the vast regional differences which exist in the world and a determination, in advance, of our proper American interest in each region. The vital interests of the world center in three great regions and, possibly, a number of smaller ones. From our standpoint, the first is Pan-America, the second is Eastern Asia and the Western Pacific, and the Third comprises Europe, Western Asia and Africa. Our concern with the first is immediate, vital and predominant. In the Western Pacific and East Asia, we have, in common with two or three other major powers, an active interest. In Europe, Asia Minor and Africa, our concern is sympathetic, but secondary. In each of these spheres, our influence should be lent only in line with our interests. What is more, we shall be well advised if we undertake only what we can effectively do. When a man's reach exceeds his grasp, he's more than likely to burn his fingers.
Some of us assume that a single over-all league can solve the problems of the world, providing only that we enter such a league. In sharp contrast is the realism of the present British government, so clearly expressed by Mr. Churchill in March. In that memorable speech he spoke of a council for Europe and a council for Asia. We may infer from what he said, as well as from what he did not say, that whateverhappens, Great Britain and Russia feel that the critical responsibility for keeping order in Europe is theirs.
They are perfectly right in taking that position, first, because they can have no assurance of ultimate American collaboration in settling the problems of Europe and, second, because that job can best be done, in any event, by Great Britain and Russia. We should assent to their sharing that responsibility between themselves with sympathetic and helpful aid from the United States. Our primary responsibilities are in this hemisphere and in the Western Pacific. This division of responsibility follows the dictates of nature, of convenience and of immediacy of interest.
Let us hold fast to the fact that after victory, stability must depend upon the effective power and intelligence of the big four. These, being continental and intercontinental, can, by cooperation, reach all the great natural regions where lie most of the world's resources. We may well recognize that the political structure of peace cannot be drawn now. But a few simple propositions can be ventured in the hope that, out of discussion, an enlightened public opinion may be built for practicable international cooperaton.
First, the function of any world political organization that is created should, for the time being, be limited to a gradual development of international objectives by joint discussion, to the direction of temporary tasks growing out of the war, such as policing and disarming the enemy and distributing food to the hungry, and to the temporary government of those areas which will be left without authority or order.
Second, it should certainly provide a means for the continuous consideration of all matters of common concern to all nations and peoples.
Third, at the same time there should be created regional organizations, not necessarily subordinate to any world organization, consisting of the major powers with vital interest in each region.
In the region of Europe, Western Asia and Africa, the members should be Great Britain and Russia at first, and ultimately, all European, Eastern Asiatic and African nations. The United States should have a limited membership in such a regional organization.
In Pan-America, all nations of the Americas, including Canada, should form another such regional group.
In Eastern Asia, a third regional group should be created, with China, Great Britain, Russia and the United States as its first members, others being admitted as such memberships prove practicable.
These regional organizations or councils should assume very considerable authority within existing treaty obligations. They might well establish means of policing the permanent peace to follow the war, establish economic collaboration to further trade and access to raw materials and formulate rules and regulations governing transportation and communication within the region.
The future stability of the world depends upon a clear recognition of the three-fold distinction between those matters that are of world-wide concern, those matters that are properly regional and those that are the immediate responsibility of each nation. Those distinctions must be made with the greatest of caution. The approach to them is over slippery ground. Impatience may lose us all the fruits of victory. The establishment of regional organizations can well remove from any general world council concern with all those matters of specific application which brought the League of Nations to ruin. Methods of keeping the peace will vary from region to region. Economic arrangements will vary. Problems of subject and backward peoples will certainly differ in each region. Sufficient unity among theregions will be assured by the fact that, to some degree, each of the big four would have interests in more than one of theregions.
These rough suggestions have, it seems to me, one fundamental merit. They are based not upon fond hopes of what human nature might be, but upon the realities of an imperfect world. They are based upon the inexorable facts of human nature, geography and economics. They are, moreover, based upon a belief that the people of this country as, indeed, throughout the world, will have an overmastering desire for peace which will make some form of international collaboration both necessary and opportune. To meet this demand will take the best statesmanship of which the world is capable, for we must not dash the hopes of men again.
Our armed strength, after this war, coupled with our financial and industrial problems at home will be a double-edged temptation to launch into imperialism on a gigantic scale. There will be many who will say that the only way we can sustain our debt and meet our problem of unemployment will be to exploit to the limit our advantages in the weaker spots in the world. Imperialism has always been born of those two parents—debt and want at home and great military power abroad. So we are faced not with the alternatives of which some people speak—not with a choice between international collaboration or isolation—but with a choice between stark imperialism and a measured, intelligent participation in some such collaboration as I have suggested. We must find a way of participating in the creation of the world conditions which make for peace without, as George Washington said, "inter-weaving our destiny" with every conflict in Europe and Asia.
For we can fulfill our international obligations only as we preserve the integrity of our own nation. As I have seen the young in these past three years of trial, I have no fear that they will follow the fitful flares of twenty years ago. Everywhere among them I have found a more vital concern with the ideals and origins of America. We may well look back to those origins as we prepare once more to meet the future. For independence and freedom were born in days of trial like ours. Those, too, were times that tried men's souls.
In bitter cold and blinding snow, surrounded by an army that had melted away from thousands to hundreds—an army in full retreat after a dozen humiliating defeats—Tom Paine wrote these words on a drum head: "Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness alone that gives everything its value." That was written on the 23rd day of December, 1776, in the presence of a tall man named Washington, who was bowed with the agony of a faltering nation. That same day, according to Howard Fast's book, "The Unvanquished," the ever-faithful General Nathaniel Green came to Washington with bad news of further losses. After his report, Green asked for further orders. What, he asked, were they to do now? Washington answered, " 'Cross the Delaware, I think.' " 'And then, sir?' Green asked.
" 'When there is only one road, Nathaniel, you don't need maps .. . . we will go on retreating. We will fight them through the forest. Beyond the forest. . . . No one has ever been there. Perhaps we shall be the first, Nathaniel. . . .'
Those men left their signature for all time on that glorious retreat. . . . They left their trail of blood in the snow. Cornwallis . . . (needed) no hounds to follow; he remembered to his dying day how he knew where (the Americans) walked."
That agonized red trail was the road to a republic. It still is the eternal reminder of what this republic cost. We cannot bear our duty lightly. We must keep the integrity of our country as our shield and buckler in the world which emerges from this war.
In those days, a century and a half ago, clashing imperial designs threatened us on all sides. But, despite it all, we maintained our independence. We fought for our security. We knew then, and we should know now, that a nation
cannot buy security in this world. Our future depends upon ourselves. No one can or will guarantee that. Our diplomacy must have a clear head and open eyes. We must say what we mean and mean what we say. We must avoid government by trickery and pretense. We must build on realities.
Enlightened by freedom at home, backed by our incomparable basis of independence, let us face the critical years ahead. Failure in war or in peace is not an American tradition. At home and beyond the seas, "Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair: the rest is in the hands of God."