Some Wrong Roads to Peace


By NORMAN THOMAS, Chairman, Executive Committee, Post War World Council

Delivered over Columbia Network, July 22, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 720-722.

THE radio carries thrilling news. More than once today you have snatched a few minutes to listen to the story of gallant deeds, perhaps of your sons and brothers, anyway of your fellow Americans, who press towards victory on land and sea and in the air, from the cold and fog of the Aleutians to the jungles of the South Seas; from Sicily to the convoy route to Murmansk. Victory is sweet and the tale of heroic deeds brings its own moments of exaltation. Yes, the radio brings thrilling news.

The radio brings terrible news. Victories are not won without sorrow and anguish. The finest of our young men must perforce be messengers of death and destruction, not merely to the enemy in arms, but to women and children. However carefully they may make military objectives their targets, they cannot altogether spare great cities and the noblest monuments in which men have written the record of their civilization.

Victory is sweet, but victory of itself is no compensation for those who mourn their husbands, sons and brothers. Victory alone is not worth the price of that last full measure of devotion which heroes, known and unknown, pay to win it. Victory—but for what?

Let the radio help me answer in terms not of the war but of the kind of peace, hope of which alone is compensation for the suffering and sorrow of those to whom glory is a poor return for the tragedy it costs. Men differ about many things. One thing more than all else unites us, Americans, British, Russians, Chinese, men of all the United Nations, yet, I think even of the enemy countries, and that is the hope that never again shall total war engulf the earth, that the little children who laugh and play about their mothers' knees shall never have to face what their fathers and older brothers are so heroically enduring tonight while I speak and you quietly listen. That means that we must seek nota peace, but a good peace, an intelligent peace, a peace that will last because it will deserve to last.

It is a sign of hope that the quest for the right kind of peace has enlisted so much thought and energy, Many are the roads which different guides tell us will lead to peace. I do not deny the sincerity or good faith of these guides when I say that some of the roads they urge upon us lead not to peace but to new and worse wars than our generation has known.

Tonight I want to describe some of the roads which I think lead away from peace and tell you briefly why. The first road to avoid is the road of vengeance against whole peoples. There is, indeed, a case for bringing before tribunals of justice the men particularly responsible in this war for cruelty exceeding even the bounds of war. There is no case that can stand the test of reason or of ethics for the kind of vengeance now preached against the German and the Japanese peoples. In a real sense they are the victims of their own warlords, and are paying with their own blood for accepting their rule. I do not hold them altogether guiltless, but if complete innocence is to be required for peace, who shall stand? Let us Americans reflect on three centuries of broken treaties with the Indians, on two and a half centuries of the bestial slave trade in human flesh and blood, on our continuing racial discrimination and our shameful race riots. If God or our fellow human beings should apply to us the judgments we are urged to visit upon enemy peoples, how grave would be our fate! There is no hope of peace except in a comradeship of forgiveness and nobler effort by the peoples of the earth.

Before you rush to impose an indefinite rule of Americans or of the United Nations upon the Italian and the German peoples,—out of desire one way or another to do them good, stop and consider its great cost to us and the paucityof its rewards—except in hate. Consider, moreover, the history of the failure of Northern rule over the South in reconstruction days, and turn as from a plague from this notion of the indefinite rule of conquered peoples by American gauleiters, policemen and school teachers. Oppose with all your might any business of setting up on the European continent new Darlans, the first princelings or generals who may come over to our side. It will take time for the popular and democratic forces in most of Europe to reassert themselves after their long suppression. It is not our business to deny to Europeans that time, or to crush constructive social revolution in the name of order. Europe's sickness goes too deep to be cured by the removal of one man, a Mussolini or even a Hitler. I think that Roosevelt's and Churchill's solemn summons to the Italian people to surrender might have been more effective had it not assumed that one man, Mussolini, far more than fascism, was responsible for Italy's woes, and if it had held out a more definite hope for the Italian people, redeemed from the fascist yoke, as partners in a brave new world.

Perhaps the greatest single danger to peace is that the victors will fall back on the ancient and discredited method of imperialism for reorganizing the world. Not all imperialisms are equally cruel. Not all measles are equally severe. But just as an efficient health department tries to get rid of all measles, not merely severe measles, so must we try to rid the world of all imperialism. Churchill pointed the road, not to peace but to war, when he had no answer for the problems of Southeastern Asia other than his famous declaration "We mean to hold our own." He was not talking about the white cliffs of Dover or the blue waters of Loch Lomond but of lands never England's own, save by right of conquest, never accepted by the conquered peoples. Many of those lands have been lost and cannot be recovered by England's might alone. It is time for us to say plainly that our boys shall not die to restore the British Empire in Burma and Malaya nor shall they die to become partners in it or to establish our own. The peoples of Asia redeemed from the Japanese warlords must work out their own destiny in cooperation with the Western world and not in subjection to it. The dogma of white supremacy in the world and in our own America is doomed. There are not enough of us white folks to perpetuate it. The effort leads straight to new and tragic wars.

A great many of our guides to peace want us to by-pass these problems and accept for our salvation the slogan "Peace through the police". That is the real meaning of the simple formula "collective security through armed force against an aggressor." It is the real meaning of the Ball Resolution pledging the United States to continuing post-war alliance with our present Allies without stating the ends which that alliance should serve. It is, I think, the essence of Walter Lippmann's much praised plan for a "nuclear alliance" of the United States, Great Britain, and the USSR. To be sure, Mr. Lippmann recognizes that, to endure, that alliance must add other nations to its ranks and guarantee to all a world order of justice. His failure to analyze the nature of that order inevitably makes the emphasis fall on police power, which is the point greatly and almost exclusively stressed by Sir Norman Angell and the Freedom House Declaration and many another guide to peace.

The proposal is attractive because it sounds simple. It does not seem to require too much, only a vague, undefined, pooling of force to restrain the aggressor. Not many weeks ago at one of our great radio forums, four able men argued hotly the merits of America's joining an international police force without ever thinking it necessary to define the natureand composition of that force, how it should be controlled, and whose law it should enforce. Surely there is a vast difference between (1) an international police force which is only a pool of the national forces of an alliance and (2) an international force which is in addition to national armies, and (3) a force which might be a substitute for national armies and the whole burden of universal military conscription. It is dangerous nonsense either to advocate or oppose an international police force without more precise definition of terms.

Even more dangerous is the fallacy that peace anywhere is solely or even primarily a matter of police force. When men say that our communities are held together by law and that there ought to be law to hold together the community of nations, instead of the present anarchy of supposedly sovereign states, they are asserting a great truth. But law is a bigger concept than police, and law itself may provoke rebellion rather than preserving the peace unless in its nature and its administration men see some approximation to justice. Unless the law provides ways for its own amendment in a world of change, the best laws, treaties and agreements may in time become like strait-jackets, or an invitation to violence, rather than a prevention of it.

But, I repeat, this formula of peace through police power is even narrower than the inadequate formula-peace through law. As a matter of fact, the internal peace of a community, from the smallest village to the mightiest nation, depends far less on organized coercion than on organized cooperation to get things done in the common interest. The symbol of domestic peace is not a policeman's club. Our own Federal Union would not have got far simply as a league of states to coerce an aggressor. Its success has been in proportion to its zeal and intelligence in carrying out the purposes of the preamble of the Constitution in the promotion of the general welfare.

So it will be with the success of any organized form of cooperation among the peoples of the earth. It will be valued precisely in the measure in which it reduces the terrible pressure of armament economics and universal military conscription upon the backs and consciences of men. I agree that the brightest hope of peace is to be found in an intelligent cooperation between nations. I think that the best expression of that cooperation will be through regional federations, for example in Europe, and a world federation. That world federation must be something more than a league for collective security through police power, and something very much less than a centralized world state, if it is to be a blessing and not a curse. It cannot be a close copy of our federal union with any such concentration of power in any world capital as is now concentrated in Washington. Any federation that succeeds must be a federation of free peoples and it must not interfere with the struggles of the people of any nation in working out their problems. Its sole concern should be with those world-wide economic and political adjustments which will make it steadily more possible to remove the causes of war and to deal with disputes before they reach the stage of war. At some other time I hope to develop more fully these positive features of world cooperation.

Tonight I am concerned to make my warning clear. There has been no successful example of peace through alliances with primary emphasis on the economic and military coercion of the alleged evil doer from the days of leagues of the Greek city states down to the League of Nations. We serve neither our own interests nor the world's by a blind promise of indefinite cooperation with the British Empire of Winston Churchill or Stalin's Russia. Equally it would be the partof folly, not wisdom, for them to promise an indissoluble alliance with our America regardless of the terms of that alliance, its purposes or its attitude towards the rest of the world. Before we commit our sons to any sort of arrangements for policing the world, let us at least know what sort of laws they are to enforce and for what purpose as well at in what company. As I speak, brave men are giving their lives in the far

corners of the earth in order that back home children whom they have never seen may spend their lives not in war but in the conquest of poverty and the establishment of a glorious peace. They are giving the greatest gift, even life itself, and they are giving it in vain unless we the living shall now resolve to seek with steadfast devotion those arrangements which at last will make out of the chaos of warring nations a world-wide federation of free men.