A Local World
By ERIC A. JOHNSTON, President, Chamber of Commerce of the United States
Delivered at luncheon of the British Chamber of Commerce, London, August 18, 1943
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 8-11.
I COME from the extreme northwest of the United States, from the state of Washington, from the city of Spokane. Spokane is very remote from London. Or, to put it in a more American way, London is very remote from Spokane.
The first thing you have to remember in considering the United States in international affairs is the extraordinary localism on which the United States is built. We are a nation, yes; but we are a nation of ebullient localities and of regions which have a sort of patriotism of their own.
Some of my fellow-citizens of Spokane are not content to call their region a region. They call it an Empire. Its immense wheat fields, its magnificent orchards, its colossal mountains, its stupendous waterfalls, its gigantic forest, call forth from them all the adjectives of Hollywood. To them the Northwest is something more than a geographical area. And, indeed, the states of Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon would make in many parts of the world a quite considerable country.
All these merits of the Northwest, however, are matters of good-natured contempt and derision to the citizens of Fort Worth, Texas. Fort Worth is fifteen hundred air miles from New York. Its city motto is "Where the West Begins." Everything between New York and Fort Worth, according to Fort Worth, is mere East. Fort Worth, too, is an empire, the great empire of West Texas. Undoubtedly it was Fort Worth that produced the recent immortal Texan who before Pearl Harbor remarked:
"Well, if the United States goes into this war, Texas will go in, too."
This sentimental localism, which exists all over our country, is fortified by our economics and our policies. Many Americans, in addressing British audiences, stress the resemblances between the two countries. I think it wiser to begin by stressing the differences. Only through realizing those differences can we break through them and arrive at true terms of friendship.
Your financial system makes your country much more unit than ours is. Your great banks have branches all over Britain. Our ideal, emphatically exemplified in practice, is strong independent banks in all localities.
You have London newspapers widely read all over your country. Few Americans outside Washington, D. C., even regularly read a newspaper printed in our national capita Even our great New York newspapers have mass circulation only in the New York metropolitan area.
All your radio stations are owned and operated by one public agency, the British Broadcasting Corporation. Our radio stations are all privately owned and operated under hundreds of different independent local ownerships.
Your national government is a truly completely sovereign government. It can do anything. Ours cannot. It has only such powers as the people may have given it. The most striking clause in our national constitution is that all other powers continue to reside in the states or in the people.
It is a great error to describe the United States as sovereign union of sovereign states. In the United States it is the people alone who are sovereign. The people of each state give to their state government what powers they please. They retain the rest. The people of all the states togethergive to the national government such powers as they please. They retain the rest.
This practice and consciousness of popular sovereignity, of the power to give powers to government, of the power to deny powers to government, and of the power (above all) to withdraw powers from government, is the basic political psychological fact of America.
Add it to our sentimental localism and to our localized diffusion of banking power and of the power of the radio and of the press, and what do you get?
You get on American who acutely questions all centralized dominance in any field and who is forever conducting crusades to break down private monopolies and public bureaucracies alike. He does not believe in irrevocably surrendered powers either in government or in business. He regards all powers, whether political or economic, as subject to daily revision—by himself.
Now what that American is in America he will also be in international affairs. You do not change the spots of a leopard by putting him into a zoo. One of the most pernicious fallacies of a certain sort of world planner is that he thinks that if he can just put leopards and lions and antelopes and elephants into the same international cage they will cross-breed right off into an identical international animal.
They will not. For centuries many countries have tried to make you less British. We have even tried to do it by marrying into Britain. But what is the result? Right out of an inter-marriage with an American you today have the most British Prime Minister of your whole history. You do not lose your spots. Nor shall we. Let us put that truth down in the prologue of every attempted act of mutual collaboration between us.
I will now commend three American spots to your particular attention because they have a particular importance in international affairs. They are mostly implicit in the description I have already given you of the American's personal and institutional character.
The first is the average American's unshakeable conviction that out of many races he has made a new race. This means that we ought to put a dead stop to all palaver on either side of the ocean about how blood is thicker than water and about how Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in the English language.
We know that the Parliamentary legislation which drove the American colonists into revolt was also written in the English language. We know that Homer wrote the Iliad in the Greek language but that nevertheless the Athenians and the Spartans fought each other to the exhaustion of the Greek world. We know that till we Americans took to fighting wars against Germany we fought our principal foreign wars and overwhelmingly our principal diplomatic disputes against you. There is nothing more boring to the normal American than the canting hypocritical attitude of the abnormal American toward the realities of our historic relationships to Britain.
I will give you a telling incident. It has to do with my own region in the United States. It was then called the Oregon Territory. You claimed it because Sir Francis Drake, on one of his voyages, took a look at it. We claimed it because our Captain Gray once sailed into one of its rivers. You claimed it because the Hudson Bay Company caught a mink in it. We claimed it because our fur trader John Jacob Astor also caught a mink in it. At length you and we agreed to a joint occupation and a joint government of it. Now note!
We and you were at that time much more of the same breed than we are now; and we and you at that time, in vocabulary and in accent, spoke the same language muchmore than we do now. Yet we could not amicably operate that joint occupation and joint government of the Oregon Territory. It was a continuous failure and led only to additional friction.
Thereupon a gentleman from Tennessee, of the name of James K. Polk, ran for President on the proposition that he would drive the British out of the whole of the Oregon Territory by force of arms. The farthest northern limit of the Territory was fifty-four degrees and forty minutes. Mr. Polk's slogan was "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight." It pleased the American people more than anything out of Shakespeare. Mr. Polk was blazingly elected; and we might have had a good war with you, had not Mr. Polk gone and got himself almost immediately into a war with Mexico.
He then became rather timorous. He decided not to fight a war with Mexico and a war with the British Empire at the same time. He compromised with you on the Oregon Territory. We took what is now our states of Oregon and Washington. You took what is now British Columbia. And the incident illustrates two things.
One is that joint occupations and joint governments of geographical areas are, as we say in America, strictly the bunk. They cannot be operated even between you and us; and still less can they be operated with other peoples who are even more different.
The second thing illustrated is that quarrels can occur between peoples whose blood has the same thickness just as readily as between peoples whose bloods have different specific gravities. Now let me make myself absolutely transparently clear. I am among those Americans who want intimate friendship with Britain. I am among those Americans who want intimate and intense cooperation with Britain. I am among those Americans who believe that such a cooperation is the world's biggest hope for a fair future.
I am one of those Americans who feel that even by cooperating together we may not solve all of the problems of the world, but if we fail to cooperate, then none of these problems will be solved. But I want to base that cooperation not on fiction but on reality. What is that reality?
It is this:
You are pre-eminently a people trading in all continents and on all seas. Your over-seas outposts give you unparalleled facilities for maritime commerce. We front on both of the world's two great oceans; the Atlantic and the Pacific. We stand midway between the developed European continent and the undeveloped continent of Asia. Apart, you and we can turn into bitter rivals. Together, you and we, with our manufacturers and our exports and our investments, can be the world's mightiest force toward lifting all the world's regions toward a higher and higher level. I mean not only higher level of prosperity and of material welfare but of enlightenment and of truly human development and betterment.
In other words, and to sum this point up, we cannot, as I look at it, cooperate on the basis of racial sentimentality. We do not like racialism when we see it in the Germans, and we ought not to like it in ourselves. But we can cooperate, I believe, and we will cooperate, I predict, if we aim our cooperation at a world purpose and a good world purpose.
This war has taught America that the "ramparts we watch" no longer terminate at the water's edge; that a durable peace cannot rest on the shifting sands of an unsure foreign policy. It can only rest on the solid rock of a foreign policy that has the non-partisan support of all of our people.
But I come then to my second spot on the American leopard. The American, as I told you a few moments ago, is overwhelmingly opposed to private artificial monopolies. Herealized that such things as natural inevitable monopolies exist. An instance is telephone service. Nobody wants two telephone services in the same town. But where competition is natural and feasible, the American desires competition and vigorously strives to maintain it.
Virtually alone among the world's great nations, the United States has legislated emphatically and repeatedly against artificial monopoly and artificial trade practices. Our laws utterly forbid such domestic devices as the dividing of markets, the allocating of outputs, the fixing of prices by trade groups.
It follows that no American can intelligently and sincerely promise you any cooperation in any system of world-wide cartels. Our law is unsympathetic toward it; and our temperament is utterly hostile toward it. The average American would call it economic imperialism, and he is against it.
He similarly, and within the same bracket of thought, is against political imperialism. President Roosevelt's Good Neighbor policy toward Latin America is no mere personal whim of his. President Coolidge began the Good Neighbor policy by withdrawing our marines from Santo Domingo. They have been withdrawn also from Nicaragua and from Haiti. We have surrendered to Cuba our treaty right to intervene in Cuban affairs. We have pledged independence to the Filipinos on a definite date. We are in full retreat from the political imperialism into which we were plunged by the Spanish-American War and President McKinley. And there is no ambition whatsoever in the average American's breast to return to it. To him such a course would be political imperialism; and he is against it.
This means a certain thing and it does not mean a certain other thing. It does not mean that the average American wants in any way to tell you what to do with the British Empire. It is only a tiny minority of Americans that proffer you unsolicited advice on that point. Many an American reflects upon what Gibraltar and Malta have meant to our own navy and army in this war. He reflects upon the fact that if you had been only this island and if you had not also possessed stations of power and sources of supply in Africa and in Asia, the forces of liberty in this world would not be standing where they are standing now: on the threshold of victory.
On that threshold, we of America salute you of Britain for the magnificent fight that you made, standing all alone, during the darkest period of the war. We glory in the quiet, dogged and inspiring courage with which for many weary months you took it while you got ready to give it.
The average American was entertained and delighted even though he wasn't persuaded by your Prime Minister's emphatic declaration that he had not taken office to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire. The average American expects Mr. Churchill to be stubborn, as well as witty and eloquent; and the stubborner he is. the more the average American grins and applauds. Your Prime Minister is certainly one of the most popular British Prime Ministers that America has ever had.
Just the same, and in spite of Mr. Churchill's popularity among us, and in spite of the average American's entire willingness to let the British Empire be Mr. Churchill's own sole headache, our American anti-imperialism in the political field does mean exactly what our anti-imperialism in the economic field means. It means what I am now about to say to you after long deliberation as to whether I should say it or not. I have decided to say it.
Americans overwhelmingly have no inclination to try to revise your economic methods or your political methods in the international field. On the other hand they do not intend to revise theirs. They do not intend to practice or to
promote political dominance or economic dominance by people over people anywhere. They respect your conscience They also respect their own. They want to start with the situation as it is. Only our extreme and unrepresentative theorists in the United States want to start with a new heaven and a new earth. Americans overwhelmingly want to start with things as they are and then see what cooperation between Britons and Americans is possible. This can be accomplished without injury to conscience on either side and with benefit not only to both sides but to other people as well.
I think I can see a quite sure chance of cooperation of that kind in what I have chosen to call the third spot on our American national character, although it is really a coagulation of spots. I have spoken to you about Spokane and Fort Worth and about the intense interest of Americans in building up localities and regions. The normal American a natural boomer and booster. We sometimes have though in America that it would be a nice thing to toss ten California boosters and ten Texas boosters and ten Florid boosters into an amphitheatre and give the last man up the right to declare his state the greatest in the Union.
Now this boosting quality of the American can be turned into an international direction. In fact, it is already turning itself. In America today there is a great interest seeing what can be done to build up the earning power and thereupon the buying power of those regions of the world where today the local buying power is scanty.
Many Americans have seen that it will continue to be scanty unless the earning power is enlarged. They have seen that you cannot sell many sewing machines to Bolivian Indians, for instance, unless Bolivia has a staunch and thriving economy of its own. Hence in America today many active businessmen are considering not just how to sell things to Bolivia but how to promote Bolivian development by Bolivian energy.
For the name Bolivia you could substitute the names of at least thirty other countries in our present world. They all need an inward impetus upward. And please know that am not talking about philanthropy. I am not talking about gratuitous expenditures either by you or by us for parting the hair and brushing the teeth of so-called backward peoples. I do not want to make those peoples into the wards of the great nations. I am against the arbitrary economic power which would exploit them; but I am equally against the condescending economic power which would try to pauperize them.
Gentlemen, the undeveloped regions of the world wait our American and British capital but they want to mingle it with capital and representation of their own. Businessman after businessman in country after country in the course c my recent South American trip volunteered the same suggestion and the same proposal, namely:
We need technological advice and assistance from outside We need new money from outside. But we have money our own, also. Sometimes a little. Sometimes a lot. We would like to see your money and our money operated together to lift us up from being economic colonies to being countries with an economic independence of our own.
I do not fear that kind of talk. I welcome it. I thirl that the more a country passes from economic backwardness to economic forwardness, the more it will buy. You are one of the most completely industrialized countries in the world and you are our best customer in the world. "Better and better customers all over the world": that is the objective of the cooperation I would like to see between the business of Britain and the business of the United States.
We today have more capital than you. But you have more knowledge than we have of the management of capital internationally in the mazes of credits and currencies and exchanges. You have the greater skill. We have the greater weight. Let us pool them; but on these terms:
The capital employed shall be private capital and free capital and competitive capital. In its British-American intermingling it shall include an inter-mingling with whatever capital may volunteer itself in the regions of new investments.
And, finally, it will not recoil but rejoice on the day when every such region, however now seemingly weak, may stand up alive and alert on its own business feet.
I believe those are premises upon which your enterprisers and ours can unite. Such a course, certainly, would be another vindication of a principle of development that is firmly rooted in the thinking of the average American businessman.
Already he thinks that everybody ought to have a good home town. It is no jump at all to the idea of a bigger and better Chungking or Teheran—or any other place that could be made bigger and better, with lots of people owning theirhomes, buying more refrigerators, and flitting about at night under more and more neon lights. He understands all that in a flash.
And has it nothing to do with peace? I say it has every thing to do with peace. Behind the concept of a bigger and better home town there is a vision toward a good country—and ultimately, somehow, a good world!
Therefore I make no apology for our American localism. I take pride and comfort in it, for it holds the germ of a soundly-based world hope. It is close to the lives of men and women. I think we have talked too much of peoples, in the mass and not enough of people, who make the locality. You will never get a good world except through good localities; you will never get good localities except through good people; and you will never get peace except through a good world!
A good world, based on good localities, a prosperous and healthful whole, based on prosperous and healthful parts,—this will reveal to skeptical and wearied human eyes the basic truth upon which peace must be built: The truth of the eternal sameness of human desires and aspirations. And that, after all is the truth of man's essential brotherhood.