The Power to Maintain Peace


By DOROTHY THOMPSON, Newspaper Columnist

Delivered at a "Win the Peace" Rally, Carnegie Hall, N. Y., September 12, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 81-83.

WHEN I accepted the invitation of your committee to address this meeting, there were no Anglo-American troops on the European mainland, and there was, instead, a great deal of discussion as to whether a real Second Front, which might engage a large part of the main forces of Hitlerite Germany would be opened this fall or next spring. Even Mr. Churchill's Quebec speech, delivered less than a fortnight ago, left this question open.

But now it is settled. As we speak and listen tonight our troops are battling their way into the heart of Europe. The type of engagement in which we are now embroiled inevitably enlarges itself. It is clear that the Germans intend to defend the major portion of Italy, including all the industrial sections, and to hold the northern part of it as though it were German soil.

It is the nature of such a battle that the number and strength of our forces will be determined in large measure by the enemy, and by the force that he can bring to bear in the attempt to push us back. We cannot stand on a defensive line in the Italian peninsula, but must reinforce to the extent that it is necessary to reinforce. It is therefore entirely possible, and indeed, probable, that we shall soon come to grips with the bulk of the German army that is outside Russia.

If the words "climax of the war" have any meaning, that is the climax of the war—when the German armies are engaged simultaneously with the armies of Russia and the armies of the Anglo-American powers.

In a moment like this, all our hearts and all our minds are concentrated with fanatical intensity upon the war itself, and upon the progress of our arms, upon which all else depends. Our prayers and our hopes go out to our men and their officers in what is certain to be a bitter and terrible struggle. I am sure there is not one in this audience here tonight, who, in the face of the battle for Europe now on, does not reproach himself, that he has left undone many things he should have done. We read with gravest concern the news from California of the shortage of workers in the aircraft factories. What yesterday seemed to some a civilian "sacrifice", must today, in the light of the fearful test being undergone by young Americans and Britons in Italy, appear as minor inconveniences, and our consciences cry out that these are not greater rather than smaller.

For it is not written in the stars that the fortunes of war always favor the right side. We know that our Nazi enemies will fight with reckless fury, and we know that in reckless fury they are formidable opponents.

The Battle for Europe gives a peculiar poignancy and urgency to the Third War Loan. It is a test, among other things, of the seriousness with which Americans regard this stage of the war. It is also a test of the economic strength of this nation. Unless we oversubscribe this loan, in a very few days, we had better stop talking about any peace that we might impose on the world. Our enemies are watching the course of this war loan as well as the course of our landings in Europe. So are our troops, many of whom are dying as we sit in this hall. For both it is a test of our resolution. And in all other countries it will stand out as proof, both of our economic power during the war and of the prospects after the war. Is America able to build a new world? And will American pay for that opportunity?

This is no new question, nor has the question arisen only during this war. For nearly a generation now the world has asked "What is America up to? What is America prepared to do?"

The question is becoming increasingly urgent as our power grows. For the increasing strength of this country is an increasing question mark. For what purpose is this strength eventually to be used? Is it to be used with the world, or outside the world, or against the world?

It was common opinion, until a generation ago, that we stood outside the world. This was a supreme fallacy. The United States of America has always been on the same planet; it has always faced the same oceans which it shares with millions of other peoples; and over it has always been the common air of mankind.

We have always been involved in the power structure of the world. The most important pillar of that structure in the last century was the naval power of the British fleet. Our very isolationism was made possible by this fact. Our major policies were made with the agreement of the British, and that is why they succeeded so easily. The Monroe Doctrine assuring the political independence of all the Americas was ratified by the British government, and guaranteed by the British fleet. The only power in the last century that had the capacity to injure us, namely Britain, agreed not to. To that fact, the greatest fact of the century, admitted as such by the man whom Mr. Churchill, the other day, called the only great German in the last hundred years, namely Bismarck, we owe the defortification of the Canadian frontier, the sovereignty of all the American states, and the undisturbed development of our domestic life, which, in a brief five generations, has grown from a primitive frontier community of a few millions, to a vast continental nation and economy, and the world's greatest industrial power.

Few stop to remember that until the last war, and therefore within the lifetime of most people in this room, the United States was a debtor nation, financially dependent in large part upon Europe. We are justly proud to have created our great American economy with our own hands and brains, but we must admit that we did not create it without great help from abroad. While we were building it the world was policed by other nations, notably by the British, and it was in the freedom and security thus assured us that we became the great sovereign power that we are.

Even were the protection of the British adequate, we are now grown up. We have come of age. And it is not fitting that such a condition of affairs should go on. But in any case, the British are no longer strong enough alone to hold the world on keel. They were not strong enough in 1914. They were not strong enough to prevent this war. They were not strong enough to see it through alone. And they will not be strong enough to maintain the peace of the world during the next generation and century.

Who, then is strong enough? For somewhere there must be sufficient strength to maintain peace. For, actually, it takes more strength to maintain peace than it does to win a war. That may seem to be a paradoxical statement, butif you will think you will see that it is true. A war is like a convulsive cramp. Nations in danger of their lives discover capacities in themselves that they did not know they had. Such nations, expending their forces all at once, in a short period, regardless of the weakening of their whole organism, often wrench victory out of defeat, especially if their enemies are so kind as to provide them with unexpected allies. Among the many whom we must thank for our present prospect of victory is certainly Adolph Hitler. For had he been a really great military leader, and had he not repeated the perennial mistake of German militarists of engaging the whole world at once, we might be fighting today on the beaches of Long Island and California.

The goddess who governs the fortunes of war is whimsical. The powers who preside over peace are logical. Since man has lived on this earth there have been wars. Wars have only been prevented for long periods, or isolated into local disturbances, when there have been powers interested in maintaining the peace and strong enough to maintain it under all circumstances. The reason why it takes more strength to maintain peace than to make war is that this j strength must be so obviously formidable, so constant and j unremitting, that ail know that it would be suicide to test it. There is an example of this in our own times. Had there been previous to this war, an Anglo-American-Russian alliance for mutual aid against all aggression, this war would not have started. It was necessary for the Axis j powers, first to dissolve the existing Franco-British-Russian alliance, which they did at Munich, and second, to bet on the isolationism of America, before even the German and Japanese militarists would move a gun. And the British and French. dissolved the alliance with Russia chiefly because the prejudices of their leaders led them vastly to underestimate Russian power. They could not count on America. They were, therefore afraid, and fear makes people stupid.

World wars start by political speculations. In the first world war, the Germans speculated—as we know from all the diplomatic documents—that the British would not participate. Bethman-Hollweg nearly had a nervous breakdown when he heard, on August 4th, 1914, that Britain had declared war.

The British wished this time not to repeat this misunderstanding, and made it clear beyond measure that if Poland were attacked they would be in. But this time the British power was not strong enough to frighten the Germans. This time Hitler speculated on holding Russia aloof until he could defeat the British, which he believed and correctly, to be entirely possible. Then he thought he could exchange the British war against the Russian war. He did not underrate the strength of the British, he underrated the political capacities of the British, and the anti-Russian prejudices of its ruling class. He overrated anti-British feeling in America, and his own propaganda here. He did not underrate American productive strength. But he believed that our military leaders were idiots, our people divided, and that he could divert what strength we might muster to the Far East.

So this war, like the last one, was born out of the speculations of scheming, aggressive, national leaders. And until there is no more speculation possible, we shall go on having wars, of ever-increasing intensity, destruction, and fury. We cannot hope for continuing peace merely by eliminating this or that aggressor nation. No man on earth is clairvoyant enough to tell who, in some inscrutable future, and under what circumstances and what leadership may become an aggressor. The point is that we must solidify the power structure of the earth for the maintenance of peace. And that is impossible for America to do alone. We are also not strong enough alone. And it is impossible for any other powers or all other powers, to accomplish without the participation of America.

Unwillingness to accept responsibilities equal to one's power is the historical sin for which no nation is ever forgiven. It is a luxury which only small nations can afford, who, by their nature have to live under other peoples' wings. America is such a factor that merely by doing nothing, she can unleash a whirlwind.

What are the obstacles to our accepting permanently our share of responsibility? They lie in historical hangovers from a previous time, not very long ago, when we were not a factor of compelling importance to the rest of mankind. Our honest isolationists have been living in the nineteenth century and think of America as though it were a somewhat larger Sweden. They allow themselves the luxury of being swayed by their antipathies or sympathies. Some are anti-British and don't want to be tied to the tail of the British lion. If the British lion were as strong, relatively, as he was 100 years ago, he wouldn't be offering us his paw. Others are anti-Russian and don't want to dance with the Russian bear. They don't see that the animal kingdom of the human race is full of lions, bears, eagles, hyenas, and other beasts of prey, and that we are either going to have to make it a jungle or a zoo.

There are also some who say that we must not organize for peace with anybody unless, from the outset we can include all. They are the Utopians who apparently are willing to allow wars to go on indefinitely until the second coming of Christ. Actually Christianity is a universal religion, but its Founders began by creating a small community and enlarging it. It looks as though we still have several thousand years to go before the world is Christianized. But for international peace purposes our chances are much brighter. For, if we are willing, we can certainly start with the British world association of nations and ourselves. That is a strength so formidable that if we start with it, and with complete good faith and good will, we can get the Russians, and the Chinese, too. Of course we can't get Russia if we think of her as a future menace and try to build up buffer states between Russia and ourselves, as some people appear to want to do. Then, I warn this audience, that we may one day find most of Europe operating on a new. Axis against the Anglo-American powers. An axis Moscow - Berlin - Paris - Chung-King! An Anglo-American association created to snub Russia and patronize China, and France can lead to just that. It must be the task of the American, and British peoples to see that that does not become the object of our diplomacy. It would be as dangerous as to approach Russia with the object of snubbing Britain.

Others say, Accepted: But we must be the leader in any association. In the moment we say that we dynamite the whole building. No great power, or, for that matter small power, will put itself into subjection. Equality of status is essential to any continuing collaboration. We know that in the history of our own states. If Vermont should be subjected to New York because New York is the stronger state there would be no United States of America. An association of states or nations cannot subject themselves, one to the other, but only to commonly held principles and programs, under which each fulfills its appropriate function.

But—we must create new principles and new programs, for they do not yet exist. Ladies and gentlemen, we are out in this war to punish aggressors. That is a war aim on which every one of us is in agreement. We accept today without question that the instigation of an aggressive waris a crime against God and mankind. But may I point out to you that it is not a crime in any existing law. On the contrary, the right to declare and wage war for any purpose whatsoever that the nation through its accepted leadership may deem desirable, is universally regarded as a sovereign national right. There have been many pious gestures to outlaw aggressive war—but the gestures have never been implemented; there is no law of nations against it. and, there is no force to compel obedience to such a law. As far as I know only one state in the world forbids wars of aggression under its constitution. That state is Switzerland. And Switzerland has only given up this sovereign right in exchange for the guarantee, of all major powers.

The example of Switzerland, however, is suggestive. If the great powers all guarantee each other, small powers will want and must receive the same guarantees.

Please understand that I am not advocating basing the future peace of the world on a Grand Alliance. I am too old a student of history to believe in any such thing. I believe that the great powers engaged as allies in this war—Britain, Russia, America, and China—must lay the foundations for a new League of Nations. They must open this League to anyone willing to join, and to assume responsibilities commensurate with their capacity and power. They must back this League, to start with, by force—namely with the force of their own armies, which they must make instruments for its laws. Eventually, perhaps, they may have a common army, an international police force. As far as I am concerned, I would be willing to have it tomorrow. But let us begin where we can begin, and not wait for the twenty-first century. Let us, who are fighting this war together, create permanent instruments for ourselves; let us create our own laws, put ourselves under them, and protect each other against those who will not accept the law. For if it is clear that we never again will fight each other, no one else is likely to fight us.

And we must go further. Let us, as allies, tomorrow for peace, begin the creation of a more just and democratic society, a true world for the people, which, in the long run is our only protection against future wars. It will not have escaped your attention, that although there are no laws, provided with adequate instruments of arbitration and compulsion, against aggressive wars, the conscience of the peoples of the world is long since ripe for such laws. It has been said that the Germans and Japanese are by nature war-loving. But it is a fact of the greatest historical importance that no German or Japanese leadership felt free to embark upon a war for Lebensraum until it had first established a complete despotism over its own people. If we want to end wars we must break the war-making castes in this world. We know who they are, and why not call a spade a spade? Let us not, for instance, and in the long run, bet on the Badoglios of this world. Let us not think that if we cut off the heads of a few demagogues we can cooperate with the much shrewder heads who first conspired to put the demagogues into power. Hitler had great influence, but no power, until the East Elbian Junkers and the great Cartel-leading industrialists of the German Nationalist Party conferred it upon him from the hand of Hindenburg. There were many mixed motives in the minds of the men who conferred that power. Not all by any means anticipated aggressive war against the outside world. But all wished to wage aggressive measures against the masses of their own people, and win freedom of action from public opinion at home.

So this war teaches us that not only isolationism among states is no longer possible, if we are to insure ourselves against returning disaster. It is also a concern of ours whether popular government, free speech, minority rights, and economies designed to serve the people and not a ruling caste are maintained or overthrown in any major power. For wherever the people are subjected, war becomes much more likely. The ultimate peace of the world rests upon the political and economic liberation of the people of the world. But the ability to free them rests upon the power to maintain peace. And the power to maintain peace Tests upon the continued mutual protection and collaboration of those great powers developed enough to see the vision, and responsible and realistic enough to accept its service and its duties.