The Next Step


By WENDELL L. WILLKIE, Lawyer and Author

Delivered at The New York Herald Tribune Forum, New York City, November 17, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 125-127

THE last few weeks have covered a big step forward in the making of a world which Americans want. In Moscow, a framework of understanding has been worked out which will enable us to fight the war more efficiently and arrive at a more lasting peace. A year ago, those of us who pleaded for an understanding of this sort were called visionaries or worse. But in England, in the Soviet Union, in China, and in the United States we have now firm evidence that this working agreement more nearly answers the deep hunger of great masses of people than either the vague, more exclusive, statements and charters that have come out of this war, or the unrealistic arguments of those who would have each of these great powers "mind its own business."

So far, so good. We are at one with three other great powers—Great Britain, Russia and China—in our plans for winning the war and building the peace. But it is no time for those of us who have worked to bring this about to sit back in satisfaction. The foundation is there. To build the house will take boldness and patience and understanding. The Moscow agreements must be supplemented with economic understanding. Even this will not be enough. The whole of the relationship of nation to nation and people to people must be infused with fundamental moral and spiritual values.

There must be a democratization of the relationship between the four great powers and .their smaller allies—some of them not so small—and a liberalizing of the relationship of colonial powers to their colonies. Each of the great powers has heralded to the world that this is a war for freedom—freedom for all peoples. To allow the other United Nations, therefore—all of them—to share in outlining the objectives of the war and the peace would merely be in harmony with our professed ideals. But in addition—and from a purely practical point of view—it will be only by their enthusiastic cooperation—cooperation that comes from actual participation—that we can arrive at plans and hopes capable of realization.

And so the smaller nations must be given a share in our planning. And quickly. There is already upon us the responsibility of deciding how to restore freedom to the conquered countries of Europe. Without at this moment arguing the merit or demerit of the political policy we have so far pursued in regard to those countries, we must recognize the fact that that policy has set up against us a psychological hurdle in the minds of the conquered peoples. They fear that our policy in North Africa, and certainly in its early stages, in Italy, represents a determination to prevent social and political evolution on the Continent. This fear we must overcome.

Would Help Anti-Fascist Forces

It is apparent that the best way to win the confidence of the conquered peoples is to begin now to work with the antifascist forces of each country which have given such courageous evidence of their continuing vitality. There is a great freedom-loving tradition in France. The democracy of countries like Czechoslovakia and Holland and Norway was outstandingly successful. There were strong and independent elements in many other European countries. They are not dead. They have simply been driven underground. And each day's news brings evidence of their increasing boldness in defying their tyrants and reasserting the tradition of their people.

Think how encouraged they would be if, in addition to working with them on their common day by day tasks, the four great powers now enlarged the base of the Moscow Declaration of Intention by inviting all the United Nations to prepare and sign a Declaration of Intention. Great benefits could be secured by adopting this democratic procedure. The significance of the Moscow meeting could be prevented from degenerating, as it might possibly do under certain circumstances, into a mere alliance of four powerful countries for the ruling of the world. The agreements reached there could be made the embryo of a general and vital international understanding. The conquered peoples would have evidence that they are to have a controlling voice in rebuilding their own countries and a share in establishing a world order in which neither they nor any other country will be subjected to the hideous spiritual loss and physical devastation they have endured in these long, black years.

But it is not enough merely to make safe freedom of those peoples who are still free or even to restore freedom to the nations which have been conquered. If we want to lay the whole of the foundation which I believe is necessary in order for the world to have peace, then the peoples now living in mandates and colonies—of whatever nation—must also see i that there will be room in the structure which we are building for them to attain eventual freedom. Otherwise we will be leaving outside our structure hundreds of millions of people who may eventually come to believe that their only hope of realizing their aspirations is through war. And our structure of world peace will be subject to constant threat.

Beginnings of Revolt Noted

Anyone who tries to discuss this problem candidly is at once met with the suggestion that he is unaware of the fact that many people in this world are not yet ready for freedom or for independence. Or he is told that vast territories and peoples are inherited property to which certain nations hold title—almost as absolute as a fee-simple title to a piece of real estate. Or it is pointed out to him that he is unappreciative of the great contributions which colonial powers have made historically, both to world order and to the advancement of subject peoples.

Of course, in the first and the last of these statements there are large elements of truth. But the attitude they represent is inadequate to meet today's problem. At least a billion people—half of the world's population—are involved. They are human beings—not chattels. Many of them, of course, live in ignorance, some even in barbarism. And some are bound by caste and ancient customs. But everywhere—and this is the new, the important, the startling fact, the politically dangerous fact—everywhere among them there are the beginnings of revolt against the old order under which they have so long lived.

It is fortunate that the history of colonial administration provides us with a working example of the transformation of colonial and dominated peoples to independent and free " peoples. I refer to the evolution of the British Commonwealth of Free Nations, the most exciting experiment in I international democracy the world has ever known. It demonstrates that colonies do not have to remain unfree; that independence can come without disorder; that peoples located all around the world can cooperate to a common end.

What I am suggesting, then, is not something new, but the rapid acceleration and progression of what the world has learned can be done.

And so—in Europe and in Asia—our immediate task is to give confidence to our friends, our would-be allies. Confidence—not in themselves. Their faith in themselves and in their purposes has been tested and proven by their long endurance. It is confidence in us they need—in us and our purposes.

Post-War Needs Considered

What do we as spokesmen and agents for so many oppressed and silenced peoples in eastern Europe, in western Europe, in Asia and in the South Pacific, propose to do on their behalf and in partnership with them, after they are free?

First, of course, we must feed them. The representatives of the United Nations have already agreed upon the need to supply to the liberated peoples first the necessities of life of which they have been deprived by their conquerors; and the means by which they may, as soon as possible provide those necessities for themselves.

Victory will bring us also the duty of disarming our enemies and of keeping them disarmed. These will be police jobs. If I do not mistake the temper of the Europeans and the Asiatics who have survived the horrors of Hitler and Hirohito, the first of those jobs is likely to be a dirty one. But it must be done.

Looking beyond such immediate obligations, how are we to help the peoples we shall liberate and others to live in peace, in freedom and security—to live and let live, in the kind of world we want?

Three things at least we must try to help them secure: Better education, greater economic opportunity and more political freedom.

There has been much talk of directing, even of policing, the education of the future in parts of Europe and Asia. It has been said that the Allies must make sure that coming generations grow, up thinking "the right way," by which is meant their particular way. Who is to say what is the right way of thinking, even among the Allies, with their differing internal ideologies? Real educational progress must grow out of, and carry forward, indigenous culture. The cultures of the world are various and valuable. They cannot be coordinated and fed out by a board of education of some one power or clique of powers. To determine the nature and manner of their own education is the right of men everywhere. And alien ideals superimposed by force will only produce resentment and hatred.

Our contribution to the education of the people in the world we want to live in must be to insure all peoples, so far as we can, the opportunity to educate themselves. We must keep open the channels of communication, of knowledge and ideas, that facts may take the place of lying propaganda, that truth may have a chance to make men free. And we Ourselves must live in a way to excite admiration and emulation if we hope to persuade other peoples that our way is the right way.

Economic Cooperation Stressed

As to economic opportunity, you all know my strong belief—a belief which I have stated again and again—that there can be no lasting peace unless the structure we build has at its very foundation a system of economic cooperation among the nations and the peoples of the world. Otherwise we shall be building for the future on a foundation of sand.

Political freedom means the right of people to govern themselves. We are approaching the end of the day when any people may rule over other people. It is neither right nor proper for us or anyone else to dictate the process by which people will be governed. International, meddling in the internal affairs of nations is a paradox in the light of what we are seeking to accomplish. Our share must be to afford the peoples of the world the right and opportunity to work out in their own way their own political destinies, while insuring that in their foreign relations they are not able to trespass on the rights and opportunities of others.

To Think of Human Values

One thing we can do now, before we draw up the blueprints. And it seems to me basic. We can adopt a new approach to the problem. We can stop thinking of the world today as a geographical map—splotches of color that stand only for nations and national possessions. We can begin to think of the human beings who live within those splotches of color as living also within a larger map that marks a single world. We must try to see that all peoples have the means to live and work in that single world so that each can prosper and live at peace with all.

The old concepts—the splotches of color—will become immeasureably less important in a world reorganized for peace and economic progress.

This is an approach based on human rather than on power values. It must come from the people. For leaders of nations schooled in old traditions and accustomed to the use of great power are usually cautious and frequently they become enamored with international politics as a sort of game. At Moscow the finesse, the pretense, the fencing, the suspicion, were pushed aside. Who was responsible? To my mind, the people of the United States, of Great Britain and of Russia. The Moscow Declaration was the fruit of their desires and their unrelenting pressure on their leaders. When we think of our former policy toward Vichy France, of our tragic failure to realize the human grandeur and geographical scope of China's resistance, or of our underestimate of Russia's; sincerity and will to cooperate, and see what was done at Moscow, we must recognize the tremendous force a people; can apply to its own Government to bring about the correction of mistakes which, uncorrected, might well prove fatal.

"Gaps in Our Moral Front"

There are still frightening gaps in our moral front and still soft spots in our political warfare. Consider for a moment our present relations with French leaders, banned from the Moscow talks, marooned in a sort of north African illegitimacy, one day recognized, the next day undermined. Or consider our relations with Italy, where we have given the Italian people good reason to be confused by our actions and by our inability to distinguish between our friends and our enemies. Or think of our dickering with the reactionary oligarchs of Spain, whom we appeased so long only to have Franco recognize the Japanese puppet in Manila. Or remember the desperate putative dynasties and near-fascist parties some would like to have us bestow on a liberated Europe. Are these to be the tokens of our good faith which we show to the millions of Europeans who can now for the first time think not only of resistance, but of liberation also, and of the chance they want to help build a new world?

To give them this chance is our responsibility. We cannot reject or postpone it. I was in the last war. I know the explosive demobilization of the spirit that follows the demobilization of men. We must be on guard against that demobilization.

The Moscow conferences demonstrated that Russia, China, Great Britain and the United States can come to common accords. What should now be done is to enlarge the base of those accords to include economic as well as political and moral objectives. And also, in true democratic fashion, to enlarge vastly the participation in those accords—presently to the United Nations, eventually to all the nations! This is the next step toward the world we want.

A year ago the understanding now reached by the four great powers at Moscow seemed to many an elusive dream. That today it is a hard political fact represents a triumph of the will of the people of the world. By their will the new and larger triumph can be won.