The Big Four


By JAN CHRISTIAN SMUTS, Premier of South Africa

Broadcast from South Africa on the N.B.C. network on the occasion of the award to him of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Medal, December 28, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 209-211.

I WELCOME this opportunity and this privilege of speaking to the American public on the occasion of the anniversary of Woodrow Wilson's birthday, and I thank the Woodrow Wilson Foundation for their invitation to do so. I also thank the Foundation most warmly for the great honor they have done me by the award of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Medal to me.

It had been my intention to visit the States and Canada this year and to receive the Medal and thank the Foundation in person. But my heavy war work in London delayed me there beyond all expectation, and when finally there came the prospect of meeting President Roosevelt in Egypt on my return to South Africa, I reluctantly decided to postpone the American visit till a more suitable opportunity. I have since attended the final round of the big Allied conferences in Cairo and have bad the deeply valued privilege of personally discussing with the President the world situation today and tomorrow, and there remains now the prospect of a visit to America at a time which may be both more convenient and opportune than the present crowded moment. To that time I look forward with much interest. The deep sense of America's responsibility—and opportunity—for our human future weighs heavily on my mind and I should like yet to say in person what perhaps cannot be properly conveyed in absence and at this long distance.

The Medal is a great honour in itself and as such I value it. But I value it no less as a link with a great leader and a great and poignant period of history and of my own life. Looking at our world today laboring once more like a frail bark, fraught with the most precious cargo, in the trough of the storm, I am reminded of the months spent with Woodrow Wilson in Paris during the last Peace Conference. We failed, and our failure is writ large in the vast tragedy of today. Shall we fail again? Is failure and frustration still to be our human lot? Looking over this sombre scene I see the solitary figure of that leader lost in the storm of our generation, a storm which in the end has overwhelmed us no less than him. But the human vision was his, which is his legacy to the world, which is in a deep sense the message of the new world to the old, still remains. And it is for us, with equal devotion to his, with our bitterer experience and better opportunity now than his, to help to realize that vision and make it come true.

We are faced anew with the inescapable problem of finding a way to the future which will avoid war as a method of national policy. Let us, for our instruction and guidance, probe a little into our failure and ask ourselves what was wrong with our last peace-making and what we have learnt from our bitter experience and sacrifices in this war.

Some have said in criticism of the Covenant of the League of Nations that it went too far, demanded too much, and imposed obligations on members which might and did prove heavy burdens and possibly dangerous entanglements for them. Some looser, less onerous, more elastic arrangements, they urge, should have been attempted providing for declarations in principle and conference and consultations in procedure without imposing definite obligations for keeping the peace. In fact some sort of Kellogg Pact arrangement. This line of criticism probably underlay most of the American objection to membership of the League. How pitifully, how devastatingly, all this sort of criticism has been exploded by the experience of this war. The Covenant in fact did not go far enough and was not clear and explicit enough in imposing definite obligations for the preservation of peace, and in the end the door was left open for the greatest and most destructive world war of history. And so even those who tried to escape the light but necessary burdens of the League were engulfed in the infinitely heavier burdens of the war.

The essential oneness of our world is rapidly emerging from the old territorial partitions, and from the point of view of war there is no sacrosanctity in continents, no security in oceans, no safety behind rivers and mountains. The war is burning that fact into our consciousness with a force which no wishful thinking could undo, and calls for a fundamental reconsideration of our international outlook and practice.

Such, it appears to me, is the great lesson of this war. That lesson stretches even beyond this war and all war. It goes to the very roots of our human destiny and our existence as man on this globe. In the end, in the last resort, in the final appeal, our human lot is indivisible. On that deepest level, what touches one touches all in this wholbtic world. Our world has at bottom left no loophole for escape, no hiding place from the storm. When we come to the great issues we find no isolation or neutrality. And war has become the greatest of all issues in our human affairs. Science is rapidly destroying, or at least over-riding and overruling, the old boundaries. We are fast becoming neighbors of one another with far-reaching implications for old concepts and practices like.war, race, nationality and the like. Neighborliness, the "good neighbor," are not only ethical concepts but are rapidly becoming economic, political and nternational concepts and standards of human behavior which we violate at our peril. This may be a hard saying, but war is the hardest of all teachers and its nameless sufferings and sacrifices in our generation are at last driving home to us the inner meaning of what religion has always taught us and science is now rediscovering for us.

Please do not misunderstand me. Woodrow Wilson did not favor, nor do I for a moment advocate, an international outlook which ignores the existence and the essentially beneficient role of nations in our world order. Nations are facts of history, just as physical as other facts with which science is concerned, and if we mean to build surely we shall build the future international structure on these facts of science and of history. We shall leave untouched the national sovereignty of the State and all it legitimately implies—territory, flag, language, culture, political and administrative institutions—in fact all that the term "self-determination" connotes. But over and above all will be an international regime of law and order which will maintain peace and guarantee to each state the peaceful pursuit of each its own life free from fear of aggression by its neighbors, in fact a regime under which the aggressor will be an outlaw to be dealt with by the international authority as such. The criminal law will be extended to the international sphere with the appropriate machinery of punishment. While it would thus be wrong to say that in the Covenant of the League of Nations we went too far and attempted too much, it is perhaps true that its founders were dominated by idealistic expectations badly out of tune with the hard realism of the times. And it was this neglected realism which finally prevailed and exploded our idealism. With the optimism which has so often inspired mankind in moments of great historic change, we thought wishfully that after the war, and the peace, and with the League in control, a general improvement in outlook would ensue, the forces for good in human nature would prevail, and in the end all would be well.

Instead we have to face the emergence of the forgotten underworld and the impact of Hitler's new gospel of hate, force and domination. We dreamt of disarmament and a world made safe for democracy and forgot that freedom unbacked by force is a mere illusion, and that democracy without leadership is weaker than water. Our neglect to provide for adequate force to maintain security against aggression and for democratic leadership among the nations placed the world at the mercy of the Nazi reaction, and our civilization of the West in the most mortal peril. This time we shall have to mix realism with our idealism and provide leadership for freedom. Only so could a balanced world order and stable progress be secured. And in a realistic spirit we shall be wise to avoid novel departures and should attempt to build empirically on the foundations already laid in this war and not to depart unnecessarily from the pattern we have evolved and tested in this war. Thus we shall commence the peace with the group already existing in the United Nations and organize them for future peace and security. Neutrals can join in due course, while the defeated enemy powers can wait until they have been cured of their dangerous obsessions and distorted outlook on the world. A period of convalescence under proper guardianship will do them good; and meanwhile the United Nations—an already existing fact—can be organized as the foundation of the new free world on which the permanent peace structure for the whole world can be built in due course.

Within the wider democratic organization of the United Nations there would be not only a Council and a General Assembly on the existing League model, but, in addition, a definite place assigned to the great powers in the leadership with specific responsibility for maintaining peace at least for the interim period while the new world organizationis being built up. Without the force which they will command and the unity in leadership which they could provide in an emergency, the period after this war may be followed by the same erratic courses which ruined the last peace. The U.S.A. and British Commonwealth of Nations and the U.S.S.R, are marked out for this leadership and this responsibility for defense, and to them may be added China in recognition of her inherent importance, her heroic resistance to Japan, and her new leadership in Asia. Systematic close cooperation between the Big Four may build up a common understanding which would be an indispensable condition for future world peace.

I do not urge this as permanent solution of the great problem of world organization ahead of us. It is suggested as only an interim and provisional step, but one most necessary in the difficult transition period immediately following the end of the war. The world will be in a fluid condition; the old order will lie buried under the ruins of two great world wars, and none can read the riddle of the future. An era of change may once more set in even more marked than after the last war and in another generation the political face of the world may have altered beyond all recognition by the emergence of new powers and the decline of others. The future must shape its own course, but it is our duty to provide the conditions of safety for the transition period after the war so that a freed mankind may develop freely and without fear to the destiny which awaits it. If during that critical period of growth and evolution common action between the great powers could build up a spirit of real understanding and the habit of cooperation, our deeply tried race could at least be launched on a fair course for the future with good prospect of reaching goals which now lie far beyond our ken. Incidentally, war itself may become but a memory of the past and the precious heroic impulses of our race at present so closely associated with the practice of war may become transferred to other more social associations and thus give new driving force to the principles making for progress and for good.

For generations this happy cooperation has already existed between two of these leader powers—the American and the British groups. No thoughts of war have for long marred their relations and peace has been but one among the many blessings which have flowed from their cooperative relations. So may it continue for ever in this inner democratic core of the future world organization. But they represent only two of the powerful groups among mankind and they are closely related in blood, speech, tradition and way of life. The forces now remoulding our world and hurrying if on wings of science to changes which none can foresee call for a wider cooperation and a broader basis for stable, orderly progress. Russia has obviously a great contribution to make; so has China with her vast sphere and her teeming populations. May the advent of these powers mean peace and progress and a wider cooperation covering all the continents. For we have at last learnt that war, wherever and from whatever cause arising, will in the end engulf the whole world, and we can only provide for our own security by providing for world-wide security. Merely as an insurance for ourselves it is a sound business proposition.

But it is more. We stand at a great moment in history. The story of this generation, with its two terrible world wars, proves that at last the stage has been reached in our human advance when this problem of international organization and security against war must be solved or mankind and its civilization may perish. Not only have our deepest fears been roused, but our self-respect, our very pride, has been touched to the quick. Not only would it be stupid and cowardly, it would in fact be suicidal to evade the task before us—the task to make this world safe for our children and for the principles we hold dearer than life itself. The call has come to us, a trust is imposed on us which it will be our duty and honor and privilege to obey and fulfill. We have already decided that there shall be an international authority for peace and war. And we mean to follow this decision up with a covenant which this time we mean to keep. And if there is to be any war in future it will only be for the purpose of vindicating and protecting this solemn covenant and perpetual peace charter of our race.