Great Powers Shoulder Heavy Responsibilities


By DR. H. J. VAN MOOK, Netherlands Minister to Overseas Territories

Radio address delivered over Columbia Broadcasting System, January 14, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 395-396.

HITLER and his followers have vainly imagined that they could unify the world by conquering its peoples and holding them down. Tojo and his clique begin to see a similar illusion vanish. The Germans and the Japanese, held in isolation and ignorance of the outside world, are in for a rude awakening from their dreams of being a master race. Their experiment has resulted in ruins and desolation. A grim and growing tenseness prevails in Europe in the expectation that this fifth and most bitter winter of the war will lead to the long expected invasion. In the impoverished Far East the whispered word will be carried around that the Rising Sun has passed the meridian. The unity by force of the New Order and the Co-Prosperity has failed miserably.

The common danger brought together the United Nations in defense and in the prosecution of the war toward ultimate victory. It has been a comparatively slow process, nothwithstanding the violence and the concentrated power of the attack. But here, in the field of armed action, increasing unity and coordination have been attained. The pooling of supplies, greatly facilitated by the providential device of lend-lease; the organization of supply routes all over the world; the Mediterranean force under General Eisenhower; the complicated machinery for constant watchfulness and swift striking power that downed the U-boat; the great and growing versatility of combined operations in the Far East; the integration of general strategy by the conferences of Moscow, Cairo and Teheran; all these tremendous achievements are instances of what can be done by unflagging and purposeful cooperation. But we must not forget that the performance of the great single instruments of war of several single nations still remains outstanding; the Russian Army, the British navy, the American war production.

If, however, we find that unity in global war against a common foe is possible by the process of voluntary cooperation, the establishment of unity in the peace that is to follow remains a formidable problem to be solved. And yet we know that unless a workable, active and lasting partnership between the nations of the world can be founded and maintained for more than one generation, wars ever more terrible will ultimately destroy the liberty and civilization of mankind. We all have begun to realize that this problem of unity in peace is the most difficult and the most essential of all problems that oppress our distracted globe.

Now the first thing that can be concluded from experience is the fact that the issue cannot be avoided by neutrality or isolation. Isolation has been one of the most effective means by which the Germans and the Japanese were prepared for aggression. But even nations that are naturally peaceful cannot withdraw from a world where mere distance has come to mean less and less; sooner or later they will find themselves threatened by outside aggression which they could neither prevent nor deter by standing aloof. Knowledge, understanding, appreciation of others, and regular human contacts between the many peoples that inhabit the earth are the only means to lay the foundations for a more lasting peace.

That this is felt subconsciously by many is well illustrated by a common experience of those who come to the United States from countries nearer to the battlefront. The first reaction is one of relief in seeing the lights in the streets and of comfort in looking at the shop windows and menus. If, as frequently happens, one is asked during these days for an opinion about the state of war-mindedness of this great country, one is apt to make serious mistakes. The question is often put, a little anxiously, by Americans themselves, who do not realize that what they want to know is really something different.

For if we find a country, far from the battlefields and fairly safe from direct attack, where ten million men have been drafted into military service for the first time in their lives and have gone willingly and without a murmur; where industry has made the most impressive changes in production without any great friction or disorganization; where vast armed forces are springing up under a training scheme initiated almost overnight; where only after two years of war a national service act has become a matter of sufficient urgency and actuality to be made a political issue; if we find such a country sending millions of its sons overseas after many years of peace, then there cannot be much wrong with the war-mindedness of its people.

But those who ask the questions have, in fact, something else in mind. They want to know in how far their fellow countrymen have begun to understand what war means to others, who are near or in the fighting line, or under the iron fist of the enemy. And here we meet the real difficulties.

Only personal experience can wholly teach us what their feelings are. Only knowledge and imagination can help us to understand those others, whose lives are so differently affected by this terrible ordeal.

How would you, living in this country, react to blacked-out, rationed bomb-torn London? What would your feelings be in the devastated plains of Russia, where millions of soldiers are moving in gigantic battles, and large towns have been depopulated and laid waste? Where can you find a standard of comparison with the fate of the starved and isolated millions of China? And, above all, how could free people ever imagine what it means to live under a ruthless tyranny and to fight a well armed enemy, who controls all the machinery of government, without arms and underground?

Once, however, one becomes aware of these difficulties, a way to mutual understanding is opened. Even if it is impossible to gain the insight that can only be brought by personal experience, sympathy and imagination can bridge the gap, as they could bridge the gap that existed even in peacetime between people of different nationality or race. One can at least imagine the contrast between the well-armed, free soldier and the unarmed, underground fighter, or the badly supplied partisan. One can realize the immense distance between the war-worker—even if he be drafted—working in his own free country, and the man-hunted slave-laborer of the Nazis. And once there is a will to understanding, there must be a way.

Such a comprehension, however, is but a first step; an indispensable foundation, it is true, but upon which the practical work has still to be begun. There will be no doubtabout the friendship and goodwill between the liberators and the liberated in the first joyful moments, when the invader is driven back, but after that the trials of rehabilitation and reconstruction will commence, with all their possibilities for mistakes and misunderstandings. There again some very general principles seem to force themselves upon our consciousness out of the fog and confusion of war.

First and foremost it would seem foolish to expect that we can get an international organization for the maintenance of peace completed and working within a few months or even years after the cessation of hostilities. It took years to establish and perfect military coordination under the constant pressure of threatening defeat and among nations still comparatively unscathed. How much more spadework will have to be done to reach definite results in the organization of a world full of hatred and destruction! Our first aim should be the completion of a machinery which can restore order and economic life; which can make the unavoidable temporary decisions during the first postwar period; and which can set about the preparation of a well-founded and therefore lasting peace.

In this work our main attention should be directed toward those points, where friction and conflict are most likely to develop during the process of readjustment. I may name a few.

At this stage of the war we have constantly to bear in mind that the United Nations comprise peoples who can decide freely, though hampered by the absence of their soldiers, sailors and airmen, about their fate and their policy; and peoples under the domination of the enemy, who are fighting quite as valiantly and in much greater distress, but who cannot voice their opinion and whose interests have to be represented by governments or other organizations that cannot go to the country for fundamental decisions. If such decisions are nevertheless made, affecting the status or the structure of occupied countries, grave strains must inevitably ensue. It may be necessary to take temporary measures, but nothing irrevocable should be done, before the peoples themselves are free partners again and able to take their part in the discussion.

In the second place the unity aimed at should not be made too rigid and too forced. There are, among the nations of the world, a number of natural groupings, and as long as those groupings remain parts of the whole and maintain constructive relations with each other, they should be allowed to develop and to bear a major part of the burden of international cooperation.

Thirdly, there should be an end to the racial discrimination and oppression. The peoples of colored race should feel that they are not held in contempt because they are colored, and those who are not yet able to stand on their own feet in the modern world should see their way clear toward an ever-growing self-government and independence with the help and guidance of others. There should be an end to exploitation of one country by another, and of one people by another; whatever remains of the old colonial attitude should disappear in a new relation of partnership and mutual benefit. If this is not done, and done thoroughly, a redoubtable source of conflict is left in existence.

Finally, the attempts to achieve a wider and better integrated world economy should never cease. This may, after all, be the most difficult problem because the differences between nations have become so great and because war has still j further dislocated the national economic systems. But even if results in this field have to be bought by some measure of sacrifice, the sacrifice should be made. For a world, half starving and half living in abundance, can never be at peace, whereas a world where prosperity can increase according to the needs and desires of its various inhabitants, will not lightly resort to war.

During the years to come the great powers among the United Nations shoulder heavy responsibilities. The facts of the situation have given them the power; on their harmony and their wisdom hangs the fate of the world. If they can understand each other and agree among themselves we may expect that they will not neglect or forget the necessity of understanding and agreeing with the other nations of smaller size but equal humanity, for an alliance between equal powers without a just foundation has seldom been concluded and never been maintained in the history of mankind.