The Effective Disarmament of Germany and Japan


By JAMES B. CONANT, President, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Delivered at a luncheon of the Foreign Policy Association, New York City, October 7, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 75-78.

I HARDLY need say that it was not without misgivings that I accepted General McCoy's invitation to address this distinguished audience. In order to make a significant contribution to a discussion of many of the aspects of the topic of the day—Program for Security—one should have spent a lifetime struggling with the complexities of international problems. I can lay claim to no such qualification. As a layman I have, like others, certain views about how we should proceed with the enormously difficult task of preventing the outbreak of another war. These views are by necessity highly flavored by my experience with the problems of science and technology as they affect the military situation of a country in these days. In accepting your invitation I was bold enough to suggest the topic, "The Effective Disarmament of Germany and Japan." My misgivings have not been lessened, may I say, by the fact that in the intervening weeks this subject has attained great prominence in the daily press.

I do not propose to give any detailed blueprints of a scheme for the effective disarmament of Germany and Japan. That would require a meeting of experts working for many weeks. Rather, I am concerned primarily with the premises from which the discussion of the disarmament of Germany and Japan proceeds.

The underlying thesis of my remarks is simple. It can be summed up in a few words. Modern science and technology have so transformed the art of war as to require us to rethink many of the problems involved in an international attempt to keep the peace.

One need not indulge in any flights of fancy or in H. G. Wellsian prophecies to document this statement. One has only to turn his attention to certain developments of the last few years which are matters of common knowledge. The first of these is the effectiveness of the aerial bombardment of Germany; the second is the range and power of the B-29 super bombers; the third, the potentialities of the robot bomb.

Consider carefully the situation as it stands today, look back five years and then project yourself forward and envisage the art of war in the early 1950's. Follow, in short, the mounting curve of aerial offensive power. By so doing you will arrive at the best position from which to understand the true military nature of future threats to the world's peace. This position incidentally is quite unlike that in which the United States found itself twenty-five years ago. It is not 1918-19, we must remind ourselves, but the terrible question mark of the future that we face.

A few days after Pearl Harbor, I ventured the prediction that when the war was won isolationism would be as extinct as the volcanoes on the moon. How can it be otherwise? Who with full knowledge of modern war could vote both against participation in a league of nations and also against a program of heavy armament for our defenses? Twenty-five years ago, or even four years ago it was possible for intelligent and well-informed men and women in the United States to differ on the issues that cluster around the word "isolationism." In the future this can be no longer true.

Only ignorance can lead one to deny the alternatives which face the country. Either we must play our part in a world organization to preserve the peace, or we must convert this nation into an armed camp bristling with weapons. Either we must have confidence in an international arrangement in which we are vigorous partners and plan our military program in terms of such an arrangement, or else we must go it alone and arm to the teeth to defend our national independence.

That we should freely elect to militarize the country, to mobilize a large portion of our manpower, to utilize vast numbers of our factories for the production of munitions, to devote a large measure of our scientific and technical energies to devising new instruments of war, that we should adopt as our first choice a policy which would mean that every city would be surrounded by batteries for anti-aircraft fire,—all this seems to me unthinkable. For such a policy might well mean the eventual extinction of personal freedom in this nation. Only if we were convinced that in spite of our best efforts all hope through international collaboration had failed, could we embark upon such a course of action.

It is not that new techniques have necessarily made war more frightful for the combatant,—what is new in modern war is the rapidity with which devastating attacks may be launched from great distances on civilian centers of population. On the one hand, mechanized war leans every day more heavily on the industrial productivity of a nation; on the other hand, improvements in airplanes and flying bombs every day make industrial areas more vulnerable to sudden onslaught by a well-armed though distant foreign power. In terms merely of self protection, therefore, we are forced to the conclusion that we must collaborate to the full withother countries—collaborate to remove the threat of a third world war.

As I see it we have a double problem: first, the elimination of the most obvious danger to world peace—the renewal of the war by our present enemies; second, the construction of an international organization with the vitality and the power to handle the unpredictable threats to peace which are certain to arise in the not too distant future.

It can be argued that the first problem will be automatically taken care of if we solve the second. It can be argued that if we are successful in setting up an international association with the ability to use force to stop aggressors, we need not worry about the future of Germany or Japan. But dare we pin our faith on any one procedure? Defeated enemies secretly planning to once again give battle present an obvious danger. Surely this danger must be removed before we are warranted in facing the future with only that moderate degree of armament commensurate with the healthy life of a free people.

Ordnance experts require at least two safety devices to protect a high explosive bomb from premature explosion; can we be less careful about the peace? Must we not insure the elimination of the menace of a third world war within the next fifty years by more than one procedure? Must we not direct our attention to neutralizing the dangers inherent in our defeated enemies and also do our utmost to assure the growth of a successful international organization?

As to the defeated enemies, almost everyone today in this country is ready without too much thought to subscribe to the proposition that Germany and Japan must be disarmed. But I wonder how many have explored thoroughly the difficulties of insuring the success of this undertaking for a sufficient span of time.

Most Americans are agreed that certain steps must follow the surrender of Germany and Japan: military occupation, the removal or destruction of all remaining engines and weapons of war, the use of every possible means to break the power of the German General Staff and the Japanese War Party. Most of us would approve during this period of a careful inspection of all German factories and industrial facilities to be certain that the terms of disarmament were fulfilled. All of these are immediate military measures, essential to initial disarmament of our enemies.

It is when we look into the more distant future that doubts arise. For some maintain that to be successful the disarmament of Germany and Japan will require a profound alteration of the industrial potentialities of these countries. Indeed, to my mind there can be no escape from this conclusion. It is one of the inevitable consequences of the changes in warfare wrought by advances in science and technology. Yet many recoil from the consequences of such a plan. Therefore, before we explore the details further, we may well inquire as to just how serious is the need to keep Germany and Japan disarmed for another generation.

In the first place, let us remember that we are concerned primarily with Germany and Japan not as they will be at the hour of our victory, nor even a few years later. We are concerned with those countries in the period that starts a decade hence. Ten years from now youths now nine will be nineteen, veterans of this war now in the twenties will be still young men. The boys in school will for the most part still remember the horrors of aerial bombardment, and curse their former enemies for the damage that they wrought. In Germany, even among the non-Nazis, the crimes of the Nazis will tend to be forgotten. Hitler's errors and pathological aberrations -will be passed over. Perhaps, as some have suggested, his aims and accomplishments may be deified.

Is it not the lesson of history that a once powerful and strong nation, badly defeated in war, will cherish the aims of renewing that war at the first opportunity, at least for a generation? If this has been true in the past, will it not be far more true in the future since the ruin of cities and towns by devastating aerial bombardment spreads suffering far wider than ever before among an entire population?

Even if we were to leave aside the record of the German General Staff on the one hand and the fanaticism of the Nazi party on the other, even if we were to forget the past history of Japan, it seems apparent that in two defeated nations we are confronted with a menace to future peace. Must we not arrange matters so as to prevent Germany and Japan from even thinking of using military force? Must not this condition prevail for at least another thirty years? So it seems to me. When the next generation now unborn has grown up and come to power, we may hope, if we have been wise that the bitterness and spirit of revenge will to a large extent have disappeared. When that time comes, Germany and Japan, we hope, will no longer constitute a special problem. By that time an international organization should have gained sufficient support and strength to guarantee the peace. That at least must in these days be the goal of our ambitions.

What proportion of the citizens of Germany should be held responsible for the continuing aims and the crafty planning of the military caste, I do not pretend to know. But the facts are clear as to the consequences of this continuity of military thought in an extremely able group. Five times in eighty years German military might has disturbed the peace. Twice within the lifetime of those present here today this same military force has been primarily responsible for a world-wide struggle. What possible assurances can we have that this tradition will be broken? Given the overwhelming importance of technological developments and industrial power, must we not insist that the physical means be absent by which a military clique can accomplish its ambition?

To my mind it is an unprofitable debate to argue whether or not we can indict the German nation. Who can say to what degree Germany today is represented by the fanatics of the Nazi party? Who can say to what extent we should hold the entire German people responsible for the atrocities against the Jews and the other crimes of the Nazi leaders? The question is what will be the mood of that nation in the coming years. To what degree will the natural desire for revenge be reinforced by the fanatic Nazi doctrine?

There is little doubt that a considerable proportion of the German youth today are convinced believers in all that Germany has stood for in the last ten years. It would be a miracle indeed if bitter defeat suddenly changed their minds. One has to be an incurable optimist to believe that any process of education,—particularly one sponsored by other nations and imposed from without,—will change the views of these youths hardened by the party discipline. In time, of course, we can hope for modification of this attitude. But the time is not ten years or even twenty, it is the span of life in which those now young become old and in which new social forces arise to influence a new generation of German people.

To return now to a consideration of the measures to be employed if the disarmament of Germany is to be effective for a generation—I believe that it can be demonstrated that a drastic change in the German industrial scene and a considerable degree of redistribution of European industry will be required. With Germany's industrial plants now largely reduced to ruin, the question turns on the degree of physical reconstruction to be allowed.

As far as aviation is concerned, of course, Germany andJapan must both be prevented from the manufacture or use of airplanes even for commercial purposes for years to come. But the success of the robot bomb shows that control of conventional aviation is not enough. The basic consideration is total industrial power.

There are only two types of nations in the world today which can be relied on to keep the peace: those that are weak in their industrial potentials for modern war, and those with a strong will to peace. Lacking the will to peace, can we allow our enemies soon again to become industrially strong?

To be sure, I suppose no one would now advocate that we should build up Germany as a great industrial power immediately the war is won. I suppose no one who pays even lip service to the theory of disarming our enemies would propose to lend money freely to Germany to rebuild the industrial plants now being reduced to ruin. Few indeed would advocate that American firms once again be permitted to build huge factories in Germany which might become arsenals for our enemies as such factories are today. But there will be those who wish to start the discussion of the disarmament of Germany from the premises that nothing must be planned which will seriously dislocate the economic life of the German people. Here is the real issue.

I submit that if we begin our approach to the problem of the disarmament of Germany and Japan by saying what must not be done because of economic repercussion we have already decided against the proposition we are considering —the proposition that the effective disarmament of our enemies is an absolute first condition for world peace. I do not minimize the difficulties of the economic aspects of the problem. I do not belittle the importance to a peaceful future of an international flow of trade. But if the necessity to remove the threat of a third world war inherent in the defeated nations is as great as I imagine, effective disarmament must have overriding priority in all discussions of the European and Pacific future.

If it turns out on careful analysis that there are a number of equally effectual methods of reducing the industrial strength of Germany as far as armament is concerned, we should, of course, choose those that cause the least disruption. But I would like to emphasize my personal conviction that effective methods,—effective for many years,—must be found and that these methods will almost surely require vital changes in Germany's industrial structure. To me there is no question that even if these measures require a reorientation of the economic balance of the world, we must apply them nevertheless. Apply them, of course, in such a way as, at the same time, to make possible the rebuilding of the economic life of Europe on an altered basis. The adjustment period in Germany will be difficult, that seems certain. With no spirit of vindictiveness but rather with understanding and a desire to help, we must assist the growth of a healthy national life along new lines in the defeated nations.

Those who object to the approach which I have just advocated paint a terrible picture of the results of the policy in question. Without the rebuilding of industrial Germany, they declare, Europe will be in chaos for a decade. I would reply:

Which is worse, the scene you depict or a third world war? You speak of the bitterness which drastic changes will cause among the German people, but this bitterness will be but a small addition to the hatred inevitably present in a defeated nation, particularly a nation nurtured on the Nazi doctrine.

You bemoan the dislocations of trade and commerce incident to the disarmament of our enemies. I believe our children would bemoan our failure to take sufficient measures to remove a clear danger to the world in which they must live and rear their children.

You say, how can prosperity be restored to Europe unless Germany is industrially Strong again? I say, 'what will become of the economic structure 'of Europe or, indeed, the world, if Germany and Japan rearm and fifteen years from now wage another war?

Such measures as are employed must be determined upon and put into operation soon after our enemies are defeated, but these measures must be lasting in their results. No mere paper transactions involving ownership or management seem to me sufficient, nor would I rely on political subdivisions of enemy territory. For to be effective the changes must be such that they cannot be reversed in a few months by a dictator. Alien management and ownership can be wiped out overnight by one who controls the internal police force of a country. New German states could be reunited in a few days by a forceful leader. All this might happen before other nations could act to meet the danger.

Only changes which it would take years to reverse can be considered safe. Moulton and Marlio, in their recent book, have spelled this all out and have made the excellent suggestion that Germany's main source of electrical power be located beyond her borders. International operation of this mainspring of future industrial life would be the sort of industrial control which would be both effectual and not too crippling to the economic life of the German nation. But I have grave doubts if this or any other single measure alone will be sufficient. It is total industrial strength that tells.

To a certain degree, real disarmament requires prolonged supervision of some aspects of German life. But surely the less there is of this control the better, better both for Germany and for the enduring efficiency of the measures employed. To me it would seem preferable to make at the outset such drastic alterations in the industrial scene that relatively little continuing interference with Germany's internal affairs will be required. If we had to rely for many years on armies of occupation and a vast horde of inspectors and supervisors of the industrial plants of Germany, we should be relying on human instruments that are bound before long to fail.

Consider the situation in the 1950's—which would be preferable, a Germany industrially strong still occupied by foreign troops ready to act if reconversion to armament manufacture starts, or a weak industrial Germany readjusted to a new life and free from alien soldiers? Which is preferable from the point of view of the eventual reentry of the German people into the family of equal nations? Which is likely to be more successful, a disarmament plan resting on military force which must act rapidly when the alarm is sounded, or a plan based on a low industrial potential?

The application of military force might be inoperative at any time the supporting powers were in disagreement; an industrially strong nation might lay plans in secret and have many of these plans well under way while sanctions were delayed. A few months suffice for the conversion of many factories from a peace basis to that of war. Surely the history of the last fifteen years is not silent on this point. But next time, because of the technological changes in modern war, the interval between the rise of a new Hitler and the ability to strike with terrific force may be as short as a single year. That is unless the new Hitler or the new war party of Japan must first of all alter the whole industrial pattern of the nation.

It would take five years to rebuild the industrial strength of a nation once that strength had been destroyed. And while it is too much to expect that the association of nations which must control the military forces can be ready to act rapidlyat any moment in the next two decades, even pessimists can hope that a period of five years would bring the endangered nations to their senses.

Let me be clear that I am not arguing against the military occupation of Germany in the immediate future. Of course, military occupation will be a necessity for several years. Furthermore, careful inspection of all German factories and industrial facilities will be required in order to be certain that the initial terms of disarmament are fulfilled. This can be done in this period largely by military men of the occupying nations, but as the years go by the supervision of Germany's disarmament status will be less of a military problem and more a matter of industrial and technical inspection. It should then be placed in the hands of a corps of technical men responsible to an international organization. This inspection will have to be minute as well as rigid at the beginning, but would become less of a burden as the economic and political life of Germany flows in the new and safer channels.

But for a long period of time there must be available to the world from year to year information as to the potentialities of Germany and Japan for waging war. A reliable public report each year of Germany's and Japan's industrial status in so far as it affects rearmament will be needed, particularly during the period of five to fifteen years from now when the power of an international organization may well be on trial. Without such a report public opinion in this country would be easily swayed by foreign propaganda designed to conceal the true conditions of the defeated nations. Clear information about the threats to peace inherent in the potential force of our former enemies would seem a prime requisite for intelligent guidance of the policy of any international association. Can such a report be made without the tight control of an occupying army? Eventually I believe it can, but let us not close our eyes to the great difficulties of this problem. International armament commissions have been proposed by many people, but it seems to me the problems involved in the operations of such commissions within a country have been to a large degree glossed over.

All doors must be open inside Germany to those responsible for preparing a report on the status of rearmament. There can be no secrets from the inspectors assigned to such a task. Yet the possibility of misuse of such inspectorial power is great. Business information of no military value might be transmitted to manufacturers in other countries. Even a greatly weakened industrial Germany would have some firms with new processes or new inventions, and these firms would be entitled to develop their new ideas without disclosure to the entire world. Yet all new techniques must be assessed as to their possible application to the art of war. Quite apart from any considerations of justice or the necessity for allowing our defeated enemies business privacy, international inspection for a long period of years will be very difficult unless some measure of cooperation from the Germans can gradually be secured. And this cooperation would be forthcoming only if German technical men were convinced of the integrity and lack of national bias of the men employed by the armament commission.

The difficulties I have just mentioned in a continued technical inspection of Germany present a challenge which must be faced. We cannot afford to ignore those problems in our planning. Ways and means must be found for recruiting a corps of civilian experts of the highest calibre. A tradition of reliability and a sense of international responsibility must be developed that will prevent an abuse of the inspectorial powers.

In suggesting that the agents of an international armament commission can develop a tradition which anchors their professional loyalties to an association of nations rather than to their own country perhaps I am open to the charge of indulging in Utopian dreams. Yet if we wish to operate successfully for many years a plan for the continued disarmament of Germany and Japan, some such corps of inspectors must be developed, for a mere aggregate of officials of other nations will have great difficulties with the task.

In this same connection, I might mention parenthetically that if we contemplate the eventual creation of a commission to report on the armament of all countries, the difficulties I have mentioned will be magnified manyfold. On the one hand we realize that if an international organization is to have power to keep the peace, it must be provided with unprejudiced information, and if we in the United States are to keep our armaments at a moderate level we must be confident as to the status of other powers. On the other hand, we must realize the vast difficulties in obtaining accurate information about military preparations in other countries.

Can the dilemma be solved by the development of a new type of public official of high integrity loyal only to the international commission which employs him? One might hope that this would eventually be the case. At least it would seem far easier to develop and staff an international office for military and technical information than to arrange for the recruiting and functioning of an international police force which is now advocated in many quarters. At all events, in our handling of these matters in connection with Germany we should obtain valuable experience to guide the slow evolution of an association of nations which will preserve the peace.

To return to more immediate problems, may I in conclusion repeat my conviction that unless we can feel confident two or three years from now that the possibility of the resumption of the present war has been virtually eliminated, the United States will be forced into keeping a vast military organization. To an extent never before approached in our history our domestic policy will be governed by our judgment of the international scene. So much will be at stake for each citizen of this republic personally that the question of future war or peace will be uppermost in his mind.

Today we recognize the grave danger of another world war. Contrast this with the complacency of 1918 and 1919 when we assumed that all wars were over. To my mind, our concern with the future military situation of the country is a good omen. When we thought that peace was easy, that words and ceremonial incantations of high officials would banish force, we unconsciously prepared for the present global devastation. I believe that if we realize sufficiently how hard it will be to eliminate the threat of war, we may succeed in the undertaking. For we shall not be content until we have taken every measure that gives a promise of success. Like the ordnance expert who specifies several safety devices for a high explosive bomb, we too must realize the danger which confronts us. We will then require that more than one method of insuring peace must fail before another great war overtakes us. We shall demand that Germany and Japan shall be disarmed effectively by procedures that cannot fail. We shall require as equally important the establishment of an association of nations which can become a real instrument for the preservation of world peace. We will plan our own military program in accordance with the promise of security given by all these measures as they gradually unfold.

Patiently but boldly, with our courage and intelligence not blunted as they were a generation ago by excessive optimism, we shall labor to create a true international understanding, knowing the alternative may well be the death warrant of our civilization.