Something Better Than Dumbarton Oak


By NORMAN THOMAS, Chairman, Executive Committee, Post-War World Council, New York City

Broadcast Over CBS, March 10, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 402-403.

WE Americans have one supreme interest in this war. It is that it shall be followed by a lasting peace during which all of us can give our devotion to the universal conquest of poverty by the same marvellous technological skills which today are working a destruction beyond our capacity to understand. It is probably a mercy that none of us can comprehend the horror endured by our brothers and sons in Iwo or along the Rhine or by the millions of women and children who perish in the total destruction of great cities.

Yet we know enough to know that bad as this war is, the next will be infinitely worse. The next time we Americans cannot escape the devastation which new methods of warfare make possible nor shall we indefinitely maintain the industrial superiority upon which our present power over far more populous nations is based. Our business is peace.

A lasting peace can never be the automatic product of war. The hate ridden devastation of Europe will breed new wars. Even if it were possible to eliminate the whole German and Japanese peoples the rush to fill the vacuum, uncontrolled by any ideals save those of empire, would bring new war upon us. The price of peace is the organization of justice, the creation of the attitude, and the provision of the machinery, under which rapidly every people of every race can achieve economic and political justice without war. It is possible to enforce justice, it is not possible to enforce peace by police power in a world of contending sovereignties scrambling for profit and power.

Let me make the matter clearer by saying what must not be done if we want peace.

America and other great nations must not indulge in the mad competitive pursuit of the fools' gold to be derived from exploiting the oil resources of Arabia or from other forms of international profiteering. They must seek full employment at home.

America and the other great nations cannot and will not have peace if they prefer the blood stained glory of national supremacy to the decent cooperation of the peoples of the world.

America and other great nations cannot have peace if their prejudices are dearer to them than the lives of their sons. In the generations to come white supremacy will be as incompatible with peace as the Nazi doctrine of the master race.

The truth of these assertions is axiomatic. In the light of them, what will be the effect of the Dumbarton Oaks agreement upon the maintenance of peace? The answer is that it will be almost negligible. Indeed it will be hurtful if it gives to the peoples of the world delusions about the price of peace, or if it makes them accept the doctrine that any sort of international alliances labelled "cooperation," no matter how precarious their basis or how much resented by the exploited peoples, will somehow bring us peace. The cure for a dangerous isolation is not a more dangerous membership in an international gang of exploiters.

To be sure, there are features of the Dumbarton Oaks agreement, disappointing as it is, which in the proper setting might be a beginning of better things. It is good that they should begin to think in terms of collective well being and security. It is not good that the final power should be in the hands of three great empires already engaged in the sharpest sort of competition for advantage. And this reflects on the underlying philosophy of the agreement and cannot be cured by any changes in voting procedure for dealing with an aggressor.

It is, however, conceivable that at San Francisco some improvement may be made in the agreement. Thus, aggression may be defined and some judicial process established for determining it. The present arrangements for international police power may be made at once more meaningful and less dangerous. The agreement should be made easier of amendment.

But none of these things nor any other improvement in the Charter of Dumbarton Oaks will make that agreement adequate to peace in its present setting. Indeed a worse j agreement than Dumbarton Oaks might be useful in the setting of proper peace terms, while a better agreement would fail in the present setting of power politics as played by Messrs. Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt.

Let me ask you to do a difficult thing from which we shrink. Let us try to imagine in fairly explicit terms how the next war may come. I think it is highly unlikely that it will be by direct attack from either Germany or Japan. Broken by the war they will be too weak in comparison with the rest of the world save as the crimes of the victors may make them strong. A peace, however, which will indefinitely leave peoples as competent as the Germans and tie Japanese with a sense of exclusion from the ordinary rights of free peoples will not only breed a dangerous hatred in them but will supply to one or another of the present victors future allies in the game of power politics that they are already playing.

I think that the greatest single danger of the third world war will arise from Asia. The present American tendency is toward annihilation of Japan with nothing to put in its place. One of the reasons for this annihilation is racism: it is the desire to maintain white, chiefly English speaking supremacy.

I hope that some progress has been made in the recognition of China as a prospective great power, but today there arc ominous signs that China may be made by her Allies the Poland of Asia. That in itself would breed new war.

What is more obviously dangerous is the total failure of Messrs. Churchill and Roosevelt at Cairo or elsewhere to offer any hope at all to hundreds of millions of colored peoples subject to white empires. Your kin and mine are living and fighting and some of them dying in the horrible conditions of jungle warfare in order that France may again misrule an Indo-China that she cannot either regain or hold by her own strength or to her own advantage. The little Dutch nation is brave and competent but it has no miraculous virtue by which it can or should govern territories, every square mile of which must be purchased by the blood of our sons. The British power is much greater but not even that power by itself can win back a Burma and Malaya lost partly because of its utter failure to win such support as wehad won in the Philippines by promise of independence. If the British cannot regain Burma and Malaya neither can they hold them and India without our help.

Of course I am not pleading that we substitute our empire for theirs. I am pleading in the name of realism as well as that idealism which our Rooseveltian "liberals" now so scornfully disdain, for a different pattern of human relations than the old imperialism. Unless something better is done than was envisioned at Cairo, Teheran, Dumbarton Oaks and Yalta, the next generation will see a series of revolts in Asia. Sooner or later one of them will be aided by one of the stronger powers, probably the USSR for its own reasons. Are we to regard that as aggression and doom the next generation and American democracy in unsuccessful effort to undergird tottering empires?

And if we want peace, how far are we to go in hate torn Europe in underwriting the arrangements of Churchill and Stalin in Greece, Italy, Poland and all of eastern Europe? If the German threat of world power was a danger to the British and to us, may we not be persuaded of a worse threat if the USSR by its own power and its alliances, including international Communism, can extend its dominion from Tokio to Dakar? I think that the peril of such a war can he avoided, but not by anything in the Dumbarton Oaks agreement.

I am not saying that the Polish Government in Exile was perfect or that its boundaries were sacrosanct when I say that if before Pearl Harbor I had prophesied the present Allied treatment, not of the governments but of the peoples of eastern Europe, you would have indignantly denied that such a chapter of perfidy could have been written. From the hypocrisy of Yalta can spring no peace. A fact which the Administration unconsciously underscores by urging upon us even now, in advance of the final settlement, postwar military conscription similar to that which in Europe has been a form of boon-doggling to prevent the cure of unemployment, a preparation for totalitarianism and an aid, not to peace but to war.

The question is inevitable and so far unanswered: against which of our present Allies, our enemies having been disarmed, are we thus to arm ourselves competitively while we contend with them for oil and bases and trade? In this situation the mere approval of the Dumbarton Oaks agreement will mean precisely nothing for peace.

Our hope for something better than Dumbarton Oaks lies in four proposals which as the Post War World Council has insisted, are basic to peace and effective international cooperation?

1. Self-government for liberated European states must be genuine. Their economic and political independence cannot be maintained as against London and Moscow except by regional federations, preferably a United States of Europe. This should be encouraged and not discouraged. The relief work by UNRRA must be hastened and improved to bring to liberated peoples strength for freedom.

2. Independence within a framework of regional and world wide federation must be promised to all peoples of every race and color.

3. To enemy peoples, disarmed, stripped of conquest and purged of marauding leadership, must be offered inclusion at the earliest possible moment in the benefits, economic and political, of organized cooperation. There must be an end to the bankrupt slogan, "unconditional surrender," which only strengthens resistance. There must be no divisions of the homelands of enemy peoples or enslavement of their workers.

4. An essential condition of collective security or any quota system of police must be progressive national disarmament following the establishment of peace, and the universal abolition of military conscription. This Stalin himself recognized in 1927.

When I plead for these points I am talking about a minimum assurance that the generation of my little grandsons will not have to endure a weight of hate and woe quantitatively greater than that which now makes our earth such a hell as Dante could never describe.

It is not too late to save the little children. But the sands in the hour glass run low. Now is the hour for awakening. And for America there can be no glory like the glory of leadership in that awakening.