American-Soviet Friendship


By DEAN ACHESON, Under Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.

Delivered at a rally sponsored by the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship,New York City, November 14, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, pp. 110-112.

FRIENDSHIP between nations, as between individuals—genuine friendship—is something that grows spontaneously. It isn't easy to promote. It never can be forced. Governments can set the tone of international relations, but in the long run it's the people who call the tune.

The word "friendship" has been applied so liberally and so loosely to international relations, that it has lost much of its meaning. On this important occasion I shall try to use the word with all the care and respect that it deserves.

What are the factors that encourage close and friendly relations between the American and Soviet peoples? What are the obstacles in the way of a satisfactory friendship between us?

To say that there are overwhelming reasons why we should be friends is not to say that we are friends. To describe the bonds that unite us for better or for worse, on this miniature and crowded planet, is not to prove that we are happily united.

Now, I don't propose to enter tonight into a philosophical discussion of the anatomy of friendship. But there are certain conditions that usually exist between friends, and where they don't exist, you are almost certain to find something less than complete friendship.

One of those conditions might be described as an absence of tension. Friends may argue, disagree, and even quarrel-but they are relaxed with each other, in spite of their differences. They accept their disagreements as a normal part of the give and take of friendship.

To put it another way, friends are not forever taking each other apart—until each becomes obsessed and exasperated with the contradictions of the other's personality. They have accepted the terms of friendship, and they are not impelled to dig up the roots of friendship daily to see how the plant is growing.

To do this seems to me both silly and futile. Certainly it's not the way personal or international friendships are made or preserved. But in all honesty it must be admitted that there is a good deal of this sort of thing going on in both countries.

Judging from the way our national temperatures rise and fall in relation to day-to-day events, you would think we had had no experience of living together in the same world. As a matter of fact, we have had a long and close experience, dating from the time when President Jefferson and Czar Alexander the First carried on a warm and friendly correspondence.

For nearly a century and a half we have gotten along well—remarkably well, when you consider that our forms of government, our economic systems, and our social habits have never been similar.

Certainly the contrast between our ways of life and our political institutions is no greater today, with the Communist Russia than it was in the time of Jefferson and Czar Alexander the First, or during the period of the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln and Czar Alexander the Second guided our respective nations in a friendly collaboration of vital importance to us in our time of trial.

In perspective, the long history of amicable relations between the American and Russian peoples compares favorably with the history of our relations with the other great nations—not excluding France and Great Britain. By any standards of international relations, the record is good.

When I say this I am not for a moment forgetting or underestimating the tremendous events of 1917 and 1918 which eliminated Russia from the ranks of our allies at a crucial moment of the First World War, or the 16-year period of black-out between our two peoples, during which we withheld diplomatic recognition of each other's existence and suspended the normal contacts without which friendship cannot flourish.

But however great the loss to both our peoples from that gap in our relations, we need not regard it as irretrievable. Already a substantial part of it has been offset by our working partnership of World War II and the start toward peaceful cooperation that was made at the Moscow, Tehran, Crimean and San Francisco Conferences, and by our joint membership in the United Nations Organization.

Taken as a whole, I repeat, the long record of common interest and common action is good. Can we put it down to chance? Can we ascribe it to all-wise: governments or impeccable diplomacy? I don't think so. Forgetting governments and diplomats for the moment let's look at more immutable facts of history and geography.

There is the fact, for example, that never, in the past, has there been any place on the globe where the vital interests of the American and Russian people have clashed or even been antagonistic—and there is no objective reason to suppose that there should, now or in the future, ever be such a place. There is an obvious reason for this. We are both continental peoples with adequate living space—interested in developing and enjoying the living space we have. Our ambition is to achieve the highest possible standards of living among our own peoples, and we have the wherewithal to achieve high standards of living without conquest, through peaceful developments and trade.

We have that opportunity, moreover, only to the extent that we can create conditions of peace and prevent war. Thus, the paramount interest, the only conceivable hope of both nations lies in the cooperative enterprise of peace.

What, then, are the difficulties which lie across the path of this cooperative enterprise?

I believe the problem is capable of rational examination. I believe, also, that it is capable of solution. The hard core of the problem has two major aspects: First, the problem of security; and, second, the problem of understanding.

Both countries have been wantonly attacked. Both have suffered grievously, but differently. Both are determined that aggression shall have no such opportunity in the future.

The attack upon the Soviet Union came from just beyond her western borders. There was grave danger of attack from just beyond her eastern border. We can get some idea of the consequences of this attack—the second of its kind in a quarter of a century—if we imagine the United States invaded by the German Wehrmacht, and an area roughly comparable to the New England and Middle Atlantic States almost completely devastated. If we imagine this area as including not only the industrial centers of New York, Boston, and Pittsburgh, but a large part of the Middle-Western bread basket and a third of our population as well, we can learn what aggression means to the Soviet people. We can understand also the measure of their determination to prevent it.

We understand and agree with them that to have friendly governments along her borders is essential both for the security of the Soviet Union and for the peace of the world. Secretary Byrnes made this clear beyond doubt in his speech of October 31.

But it seems equally clear to us that the interest in security must take into account and respect other baste in-erests of nations and men, such as the interest of other peoples to choose the general surroundings of their own lives and of all men to be secure in their persons. We believe that that adjustment of interests should take place short of the point where persuasion and firmness become coercion, where a knock on the door at night strikes terror into men and women.

In this area where the room for adjustment is broad and where the necessity for extreme measures is absent, the problem seems wholly possible of friendly solution.

We, too, have our problem of security. The attack upon us came, not from close at hand, but from an aggressor, on two occasions, many thousands of miles away. The attacks were made upon a nation patently undesirous of and unprepared for war and solely because of our refusal to supinely acquiesce in conduct which outraged every sense of decency and right. This has led us to look for security through bases and methods which will keep danger far from us and stop the aggressor before he can again develop the power of his attack.

Our friends do not object to this but point out to us that we, too, must adjust our interest in security to the general interest in security and with the principles and organizations which have been agreed upon to insure it

In the case of both the Soviet Union and ourselves the necessity to seek security by extreme measures or unilateral action is absent. Mr. Molotov has truly said:

"We have lived through difficult years and now each one of us can say: *We have won and from now on we can consider our motherland rid from the menace of German invasion from the west and from the menace of Japanese invasion from the east' The long-awaited peace has come for the peoples of the whole world,"

With the menaces to the security of both countries removed it would seem that there is both time and area within which to solve all questions arising out of the need of our two countries for security. The path to solution is both through the United Nations Organization, which we have joined in establishing, and in following in our dealings with other nations the principles upon which we have agreed in the Charter.

One of these is to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples. Another is to take collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace.

These are principles of restraint and moderation and patience and respect for the dignity and integrity of nations and individuals. They, furnish the best and surest foundations of friendship.

Then there is the second aspect of our problem of friendship—the second essential ingredient of friendship. I refer tothe necessity for understanding and communication betweenthe American and Soviet people.

Enduring friendship must be based on understanding andtrust, not only between governments, but between peoples.

But we are faced with an immediate and practical question:

How are we to know one another? Here are two peoples of strong convictions and different backgrounds. Each is committed to its way of life. Neither has the least desire to change the other. Yet each has an overwhelming desire to know and understand the other.

I confess I see no way to draw our peoples into closer understanding except by persistent efforts, on both sides, to free the lines of communication through the press and the radio, through books and magazines, through the exchange of knowledge and culture, and through travel and personal acquaintance. What we and the Soviet people need from each other and what we are entitled to ask was summed up by Marshal Stalin in a talk with Senator Pepper. "Just judge the Soviet Union objectively," said Marshal Stalin. "Do not either praise us or scold us. Just know us and judge us as we are, and base your estimate of us upon facts and not rumors."

We have so much to learn and, what is more difficult, to understand about each other that we cannot hope to succeed except in the spacious atmosphere of honesty, candor and knowledge. Only in that atmosphere can we keep our minds and emotions on an even keel and avoid the pitfalls of over-optimism on the one side and despair on the other. Both are equally dangerous and equally unjustified.