Raise the Iron Curtain
THE WORLD NEEDS THE TONIC OF UNIVERSAL TRUTH
By ARTHUR H. VANDENBERG, Senator from Michigan
Delivered before the U. S. Senate, Washington, D. C, November 15, 1945
Vital Speeches of the Day, pp. 115-119.
MR. President, I was very glad to yield a moment ago to the able Senator from New Mexico [Mr. Hatch] to present for the Record the address made last evening by Under Secretary of State Acheson on the subject of international friendship. I was particularly interested in the comments of the Senator from New Mexico in assigning a particular significance to the importance of friendship between the United States and the Soviets of Russia. It is that subject, Mr. President, which I wish to discuss quite frankly today. By way of approach, there are one or two related matters to which I wish to refer.
Mr. President, the pending bill now in the Appropriations Committee carrying the balance of our committed appropriation to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, confronts the Senate with the decision of the House of Representatives that our American participation in serving basic international humanities this winter shall be limited to those countries which permit our free press to have free access to free news regarding UNRRA. This heavily underscores a major and a ramifying problem in our international relationships. It has been a smoldering menace for some time. It now breaks out into open conflagration; and it is not calculated to be a mere passing blaze in view of the fact that similar restrictions are prophesied in respect to all subsequent relief and rehabilitation and loan legislation. Therefore I think it would be wise for us and our allies to face the facts in friendly candor and see if something cannot be done about it for their sakes quite as much as for ours.
I shall presently indicate that I think the hope of world peace and fraternity—the achievement of stable and happy relationships between the nations of this earth—are dependent to an amazing degree upon full freedom of international communications. The mutual disclosure of free information and the liberty of a world-wide free press are becoming increasingly indispensable to the successful operation of an interdependent world society. This is no longer just an altruistic theory. It has come to be a matter of grim reality. "Black-outs" make international confidence impossible. When
the iron curtain of secrecy falls around an area suspicion is unavoidable, restless conjecture substitutes for knowledge, and dependable trust is out of the question. These are not the implements of peace and progress. Understanding and good will cannot flourish in a vacuum.
I quote from a recent address by Secretary of State Byrnes: Understanding brings tolerance and a willingness to cooperate in the adjustment of differences. Censorship and black-outs breed suspicion and distrust. And all too often this suspicion and distrust are justified. For censorship and black-outs are the hand maidens of oppression.
This is also my view, Mr. President. I believe it to be an unassailable axiom that all of the victors of this war must be prepared at all times freely and frankly to submit their actions and their aspirations to untrammeled audit by the conscience of the world. I believe that every departure from this rule is a threat to the peace of which men dream and for which other men have fought and died.
Since these are my convictions, it will be readily understood why I think the House has rendered a real service by bringing this desperately important subject squarely into the open. At the same time, I hope it may be just as readily understood why I am unable to agree that we should suddenly choose UNRRA, on the threshold of winter, as the vehicle for the initial application of an ironclad rule to implement this doctrine. I am unable, Mr. President, to make mercy an arbitrary hostage to the lifting of the iron curtain, at this tragic moment in human misery.
It is unnecessary, Mr. President, to the achievement of our point. The point is amply emphasized when the whole world has seen that one great branch of the American Congress feels so keenly upon this subject that is has decided that not even the Good Samaritan can proceed upon these errands of mercy behind the iron curtain where, quoting from the House bill:
The controlling government interferes with or refuses full and free access to the news of any and all activities of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration * * * or censors, or attempts to censor, in time of peace, news of any and all activities of UNRRA which may be prepared or dispatched from such country by representatives of the press and radio of the United States.
At the risk of being charged with inconsistency—which I deny—I unequivocally support this principle, and I shall presently argue for it with all the earnestness at my command. But I cannot and do not support its present summary application to the fulfillment of a humanitarian obligation to which we are already solemnly committed. I think the principle is too important to the welfare of the world to be used against the welfare of starving millions in the war-scorched cockpits of this recent conflict. I am unable, Mr. President, to tie these two unrelated things together. Furthermore, Mr. President, I cannot escape the impact of a headline which I read the other day: "Starving people ripe for revolts in Europe; general discontent in occupied areas calls for quick cooperation by big nations."
I agree with the House that not even the holy business of relieving human suffering can be properly understood or adequately handled in the absence of the authenticated truth. I agree that we are entitled to know the needs we are asked to serve. I agree that we are entitled to know that our service reaches those for whom it is intended. I agree that we are entitled to know from the lips and pens of our own seasoned observers. This would not be a matter of espionage. It would be a matter of mutual understanding. Indeed, it is of greatest concern to our suffering neighbors themselves, because I venture the assertion that if America knew from her own trustednews correspondents, from day to day, the whole running story of human suffering in the war-wasted places of the earth, there would be not an instant's delay in the prodigal American response. We cannot see through the iron curtain. I agree that every rational effort, even in connection with UNRRA, must be made to lift it. We should strive for the full information to which we are entitled, and I endorse an urgent mandate to UNRRA that it make every possible effort to this end.
But, Mr. President, the iron curtain is in the control of governments. It is the people in these areas who die for want of bread. They do not control the curtain. It is the people-pitiful, suffering, starving millions of them facing what probably will be the blackest, crudest winter since the age of plagues; it is the people from whom our aid would be withheld by an unequivocal order of this nature. You may say the blame would rest upon the government which denied our requirement. But the dead, Mr. President, would not know the difference.
So I do not support this particular amendment in the form approved by the House. But, nonetheless, I support the principle to which it is addressed, and I say again that the House has done a service to the cause by illustrating the extent to which the iron curtain can jeopardize the welfare of people everywhere—and, most of all, those who are "blacked out" themselves.
And now, Mr. President, I want to talk about that principle and the magnitude of its importance. I hope it will be no wrench to our international contacts to deal with it in specific terms. It seems to me that candor holds the greatest hope for correction.
Another current and extraordinarily ominous example will readily come to mind to prove how the iron curtain interferes with the international confidence which is prerequisite to peace. This example can become a crisis in human existence itself. Desperately important discussions are already at fever heat respecting tne future of atomic energy. In every chancellory and at every hearthstone the question is being anxiously asked as to what shall become of the atomic bomb. We are frightened by our responsibilities. There is wide divergence of opinion as to what shall be done. I want to make it distinctly plain that I do riot enter upon this field of decision in this discussion. I simply point out that there is one phase of the problem upon which there is practically no divergence of opinion at all. Even those who most vehemently advocate I the internationalization of this deadly secret never fail to assert the corollary necessity that there must be unlimited, wide-open, world-wide facilities for mutual inspection and the total exchange of unlimited information upon this score. There can be no dark corners in an atomic age.
President Truman said in his Navy Day speech upon this point that only "frank cooperation among the peace-loving nations can save the world from unprecedented disaster. "Frank" cooperation. I quote the adjective.
The Russian radio last week broadcast an atomic ana which one newspaper headlined as follows: "Red radio sees world disaster in atom secrecy." It, of course, was speaking about secrecy in the first instance. I repeat that I do not here discuss that phase. I am speaking about secrecy in the last instance; and I am saying that we cannot deal with the former until we have successfully answered the latter, I assert that it would be utterly unthinkable that we, and our British and Canadian associates, would voluntarily or consciously permit any nation to take this so-called secret behind an iron curtain which blacks out all information as to what is being done with it. Then, indeed, would the Red headline be bitterly justified—"sees world disaster in atom secrecy."
The point is, Mr. President, that here again we find avital international situation wherein any lack of the full, free exchange of peacetime information inevitably intrudes upon international contacts and renders what the President calls frank cooperation impossible. Here, again, those who may deny this free exchange are calculated chiefly to victimize themselves. Indeed, the more this subject is explored the more obvious it becomes that uncensored truth is elemental and prerequisite in seeking peace and friendship in a better world. No amount of expedient appeasement can escape this net result.
Mr. President, bearing upon this particular phase of my discussion, I call attention to the joint statement issued a few moments ago by the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and the Prime Minister of Canada, regarding their preliminary conclusions in respect to the control of this tremendously challenging problem. I call attention to the fact that what to me is the key paragraph in the entire statement issued by these three distinguished spokesmen, the prime paragraph, the controlling paragraph, the sine qua non paragraph, reads as follows:
We are not convinced that the spreading of the specialized information regarding the practical application of atomic energy, before it is possible to devise effective, reciprocal, and enforceable safeguards acceptable to all nations, would contribute to a constructive solution of the problem of the atomic bomb. On the contrary, we think it might have the opposite effect. We are, however, prepared to share, on a reciprocal basis with others of the United Nations, detailed information concerning the practical industrial application of atomic energy—
just as soon as effective enforceable safeguards against its use for destructive purposes can be devised.
In other words, Mr. President, this paper, issued a few moments ago, says—put very bluntly—that the iron curtain must be lifted in this world if there is to be any safe existence for humankind hereafter. ,
The President, joining with the chief spokesmen for our partners in the possession of this secret, has made public a very interesting, significant, and very helpful series of recommendations. I do not comment on their substance except to say that I approve the emphasis that was put upon the United Nations Organization as the world's best, continuing hope for organized peace and security, that I agree I would rather attempt to control the international outlawry of atomic bombs than the international use of atomic weapons, and that I agree that these things, cannot be done behind an iron curtain. I am confident that the President's statement will receive the most serious and sympathetic consideration of the Congress—of the Congress, Mr. President—where a basic and unavoidable share Si the responsibility for these fateful decisions inevitably resides under our constitutional form of government, and where it is going to stay.
Wherever you probe this problem you learn the same lesson, Mr. President. Many of our past and present frictions are traceable to the iron curtain. In some instances let us frankly admit that it was our own iron curtain—as, for example, at that famous initial international conference in the United States where the press was virtually held at bay with bayonets. Again, we certainly shared responsibility for the iron curtain at epochal Yalta where global decisions were made which will affect destiny for centuries to come and which were never fully and frankly exposed to bur people. I doubt if we yet know the whole truth. Too often our own diplomacy—too often right here in Washington our own diplomacy—has practiced the reverse of Woodrow Wilson's admonition that peace and justice require "open covenants openly arrived at." In a practical sense, we understand that international negotiation—particularly in time of war—cannot always proceed in a goldfish bowl. But as rational students of past and present history, we also understand that the less often the iron curtain blacks out such negotiation, the less likely is it that liberty and justice will be throttled in the process.
Mr. President, the best evidence of good faith on the part of major powers in executing the trust which they have insisted upon assuming in the peacetime liquidation of this war will be to lift the iron curtain and let in the light upon the evolution of events which will prove or disprove the bona fides of their programs. Let me illustrate.
At Yalta, it was solemnly agreed among other Polish decisions to which I shall never get the consent of my conscience, as follows:
The Polish Provisional Government of National Unity shall be pledged to the holding of free and unfettered elections as soon as possible on the basis of universal suffrage and secret ballot.
Those were fair and reassuring words. But by the time the great powers subsequently reached Potsdam, the potential shadow of the iron curtain had fallen athwart this comfortable prospectus. It had been the assumption of this Government that "free and unfettered elections" included freedom of reporting on these elections. But inasmuch as events in other countries showed the necessity of making specific provision for such freedom of reporting, the great powers—all three of them—wrote the following postscript at Potsdam:
The three powers note that the Polish Provisional Government in accordance with the decisions of the Crimea Conference has agreed to the holding of free and unfettered elections as soon as possible on the basis of universal suffrage and secret ballot in which all democratic and anti-Nazi parties shall have the right to take part and to put forward candidates, and that representatives of the allied press shall enjoy full freedom to report to the world upon developments in Poland before and during the elections.
At the same time they looked at Bulgaria, Hungary, and Rumania, and said:
The three [great powers] governments have no doubt that in view of the changed conditions resulting from the termination of the war in Europe, representatives of the allied press will enjoy full freedom to report to the world upon developments in Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Finland.
During the last week in August, a very limited number of American newspaper men were admitted to these countries. The iron curtain lifted—just a few inches. But at least it lifted, and I want to give full credit to the great powers for this omen of better days to come. It still remains to be demonstrated to what extent this boon is a reality. It remains to be seen whether this limited corps of correspondents will generally enjoy full freedom to report. But again let me report encouragement. There appears to have been a reasonably free press, reporting upon a reasonably free election, in Hungary within the past fortnight. Also it is important to observe that the three major powers have just extended tentative recognition to Albania. The British and American notes—the only ones available—contain this proviso:
Foreign press correspondents shall be permitted to enter Albania to observe and report freely on the elections and the work of the constituent assembly. The point I make, Mr. President, is that only in this
fashion can we establish international faith and confidence.
The world is grimly skeptical. Too many promises in the Atlantic Charter have been scuttled. Suppression of news—suppression of authenticated facts—inevitably invites the suspicion that behind the iron curtain there is a suppression of promised human rights.
Hard-hitting Ernest Bevin, British Foreign Secretary, made a public statement a few weeks ago, in which he referred to some of the temporary governments that have been set up in the controlled areas of Europe. Among other things, he said:
The governments set up in those countries do not, in our view, represent the majority of the people and the impression we get is that one kind of totalitarianism is being replaced by another. This is not what we understand by the much-overworked word, "democracy," which appears to me to need definition.
There is only one antidote for such suspicions, if they are groundless, Mr. President. That antidote is the authenticated truth reported in the free press of America and the world. If the suspicions are not groundless, I submit that our own Government has no greater responsibility than to seek, with every emphasis at its command, a true disclosure of the facts.
Mr. President, I do not know why we cannot be as candid in a friendly discussion of our Soviet-American relations as is the Russian press and the Russian spokesmanship, both at home and abroad, particularly since I embrace no such latitudes as they often give themselves. The truth is that the iron curtain has been one of the greatest obstacles to the Soviet-American liaison upon which so much of the world's hope for peace and progress depends. I respectfully suggest that this is not good for either them or us.
When the distinguished senior Senator from Florida stopped recently in Moscow in the course of his global odyssey, it is reported that he asked Marshal Stalin whether the Generalissimo wanted to give him any special message to us. The great Russian leader is reported to have hesitated and then said:
Just judge the Soviet Union objectively. 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 on rumors.
Mr. President that is a fair request. It is for a chance to honor that request that I am pleading this afternoon. It seems to me, in this instance, that Marshal Stalin and I are asking for precisely the same thing. But how can we judge the Soviets objectively—how can we separate "facts" from rumors"—if the Soviets themselves discourage us from doing so? Only a week ago last Wednesday when the few Anglo-American correspondents in Moscow addressed a plea to the distinguished People's Commissar of Foreign Affairs to relax the stern censorship which rests upon them, Mr. Molotov replied, through a Foreign Office spokesman, that he "did not find it necessary to give the protest his attention." Yet the appeal of these correspondents was only for a chance to apply the Stalin prescription. It pointed out that the Soviet Union was the only great allied power that retained wartime censorship, and said:
Censorship in peacetime of all dispatches relating not only to military affairs but to politics, economic, cultural affairs and every aspect of life in the Soviet Union destroys the value of foreign correspondence in a free world and has created general distrust abroad of all news emanating from the Soviet Union.
Under such circumstances, I repeat, how can we view Russia "objectively" and discard the rumors from the facts? The iron curtain intervenes. It prevents us from knowing them, and—an equal tragedy—it prevents them from knowing us. I quote a recent metropolitan editorial at this point:
Probably nothing else in the world is so important at this moment as good relations between Russia and the United States. Probably nothing would do so much to promote and cement those good relations as an end of Russian black-outs, foreign and domestic.
I am glad to note a Reuters dispatch from Moscow on November 11, which states that "during the last 2 weeks the rigid application of wartime restrictions appears to have been somewhat relaxed." I am glad to note still further and subsequent statements out of Moscow which indicate a feeling that the "black-out" is being relieved, very recently, to a degree. I cannot overemphasize my conviction that such news is of paramount importance. The more progress we can make in this direction, the less thorny will be the paths of international comity. The better it will be for both of us and for the world. I agree with the editorial comment which said: It might be a mistake to assume too much, but if this gesture betokens that Russia is willing to drop her traditional suspicions * * * if it means that she is willing to meet the world half way, then the world will not fail to meet her. And if that is the case, then the present proposals can, indeed, mark the beginning of a new era of peace and plenty which in time may even lift the specter of an atomic cataclysm now hanging over the world.
Secretary Byrnes stated, in a recent New York speech, that we are fully aware of Russia's special security interests in her central and eastern European neighbors and that we can appreciate her desire for insulations. He drew a rather startling parallel with our own good-neighbor policy under the Monroe Doctrine and our inter-American relationships. I shall have to say frankly that I think this was a sadly strained analogy. We Americans do have special security interests in our neighbors; but the world can come and see to its heart's content that we glory in treating them all as sovereign equals. They are our partners; not our satellites. We shall never complain of any kindred special security interests when similarly exercised by others. But this phrase-special security interests—often has another, a different and an ominous connotation in diplomacy. It could be reminiscent, for example, of the notorious Lansing-Ishii agreement of 1917 which Japan used to bedevil China for many years, although I make no such application now. But I shall have to say that I, for one, do not "appreciate"—the Secretary's word—what has happened, for example, in so-called liberated Poland—our faithful ally—where few, if any, of the literal guarantees of the Atlantic Charter, pleasantly reiterated in the recent speeches of both the President and the Secretary, have been fufilled.
If the Secretary was speaking of special security interests in the true pattern of an inter-American analogy, then I agree. Certainly we can fully understand the Soviet insistence, for example, upon her special security interests against any resurgence of her erstwhile Axis neighbors. With that objective I am in total sympathy. It is part and parcel of the San Francisco Charter. If the iron curtain is one of the devices upon which Moscow feels it must rely for these special security interests, then here is another vital reason to revert to the theme of my speech of last January 10 that, for the sake of all concerned, we had best completely clear the track of all such Russian fears of her erstwhile Axis enemies by signing with all the major Allies a long-time treaty, agreeing to stand together—one for all and all for one—in the event of any Axis resurgence, and thus bulwark the United Nations Organization with another and a final steel beam. If that would relieve the pressure on the Balkan and the Baltic States and the related areas, if it would recall the Red army from so-called liberated areas, if it would renew forgotten parts of the Atlantic Charter, and if it would roll up the iron curtain, it would be the greatest bargain ever written into history,
I do not too often agree with Mr. Harold J. Laski, chairman of the British Labor Party; but I do emphatically agree when he wrote last week: "We and the Americans alike must convince the Russians that we have no thought or sentiment which jeopardizes their security." Mutual assurances—both ways—upon this score will do more for peace than any other possible supplement to the San Francisco Charter.
Secretary Byrnes has said: "America will not join any groups in those countries in hostile intrigue against the Soviet Union." Mr. President, in return for the reciprocal realities to which I have referred—and they are essential to peace with justice in this world—I would go even further than the Secretary has gone, and agree affirmatively to join in permanently resisting any such axis threats as those defined.
Mr. President, I conclude as I began. Not in a challenge but in an appeal. I beg of all nations, wherever they may be, to consider their own self-interest in lifting the iron curtains of secrecy, censorship, and blacked-out truth. Otherwise, is it not perfectly obvious that they will increasingly plague us and our allies in matters of relief, in matters of rehabilitation, in the matter of loans, in the matter of atomic bombs, in the entire evolution of the United Nations Organization—indeed, in all future international relationships? Is there anything to which men of good will need more earnestly to address their efforts and their prayers?
This shattered world is in need of new sources of dependable confidence, new well-springs of hope. It cries out for mutual understandings. It needs the tonic of universal truth. It needs the inspiration which San Francisco has sought to breathe into the General Assembly of the United Nations as the free and untrammeled "town meeting of the world." We can only stumble if the dark persists. In the words of the Psalmist: "Light is sown for the righteous."