Powerful America: Our Place in a Rearming World

by Eugene J. Young
[Stokes, $3.00]
IN the great field of foreign policy, even more than in others, it is the rationalizations which are all-important; the facts are but the humble servants of these imperious masters of human destiny. If American foreign policy has seemed, throughout the half century or so of our emergence upon the world Stage, consistently inept, uncertain, and naïve, it is because we have never managed to build the facts into a working rationalization of ‘our place’ upon that stage. We have dabbled in the splendors of imperialism, yet clung to the parochial defenses of the Monroe Doctrine. John Hay’s Anglo-American coöperation, the elder Roosevelt’s big Stick, and Wilsonian internationalism have each in turn urged u> on into the game of foreign alliances and power politics; yet the country has never fully accepted any one of these rationalizations and has each time recoiled from the consequences without devising any more satisfactory concept on which to justify the retreat. The result is the unutterable confusion to-day admirably typified in a ‘neutrality ’ act carefully designed to ensure our participation in any League war against an ‘aggressor.’
It is from this confusion that Mr. Young — equipped, by years of service on newspaper cable desks, with a wide knowledge of contemporary international affairs — advances to rescue us. He argues (and with a sadly complete success) that the internationalism which has dominated the thought, and the state papers, if not the actual policies, of the victor peoples since the war has broken down. Its many instrumentalities — the League and the Kellogg pacts, the disarmament and the economic conferences have never taken on reality except as they happened to serve in the old play of bitterly nationalistic rivalry. America, bemused by this unrealizable ideal, has wandered through the post-war years as the dupe of the other and less naïve imperialisms; and Mr. Young now summons his countrymen to put it aside in favor of a more practical concept of their foreign policy — one that will enable them to fight or to coöperate with other powers, as the case may be, on terms in which they can believe and which they will consistently support.
He invites them to return frankly to the brash, self-confident, and aggressive nationalism which ruled the world in the pre-war years. He calls upon them to realize the immensity of their own military and financial power; to remember the historic and beneficent ‘world policies which they have asserted — the freedom of the seas, the open door, the defense of democratic government everywhere. And, with these policies as a basis for action, with the confidence that their ‘standards of democracy, personal liberty, and material culture are the highest in the world,’ he urges them to impose their ‘leadership’ (as well as their ‘vital interests’) upon a planet which should only be grateful for the blessing. This is Mr. Young’s rationalization; by its severely ‘realistic’ light he then surveys the whole field of recent international history, reviewing the position of each of the great imperialisms, the many crises of post-war readjustment, the questions of the Ear East, of Ethiopia, of renascent Germany. America, he finds in the end, now actually holds the balance of power in the world; and he makes a practical proposal as to its utilization : —
‘ While keeping ourselves free from crippling entanglements, we shall associate ourselves with the British imperial system, — and to an extent with the lesser French system, — helping to protect and guide them and to promote within them the process of democracy and open trade.‘
By a still different route, Mr. Young arrives at the goal which Hay, Theodore Roosevelt, and Wilson all reached before him: and again he sees a great vision of peace, power, and profits stretching out beyond it. Mr. Young’s history is, naturally, open to attack at many points by those who do not accept his assumptions; now and then even his facts have an unfamiliar look. But though narrow criticism might trip him up here or there, the facts are, as has been suggested, of minor consequence. (One excepts the valuable passage in Chapter III, revealing for the first time Lord Lee’s instigation, through Mr. Adolph S. Ochs, of the Washington Conference.) What counts is the system of ideas by which the facts are interpreted. The great interest of this book lies in its testimony to a new, uneasy dissatisfaction among Americans with their present systems, and in its hint of how easily we, like the Germans, the Italians, the Japanese, and the others following in their wake, may seek for an escape in the glamorous allurements of armed and aggressive imperialism.
As Mr. Young presents the case there is a light consistency about it which is undeniably attractive. If we are going to ally ourselves with Anglo-French democracy in the game of power politics, here is at least a more practical psychological basis for such a course than is offered by the confusions of ’coöperation with a ’collective system in which it is impossible longer to believe. The difficulty is, however, that it was precisely this concept of the international process which led humanity down into the vast catastrophe of 1914; and which, as it again arises in the world, seems to offer no ultimate conclusion short of ’totalitarian’ war and the total destruction which must result.