Our Southern Arteries
WORLD conditions explain our present national awareness of Central and South America. The feeling that if we permit totalitarianism to get even a foothold anywhere in the Western Hemisphere the nations which make up our western world will speedily become involved in all of the disputes and discords that rack Europe is growing swiftly. The threat of importation of Fascism and Naziism from Europe to South America has done more to awaken our interest in the peoples who live south of the equator than the summed-up fears of European economic domination of that part of the world during the past generation.
This new and lively interest manifests itself in several ways. There have been more than a ‘five-foot shelf’ of books on South America published in the past twelve months; popular picture magazines have made South American scenes familiar; the lecture platform has been crowded with returned travelers; news agencies have sharply increased the volume of ‘spot news’ from down under the equator, and newspapers have been finding space for such news in the forward pages — sometimes on Page 1. The too few available passenger ships which ply the southern route have been crowded, and some of the largest transatlantic liners have been diverted to winter cruising in South American waters. The net of all this is that more people in the United States know more about South America than ever before. But even this access of interest and increase in knowledge are insufficient to fill in the bare outlines of the picture. It will take a considerable time to achieve a realistic popular understanding of all that South America means to the United States, in our future security, our economic prosperity, and our successful maintenance of the democratic principle in government. All these — and particularly our national security through an adequate defense—intimately and directly involve South American relations.
In a world in which power politics reigns, and force — and force alone — provides security, the United States is compelled to look to its defenses. The need for such national concern is so acute and so obvious that it has substantially silenced even the voices of the professional pacifists. The crude brutality and resort to gangster methods, on an international scale, by certain powers in Europe and Asia have converted the very classes who formerly were most vocal against proposals for military preparedness into active champions of military intervention by the United States when, and if, a new war is precipitated. To an extent never before equaled in unanimity, American public opinion supports a strong policy of national defense.
In our thinking on this vital subject of security, provoked by the alarming course of events in both Asia and Europe, we cannot deal with the subject on the basis of our country’s territorial limits, comprising forty-eight states — not even on the basis of the continent of which we are a part. The scope of our planning for defense against possible aggression must be coextensive with the entire Western Hemisphere!
Once totalitarianism has successfully established itself anywhere in the western world, it inevitably will bring in its train all the evils which have made of Europe an armed camp, and which promise in the near future to precipitate a cataclysmic, suicidal war. Recognition of this need of a hemispheral defense is already widespread and is daily becoming more universal.
Granted that the grave turn in events in both Asia and Europe has made convincingly apparent the need for rigorous and uncompromising maintenance of the Monroe Doctrine, we must face without any attempt at evasion a second question equally vital to our security: Must we, for our own safety, prepare for another military expedition overseas as an active ally, or associate, of the nations who oppose the totalitarian powers?
In attempting to appraise this situation, both as to our own interests and as to our duty, it may be useful to recall our experiences since 1917. No great nation ever embarked upon a great war with more unselfish and high-minded purpose than did we twenty-two years ago. Most certainly there was recognition that the success of German arms in that war would be a threat to our future security; but far outweighing that was the earnest belief that we fought ‘to make the world safe for democracy’— that we were embarking in ‘a war to end all wars.'
It is both childish and futile to claim that we won the war. But it is neither childish nor futile, but the mere reiteration of an obvious fact, to assert that we brought to the Western Front that preponderance of man power which gave victory to the Allied arms. By October 1918, the extent of our participation, and its effect, had given the United States a moral and military leadership that was recognized unreservedly by our associates, and perforce by our foes. The voice of this world leadership was President Wilson’s, and speaking in that guise he had enunciated the basis of a possible peace — the famous ‘fourteen points.’ By every means at the disposal of the Allies, this declaration of the American President was distributed behind the German lines, for the deliberate and entirely defensible purpose of weakening German powers of resistance. Germany, at this moment, had suffered repeated defeats, but she was by no means defenseless. She had the power and capacity to retire upon well-prepared interior lines and keep up a long and costly defensive war. But, accepting the Wilson formula as the Allied proposals for a negotiated peace, — and who will say she was not warranted in such assumption?— she agreed to the Armistice, laid down her arms, and made herself defenseless.
There has never been any successful attempt to deny that the Treaty of Versailles was a monumental act of bad faith. It utterly ignored the implied promises of President Wilson’s ‘fourteen points.’ It exacted reparations expressly designed to be impossible of satisfaction. It was not in any sense a negotiated peace. It was a victor’s peace imposed upon a vanquished foe. That it contained the seeds of future wars the history of the past twenty years, and the present crisis, abundantly prove. It is to the eternal credit of the United States Senate that it saved us from the ignominy of ratification of such an instrument of international double-crossing. Thus began our process of disillusionment.
The next step in our education as a participant in Europe’s affairs had to do with war debts. At the outset of our plunge into the war, our participation had to be confined to providing munitions and supplies. For this huge sums of money were needed. We supplied them upon a munificent scale. At the time there was little or no thought of their ultimate repayment. We never, in any way, pressed the matter. But when the war was over, wholly upon their own initiative, our associates in the war declared that the sums we had advanced were in the nature of loans, and they, themselves, proposed settlement. Separate agreements were made, and, on our part, of a most generous character. To the accompaniment of a steady flow of propaganda, designed to belittle and minimize the importance of our participation in the war, the ensuing years saw the gradual repudiation of these debts. This lesson in disillusionment produced the Johnson Act, forbidding any future extension of credit, by the United States, to any nation that had defaulted on its World War debts. No enactment is more firmly buttressed by solid public opinion. Our education was progressing.
Then came the final chapter in the story of our enlightenment. In 1931, Japan, in flagrant defiance of the terms of the Nine-Power Pact dealing with the preservation of the integrity of territorial boundaries in the Pacific area, undertook the subjugation of Manchuria. Both Great Britain and the United States were signatories to that pact. Secretly encouraged to do so by Great Britain, we made strong protest against Japan’s indefensible attack upon the integrity of China. We had every right to expect vigorous and decisive support from the British Government. Not only was this not forthcoming, but the then British minister for foreign affairs found occasion, upon the floor of the House of Commons, to attempt to justify Japan in her repudiation of her pledged word. Regardless of the embarrassment to us, and the impairment of our prestige in the Far East, England had decided that her interests would be better served by letting Japan sate her appetite for expansion in Manchuria, in the obvious hope that this would make South China — where British interests were greatest — safe for, at least, the immediate future.
The callousness with which selfish British interests were pursued in this affair completed our education.
The net effect of all this has been to drive in on the American consciousness, with renewed vigor and convincing emphasis, the wisdom of George Washington’s warnings to his fellow countrymen, upon the eve of his withdrawal from public affairs, against involvement in European quarrels. So general has this feeling among Americans become that I dare say no proposal could be submitted to the American people to which a more nearly unanimous negative answer would be made than to the question: ‘Do you want to send another army to Europe and fight in another of Europe’s wars?’
There is yet another angle to this pressing question of national defense upon which public enlightenment has made notable progress. We are at last beginning to appreciate, at its full significance, the incalculable value of our insular position. Long, long years ago, Britain learned the military value of her insular position, and capitalized upon that knowledge. She knew that she would be safe in her island home if she controlled the seas with which she was surrounded. She achieved that control, and for centuries her soil has been free from the foot of the invader. But, so narrow were the seas upon which her safety depended, the invention of the airplane substantially destroyed this security, and Britain has in effect become a part of continental Europe in a military sense.
But our margin of safety is not narrow. Vast oceans intervene between us and possible enemies, whether they come from the east or the west. Even in the event of wholly unexpected developments in aerial navigation, it will never be possible to make a decisive attack upon us by air. The worst we have to fear from that direction would be isolated raids of no real military significance. We can, therefore, take for our own the historic British formula for security. Achieving and maintaining a superiority over any enemy, or combination of enemies, on the high seas, we can make ourselves safe from attack, and keep the entire western world secure against the totalitarians. The readiness with which the American public has accepted proposals for rapid expansion of our sea power, and the unanimous fashion in which these proposals have been treated by Congress, attest to the universality of this point of view.
Since there has come about substantial agreement among Americans, first, that we must provide an adequate national defense; second, that this defense must be budded in terms of the defense of the entire Western Hemisphere; third, that we do not propose to seek security by sending an expeditionary army overseas; fourth, that we propose to take full advantage of our insular position by creating a dominant navy — then inexorably we must recognize that the most important line of communications within our territorial limits is the Panama Canal. It is easily first in importance because its secure and uninterrupted operation doubles our naval strength. We cannot know in advance from whence attack may come. It may come from Europe, or it may come from Asia. It is easily possible it may come from both directions, simultaneously. If the canal did not exist, we should have to maintain an Atlantic and a Pacific fleet, each strong enough to meet and conquer any possible enemy. If the canal should be put out of commission, and our concentration of ships was in one ocean, half our coast line would be rendered substantially defenseless. With operation of the canal secure, we can deal with any possible enemy, or combination of enemies, that may come against us.
Under such circumstances the defense of the canal becomes a matter of first importance in national preparedness. While the measures we have already taken for the defense of this vital line are admirable, they are by no means complete. We do not properly appreciate the importance of keeping any possible enemy at a distance from the canal itself, especially since the first and most dangerous attack will come from the air. On the Atlantic side, nature has made it easy to make the canal substantially immune from successful attack. This involves our complete domination, by means of sea and air bases, of the Caribbean Sea. For purposes of defense, the Caribbean in a military way must become an American lake. The Mediterranean is no more important to British or French lines of communication than is the Caribbean to us.
We already possess a fine naval base at Guantánamo on the southern shore of Cuba. We have Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands available for the extension of our defenses, but both Great Britain and France own islands in the Caribbean which, if transferred to our flag, would enable us to make the Caribbean practically impregnable. Great Britain and France both owe us huge sums of money. Both are keenly anxious for our sympathetic coöperation, at least in the matter of supplies, in the struggle which impends. No time could be more propitious for the initiation of negotiations looking to the ceding to the United States, by Britain and France, of their West Indian islands. This would be an easy way to end the dispute over unpaid debts and provide an escape for these two countries from the penalties of the Johnson Act.
On the Pacific side, a similar situation exists. As things stand now, we have no advance base for the western entrance nearer than San Diego, California. Ninety miles west of the canal lie the Galápagos Islands, an uninhabited, barren group belonging to Ecuador. Here could readily be established a forward seaplane base of great usefulness in defense against air attack by an enemy. Ecuador has indicated her willingness to sell them to us. No time should be lost in pressing these negotiations to a conclusion and establishing an air base, and possibly a submarine base, on these islands.
In the Canal Zone itself there is imperative necessity for the immediate enlargement of existing air fields, the augmenting of our air forces, the enlargement of anti-aircraft artillery defense to at least twice its present size, and the erection of adequate barracks to house the garrison. Most of these essentials are provided for in the army appropriation bill which has recently passed Congress.
Obviously, all these measures for defense of the canal would be made abortive if we did not enjoy the friendly and active coöperation of the twenty-one nations which make up Central and South America. Our diplomats must march with our soldiers and sailors in the attainment of hemispheral security. Happily we have, as an effective aid, a community of interest. No country of Latin America will willingly accept a totalitarian yoke. There is universal acceptance of the need for coöperation in the presence of a common danger. Upon this solid foundation must, and can be, built a structure of good will and friendship.
Wide recognition of this situation, both north and south of the equator, accounts for the recent tremendous increase in interest in improved relations between the Americas. It was the pull of this interest that took me and thousands of others, from all parts of the States, to South America in recent months.
There are three main reasons why improved and closer relations with Latin America are of primary importance to the people of the United States. The first of these is national defense; the second is an economic reason; and the third is political. In the field of national defense we have made substantial progress. Any military aggression from overseas will be met with a common front. In the realm of economic relations a great deal remains to be done, but we have, in the recent trade agreement with Brazil, made a promising start, with hope of further progress in the pending negotiations with Argentina. In the matter of political understanding we have made little or no progress as yet. Real progress in this direction will wait upon improved economic relations.
I have said we have made some progress in the economic field by means of the Brazil agreement, but I am convinced that this agreement merely touches the edges of the possibilities. Before we get into the real heart of this problem I believe we must seriously face the question of abandonment, so far as South America is concerned, of the ‘most favored nation ‘ policy, and recognize our special interests in that part of the world, plus the exceedingly difficult and extraordinary competition we must meet there. We can inveigh as much as we please against the unwisdom, the immorality, of barter-trade agreements, but these actual conditions must be met if we are to checkmate totalitarian penetration in South America: first, economic penetration, and then military penetration.
The situation, it seems to me, warrants at least an experiment with a special trade agreement with Brazil, which would closely, if not actually, approximate free trade between the two countries. Let us examine the situation objectively. The United States is the greatest industrial nation in the world. We make more than half of the world production of manufactured goods. We acutely need foreign outlets for our manufactures. Brazil, on the other hand, is almost exclusively agricultural. Her manufactures are negligible. She needs practically everything we make. Her chief agricultural products are those which do not compete with our farms. Her greatest crop is coffee; we grow no coffee. She owns half the known world deposits of manganese; we have none, and acutely need it, in steelmaking. We are the world’s largest users of rubber and grow none; Brazil could easily develop, in the course of a few years, a supply of rubber sufficient to fill our entire needs. Our hardwoods suitable for manufacture are practically exhausted; Brazil has the greatest undeveloped hardwood timber resources to be found anywhere in the world. Brazil is a great producer of tropical fruits; we are the greatest user of tropical fruits and can produce only a fraction of our demand. Beyond all this, Brazil needs the capital we could supply, and the organizing ability which characterizes American enterprise.
Given American capital and organizing capacity, combined with the advantage which scientific research has provided, Brazil, with her immense undeveloped resources, could go as far in the next twenty years as we have gone in the last fifty. And, to cap the climax, Brazil is eager to enter into a special agreement with us in which she will give us advantages she gives to no other country, if we will do likewise. Unquestionably the deal is there for the taking, if we are willing to make the experiment. If it were tried, and found successful, no difficulty whatever would be encountered in extending the system of special trade agreements to include every country in South America. The vision of a great, unified economic unit comprising the entire Western Hemisphere is at least eye-filling. It would make the western world utterly self-sufficient economically.
In our political relations, there are some changes we must make in our attitude toward the South American countries if we are to get along amicably with them, as good neighbors. First, we must quit patronizing them. It goes down as badly with them as British patronizing does with us. Those who exercise authority and leadership in Latin America are a proud people. They have a great tradition. They do not like this ‘big brother’ attitude, this assumption that we are going to protect them. They will help us protect the whole western world; they want that understood. And, likewise, we must get over this disposition to tell them how they ought to govern themselves. That is their affair, not ours. I am not at all sure how we should act if we had to face some of their problems. You certainly cannot expect a representative republic to function with a people ninety per cent illiterate, as some of these peoples are. A more cosmopolitan attitude on the part of Americans toward our sister states below the line would help a lot.
It has become our habit during the present depression to bemoan the disappearance of our frontiers. If there are any young Americans that possess the qualities of those pioneers of a century ago who came to the United States and wrested a home from a wilderness, and that mourn the lack of a frontier up here, there is an abundance of frontier in a country like Brazil, and I have it on the word of President Vargas himself that Brazil would welcome with open arms any young Americans who chose to cast their lot with the Brazilians, and grow up with the country. I can think of no greater challenge to the spirit of adventure than this—nor any greater contribution such young Americans could make toward the realization of the vision of a closely knit, utterly self-sufficient, amply defended, and economically prosperous western world, secure forever from any possible invasion by powerdrunk totalitarians from a white Europe, or land-hungry worshipers of a godemperor from a yellow Asia.