Danger and Opportunity


THE other day in Detroit, General Motors gave a small dinner party to a British Tank Mission. I, among others, was called upon to speak, but with all those experts present I took the talk away from tanks and spoke instead about things more in my present-day line. And I was glad I did so, because it induced Dr. Kettering, General Motors’ Research Chief, to make an interesting observation.

He pointed out the difference between man and the wasp. When the new generation of wasps first crawl out of their mud nests, the older generation which produced them is gone; for the wasp creates and dies. Each generation of wasps is therefore completely on its own. Heredity, and heredity alone, shapes a wasp’s way of life. Instinct alone sends him to the wasp’s Dartmouth, and he dies without ever knowing what his father’s alma mater was.

Not so with man. He does learn by instruction, or has the opportunity to learn that way over the years or the aeons. He is influenced by his environment, which is shaped by the generations that have gone before, each one of which has taught the next generation, so that man is a creature of his environment as well as of his heredity.

Sometimes we’re inclined to forget that. Sometimes, without being aware of its responsibilities, the older generation does a good deal of complaining about the younger. And sometimes the younger generation does a lot of complaining about the older one. Take, for example, the period we entered into at the end of the last war and the bond of youth then established. It was the old men who had brought on the war; it was the old bankers, the old munition magnates.

We don’t hear much grumbling today about the age of our leaders who will be making the peace some years hence, but as Simeon Strunsky pointed out the other day in his brilliant “ Topics of the Times,” the average age of Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek is sixty-one. Two years from now, when they may he gathered to determine peace terms (and I have not said that the war would be over in two years — I’m making no prophecies), their average age will exactly equal that of those old “dodoes” Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and Orlando who, because of their age, — or so we were told, — wrote the “iniquitous” Treaty of Versailles.

Far from being iniquitous, the Treaty of Versailles, in my opinion, was the first and only potentially just treaty. In so far as I am aware, it was the only treaty which provided a method for the modification of its terms. Treaties are written in anger and hatred, in sorrow and in blood. Hence they cannot be either fair or enduring.

It would be equally wrong, however, for one to say it was the youth who came after that war who should be held responsible for this war. I am unable to say that it was their youth movements, their peace movements, their debunking of national heroes, their isolationism, their Oxford groups in England and highly patronized bodies here, that were responsible.

Conflict of ideas, not ages

No, the essential conflict in the world is not, as I see it, between your generation and mine, although a certain amount of such conflict is, of course, inevitable. More than that, it is necessary and desirable, for unless each succeeding generation is dissatisfied, and therefore critical of each previous generation, you might just as well be wasps.

But the essential conflict in the world today is not between age and youth. If you will look closely at the present war, I think you will see that the conflict is between the ideas Which have inspired the youth of Germany and the ideas which have inspired the youth of the United States.

I don’t think there is any basic difference between the ideals which motivated the action of my generation in this country and the ideals which are motivating you today. We both want to be free to develop our own talents to the best of our own ability; we both want to live in peace and security, without dictating to other people or being dictated to by other people, either at home or abroad. Your generation and mine may differ about political, or social, or technical methods of attaining the ends of life, but I do not think we differ on the ends, on the fundamental principles of how we are to live.

Victory will come slowly

There has been a tendency since our invasion of Africa to assume that because we can begin to see the pattern of victory, victory is assured and cannot be long delayed. I hope this is right, but several facts should be remembered. President Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill have made it clear that we are now fighting in Africa merely to get into position to wage the real fight on the continent of Europe. Also they told us that the African invasion was planned over six months before it took place, and clearly this action required fewer men and transports than it will take to wage the great European offensive. The notion that this is a short-term crisis is dangerous for another reason. It is not only going to take a long time to smash the military power of the Axis, but it is going to take a much longer time to win victory, which is a totally different thing.

We are not fighting the Axis as a test of military strength any more than one prize-fighter fights another as an academic test of who is the better fighter. We are fighting for a specific stake—the greatest stake ever put up in any fight in the history of the world. That stake is peace, not for twenty-five years but for a century; that stake is security, not for a few people for a short time but for all people for a long time. We should think a prize-fighter a very foolish man if, after winning his fight, he didn’t go around to collect his prize. But this time it would be worse than folly: it would be an act of unprecedented shame if, after all the sacrifices of this war, we didn’t stay on the job long enough to give full opportunity to all the people of the world to collect the real stake of this war.

Again let me draw on personal experience. At the end of the last war I came to the New York Times convinced that peace lay in a League of Nations and a World Court. I still hold that conviction although it may be desirable to call the rose by another name. But I didn’t realize then that moral force was not enough. I resigned my commission in the Field Artillery, got out of the Reserve, and tried to form the pattern of my children’s thinking by providing no lead soldiers for them to play with.

Well, gentlemen, that’s folly. Peace is not merely the absence of war — a static situation as compared with a dynamic one. We are never going to get a real peace until we are as ready to sacrifice for peace as we are for war. We spill our blood and spend our treasure, disrupt our lives. For what? To beat an enemy? No! To secure an opportunity to enjoy peace. To lie in the sun. To work and play and love. Yet as soon as the conflict ceases, our guard is down and we’re back to our petty jealousies and animosities. We must recognize now in war that when we talk of great peace aims we acquire great obligations to maintain them.

What security means

It is meaningless to talk about security for all men as a path to peace unless we recognize that that means a revolution in our thinking about tariffs and ways of conducting business and government. It serves no useful purpose to speak about coöperating with other nations to put an end to war unless we understand that to do so we must maintain a strong army and accept compulsory military service at the same time that we limit our nationalism and help maintain that peace all over the world. We must face the paradox of being prepared to go to war to preserve peace; we must know the folly of just wishing for peace, and prepare ourselves to work for it not for a few years but all our lives, until gradually we stamp out this terrible curse of war.

Toward a permanent peace

When you go into the service of your country, I urge you, therefore, not to think of this crisis as a short-term proposition. We did too much of thatlast time. The “Let’s get it over in a hurry” philosophy is all right for the actual fighting, but that’s just the beginning of our problem. People ask me when we shall win this war, and I reply that I shall never know. I shall not know whether we have won because not until we have had at least two generations of peace will the world know whether we’ve attained the desired end. And I urge you not to despair over the magnitude and complexity of the task. There is no more ridiculous argument than the one which says we failed to secure peace last time, so why try a similar pattern again, How many times did man fail in his attempts to sail the seas and fly the oceans and wipe out disease? And where should we be today if we had followed the advice of those who said “It’s no use!” or “It won’t work!”

Let’s not hesitate to try it again, but let’s place the emphasis differently this time. In the period of armistice which is to follow this conflict it would be well for us to concentrate not on the creation of detailed new national boundaries, but rather on the building of the international machinery which will permit changing boundaries in time of peace. Some of us are familiar with Articles 10 and 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which defined the obligations of all members in the event of an act of aggression, but not nearly enough of us are familiar with Article 19 of the Covenant, which was designed to remove the causes of war by adjusting in time of peace the legitimate grievances which lead to insecurity and to fear and, finally, to war. We should do well now to recall the lesson of Article 19. When it was originally proposed, by Lord Robert Cecil on behalf of the British delegation, it stated specifically that “the Body of Delegates (of the League) shall make provision for the periodic revision of treaties which have become obsolete, and of international conditions the continuance of which may endanger the peace of the world.”

Where we failed the last time

Under this wording the members of the League would have been obligated at specific intervals to take action on the legal, economic, and social factors which helped produce this war. They would have been obligated to bring up in an orderly manner and in a reasonable atmosphere the question of the mandates and colonies, the question of the Sudetenland and Austria and Danzig. But instead the wording of Article 19 was changed to read that the Assembly may (instead of must) consider grievances, and the result was that when Bolivia and Chile sought to have the League settle their boundary dispute at the Second Assembly, it was eventually ruled that the League could not “of itself modify any treaty.”

I suggest that the United States (which played an important part in changing the wording of Article 19 from must to may) should not only accept all its responsibilities in joining with the other nations to help solve these international problems, and should not only see to it that the new League be given the authority of arms to enforce its decisions, but that it must also support this time Lord Cecil’s original premise: that the nations of the world must periodically consider the revision of treaties. Change is one of the inevitable laws of nature, and justice is the first prerequisite of a lasting peace. I suggest that we do not ignore that important fact again.

I suggest further that it might be wise now to reaffirm United States policy, as enunciated by this and previous administrations, that we will not recognize geographical changes brought about by aggression; and that we extend the interpretation of that policy to mean that, as a result of war, boundaries will not be altered, even by those of us who were not aggressors. Let us go back to the world as it was drawn prior to the first Japanese attack on Manchuria in 1931 and make that our base upon which to build. For no one, no matter how inspired, can reconcile all the conflicting national aspirations of the world, and it will be no more possible, with satisfaction to all, to settle all boundaries by treaty this time than it was in 1919.

International law that will work

During the long armistice period which I trust we shall have after this war, we can not only complete the disarmament of those who have proved themselves unfit to be trusted with weapons but also set up the machinery capable of dealing with boundary and other issues by peaceful and judicial means. At the peace table, let us concentrate together on the economic and social issues; let us work out the system of handling territories previously mandated; let us set up our international force to keep the peace and carry out the orders of our new international agency. But let us leave to the agency and to the days after the peace has been written the details of determining boundaries, and say once and for all: You may appeal for boundary changes by legal means, but you cannot, and we will not, take advantage of conflict for that purpose.

Finally, I want to point out that the rewards of winning the peace are equal to the sacrifices you are asked to make, if only you will look forward and not behind. Now, as in 1776, we are faced with a revolutionary problem. In order to save our lives we have had to twist the old world out of shape, and we might as well make up our minds that we cannot put it all back together again in exactly the same way. Not that we must scrap all that was good in the past. It was never more true than it is today that the cure for the evils of democracy is not less democracy but more democracy.

You young men who have had the opportunity of a good education have a special obligation and chance to carry that idea into practice. You are starting now on a new experience that will carry many of you into the corners of the world. What I am urging you to do is to look at the new places you see with unprejudiced eyes. Put away your old conceptions about the other peoples of the world. Look and see if the men of England, or China, or Russia, or Australia, or Africa are really basically so different from your classmates; look and see if they are less eager or worthy of a job and security and peace than we are in America.

In Chinese the word “crisis” is written not with one character but with two. The first character means danger, which is the definition of crisis we are most familiar with. But the second character means opportunity. The danger ahead of you is undoubtedly great, but so is the opportunity. You can win what I and my generation failed to win if only you will sacrifice for peace with as high courage as you are now sacrificing for war. Good luck to you.