The Realities of War and Peace

» Walter Lippmaun argues that no peace can be secured without our help. The question is: How far will we go in our foreign policy, and with what force will we hack it up?



IN HIS brilliant and cogently reasoned book, U. S. Foreign Policy, Mr. Walter Lippmann argues that the lack of a foreign policy leaves the United States without shield and armor in a world of tensions and conflicts — woefully unprepared for war when it comes, and for peace when it has to be secured.

For eighty years, from the fall of Napoleon to the beginning of this century, the United States needed no foreign policy. These years coincided with the happiest period mankind has known so far, with Britain’s undisputed role as guardian of peace and of progressive growth to liberty under law everywhere. America’s security was then based on the division of Europe, the backwardness of Eastern Asia, and Britain’s control of the Atlantic, which made the Monroe Doctrine possible and thwarted the recolonization of the Americas by the Holy Alliance.

Americans attributed this long freedom from care not to the realities of the situation but to the unique conditions of America’s moral climate. The turn of the century ended the happy isolation for Britain and America alike: the Boer and Spanish Wars almost coincided. New Powers emerged in Europe and Asia: Wilhelm’s Germany and a Japan victorious over China . Bot h dreamed of oceanic expansion, built great fleets, and, as a new, infinitely more dynamic and energetic Holy Alliance, looked to the recolonization of the Americas.

Great Britain awakened from isolationism and Victorian imperialism to the new reality: she looked for allies and began the daring and unprecedented transformation of her Empire from trusteeship to partnership, the greatest school of liberty under law known to history. The United States, outgrowing the pains of adolescence, fought under Theodore Roosevelt against the rough and naïve plutocracy at home and for security in a changing world abroad: far-flung empire bases were created at Puerto Rico and Panama, at Hawaii, Guam, and Cavite.

The rising power of Germany and Japan threatened not only the security of Britain and America; it also threatened their common conception — derived from Magna Charta, Milton, and Locke — of liberty and of man’s place in society. Yet Americans continued in the happy illusion of their Victorian age, hiding reality behind all kinds of moralistic and legalistic screens. Their unique economic advance favored a one-track economic interpretation of social relations, weakening their understanding of history. They entered the war in 1917 without knowing why. Russia disintegrated in revolutionary chaos; France was saved only by the glorious miracle of old man Clemenceau — a Pétainian ignominy loomed as a possibility even then; Great Britain was almost starved into submission by the submarine; German domination of Europe and of the Atlantic threatened the recolonization of the Western Hemisphere.

President Wilson understood the threat offered by Germany to the Western concepts of liberty; his intuition grasped the even greater threat to America’s security; but this descendant of Calvinist teachers could not see clearly the real reasons why America had to fight. His idealistic and moralistic reasons were not without validity but, offered exclusively and overemphasized, they utterly confused the American mind about the issues at stake. It was only after his second return from Europe, in the memorable speeches of his Western tour in September, 1919, that he showed a full understanding of the situation. Then it was too late.

Most Americans regarded the war as a generous crusade, not realizing that it was fought as much for American as for British or French security. Victory in World War I was a tremendous prize: it made America’s security possible. But because Americans had not grasped the seriousness of the threat to their security, victory itself seemed sterile. Because they did not understand that the security of France and Britain and a strong League were conditions of their own security, they abandoned them and accepted those myths about World War I and the Treaty of Versailles which, more than anything else, made World War II possible. France, Britain, and the United States were unprepared in their minds and in their hearts in that fateful summer of 1940 when Churchill alone, endowed with prophetic ethos and a keen sense of the realities of war and peace, turned the tide and gave his people and ours the chance to understand, to act, and to survive.

Today, three years later, the victory of the United Nations — doubtful in 1940 — appears ahead of us, though still far away. It alone will be a tremendous achievement. But Americans will establish a lasting peace only if they make up their minds about their foreign policy, the commitments they must make, and the power they need in order to maintain their security and liberties. For this crucial problem Mr. Lippmann’s book offers the best guide, with its felicitous lucidity, its keen and dispassionate understanding of realities, and its emphasis upon first things first, helped therein by his historical perspective. For the present cannot be understood without the past. Mr. Lippmann has put history to its best use. The great danger of all political discussions today is what may be called thinking in slogans. Mr. Lippmann’s book is remarkably free from it.


FOR the last twenty years the British and Americans have been thinking in apparently contradictory terms. Wishful thinking led to easy illusionism; fearful thinking led to easy cynicism. Both had the same effect: they obscured reality and excused from a sustained effort against perils which the first denied and the second accepted as invincible. Wishful thinking after World War I treated the Germans as if they were English or Americans bent upon peace and profit. That the Germans, as a national group, reacted differently from Anglo-Saxons to the historical and social challenges was overlooked because the illusions about the German character gave sentimental comfort. These fundamental differences have nothing to do with race— the Japanese are in their whole attitude much nearer to the Germans than to

the Chinese. They are the product of differences in historical development, in political ideals and social structure. They can be changed, but not without strictest vigilance and continuous effort.

To the wishful thinkers, Hitler’s success appeared as a singular phenomenon, not as a recrudescence of German trends and attitudes long prevalent before World War I and never checked by stern and vigorous action of the victors. Wishful thinking made many Anglo-Saxons believe they could exorcise the devil of power by non-recognition. They forgot the “ unpleasant ” fact that American security depends upon the British imperial positions in Hong Kong and Trincomalee, in Gibraltar and the Suez Canal, not less than British security depends upon the American imperial positions at Pearl Harbor and the Panama Canal, at Wake Island and Guantanamo. On the one hand, democracy was taken for granted; on the other, it was cynically deflated by comparison with absolute ideals of perfection. The Anglo-Saxons let their ideals and their power fall into disrepute at the very moment when the world needed leadership based upon ideals and power.

The general confusion of values and realities produced an ideological and a power vacuum. After World War I, Americans lost confidence in their cause, their victory, and their peace. This ideological vacuum was filled by German and Communist interpretation of war guilt and Versailles, of French overweening strength, of democratic hypocrisy and inefficiency. The power vacuum created by the British and American retreat was necessarily filled by Germany’s and Japan’s bid for world mastery, for no world order can exist on earth without power.

Wishful thinking with its boundless optimism found a strange corollary in fearfid thinking which accepted the prophets of doom and inevitable catastrophe at their face value. Spengler was undoubtedly a man of genius with a mind of unusual breadth. Yet what he called Western civilization was the Faustian Kultur of Germanism, and he had scant knowledge and even less understanding of the Anglo-Saxon tradition and of middle-class society. He hated democracy, free enterprise, reasonableness, and common sense; so he predicted their end as an inexorable fate to which we have to submit. Minor prophets followed in his wake, even in the democratic countries, proclaiming with “scientific objectivity” the inescapable wave of the future, the coming “revolution” with its streamlined efficiency, and flaunting their disregard for that most precious and most vulnerable possession, the dignity and liberty of man.


THE wave of the future was broken in 1940. Today the democracies have regained confidence in their strength and in their cause. They have awakened from the self-pity with which they have bewailed wars as only terrible and destructive of democracy. They know again that democracies were born in wars and have maintained their liberties by the fighting spirit. Jefferson, Lincoln, and Walt Whitman lived through great wars and never abandoned their affirmative faith. War is a disaster; war is at the same time a great opportunity. Democracy has survived throughout the British Empire and in the United States in spite of war, and has been strengthened and revitalized by war.

In 1919 we failed to make peace but refused to stay armed. Today we face the same problems as in 1919, on a vaster scale, but we have had opportunity to learn, though at great cost. Mr. Lippmann rightly points out that the two interrelated problems, the demilitarization of Germany and Japan and the establishment of some world order, cannot be achieved except through a league of nations led by a strong combination of powers resolved to enforce the peace. We had to rebuild in this war the alliance of the last war; had we maintained it after 1918, World War II might never have come. “The combined action by America, Britain, and Russia is an irreducible minimum guarantee of the security of each of them and the only condition under which it is possible even to begin to establish any wider order of security. The formation of this nuclear alliance must in our thinking and in our action take precedence over all other considerations.”

At the end of the war we shall find nationalism everywhere stronger. De Gaulle and Giraud both fight for France et l’Empire. The oppressed nationalities of Europe struggle, not for economic justice, but against the national oppressor. Nationalism has made the greatest advance in the Soviet Union, where the appeal to the masses is entirely based on their love for the fatherland, its sacred soil and its national traditions. But the nations can work together in enlightened self-interest for the common aim of the maintenance of peace.

Mr. Lippmann is well-advised not to propose any blueprint of the future. The discussion of detailed plans now can only lead to disunity among, and within, the nations. What is important is to understand the essentials of the situation, to view first things as first things from which alone all the other steps can follow. It is a great merit of Mr. Lippmann’s book that he does not confuse the fundamental considerations with the incidental or secondary issues.

There is one point, however, in which Mr. Lippmann defines foreign policy too narrowly. This war is not a crusade for democracy and its freedoms, if by democracy we understand, not consent of the majority (in that case Hitler’s regime would be democratic), but liberty of the individual, freedom of thought, and respect for law. Neither the Soviet Union nor China is a democracy, and it is very doubtful whether they will emerge as democracies from this war. This is a war for security and survival, a life-and-death struggle for the United States, the British Empire, the Soviet Union, and China alike. We shall survive together or perish toget her.

But that does not mean that ideas do not play a decisive role in this war and in the foreign policy of the major belligerents. Nations need not only an armor of steel (alliances, arms, and strategic frontiers) to survive, but the inspiration of their national ideals. And like their power, their ideas attract or repel, are a potent factor in their foreign policy.

Jefferson, Lincoln, and Wilson understood the fundamental importance of the ideological factor, of the “American idea.” In every great war, in every crisis of mankind, ideas have been battling as fiercely as armies. Mr. Lippmann knows it, of course, but he does not stress it sufficiently. There is no hint of what the German victory in 1870 meant and what a German victory in 1914 or 1939 would have meant; not only the triumph of German arms but of the German Weltanschauung, with consequences which would have changed entirely the face of the earth.

In the struggle of the West with Germany and Japan, two concepts of man and of his place in history and society face each other, opposite and irreconcilable. The Germans and Japanese know it; we know it too, today. In that sense this war is an ideological war — and ideas are of fundamental importance in the life of a great nation and in its foreign policy. They are the heart of its power.

Athena, the goddess of wisdom, of peaceful arts and civilized warfare — Ares was the god of brute war — never appeared but in full armor. Her city decayed when its citizens, in wishful thinking, forgot stern reality and forsook eternal vigilance and manly valor. But it bequeathed to mankind the image of the dignity of man and his quest for rational justice, I in free discussion and in the pursuit of happiness under law, which, under Athena’s protection, from the Persian to the Peloponnesian Wars, had brightened the dark earth with its imperishable light.