The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington


HOW the war with Germany will end is the subject of anxious and intense discussion in Washington. Our demand at the Casablanca Conference for “unconditional surrender” was no inducement to the German military to lay down their arms. Even less inviting was the decision taken at Moscow to send back to the scene of their crimes those Germans who have committed atrocities or have taken a “consenting part” in them. But the Teheran declarations made no further mention of either condition.

Accordingly we may expect from now on that all manner of pressure will be exerted on Washington to enable the Germans to surrender under easier conditions. The pressure will be resisted, if only because of the new relation with Russia. There is a realization here, as abroad, of the vital necessity of making the Germans, military and civilian, feel they are utterly beaten.

Then the letdown

In all likelihood there will be a letdown in this country when the war with Germany is over. The prospect is disquieting because we shall still have on our hands a war with Japan. That campaign must be given the fullest kind of publicity.

It is the consensus among newspapermen here that the publicity about the Gilberts exploit marked the turning point in Navy information policy. News was released promptly. It was well written and well distributed. Some of the credit must be given to the persistent efforts of Elmer Davis and Palmer Hoyt to persuade the Navy to relax its grip on news.

Other ways to present news are under canvass. The Navy is seeking to bring back to this country more data and pictures about the savagery with which the Japanese are waging war. It is even suggested that the Navy might take a leaf out of the Marine notebook and commission official reporters. That would be an excellent method of enlarging the flow of war news when peace news begins to take up much of the front pages.

Salute for General Marshall

Reorganization of the military command will signal that we are on the home stretch in the Atlantic. For some months back, General Marshal] has been building up a staff in London. The time is appropriate to pay tribute to him. It was very fortunate for this country that he was Chief of Staff when war came. He is a great organizer. His influence percolates through the great Army which he and Secretary Stimson have created.

General Marshall is held in the highest respect by all his associates as a strategist. He won his spurs in the Philippines. He was an observer during the Russo-Japanese War. In the last war, as aide-decamp to General Pershing, he planned the SaintMihiel offensive. He retains the lessons of his experience and his wide reading. He can talk well, which is unusual in a military man. Just as rare is his facility with his pen. For instance, it was left to him to prepare for Stalin the report on the Quebec Conference. There need be no doubt that as a strategist or a diplomatist Marshall is worthy to represent this country overseas.

Marshall’s shoes may be difficult to fill. They are reportedly to be filled by General Eisenhower. The runner-up for the job would be the ambitious and able General Brehon Somervell.

If there is any general who approximates the quality of Marshall, it is Dwight Eisenhower. He is an organizer par excellence. He is the man who has really integrated the coalition in the field. A story that Sir Hastings Ismay, Winston Churchill’s Chief of Staff, brought to Washington illustrates Eisenhower’s genius in this respect. Ismay wanted to meet Eisenhower’s staff. One by one the officers filed into Eisenhower’s office to be introduced. Some time after one of them had left the room, Ismay asked Eisenhower the officer’s nationality — was he British or American? Actually Eisenhower had to scratch his head before he could answer. As Chief of Staff, Eisenhower would bring to the office the gifts and traits which make Marshall such a success at it.

Patton errors

To be sure, there is a soft side to Eisenhower. This was shown in the Patton affair, when Eisenhower failed to apply the articles of war, which called for either a court-martial or the retirement of Patton. As the Army and Navy Journal said, Pershing would never have made this mistake. But that was an error as a disciplinarian in the field.

The Patton case has left a huge question mark over the information policy of the War Department. It was fantastic to think that the incident could remain secret. Hundreds of thousands of men in the Mediterranean theater knew it, they communicated it to people at home, and every returning traveler passed it around.

Common sense alone dictated release of the news. The Army’s ineptitude was compounded when the publication of the news met with a virtual denial from Algiers. This denial has caused more indignation with the Army than the failure to mete out justice to General Patton.

The people think they have been treated with contumely. In Congress there is the same resentment. Patton’s name was before Congress for promotion, yet not a word had been said to the members about his conduct.

It is unfortunate that an impression remains of disingenuousness. Particularly at this time, with demobilization plans in the formative stage, the Army needs to be on a plane of confidence with people and Congress. Most of these plans require legislation. One of them, of course, is a scheme for at least a year of service training for the country’s youth in peacetime.

Emergency spending

A similar lack of respect for the public could be charged against the War Department in the dispute over the Canol oil project in Canada. This is the first of many War Department extravagances to get an airing. The project is now under fire before the Truman Committee. The object was to have an alternative source of oil on the Alaskan land side in case the Japanese interfered with transport by tanker. It was to be completed in a short time. Begun in April, 1942, it will not be finished till next year. Expected to cost 25 million dollars, it has already cost 100 millions, with another 30 millions due. The results are meager and can never be more than meager. Secretary Ickes says the entire project should be junked before good money is thrown after bad.

But the War Department, instead of acknowledging a mistake, issued a justification of the project on grounds of military necessity. Worse, the implication was given that the project was sponsored by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This argument satisfied the newspapers in the Capital. It was later discovered, however, that the Joint Chiefs had not approved the project until October 26, 1943.

This fact appeared after the Truman Committee had started the investigations. Accordingly the newspapers retracted their own whitewash of the War Department, and another example of “the public be damned” publicity has been spread on the record.

If peace is sudden

Post-war planning is under way in earnest. It is about time. A well-known Briton recently confided to a Washingtonian, “Victory, of course, is in the bag, but what I’m mortally afraid of is a sudden peace.” There is something in it. We must not be caught unprepared for peace. That would be a way of handing Hitler the victory which he cannot get on the field of battle.

The businessmen of the country have been astir for months back on schemes for making smooth the transition to peace. Of first importance from their standpoint is the lifting of the ban on statistical information about the country’s economy, for no businessman can plan intelligently unless he has access to trustworthy data. Unreliable data mean catch-as-catch-can planning, added costs, production loss, and manpower waste. A manufacturer, for instance, must know the total output of at least his own industry. Therefore Chairman Nelson of the WPB has decided to relax the ban on publication of industrial statistics, past and present, which have hitherto been available for war agencies only. This is the first step in the retransformation of industry.

Businessmen and civil service

There will be increasing difficulty in keeping businessmen on duty with the government at their war posts in Washington. They have had many more kicks than commendations. Life in the Capital is uncomfortable. They are cramped for space in temporary offices and in temporary homes.

They all hear their businesses and their families calling. The drain on their capital in order to keep up domestic establishments and home obligations is becoming sizable. But it would be folly to let them go prematurely.

This was the attitude governing Justice Byrnes in persuading Charles E. Wilson, General Electric’s head, to withdraw his resignation. Wilson would lead the list in any poll of informed Washington of the men who have made the best contributions. But for him we should be nowhere near the present output of aircraft and escort vessels. He took these items under his wing, besides running WPB as Executive Vice Chairman — and the word “took” is used advisedly. But others equally restive may not be retained. That will be a pity, for the country can ill spare some of these men on the home stretch or during transition.

This prospect is making many observers think of ways and means of improving our government services. The rewards are too slim; tenure is too uncertain; abuse is constant. Yet even when war is over, the government will remain in equal need of expert personnel, for government cannot be demobilized for some years. Under Secretary Forrestal suggests permanent staffs in all the departments “headed possibly by a permanent Under Secretary.”

Reform will take a great deal of pushing, for politics stands in the way of the extension of the merit system. As for better salaries, it is almost impossible to expect Congress to hike government salaries as long as Congressmen are held to $10,000 a year.

A bargain should be in order. If there were more sympathy, as there should be, for pensions for Congressmen, then there would be some hope of hoisting the salaries of government officials until they are on a par with private salaries. The trade would prove of enormous good to the American future. Yet it will be hard to stir up any enthusiasm for it. The inattention to the improvement of the government is an example of what a visiting Britisher said recently of this country: “I know of no country that is more unfair to itself than America.” It is a source of constant amazement that in all the circumstances government functions as well as it does.

“You never tell me anything”

But the paramount reform is to develop a liaison between Congress and the President. Mr. Roosevelt simply has no time for Congress. His eyes are abroad even when he is not. The liaison is left to the informal contacts established by Justice Byrnes. Mr. Byrnes is our deputy President. He is a good politician, but in American parlance that means he is a mixer and a compromiser. Besides, Mr. Byrnes is so overworked that he seemingly cannot attend to the simplest matters of liaison. For instance, it was a foolish oversight to send the American delegation to Atlantic City for the Relief Conference without including in it at least one member of Congress. We need something more formal.

Secretary Hull established a useful precedent when he addressed Congress on the Moscow Conference. A bill has been submitted by Representative Kefauver that would continue this excellent practice. House rules would be amended to provide for a question period for heads of departments and independent agencies. Some objection might be forthcoming that the proposal would be the opening wedge to transform our system into a parliamentary system on the British model. But only the most hidebound legislator could so object. It was not the intent of the Founding Fathers, when they set up our system of separation of powers, to keep the Executive and the Legislature in watertight compartments. On the contrary, there was the expectation that the two branches would consult.

It is equally important that the two chambers should take counsel together more frequently. Especially is the need great in the matter of demobilization. On the executive side Bernard M. Baruch has been appointed to study the necessary programs. But those programs can be carried into effect only by new legislation — as, for instance, in the termination of contracts. In Congress, however, only the Senate seems to have bestirred itself, and even in the Senate several committees are covering the same ground.

A special joint committee of both Senate and House should be at work with Mr. Baruch in planning a legislative program.


The mood of the Capital is that our successes abroad will bail out our mistakes and confusion at home. Congress and the Executive are at odds more than ever on the stabilization program.

Congress even wants to take a hand in the railroad labor trouble, which the President left to simmer. The trouble, as in the coal case, was the conflict among the government agencies. All that the President could do before he left was to extract a promise from the brotherhoods not to take strike action until he got back.

When there is a vacuum in the White House, when there is conflict among the agencies, Congress finds it difficult to sit back and do nothing. But its interference merely adds to the general confusion.