The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington


THE Surplus Property Board has a sizable job to do. It must dispose of fifty billion dollars in goods and war plants, and the disposal clearly will influence the country’s economic activity for years to come.

No one needs to be told of the effect on hog and corn producers if forty-five million or more pounds of bacon should suddenly be released for public consumption; or on wool growers and blanket manufacturers if five million or more double blankets should suddenly be made available to dealers; or on a variety of industries if the government should make extensive sales of trucks, medicines, machine tools, and thousands of other items ranging all the way up to huge tracts of land and war factories.

The Baruch-Hancock Report last February urged expeditious disposal of surplus material. Even in wartime, goods can be disposed of when they have proved obsolete. Accordingly, William L. Clayton was appointed Surplus War Property Administrator, but Congress, deciding that the disposal of surplus war property held implications of vast import to the national economy, insisted on a three-man board. The bill was signed on October 3, though the President warned that the setup, coupled with various safeguards, might really “delay rather than expedite reconversion.” He named the new board as one of his first acts after re-election.

The two wings of the Democratic Party came into sharp collision over the appointments. Liberals of the Wallace type wanted disposal to be directed by social considerations. That is to say, they wanted the job to be governed by the policy of using the surplus as a lever for placement of veterans and for full employment. The conservatives, who are led by Justice Byrnes (behind whom is Bernard M. Baruch), look to quick disposal, so as to enable free enterprise to thrive untrammeled.

The nominees of both wings were ignored. In their place the President has named former Governor Robert Hurley, of Connecticut, and a “lame duck,” Senator Guy M. Gillette of Iowa, the third member being the Californian banker, Colonel Edward H. Heller. All three names have put the liberals’ noses out of joint, and with reason, since the nominees are by no means the best equipped, technically, of the men who might have been chosen.

The tug of air at Chicago

The Air Conference at Chicago was not distinguished either for its preparation or for its press relations. Evidently there was a minimum of prior understanding. And few readers can have gained much enlightenment from the Report subsequently released.

We continue to befog significant occasions of this kind with poor press techniques. Off-the-record methods of informing reporters usually produce as much confusion as valid news. In this case, off-therecord facts were supplied along with off-the-record “background” material, with inevitable results. One would have thought that the information policies so successfully carried out at the Bretton Woods monetary conferences could remain a standard. But that earlier parley is still unequaled in this respect.

Out of the Conference has come the establishment of an interim council to function prior to the setting up of a world air organization. This is of prime importance. In this shrunken world there must be a means for standardizing equipment and for collecting and making available such data as weather conditions. Before the war it took seventeen years to get universal agreement on airworthiness.

In this connection the delegates at Chicago were astounded at the wealth of aviation data which was possessed by the American delegation. They were the fruit of the world-girdling activities of our Air Transport Command. The British wanted to give the air organization power to allocate traffic quotas and to prevent subsidies and other unfair practices. But the American delegation successfully resisted this effort to cartelize world aviation.

Five freedoms of the air

At Chicago there was a lot of talk about “freedom of the air” — the phrase made popular by Mr. Wallace. But it is meaningless as it stands. In an extreme interpretation “freedom of the air” signifies the right to fly and to carry passengers and cargo anywhere. This right is not at present accorded. Nor is it likely to be.

Australia and New Zealand pleaded for maximum freedom, but only two freedoms were generally accepted: freedom of innocent passage, and freedom to land for servicing and refueling. Still, these freedoms are a great step in advance of the present situation, which limits air freedom to the right to fly through the air space of the high seas. Under the new plan a foreign plane can fly over our air space if the country of origin gives reciprocal freedom to our airplanes. It can also be serviced in one or more of our airports.

The argument at Chicago concerned three other freedoms. These are variants of the right of lines to pick up trade en route to a foreign destination. We shall have this right on this continent, but there was no agreement at Chicago to confer that right elsewhere by bilateral agreements. Such an agreement already has been signed between ourselves and Spain.

The convention as signed at Chicago includes these clauses for general application, but only when the nations decide to accept them. The European countries seem to feel that if they allowed the Americans to pick up tramp travel in Europe, they would be forfeiting their birthright. This was a favorite phrase at Chicago. They fear American competition.

Military service or CCC?

The double-talk on military service was a great disappointment to the War Department, which put military service at the head of the list of requirements for a post-war military policy. Everything else, including demobilization, depends upon it. The War Department would like action immediately.

The President left the impression, in his reference to compulsory service, that any such training should be supplemented by training in the CCC camps and by non-military training that would build physique and teach young people good living habits. Mrs. Roosevelt had already come out in favor of a post-war CCC.

It is difficult to see how compulsory military training can be combined with compulsory CCC training. Certainly the latter would be unconstitutional, because the only justification for compulsory service is the need to ensure the national security, and that can be accomplished only by military training. The efficacy of the military training, besides, would be questionable if the training were involved in CCC activities.

Stettinius, a new broom

Mr. Stettinius is a capable administrator, and changes may be expected in the structure and procedures of the State Department. For instance, the code system in use is antiquated, and has impeded quick communication with agents abroad. Some of the personnel are as antiquated as the codes. There is need for better working relations with other agencies of government. Mr. Stettinius may be expected to plead with Congress for bigger appropriations so as to improve salary and allowance scales and to increase the personnel. Hitherto the State Department has been apathetic on the financial question.

The State Department must develop better public relations. In the final analysis it is the people who mold policy, and the State Department should see to it that the people have the information on which to form sound judgments. The attitude of some State Department officials toward the public is nothing less than quaint.

Much of the criticism directed against the State Department for its policy-making is, of course, wide of the mark. Mr. Roosevelt is the policy-maker. He will be even more of a policy-maker in the Stettinius regime. Criticism of our diplomatic machinery is justified only as it refers to administration. But administration has lagged behind policy-making in this war, and policy-making has lagged behind military events.

In consequence, if Germany had collapsed this fall, we should have been in a dilemma. A Stettinius reorganization may get rid of some of the administrative bottlenecks which have plagued Washington.


The mood of the Capital reflects Mr. Churchill’s statement that the war with Germany may go on until next summer. The hopes of an early peace have been dashed by the positional warfare into which Germany has forced the Allies. The ability of Germany to rally and stand firm on the Rhine is, of course, due to the speed of our victories in France and to the difficulties of getting supplies to the front.

There is little sympathy with the military attempt to saddle on labor the responsibility for shortages. These are due primarily to deficiencies in military planning. “Stop and go” orders have bedeviled the producers of war material these last twelve months. Another cause is the failure of administrative machinery to adapt itself to changing military requirements.