European Front


RUSSIA approaches the Polish problem today in much the same mood of ruthless wartime urgency that marked our handling of Mexican relations under the Wilson regime during World War I. Her insistence upon having a friendly neighbor on her western border in Europe derives from a concern for her own security. Moscow has not hesitated to intervene in Poland’s political affairs on the basis of her own superior force, as the United States intervened in Mexico’s, when the complexion of the latter’s government and policies, in an hour of world cataclysm, made intervention seem desirable.

But in approaching this problem, the U.S.S.R. does not enjoy the initial advantage which the United States possesses. In the Western Hemisphere, there has long been but one great power. No other could bring the threat of danger seriously to the borders of the United States. In Europe, whether under the Soviets or under the Tsars who preceded them, Russia has found herself but one of several great powers; and she has repeatedly experienced invasion from combinations among them. There is, accordingly, a far greater urgency upon her to seek safeguards.

Big brother, go slow

It has taken thirty years to eliminate the consequences in this hemisphere of our interventionary policies in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. A complete reversal of the trend inaugurated under Theodore Roosevelt had to be worked out. It took time and a change of policy to make us realize that friendly neighbors cannot be created by fiat, or by armed attempts to override the inherent political rights of a people in their own land.

Soviet Russia, in her pressure to obtain friendly neighbors in Eastern Europe, is duplicating in a broad sense the mistakes made by the United States in this hemisphere between the turn of the century and 1932. The results, where Poland is concerned, are similar. There is bitterness, accompanied by a profound estrangement of large sectors of the Polish public abroad, and — because of increased need for world unity — there is continuing international friction in London, Washington, and Moscow, and at San Francisco.

A solution of the political issues dividing Russia from other members of the United Nations on the Polish question will be found, but probably not during this conference. Only an optimist will expect, however, that a reconciliation of Poland and the U.S.S.R. will immediately follow any such settlement. That will come only when the Russians begin to realize that power alone cannot bring friendship and the solid basis for security which friendship offers, but that forbearance and generosity can.

Mr. Big and Messrs. Little

Russia’s formal emergence in the diplomatic realm as Mr. Big, firmly determined to exact recognition of the fact, has precipitated some sharp debate. But it has become clear, as the meetings have proceeded, that Moscow is as eager to have the conference inaugurate a world security league as anyone else present.

Full and acknowledged equality in the realm of military affairs has long been conceded the Soviet Union. Many of the abrupt maneuvers and strong-arm tactics employed by the Russian delegation — such as tying the Lublin issue to that of Argentina — should be written off as nothing more than a reflection of Russia’s anxiety to consolidate in the realm of world diplomacy a similar position of full equality. San Francisco is the first occasion, since the advent of the Soviet regime to power, when her diplomatic representatives could exact full recognition of her new role.

In the League of Nations, Russia was never accorded such recognition. Her vigorous attitude today, as Mr. Molotov hinted in his first address to the conference, has been conditioned by the remembrance that she was treated first as a pariah whose views the League ignored, and eventually was expelled for aggression against Finland by the same powers that had tolerated Italy’s rape of Ethiopia and Japan’s unprovoked onslaught against China.

There is danger in Russia’s attitude, but the danger is by no means so serious as that which produces such bootless rows as the flurry about the creation of Austria’s new provisional government. No adult acquainted with the political history of Austria during the past two decades, or with the biography of Dr. Karl Renner, will easily understand the tantrums which the American Department of State manifested upon receipt of news that this elderly Austrian moderate, and a group of supporters drawn from all other reputable anti-fascist, pro-democratic quarters, had formed a provisional government at Vienna.

Russia’s notification to Washington and London that this was in the wind, and that she did not intend to oppose it, has been taken as evidence that another Russian-sponsored puppet regime has been set up. No evidence yet produced supports such a contention. Citations of agreements made at Teheran by no means prove that there is sinister intent behind Russia’s tolerance of the new Vienna regime. Do Washington and London intend to resist the formation of any government promising civil order under democratic auspices unless they are consulted in advance? Do they propose here to offer a substitute?

Smuts, Molotov

Two personalities stand out sharply in the wealth of talents assembled at San Francisco. Each has been shaped in the revolutionary fires of history; but only one of them, Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts, who leads the South African delegation, is venerable in years. His education in the world of statesmanship began with the almost forgotten Boer War. It has continued since without remission, through the most tumultuous and bloody four decades in recorded history.

If World War I left its deep impress on Jan Smuts, the Paris Peace Conference has left a deeper stamp still. He cannot forget that experience. Even here, halfway across the world in space, and more than a quarter of a century later in time, he conjures it back. At Versailles, he rose dramatically to warn the artificers of the peace treaty that they were laying a train of gunpowder into the future.

At San Francisco, clad in the resplendent uniform of a marshal of the Empire, to whose direction his contributions have been impressive during the intervening generation, he rises again, this time to utter an even more urgent warning that the hour has struck, not merely for Europe, but for the human race; to plead that efforts greater than any put forward for military victory are needed if the race between freedom and utter disaster is to be won.

Smuts moves through the hurly-burly of the conference quietly and with serene composure. Only as spokesman for his delegation has he made brief appearance before the whole gathering. He prefers the committee room to the rostrum, the quiet meeting of minds in casual give-and-take to the wrangle of argument. His unobtrusive wisdom is leaving its mark on proceedings, not only with his own associates from the Union of South Africa, but with every delegation from the British Commonwealth and with many others.

V. M. Molotov, the Soviet Union’s formidable Commissar of Foreign Affairs, easily dominated the entire assemblage during its first days. Short, compact, massive-browed, as trim and collected as a tailor’s model, he radiates force. He moves easily on his feet; yet one feels, watching him, that some strange force anchors him to earth.

Before the press, Molotov is completely at ease. Standing at the rostrum in the Opera House to preside over the crowded sessions of the plenary meetings, silhouetted against the brilliant background of lights and the ranked flags of the forty-six nations, he becomes an epitome of efficiency and assurance.

Consciousness of the power behind him radiates from his every move. His voice is crisp, businesslike, and slightly harsh. His smile belies the edged irony, the lashing sarcasm, he can summon when occasion seems to him to warrant it. Even in relaxation, he suggests a wary alertness, a capacity for instantaneous and galvanic action, a bulging will. His revolutionary past has been bitted and harnessed. His control is almost perfection. But explosive energies lie behind his Slavic calm.

Small nations hold their breath

There was turbulent excitement during the days he was making his presence felt at the conference. Much of the difficulty revolving around Russian policy and Russian aims at the conference flows from a continuing inability of the Western nations to grasp the simplicity and directness of Russian procedure. That this was the case during the first week of the conference became very clear soon thereafter, as the delegates settled to the hard work of committees. Russia has brought to the tables of diplomacy in this great meeting of minds the same indifference to polite pretenses that made her spokesmen the enfants terribles of the nineteen-twenties at Geneva.

Neither the so-called “medium-sized powers” nor their smaller associates are evincing misgivings quite so strong as those they displayed on the eve of the conference. Their disposition to go along with the judgment of their more powerful associates has been gratifying. The Netherlands, Belgium, and France, are, it must always be remembered, empires. Their expectations for recovery of their overseas possessions, especially in the Pacific, depend for fulfillment upon further and major war efforts which only the United States, Great Britain, and Russia are capable of making.

That is why France has astutely disavowed any intention of attempting to assume leadership, at the conference, of the smaller nations on the Continent. Also it explains why M. Georges Bonnet, the French Ambassador to Washington, vigorously scotched reports circulated at San Francisco that recent discussions among his government, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg were aiming at formation of a Western European entente.

Eelco N. van Kleffens, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs and head of the Netherlands delegation, supports M. Bonnet. So does the capable Foreign Minister of Belgium, Paul Henri Spaak.

The rapprochement among these Western European nations is natural and is certain to extend into economic agreements such as the French, Dutch, Belgians, and Luxembourgers made in Paris early this spring. With the question of the disposal of the Rhineland still unsettled, with open demands by van Kleffens for German territory to compensate for the ruin of nearly a million acres of Holland’s most fertile lands by the flooding policy put into effect by the Germans, the similarity of political aspirations among France, Belgium, and Holland is obvious.

All that, however, lies in the future. There is not the slightest reason to doubt that these nations at present are more interested in harmonizing their policies with the overall purposes of the conference than in attempting to consolidate into a political bloc.

The agreements made among them proceed from mutual economic needs. They represent an effort to achieve stable monetary relationships, correlative policies with respect to the rehabilitation of essential industries, and a program of mutual aid by means of exports. They are dictated by the cold facts of ruin, economic prostration, and the pressing need of hastening industrial rehabilitation to prevent domestic strife.

France stands up

The rift between the champions of deep reform and the exponents of “go slow” is widening. The difficulties in which the de Gaulle regime finds itself in France have been multiplied by the surrender of Marshal Pétain, whose return to the land he betrayed to fascist ideologies has given a tremendous fillip to the hopes of the French reaction. Will Pétain’s trial be postponed by General de Gaulle, as has the trial of Étienne Flandin?

Under these circumstances, and because France as well as her partners in the recent economic pact faces a desperate shortage of food, machinery, textiles, and raw materials which only their allies, Britain and America, can fill during the coming months, the refusal of France to reach for leadership of any bloc of small nations in Europe at present is easily understandable.

Ballot boxes among the ruins

One of the signs of returning health in Europe is reflected at San Francisco in the growth of interest in elections. France is striving to rehabilitate her domestic political structure in order to provide herself with a stronger foundation for government than she now possesses. That, rather than the mixed results of the polling late in April among 30,000 communities, for local officials, is the real point.

Reconstitution of the political base of the nation is no easy task, as the confusion attending these local elections reveals. The necessary first step has been taken, however. It paves the way for the election of new officials to man the French departments, which de Gaulle’s government promises shortly. With the regularization of the departments, the French political system will begin to resume its old strength and the innumerable questions facing the French people in the realm of domestic policy can be tackled. The problem of the de Gaulle regime is to keep France on an even keel until these dangerous shoals have been negotiated.

What effect the death of President Roosevelt will have upon the political destinies of Prime Minister Churchill remains an enigma. Probably this event removed a sturdy prop to Mr. Churchill’s prestige. The emphatic demands of the British Labor Party for wholesale reforms, including nationalization of transport, power, banking, and mines, presage a tremendous battle when the first general elections in Great Britain since October, 1935, get under way at last.

The proposals of British labor strike at the foundations of British Conservatism. The Tories, however, enjoy the advantage which comes from taking many younger men into their party. They will count heavily on the normal swing of the political pendulum in British politics toward caution in war’s aftermath. It appears more than likely that they will also try to smother the Labor Party’s proposals by plumping for “more and better Beveridge.”