The People's Peace

by ARCHIBALD MACLEISH

ARCHIBALD MACLEISH has skillfully combined the qualities of poet, educator, and man of affairs. He was a successful practicing lawyer in Boston; he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry; he was a brilliant contributor to Fortune during its years of trial; and in his lectures and broadcasts he has spoken with ever widening influence. In 1939 he began his career as a public servant, first as Librarian of Congress and Assistant Director of OWI, then as Assistant Secretary of State; and at the war’s end he played a leading and formative part in the establishment of UNESCO, as Chairman of the American Delegation to the Constituent Conference. He has recently resigned from the Executive Board of UNESCO in order to return to his writing.— THE EDITOR

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DURING the war when we talked about making peace, we meant a new kind of peace. We called it a People’s Peace. It was going to be unlike anything men had ever tried before. Now that the war is over, the tune has changed. We still intend to make peace — if we can. But the peace we intend to make now is not a new kind of peace. The peace we intend to make now, if we mean what we say, is the peace we failed to make in 1919 and failed to keep in the twenty years which followed.

We say we are not going to pull out of Europe as we did in 1919. We are not going to disarm until everybody else disarms. We won’t fall again into the pit of appeasement. We will not be parties to another Munich whether Munich lies in Germany or farther east. We are not going to hold Mr. Chamberlain’s umbrella for him any more. We will not go back to sucking the baby’s thumb of isolation. We will never again believe, no matter who tells us, or how black the headlines, or how big the circulation, that out of sight is out of mind, and that what goes on beyond an ocean does not really go on at all.

These are admirable resolutions. Their only weakness is that they add up to a purpose to make, not this peace, but the last. And the last peace is no longer open to us.

The world of 1947 differs from the world of 1919 more radically than the world of one generation has ever differed from the world of a preceding generation. The change is not limited to the discovery of atomic fission or to advances in the technique of transportation. More important than either from the point of view of the making of a realistic peace is the fact that the peaceful relations between peoples have been profoundly altered by a technological revolution in world communications.

The development of the media of mass communication in the short generation between the wars has changed the kind of peace which can now be made, by changing the opportunities for contact between peoples — their contact not as nations or as governments but as human societies influencing each other through their manners, their customs, their traditions, their convictions, their arts, their lives.

Before the development of these media of communication — principally the voice broadcast and the motion picture — the cultural contacts of peoples, except as they resulted from invasion or conquest or the forced migration of populations, had necessarily been peripheral, indirect, fractional, and slow. The history of cultural influences which modern archaeology and modem anthropology delight to weave is a history of golden threads — of the influence of artist on artist and scholar on scholar and king on king: the fortunate and curious and traveled men. Only after long delays, which deprived the knowledge of its immediate use, and only in a watery and diluted form, which removed it from its sources and its meaning, could the lives and experiences of one nation be apprehended by the masses of another.

What the development of the instruments of mass communication has done is to make it possible, for the first time in human history, to reach great numbers of the people of one nation directly and peacefully and vividly and humanly with an expression of the lives and the manners and the customs and the arts of peoples of other nations. The implications of that fact are evident even to men who lack the historian’s discipline and perception. But for some reason they are not clear to the makers of political policy — or if noticed at all they are noticed only in negative terms: in terms of apprehension and fear.

It is still the major premise of the peacemakers in 1947, as it was in 1919, that peace is to be constructed by the agreements of governments, backed by the police measures of governments, within the structure of an association of governments, and that the informal and non-governmental relations of peoples — what are known rather patronizingly in the foreign offices as their “cultural relations" — are merely idle decorations on the hard realities of politics and force. That the great divisive issues of our time are precisely cultural issues of belief, of conviction, which the governmental peace formula doesn’t fit, and which the political association of governments cannot resolve or adjust or permanently control, strikes the peacemakers, apparently, as a paradoxical and ungrateful fact about which nothing can be done. As for the new media of mass communication, they are regarded either as properties to be exploited by the nations which possess them, or as influences to be feared by the nations which do not possess them, but by neither as the potential revolution in the international relations of mankind which in fact they are.

The nations which do not possess the new instruments, or which find themselves at an international disadvantage in their use, come closest to an appreciation of their revolutionary character. The President of the Provisional Government of the French Republic, speaking at the opening session of the first General Conference of UNESCO last November, warned the delegates against a new imperialism which might use the means of mass communication to bring about an anthill standardization of the cultures of the world. Members of other delegations, speaking on other occasions during the Conference, spelled this meaning out.

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THE Hollywood commercial film and the New York and Hollywood commercial broadcast are regarded by certain European and Latin American nations as cultural influences of doubtful value to the world. These nations consider that the high ideal of freedom of communication advanced by the United States and certain other powers amounts in reality to nothing more than a claim of special privilege; that the United States, far more than any other nation, possesses the instruments of communication and the technical and professional secrets of their use; that freedom for these instruments means, therefore, freedom for American exploitation of these instruments; that freedom for American exploitation means the subjection of the cultures of the entire world to the influence of the motion picture industry in Hollywood and the advertising agencies in New York which sell the American people cosmetics, cathartics, breakfast foods, and cigarettes.

We Americans do not think of radio and the motion picture as cultural influences in the sense in which the word culture is commonly used in this country. We would agree, of course, that certain Hollywood films cannot accurately be described as works of art. We would admit also that tho New York advertising agencies do not invariably produce radio programs of taste and distinction. In fact, we would undoubtedly go considerably beyond our friends in other countries in the warmth and color of the adjectives we would apply to the standardized daydreams with the interchangeable parts which are mass-produced on the two coasts of our continent. But though we are increasingly articulate about our dislike of the ordinary commercial product in both fields, we have never regarded either films or broadcasts as dangers to anything but the morals of the young.

We organize ourselves into legions of decency and associations of censorship to protect the next generation from viewing certain sections of the human anatomy on the screen, from listening to certain parts of the familiar vocabulary on the air, and from witnessing kisses which last more than a certain time. But we have never considered that: the influence on the mind, rather than on the morals, of the commercial products of the two industries might affect the vitality, originality, and vigor of the people. To learn now that responsible statesmen in other countries take that danger seriously enough to talk about it officially and in public is a sobering thing.

It would be a useful thing as well if it led to a general and positive appreciation of the meaning of the new instruments to the international relations of peoples. Unhappily it has led to nothing of the kind either hero or abroad. The conclusionsto which European critics are brought appear to be the negative conclusions of apprehension and fear, and too many American critics of the media end their accounts at the same point. Tho unarguable fact that the radio and the motion picture have been misused from time to time by certain commercial interests in the United States does not mean that they cannot be used well. And even if it did, the cultural isolationism propounded by the spokesmen for certain nations at the Paris Conference of UNESCO could not be justified. It is no answer to the communications revolution to forbid the mass media to exercise their function internationally any more than it was an answer to the industrial revolution to smash the new machines or to legislate them out of use.

What is certain is that radio and film exist and will be used, and that their use cannot be confined to national boundaries. Whether they are badly used to debase and vulgarize tlie national cultures of the world, reducing them to one dead level of standardized inanity and boredom, or well used to enrich and vitalize these cultures, depends not on the machines of communication but on the minds which employ them. Primarily it depends — and much more with it — on our willingness and ability to face the fact that, as a result of the revolution in communications, the peoples of the world are actually or potentially in touch with each other in a manner never before possible.

The consequences of that fact affect not merely the vitality of the world’s cultures but its hopes for peace and, above all, the kind of peace for which it has the right to hope. Peace cannot now be made solely between governments. A peace between governments, held together by the tensions of t heir conflicting interests as governments, and kept in balance by military and political and economic weights and counterweights, is realistically conceivable only in a world in which the relations between nations are in the hands of governments alone — a world in which communications between nations are confined to governmental channels or to channels of trade and commerce which governments control. In a world in which there are other channels of communication — a world in which whole peoples can confront each other and react to each other as they now do, or shortly will — peace must rest on something more substantial than the pivot of a balance: even a pivot made of steel: even a balance of the weights of power.

The center of gravity in international affairs has moved in our time, and is in the process of moving farther. The pyramid of peace can no longer be made to balance on its point. It can stand only upon its base. The talk of a people’s peace in the last days of the war was, in fact, an echo of this perception. The phrase was neither altogether rhetorical nor merely idealistic. It expressed an inarticulate conviction that a peace of governments was no longer a true peace: that a true peace must be based, in part at least, on the relations between peoples. The arrangements for a true peace must incorporate in some way the communications between peoples on which their relations in the modern world are based. Can such a peace be composed?

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So FAR, with the single and limited exception of the General Conference of UNESCO, no government and no international body has attempted to answer this question in explicit terms of action. There has been, of course, particularly in the United States, a considerable and heartening discussion of international communications, but it has been conducted almost altogether in negative terms — in terms of Freedom of Information, which is interpreted as the removal of barriers to the free flow of news. Everyone agrees that barriers in the way of freedom of information should be removed. But when it comes to the question of what barriers should be removed and what freedom of information is — whether freedom for the Russian government to print only what it likes, or freedom for Colonel McCormick to print only what he likes, or freedom for the people to have all the necessary information printed whether the particular publisher likes it or not — the agreement ends.

It is not likely to be restored by a further declaration of principles — even a declaration by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The fact is, as the world is very generally aware, that the existing system of international communication cannot provide the flow of information required by the peace of the world. To begin with, certain of the important channels of international communication are in the hands of concerns or governments which find it politically or commercially expedient to disseminate the materials, not of truth and knowledge and understanding, but of prejudice and hate. Second, the existing system of international communications is quantitatively inadequate. Large areas of the world are without needed communications and there is little likelihood that the system, as at present conducted, can supply them. Third, the system is qualitatively inadequate. It does not carry enough of the kind of material necessary to the international relations of peoples.

Of these three defects, the third is perhaps the most important. The existing system of world communication is primarily devoted, internationally, to news. Indeed, the campaign for international freedom of information has been most actively pressed in this country by people whose principal interest is in the transmission of news. News of events — truthful news of events set in a truthful context — is essential. But news is a part only of tho service of communication which must be provided and which, thanks to the revolution in the art of communication, now can be provided. It cannot be too often repeated that that revolution is social and cultural in character. What it makes possible is the mutual apprehension and perception of peoples in terms of the human realities of their lives. 1 he conventional service of news, preoccupied as it is with abstract political events at one end of its range, and with sensational or otherwise newsworthy “stories" at the other, does not supply these perceptions.

A new and very different attack on tho whole question is clearly necessary if the whole campaign for freedom of information is not to end in a series of pious and impotent resolutions. This new attack must make the essential principle of freedom of information positive rather than negative by relating it to a more adequate system expressly and consciously devoted to the service of truth and therefore of understanding and therefore of peace. Such a system should have as its explicit and conscious purpose the creation and re-creation, from day to day and month to month and year to year, of the mutual understanding among the peoples of tho earth, on which, and on which alone, a people s peace can rest. Peace is positive or it is nothing. Only a positive conception of peace, and of the relation to peace of a system of mass communication throughout the world, can give the struggle for freedom of information world-wide meaning. More important, only through such a system of mass communication can the hope of a positive peace be realized.

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THAT such a system could be established if we really wished to establish it can hardly be questioned. The techniques are known. The managerial skill is available. The component parts exist or can be developed. So far as technique is concerned, tho engineers of the new communications industry, given the materials and the means, are able now to reach the entire population of the earth, not only with rapid and inexpensive print but with images and spoken words which even the ignorant and the illiterate and the very young can comprehend.

So far as management goes, enough is known of the use of the mass media to enable skillful and imaginative men to avoid in the future the errors which have sometimes brought radio and the film into a measure of disrepute in the past. So far as tho public interest is concerned, the facts of record clearly demonstrate that the demand in any country for knowledge of the lives of people in other countries is active and urgent.

The Department of State of the United States, like the foreign offices of other countries, has in its records numerous proofs of the intensity of this demand. When a library containing American books was opened in Budapest following the war, readers crowded in in such numbers that they wero obliged to camp on the floors to await their turn at a book or periodical. Yugoslav audiences willingly stood for the better part of an hour to listen to factual lectures about life in the United States, offered in the narrow quarters of the American library.

During the first year in which the State Department sent out short-wave broadcasts in some tw enty languages, it received over 50,000 letters from listeners abroad, 65 per cent of them from Europe, 25 per cent from other parts of the Western Hemisphere, and 10 per cent from the Far East. Tho people of Pei Hsin Hsiang, a small village 7000 feet up in the mountains, west of Kunming, constructed a motor road in order to permit an American jeep to enter the town and show American documentary pictures. The State Department’s Russian language magazine, Amerika Illustrated, is distributed in editions of 50,000 copies through the Soviet magazine agency Soyuzpechat and sold at ton rubles, or $1.82 at the commercial rate of exchange. There have been no returns of unsold copies, and American correspondents like Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times, and Edmund Stevens of the Christian Science Monitor, testify to the extraordinary enthusiasm with which copies are bought, borrowed, and circulated. In other words, not only as between Great Britain and the United States, but as between countries which are assumed to be separated by the “iron curtain,” direct communication between peoples now takes place in a manner and under conditions which indicate that it is not for lack of demand by the peoples themselves that an adequate world system of world communication does not exist.

Whenever the nations are ready to make use of the means at their disposal the peoples of the world will speak to each other through their arts and music and literature on the air, will see each other’s lives and interests on the screen, and will read each other’s words in newspapers or in magazines or in books, quickly and cheaply printed, in any country and at any time. A planetary radio system capable of laying down an intelligible signal in any inhabited part of the earth could be constructed and served at a cost which would be negligible in contrast with the most modest budgets of warfare. A planetary system of moving picture production and exchange offers no difficulties except the difficulties of proprietary selfishness, and even these difficulties are more imaginary than real. A planetary system of cheap and rapid publication in print was demonstrated in action during the war and could easily be re-established and improved.

The obstacles in the way of a people’s peace based upon a true and adequate communication are not real obstacles at all, but the unreal shadows of economic prejudice and political superstition. They are obstacles created not by the facts but by the fears. An adequate system of international communication would require the aid of the United Nations. It would require the assistance of the various national governments. It would require the collaboration of existing elements of the world communication system, some of which are privately owned and some of which are the property of states in which private ownership does not exist.

All these relationships beget fears in one direction or another. There are certain governments which regard the private enterprisers of the communications business with a general and undistinguishing suspicion which is heartily returned. There are certain private enterprisers who dislike and fear any activity whatever by governments — even their own — in the communications field, some of them going so far as to contend that the freedom of the press is endangered when the American government, for example, undertakes to supply information of American origin to geographic areas which private services do not reach and cannot reach and admittedly have no intention of reaching.

Will prejudices and superstitions of this character block the establishment of a structure of peace which is now practicable and which could be raised? The United Nations and its related agencies and organs provide machinery through which men of opposing philosophies and conflicting conceptions of society and life can work together. If they can work together in the United Nations in matters affecting the political and economic relations of states, they can work together in matters affecting the human relations of peoples. If they can agree to action by the United Nations to expose the manufacture of weapons which might be used in case of war, they can agree to action by the United Nations to expose the use of a propaganda of lies to excite to war. If they can agree to undertakings by the United Nations to see that the peace is not endangered by the malnutrition of men’s bodies, they can agree to undertakings by the United Nations to see that the peace is not endangered by the malnutrition of men’s minds. The only question is whether we believe in truth enough and in knowledge enough and in understanding enough to see that truth and knowledge and understanding are given power in the world.

We talk often and sadly of mankind and the machines. We complain that, the machines we have created are Frankensteins and will destroy us. We analyze our time, and report to each other that our scientific intelligence has outrun our political intelligence and will rise against us like the helots of Sparta in a kind of slaves’ rebellion. It would be truer to say — and certainly more honest — that our hearts have failed our minds. We lack the courage to become the thing we have the means to be. It is we who have changed the world. It is we who have created the possibilities. It is we also who have imagined the reasons for refusing to become the best we can. Nowhere is the paradox of our human possibilities defeated by our human fears more evident than in these new miraculous instruments of universal sight and universal hearing. Our technology, wiser than we, has given us the unforeseen and unforeseeable means of world-wide understanding at the moment in our history when world-wide understanding is the only possible means to lasting peace. We, fearful of imaginary evils, refuse to use the means our hands have given us. We have the secret of the peace. We lack the will to use it.