Present at the Disruption
How Trump Unmade U.S. Foreign Policy
ON MAY 18, 1934, President Roosevelt sent a strongly worded Message to the Senate, recommending that it give generous support to the Special Committee which under the Chairmanship of Senator Nye has been charged with the investigation of the munitions industry. He further urged that the Senate give its advice and consent to the ratification of the Arms Traffic Convention of 1925, and expressed the hope that the General Disarmament Conference might find it possible to agree upon an international convention providing for more stringent regulation and control of the international traffic in arms than that agreed upon in 1925. Within an hour after the reading of this Message, Senator Pittman, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, presented to the Senate the unanimous report of the Committee in favor of the ratification of the Convention of 1925, and introduced a Joint Resolution, which he stated had the support of the Administration, authorizing the President to prohibit the sale of arms and munitions of war to Bolivia and Paraguay; and Senator Nye moved that $35,000 be added to the appropriation for the expenses of his Committee.
The events of that day served to focus public opinion upon a question in which various organizations have for years been attempting to awaken public interest, and for which opinion had been prepared by the appearance within the past few months of a number of widely-read articles and books.[i]
It would probably be impossible to determine just when it was first realized that the private manufacture of arms and the international trade in arms constituted serious dangers to the peace of the world, and that governmental supervision and control of those whom the President in his Message called "manufacturers and merchants of engines of destruction" must be a fundamental element in any program designed to restrict or abolish armed conflict among the nations. It first became a matter of world-wide discussion immediately after the Great War when men were seeking every possible means to prevent the recurrence of such a conflict. The statesmen who drafted the Covenant of the League of Nations were well aware of it when they included in it the following provision:
The Members of the League agree that the manufacture by private enterprise of munitions and implements of war is open to grave objections. The Council shall advise how the evil effects attendant upon such manufacture can be prevented, due regard being had to the necessities of those Members of the League which are not able to manufacture the munitions and implements of war necessary for their safety.[ii]
Within little more than two months after the signature of the Treaty of Versailles, a Convention for the Control of the Trade in Arms and Ammunition was signed at St. Germain-en-Laye and Paris on September 10, 1919, by the representatives of twenty-eight powers. Frank L. Polk, Henry White and General Tasker H. Bliss signed for the United States, but the failure of the Senate to give its advice and consent to the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles brought upon this Convention the same fate which met the other subsidiary treaties negotiated at the Peace Conference. It was not transmitted by the President to the Senate.
On numerous occasions from 1921 to 1923, the United States was urged by other signatory governments, and by the League of Nations, to ratify this Convention. They pointed out that as long as one of the principal manufacturing powers remained unfettered by its terms, other countries could not be expected to subject themselves to limitations which would result not in the control or the diminution of the trade in arms, but in the transfer of that trade to competitors of other nationalities to whom the Convention did not apply. The objections of this Government were, however, insuperable. The Convention was predicated upon the supposition that all the signatories would be members of the League, and certain functions of supervision and control were placed in the hands of that organization. Thus ratification by the United States was, politically speaking, impossible. When this situation finally became clear to the other signatories to the Convention, and when they had come to realize that there was no likelihood that the United States would in the near future reverse the position which it had assumed in respect to the League, European statesmen came to the conclusion that the Convention of St. Germain could never be put into effect.
The Council of the League on April 21, 1923, adopted the following resolution:
The Council, on the proposal of the Temporary Mixed Commission for the Reduction of Armaments, requests its President to ascertain whether the Government of the United States would be disposed to state its views as to the manner in which it would be willing to coöperate with other governments in the control both of the traffic in arms and the private manufacture of arms.
The reply of the United States Government to the communication transmitting this Resolution was such as to discourage all but the most persistent. The Council, however, was not discouraged. On December 14, 1923, an invitation was sent to the United States to participate in preparing the draft of a new convention. In the interval between these two communications, certain sections of public opinion in the United States had been aroused by the apparent unwillingness of the Government to coöperate with other nations in dealing with a problem so vital to the peace of the world. Perhaps the emphatic expression of this opinion had some effect in changing the attitude of the Government. In any case, the invitation of the Council was accepted and representatives of the United States participated in the drafting of a new convention. A conference to consider this draft was called by the League to meet in Geneva on May 4, 1925. The American delegates were Theodore E. Burton, former Senator from Ohio, at that time a Member of Congress; Hugh S. Gibson, then Minister to Switzerland; Rear Admiral Andrew T. Long, Allen W. Dulles, and Brigadier General Colden L. Ruggles. Throughout the negotiations, there was an evident desire on the part of the delegates of the other Powers to produce a convention which would encounter no difficulties in being ratified by the United States. Mr. Burton, in the report of the American Delegation of December 16, 1925, stated:
The delegates at the Conference impressed upon the American Delegation their view that any international convention for the control of the trade in arms would be ineffective unless adhered to by the United States, one of the important arms-producing Powers. With a view to facilitating American adherence, the Conference did not press for the inclusion of any provision for the supervision or control of the arms trade by an international commission, recognizing that such control would be inacceptable to this Government. Further, the various proposals advanced from time to time by the American Delegation received the full and sympathetic consideration of the Conference and in every case where American principles and interests were involved, solutions which the American Delegation considered acceptable were adopted. The American Delegation desire to record their recognition of this attitude and, in submitting the Treaty, to state that in their opinion the success or failure of the present Convention will in no small measure depend upon the position assumed by the American Government in the matter.
The Convention was transmitted by President Coolidge to the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification on January 11, 1926.
The signing of the Arms Traffic Convention of 1925 was hailed throughout the world as a great and signal victory. The evils arising from the private manufacture of arms and the international traffic in arms were now about to succumb to international supervision and control. Enlightened public opinion had triumphed -- or so it seemed. But the proponents of the Convention were doomed, as a result of the indifference of the United States Senate, to a great disappointment. The Convention slumbered in the Committee on Foreign Relations from January 11, 1926, until May 18, 1934. It is difficult to determine why no action was taken on this Convention over such a long period. There are those who have not failed to discern in the inaction of the Senate the result of the nefarious machinations of American arms manufacturers. A much more probable explanation appears to be that, in the absence of an aroused public opinion in this country, the Senate did not feel impelled to act upon a Convention in which few of its members were particularly interested. No hearings were held by the Committee and no definite opposition developed. From time to time successive Secretaries of State attempted to prod the Committee into action. President Hoover sent a Message on January 10, 1933, urging that favorable action be taken. But this Message fell on stony ground. The immediate response of the Committee on Foreign Relations to the recent similar Message of President Roosevelt may probably be ascribed in no small part to the revival of public interest in questions relating to the munitions industry.
The ratification of the Convention by the United States would probably result in its coming into force within a reasonably brief interval. Other important Powers, remembering the Treaty of St. Germain, have waited action by the United States. The Convention provides that it will become effective when ratified by fourteen Powers. Twelve ratifications or accessions have already been deposited. Two other Powers have decided upon ratification, and one other Power upon accession, but ratification in these three cases has not been completed. Some of these ratifications are, however, conditional upon ratification by other specified powers. The Committee on Foreign Relations has recommended similar procedure for this Government by proposing a reservation to the effect that the Convention shall not come into force so far as the United States is concerned until it shall have come into force in respect to Belgium, the British Empire, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
The important provisions of the Arms Traffic Convention of 1925 limit the export of arms to those arms intended for the direct supply of the government of the importing state (or with the consent of such government for the supply of a public authority subordinate to it), and set up a machinery of licenses or export declarations for all arms exported or imported, and provide for full publicity for the arms traffic.
Ever since the end of the World War there have been two main currents of opinion as to the proper means of dealing with the evils arising from the private manufacture of arms and the international traffic therein. Some believe that the remedy lies in governmental supervision and control and full publicity; others are convinced that nothing short of the complete suppression of the private manufacture of arms and the nationalization of the whole armaments industry and the international traffic in arms and munitions will eradicate the evils inherent in the present system. The Arms Traffic Convention of 1925, following in general the lines laid down in the Convention of St. Germain, was an attempt to deal with the problem by the former method. The proponents of the latter method are still actively working for a solution in conformity with their views.
At the very beginning of its deliberations the General Commission of the General Disarmament Conference appointed a "Committee for the Regulation of the Trade in and the Private and State Manufacture of Arms and Implements of War" to canvass the opinions of the governments participating in the Conference, and to make recommendations with a view to the incorporation in a General Disarmament Convention of provisions dealing with this phase of the disarmament problem. The Committee met at intervals during 1932 and 1933 and discussed these matters at great length. Of all the Committees of this almost hopelessly deadlocked Conference, this Committee was perhaps the most hopelessly deadlocked. Its reports "on the progress of the work" are reports of lack of progress. Questions are posed, radical divisions of views recorded, and no conclusions of any consequence arrived at. Underlying the innumerable subsidiary differences of opinion which developed during the discussions of the Committee, was the fundamental divergence between the advocates of supervision and control and the advocates of suppression and nationalization. In the forefront of those advocating the former method of approach were the delegations of the United States, Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Japan; the most energetic exponents of the latter method were the delegations of France, Poland, Denmark and Spain.
The position of the United States has remained unchanged since it was expressed by Mr. Burton during the negotiation of the Arms Traffic Convention of 1925, in part as follows:
Many of those in Europe and America with whom I have coöperated for years past in movements for peace think that the solution of their problems rests in the prohibition of private manufacture. They argue, that so long as private manufacture continues, there will be a powerful industrial interest, the prosperity of which will be promoted by war, and this they consider to be a barrier in the way of peace. They consider also that these private manufacturers have also been extremely skilful in the circulation of propaganda unfavorable to peace. Thus, they say, the manufacture of arms, munitions and implements of war should be restricted to Governments.
Let me point out to you the fallacy of this argument. The private manufacture of arms and munitions is flexible and adapted both to peace and to war. It may consist of the manufacture of explosives and material for industrial purposes, of sporting arms which have nothing to do with war, to which can be added in time of conflict the manufacture of military arms. Take my own country as an example; the manufacture of munitions and military arms was negligible before the late Great War, but, during that period, private industry increased to enormous proportions; it has now fallen back to what it was before.
Government manufacture and control, on the other hand, are inflexible and look to a state of war. It involves the maintenance of a very considerable force, always engaged in the manufacture of implements of destruction. If that force is disbanded the nation is helpless, and there is always a strong interest in favor of maintaining in any form of Government activity a large force, expanding its operations to the maximum. Thus, I say that, at least in a country like the United States, the idea that the private manufacture of arms should be prohibited, and that such prohibition would promote peace, is a chimera. More than that, why should a Conference be called for the prohibition of private manufacture and leave the Governmental or public manufacture alone? Shall the respective Governments of the world, whether warlike or peaceful in their intentions, build huge structures to make arms, and at the same time prohibit the private manufacture? What of the private manufacturers, many of whom have the most pacific intentions? What have they done that there should be this discrimination against them? What hope have the lovers of peace in prohibiting private manufacture, if Governmental manufacture may still go on to an enormous and unlimited extent?
The opponents of nationalization of the munitions industry contend that such action would probably result in an increase in the production of arms and munitions and in an increase in the stocks maintained by the governments of the world. They argue that the governments of non-producing countries would be obliged to establish arsenals in order to supply their legitimate needs, and that their inability in an emergency to purchase arms and munitions from private producers abroad would probably lead them to maintain very large stocks on hand. They contend further that such a system would strengthen the strong and weaken the weak. The great majority of the nations of the world would be placed at the mercy of the ten or a dozen nations favored by nature with supplies of raw materials and possessed of the necessary industrial organization. There are many also who are strongly opposed to nationalization of the munitions industry because such a system would put governments into business on a scale unknown at present outside of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics.
As far as any tendency can be discerned in the recent discussions at Geneva, it would appear to be a tendency toward governmental supervision and control rather than toward nationalization. As the former solution is less extreme than the latter, there would appear to be more likelihood of its being agreed upon as a compromise, if any agreement is to be reached, than that the proponents of governmental supervision and control should be won over to the thesis of nationalization. Such an agreement might embody a reiteration of the provisions of the Arms Traffic Convention of 1925, modified in some non-essentials which have been subjected to criticism, together with provisions similar to those contained in the Draft Convention submitted to the Council of the League by a Special Commission in 1929. This Draft Convention provides for the setting up of a system of licenses for arms manufacture and a system of full publicity for the armaments industry, similar to the system of licenses and publicity provided for the traffic in arms by the Convention of 1925.
The Government of the United States has been more reluctant to accept the principle of supervision and control of the manufacture of arms than it was to accept this principle in respect to the international traffic. Until November 18, 1932, our delegates at Geneva had always met the proposal that governmental supervision and control be established by international agreement with the statement that the Constitution of the United States prevented the Federal Government from entering into a convention involving the control of manufacture in the several States. On that date, Mr. Hugh Wilson announced at a meeting of the Bureau of the Disarmament Conference that the United States was prepared to accept supervision of private manufacture provided that state manufacture was also supervised. This change of position had been foreshadowed by Mr. Stimson, who several days before was quoted in the press as stating that the Government had reached the conclusion that the position that the Federal Government lacked constitutional power to enter into such a convention was not well taken. In this statement, he referred to the case of Missouri vs. Holland as supporting the position that this Government could enter into such a convention and, having done so, would possess the constitutional authority to enact and enforce legislation pursuant to that convention. This statement in conjunction with the statement in President Roosevelt's Message of May 18, 1934, that it was his "earnest hope that the representatives of the nations who will reassemble at Geneva on May 29 will be able to agree upon a convention containing provisions for the supervision and control of the traffic in arms much more far reaching than those which were embodied in the Convention of 1925" would appear to indicate clearly that the Government of the United States is prepared to enter into an international convention providing for the most stringent supervision and control, both of the manufacture of arms and of the international traffic in arms, by the establishment of a system of licenses accompanied by full publicity.
It has been recognized by all students of the problem that no effective control of the munitions industry can be established except by international agreement. Nevertheless, some of the nations have independently enacted domestic legislation of the nature of that contemplated by the Arms Traffic Convention of 1925 and other proposals which have been made at Geneva. Great Britain and Sweden, for instance, require licenses for the export of arms and munitions, and permission to export is frequently withheld. Authority to prohibit the export of arms in particular cases is vested in the Executive of the governments of all of the important producing countries except Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and the United States.
The United States has lagged far behind other nations in legislation on this subject. Our Government has on several occasions expressed pious hopes and made pious gestures. The Department of State on December 27, 1923, issued a statement to the press, defending the position of this Government in regard to the Convention of St. Germain, and adding:
The Executive Branch of the Government is not in a position to intervene in transactions which are wholly within the law; but not desiring to encourage other Powers to arm themselves for conflict, which is deemed contrary to the spirit of the country, this Government, in addition to adopting a strict policy with regard to the sale of surplus government army stores, has replied to the recent inquiries which it has received that it does not encourage the shipment of war material to the troubled areas of the world. This stand has been taken although this Government was not unmindful of the fact that intending purchasers would no doubt resort to other markets to supply their wants. It may also be added that under present conditions the Department would not favor the flotation of a foreign loan in this country for which the proceeds would be utilized for armament.
There is no evidence that the announcement of this policy had any practical effect in so far as the export of arms and munitions by private companies and individuals was concerned. Aside from the laws of the Federal Government and of the several States designed to prevent the sale of arms to criminals and minors and to protect the public against explosions, the only legislation relating to the traffic in arms is a series of Joint Resolutions which have been brought to public attention by recent debates in Congress.
The first of these Joint Resolutions was that approved on April 22, 1898,[iii] which conferred upon the Executive the power to prohibit the export of war materials "within his discretion and with such limitations and exemptions as would seem to him expedient." Although this Resolution was a war measure passed in connection with the war with Spain, it remained on the statute books for fourteen years and the power conferred by it was used on October 14, 1905, when President Theodore Roosevelt issued a proclamation [iv] in which "for good and sufficient reasons unto me appearing" he forbade the export of arms to any port in the Dominican Republic. This resolution was amended by the passage of the Joint Resolution of March 14, 1912,[v] as follows:
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the joint resolution to prohibit the export of coal or other material used in war from any seaport of the United States, approved April twenty-second, eighteen hundred and ninety-eight, be, and hereby is, amended to read as follows:
That whenever the President shall find that in any American country conditions of domestic violence exist which are promoted by the use of arms or munitions of war procured from the United States, and shall make proclamation thereof, it shall be unlawful to export except under such limitations and exceptions as the President shall prescribe any arms or munitions of war from any place in the United States to such country until otherwise ordered by the President or by Congress.
Sec. 2. That any shipment of material hereby declared unlawful after such a proclamation shall be punishable by fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars, or imprisonment not exceeding two years, or both.
By the Joint Resolution of January 31, 1922,[vi] this authority was extended to include any country in which the United States exercises extraterritorial jurisdiction. These countries are, at present, China, Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, and some of the states of Arabia. Pursuant to the authority conferred by these two Resolutions, restrictions upon the export of arms have been proclaimed as follows: Brazil (proclaimed October 22, 1930; revoked March 2, 1931); China (proclaimed March 4, 1922; still in effect); Cuba (proclaimed May 2, 1924; revoked August 29, 1924); Honduras (proclaimed March 22, 1924; still in effect); Mexico (proclaimed March 14, 1912; revoked February 3, 1914; proclaimed October 19, 1915; revoked January 31, 1922; proclaimed January 7, 1924; revoked July 18, 1929); Nicaragua (proclaimed September 15, 1926; still in effect).
In enforcing the restrictions proclaimed under the Joint Resolutions of March 14, 1912 and January 31, 1922, the Secretaries of State have established a system of licenses for each individual shipment. These licenses have been granted or withheld in their discretion in accordance with the conditions existing at the moment in the countries for which the shipments were destined.
The principle underlying these resolutions was confirmed by the Convention relating to the Rights and Duties of States in the Event of Civil Strife, signed at Havana on February 20, 1928, under which the United States, as a party to the Convention, is obligated to prevent the export of arms intended for the use of rebels against the authorities of such Governments as have ratified that Convention.
It will be noted that the Joint Resolution of January 31, 1922, refers exclusively to "conditions of domestic violence." On January 10, 1933, President Hoover, in a Special Message, recommended that the authority of the Executive in this matter be extended to cover international conflicts. In pursuance of this recommendation, the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate unanimously reported the so-called Arms Embargo Resolution, of which the vital portion reads as follows:
That whenever the President finds that in any part of the world conditions exist such that the shipment of arms or munitions of war from countries which produce these commodities may promote or encourage the employment of force in the course of a dispute or conflict between nations, and, after securing the coöperation of such governments as the President deems necessary, he makes proclamation thereof, it shall be unlawful to export, or sell for export, except under such limitations and exceptions as the President prescribes, any arms or munitions of war from any place in the United States to such country or countries as he may designate, until otherwise ordered by the President or by Congress.
This Resolution was passed without a dissenting vote by the Senate on January 11, 1933. A few days later, however, Senator Bingham of Connecticut moved to reconsider, explaining that it would take several hours for him to set forth his objections on constitutional grounds to the Resolution. As it was near the end of the session and as the Senate calendar was crowded, he found no opportunity to state his objections and no further action was taken by the Senate.
During the same session of Congress, the Resolution was debated at length by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. At a series of hearings, it was supported by the Secretary of State, Mr. Stimson, and representatives of his department, and strenuously opposed by the representatives of a number of arms manufacturers. These latter attacked the Resolution as unconstitutional, as potentially harmful to American trade and as constituting a menace to the national defense. It was, however, voted out by the Committee with an amendment limiting its application to the Western Hemisphere. In view of the effective opposition of Senator Bingham to further consideration of the Resolution in the Senate, it was not deemed worth while to bring the amended Resolution to a vote in the House.
At the special session of Congress, which was called by President Roosevelt shortly after his inauguration, the Resolution was revived with the support of the new Administration. The Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House again discussed it at length and held further public hearings. The discussions now centered upon a statement which Mr. Stimson had made in support of the Resolution and, in particular upon the following portion of his statement that "one of two conditions would exist," namely that --
a. The world would coöperate in refusing supplies to both nations. This would certainly involve no breach of neutrality by the United States as the movement would be general and the nations united in a common front.
b. There might be a situation in which as a result of investigation and consultation on a large scale there was a clear definition agreed upon by all the coöperating powers that one side or the other was the aggressor. It is becoming evident in recent years that this condition is much easier to realize than used to be believed. The world-wide publicity afforded since the Great War on every international incident and army movement, and the means of investigation by international commissions which is rapidly gaining ground, all show that there are situations today in which there can be a general verdict far beyond previous anticipation. The verdict of the League of Nations on this point, for example, as shown by recent events, is a perfectly practicable procedure. If the League or any other comprehensive group of important states had mutually arrived at such a verdict, the participation of the United States in a general arms embargo would be not merely practical and sound but practically necessary to preserve our national dignity and standing as a peaceful nation.
This statement was hailed with enthusiasm by several well-known international lawyers who sensed in it an indication of a more coöperative attitude on the part of the United States, and it immediately drew the fire of other distinguished authorities on international law, including John Bassett Moore. The Arms Embargo Resolution suddenly became the center of a debate on the policy which the United States should adopt in relation to the whole structure of the machinery for peace which has been built up since the war. Out of the welter of arguments covering the Covenant of the League, the Briand-Kellogg Pact, Washington's Farewell Address, and the doctrine of neutrality as applied during the Napoleonic Wars, the chief point at issue clearly emerged. It was as follows: Was the President, in exercising the authority conferred upon him by the Resolution, to be bound to apply restrictions on the export of arms equally to all parties to an armed conflict, or might he be permitted discretion to apply them to a so-called "aggressor nation" in case aggression had been judicially or quasi-judicially determined, and in case the Government of the United States concurred in the decision, at the same time permitting the unrestricted sale of arms and munitions to the nations engaged in resisting the aggressor? The Democratic majority of the Committee, complying with the recommendations of Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt and their respective Secretaries of State, voted in support of the Resolution conferring discretionary power upon the President. The Republican minority presented an adverse report. After prolonged debate, the Resolution was carried in the House by an almost strictly partisan vote.
The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations adopted the position of the Republicans in the House and reported the Resolution to the Senate on May 30, 1933, with the so-called Johnson Amendment as follows:
Provided, however, That any prohibition of export, or of sale for export, proclaimed under this resolution shall apply impartially to all the parties to the dispute or conflict to which it refers.
On the same day the Secretary of State was reported in the press as having stated that the Johnson Amendment did not conform to the views of the President or of himself, and, probably as a result of this statement, the Resolution was not brought to a vote in the Senate during the special session.
On February 28, 1934, the Resolution, with the addition of the Johnson Amendment, was unexpectedly called up in the Senate and passed without a dissenting vote. As the two Houses were in disagreement in regard to the amendment, it was returned to the House where at this writing it still reposes on the Speaker's desk. The Administration has, on several occasions, reiterated its opposition to the amendment. It has been pointed out that Mr. Norman H. Davis, on May 22, 1933, made a statement before the General Commission of the General Disarmament Conference in which, on behalf of the United States, he declared:
In addition I wish to make it clear that we are ready not only to do our part toward the substantive reduction of armaments, but if this is effected by general international agreement, we are also prepared to contribute in other ways to the organization of peace. In particular we are willing to consult the other states in case of a threat to peace with a view to averting conflict. Further than that, in the event that the states, in conference, determine that a state has been guilty of a breach of the peace in violation of its international obligations, and take measures against the violator, then, if we concur in the judgment rendered as to the responsible and guilty party, we will refrain from any action tending to defeat such collective effort which these states may thus make to restore peace.
The passage of the Resolution may not be necessary in order to permit the Government of the United States to carry out the terms of Mr. Davis's offer, although without the passage of such a Resolution the President would have no authority to prevent shipment of arms to both parties of a conflict and the shipment of arms to an aggressor nation might possibly be considered as action tending to defeat collective effort. The passage of the Resolution with the Johnson Amendment would obviously run counter to the principles and spirit underlying Mr. Davis's offer, as the prohibition of the shipment of arms to the nations engaging in collective action against an aggressor would undoubtedly tend to defeat such collective effort. From statements made in recent Congressional debates, it may be inferred that the proponents of the Johnson Amendment intended it as evidence of their disapproval of the disarmament policy of the President.
In view of the inability of two successive Administrations (of different political complexions) to secure the passage of the Arms Embargo Resolution, the prompt and unanimous action of Congress on the Resolution empowering the President to prohibit the sale of arms and munitions of war to Bolivia and Paraguay is little short of astounding. It was introduced in the Senate by Senator Pittman on May 18 and in the House by Mr. McReynolds on May 21. The respective Committees voted it out unanimously, and it was passed by the House without a dissenting vote on May 23, and by the Senate without a dissenting vote on May 24. At this writing, it seems probable that the President will within a few days approve the Resolution and issue the necessary Proclamation to make the prohibition effective. It is true that by the terms of this Resolution any prohibition on the sale of arms and munitions would apply equally to both parties to the conflict and that, therefore, the controversy which has raged about the Johnson Amendment did not arise. The Resolution has, however, the same "unconstitutional" character and offers the same "menace" to the national defense which were so eloquently denounced by the representatives of arms manufacturers in the public hearings on the Arms Embargo Resolution. This time no representatives of those manufacturers appeared at the Capitol. It may be surmised that they have sensed the trend of public opinion within the last few months and that they will no longer oppose, at least openly, legislation designed to control their activities in the public interest.
When Senator Nye introduced his Resolution, calling for a Senate investigation of all aspects of the munitions industry and the traffic in arms, it was freely predicted that he could not possibly secure favorable action by the Senate on such a Resolution. He has been quoted as having said at that time that, although he was introducing the Resolution in all good faith and would make every effort to secure its passage, he nevertheless had almost no hope of success. The Resolution has been passed. A Special Committee Investigating the Munitions Industry has been formed, consisting of seven Senators, with Senator Nye as Chairman. The President, in his Message of May 18, recommended that the Senate give its generous support to the Committee and promised the full coöperation of all the Executive Departments. The Committee is effecting an organization and has begun its labors.
It is to be hoped that the Nye Committee's investigation will be objective and thorough. It has an opportunity to present for the first time to the American people the facts in regard to an industry of which the activities are of the highest interest to the nation, and, on the basis of these facts, it will be in a position to recommend dispassionately and authoritatively legislation and policy in a field in which wise action by the American Government is imperatively necessary.
[i] Among the most recent books and articles, some frankly sensational, others more sober, have been: "Merchants of Death," by H. C. Engelbrecht and F. C. Hanighen (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1934); "Iron, Blood and Profits," by George Seldes (New York: Harper, 1934); "Arms and the Men," Fortune Magazine, March 1934 (reprinted in pamphlet form by Doubleday, Doran); "Slaughter for Sale," by John Gunther, Harper's Magazine, May 1934; "The Armaments Scandal," by Jonathan Mitchell, New Republic, May 9 and 23, 1934.
[ii] Article 8, Section 5.
[iii] 30 Stat. 739.
[iv] 34 Stat. 3183.
[v] 37 Stat. 630.
[vi] 42 Stat. 361.