China’s Sputnik Moment?
How Washington Boosted Beijing’s Quest for Tech Dominance
THE game of international politics impresses a lot of common men like myself as being based on false premises. In the issue of FOREIGN AFFAIRS for April, I read an article which talks about "France" and the objectives of "Japan," and the purposes of "Russia," and what "Germany" intends to do. I have never been able to get over a certain skepticism about these matters. I can't succeed in translating nationalities into personalities. I can't make myself think of Japan as an individual who is plotting against Russia and who is preparing to form an alliance with Germany which would threaten Anglo-Saxon interests.
That sort of thing seems to me a romantic simplification of what is really happening in human affairs, and I think it leads to disastrous results. These might be avoided if we were more liberal and honest, if when we say, "Japan is going to do so-and-so," we said further, "What exactly is this Japan that is going to do so-and-so?" Japan is a vast country. The Japanese people have got certain foreign relationships, which they carry on through something which they call the Japanese Foreign Office. How long will it and its policies last? How far can we really believe that there is some simple thing called Japan which is malignant and patriotic and about to make an alliance with Germany?
And what is Germany, really? A mass of troubled persons who speak the German language and who are, I should think, in perhaps the most tragic position of any mass of intelligent people in the world. They have either got to repudiate their country or they have got to endure a grotesque sort of caricature of government by misrepresentation. Our foreign offices are going to deal with Germany as though it were an individual entity. But as a civilized man I continually try to see whether there is not a way of dealing with the civilized man in Germany and getting past that extraordinarily ugly Nazi mask which he has to wear because the alternative to the wearing of it would have meant submission to some foreign influence as dishonoring and even more humiliating.
Is there not a possibility that in the future we can get away from the idea that human affairs are necessarily shaped and controlled in foreign offices and embodied in what are called foreign policies? Is there not a broader, more general pattern of human civilization which we might possibly emphasize and bring into fuller operation than it is at this present time, in order to prevent this idiotic and unnecessary game of national antagonisms from culminating in war and possibly the destruction of civilization?
I was enormously impressed during my visit to the United States this past spring by the fact that because you Americans have too many natural resources you have not got a paradise. You have got millions of people with hands and brains idle, and you don't know what to do with them. At a rough guess, there are between three and four million young people in the United States who have no jobs, no compelling interest in life at all. You ask them to work short hours or no hours at all, and to live on a dole. They think that they would be better off if they were dead. In England we are in the same case. We have got about two million young people, or more, and what have we got to give them? Nothing. What is the Nazi movement in Germany? What is Fascism in Italy? Young men who have nothing to do. Hitler and Mussolini offer them, if nothing else, excitement and possible glory. Japan is coming up against the same problem.
I have no panacea to offer for that problem. It is the greatest problem in the world. Humanity has been accumulating energy at an enormous pace. In addition to manpower, it has brought in mechanical energy to an extraordinary extent. And now it doesn't know what to do with that surplus energy. Because it deals as it does with human relationships it cannot cash in on the surplus that it has achieved.
The surplus of energy which has accumulated in human affairs for several thousand years has been partially expended in building up the standards of life. But the most natural method of relief has been war. War is a kind of excretion of the human social body. The energy accumulates -- and human intelligence is not adequate to the problem of how to utilize it. So it has to get rid of it again. The chief corrective has been war.
No country goes to war because it is poor, no country goes to war because it is weak and unhappy. A country goes to war because it is full of vigor, because it has a great mass of unemployed people, because it has materials at hand. War is an excretory product, and until the world discovers some other means of using its surplus energy wars will go on.
The dogmatic doctrine known as communism offers no solution. Karl Marx misunderstood and perverted the philosophy of Robert Owen and the other idealistic socialists who looked for social betterment through collective action. Marx's theory of the inevitability of class warfare is one of the most pernicious things that ever happened to humanity. It is as bad as the idea of the inevitability of conflict between nations.
You Americans perhaps think that if Europe collapses into war you will be able to keep out of it. Many others, in England and elsewhere, have that same idea -- to keep out of it. But I doubt that they can. The next war, if it spreads, and I think it is likely to spread, is going to mean the destruction of human civilization as we understand it.
Probably the greatest single body of mentality, so to speak, in the world today is the English-speaking community. I suppose that in the English-speaking community there are more people who read and write and talk than there are in any other community of thought in the world. Part of that community is in the United States, part is in Britain, and smaller parts are scattered about in Canada, South Africa, Australia and so forth. It seems to me a most lamentable and astonishing thing that behind our common language we have not got a common idea of what we are going to attempt to do with the world in the years ahead.
It is obvious that we are going to be tried out, and in a most extraordinary fashion. We are not ready for it. We have allowed foreign offices with their technical points and legal definitions to delude us into the idea that here is an American community, there is a British community. And British bad manners and American suspicions have helped in keeping us apart. Is it not still possible for the English and the Americans to get a little closer together, to conceive some sort of common purpose, and to bring their common traditions into effective action in time to save the civilization of the world? Or shall we wait until, divided against ourselves, destruction comes upon the world through a general collapse into war?
In every community in the world there is a state of stress because of an extraordinary change from the insufficient productivity which ruled social life in the past to the present excessive productivity. In economics we speak of this as the economy of plenty replacing the economy of want. You in America have to work out that problem. All the world has to work out that problem.
Is it not possible for the English-speaking communities to begin getting together upon the answers to some of the financial riddles, the economic riddles and the political riddles that paralyze us?
President Roosevelt told me when I saw him in Washington about something that has been happening on the border between the United States and Canada. At the eastern end of the border there has been a good deal of smuggling along the old side-roads, where it is easy for a truck or lorry to slip from one country into the other. To meet this situation the American Government started an air patrol to watch these back roads, and the Canadians were going to start another, when some bright spirit, I don't know who it was, said, "Why have two services?" And what is happening now on the Canadian-United States border is that there is an air service which is looking for smugglers, and in the aëroplane sit a Canadian policeman and an American policeman, and that aëroplane can come down on either side of the border and make an arrest in the interest of Canada or in the interest of the United States.
Suppose someone saw the opportunity for this sort of thing on a larger scale. Suppose someone saw the possibility of having the United States fleet in the Pacific and the British fleet in the Atlantic, instead of having a British fleet in the Pacific and an American fleet in the Pacific, and a British fleet in the Atlantic and an American fleet in the Atlantic. Is it impossible? What makes it impossible? What divergence of purpose stands in the way?
Unless men can get outside their national limitations, and unless they can tackle economic and financial and monetary problems with something bigger than their national equipment, I think it is not a question of centuries but of decades before we see our civilization going down. And it will not be for the first time.
The problem is to make peace successful. If peace is not successful, if war intervenes, it will be due entirely to the fact that under existing conditions we are not able to utilize our surplus energy, to employ our idle hands, in any other way to make life satisfactory and interesting. Failing the release of energy that would come from making peace successful, we will collapse into war. The way to get rid of war is not by leagues. The energies for war go on accumulating just the same.
The only thing to do is to invent a successful form of peace. That means a new sort of life for human beings. The choice before us is war or a new world -- a rational liberal collectivist world with an ever rising standard of life and an ever bolder collective enterprise, in science, in art, in every department of living. Because so far we have not shown the intellectual power and vigor to take the higher, more difficult way, because we have not had sense enough to discover what to do with our accumulation of social energy, is why at the present time we are drifting and sliding back towards destruction. If humanity fails, it will fail for the lack of organized mental effort and for no other reason.