THE 1947 visitor finds Europe abstracted and preoccupied. The Frenchman has always been rather aloof from foreigners, the Englishman complacent towards them, and the German, splitting his back as easily as his personality, ready to lick their boots when he cannot order them around. Today such varying symptoms are transcended by one state which is universal -- complete absorption in the problem of how to live. Every minute is dedicated to scrounging enough food, clothing and fuel to carry through the next 24 hours. Little energy is left for noticing what foreign nations think and say or for complicated reasoning and farsighted planning to please them and suit their requirements, even if they are benefactors and masters of the atom. When you are as worried as Europe is about the bare essentials of existence, you are not much interested in ideas. As for the atom bomb, it is comprehended in Europe even less than in America.

Europeans can satisfy the simplest need today only by efforts out of all proportion, not to its importance, which may literally be vital, but to the former abundance which made gratification so cheap and easy. Whatever is not impossible is difficult. Even where the machine of modern civilization has not been destroyed it lacks repairs or fuel or raw materials or accustomed outlets or trained workers or expert management to such an extent that its current production is only a fraction of what its beneficiaries used to take for granted. There is too little of almost everything -- too few trains, trams, busses and automobiles to transport people to work on time, let alone to take them on holidays; too little flour to make bread without adulterants, and even so not enough bread to provide energies for hard labor; too little paper for newspapers to report more than a fraction of the world's news; too little seed for planting and too little fertilizer to nourish it; too few houses to live in, and not enough glass to supply them with window panes; too little leather for shoes, wool for sweaters, gas for cooking, cotton for diapers, sugar for jam, fats for frying, milk for babies, soap for washing.

A striking fact to visitors accustomed to the intense political acuteness of the old Europe is that the passions of this Europe which scrimps, stands in queues, does without, are not closely related to intellectual programs or ideological objectives. Hopes and disappointments are not linked to political principles or economic dogmas and do not find expression in firm adherence to Communism or Socialism or capitalism. They are measured in buckets of coal, ounces of bread, packets of cigarettes, and a vote goes wherever it seems most likely at the moment to increase the supply of these and other life essentials.

In such circumstances the United States is not loved or hated because it is a citadel of political liberty and holds in the main to free enterprise, but according as it seems to be a going concern, measured by its ability and willingness to contribute from its own comfortable fat to strengthen Europe's thin and shivering frame. Nor is the Soviet Union strong because it advertises a certain economic philosophy and promises a proletarian millenium at some future date, or weak because that philosophy is disapproved on theoretical grounds and because the doorstep to that millennium is dictatorship; it, too, is judged by whether or not it seems a going concern, measured by its contributions to the improvement of the European economy and the ability of its agents, the heads of the various national Communist parties and the Communist chiefs of the labor unions, to appear as the strongest protagonists of the masses and to gain them food and wage advantages.

At the moment the tendency is to judge the United States rather severely and to make allowances for Soviet Russia. More is expected of us than of Russia because our prodigies of production during the war made us seem capable of anything we would put our minds to, and because our territories were not laid waste and Russia's were. This handicap, however, may be only temporary. More will be expected of Soviet Russia in the long run because her claims are so much more sweeping than ours. We do not assert that our doctrines are infallible, that our political system does not leave room for improvement, that our economy is not subject to ups and downs. We do not entrust to our government the responsibility of régimenting all our thoughts and planning all our actions. We doubt that human capacities include the wit to foresee so accurately the tempers of men or the limitations that Providence and the weather may set on their performance.

Marxist Russia claims this infallibility and invites these responsibilities. She says categorically that our business and production methods are putrid and prophesies that capitalism will soon topple into its grave. This might count for much or little if ideas were the chief currency in Europe today. But if it is a fact that the present currency for winning esteem is mainly material, the advantage lies with us if we choose to exercise it. Marxist Russia does not "produce the goods" -- consumer goods, heavy equipment or food -- to satisfy the needs of her own people, ignorant as they are of the living standards of the western world, let alone a surplus to sell or give to Europe. To this extent we may say that time works for us: the truth will out. Even if the fallacies of the Marxist ideology are slow in becoming evident, because ideas are slow in regaining their old purchasing value, we can use our calories and our machines to reveal the weakness of the Communist apparatus of production and distribution.

The statement that Europe is preoccupied with material problems is a generalization and so has exceptions. Some of the exceptions are more apparent than real. Thus numbers of persons register with the Communist Party in order to deserve favorable treatment if it should come to power (knowing they will not suffer if, on the other hand, democracy should win); such invertebrate opportunism can hardly be rated a high form of political consciousness. Again, D.P.s, ex-prisoners of war and even former partisans form a reservoir of unemployed which organizers of illegal movements can tap in enlisting undercover agents and front fighters; some of these may still be possessed of political zeal, but more are simply hungry for adventure with pay. Definitely in the class of the politically conscious, of course, are the intellectuals and men of affairs who struggle to overcome the effects of their wartime isolation, revive the popular faith in democratic institutions and adapt liberal economic principles to Europe's present abnormal necessities. Their declared enemies are similarly busy -- the cautious Fascist who hates democracy as much as he hates Communism, and the able and omnipresent spokesman for Communism whose every word and act follows Moscow's telegraphic instructions. However, these two groups, extreme right and extreme left (still so considered, at any rate, perhaps erroneously), are professionals. In between lies the great mass of what it has become the fashion to call, with a self-conscious avoidance of condescension that would turn the stomach of a natural democrat like Jefferson, "the common man." These are strictly amateur, shifting from party to party by whim and instinct based on the latest supply of meat in the markets, the latest rumor in the bread queues, the latest black-market price of tobacco.

European leaders whose views are not colored by some totalitarian philosophy are subject to the same myopia as the man in the street, even though the objects that engage their attention are of national dimensions instead of "family size." Blum, Sforza, Beneš and other veteran democrats have never served their countries better than they do today; they demonstrate that personal prestige sometimes counts for more than leadership of a majority party in parliament. But only the most experienced and cosmopolitan statesman can resist the general tendency under present conditions to translate the acts of foreign governments into immediate, material, domestic terms. To the extent that the average man notices international events at all he wonders whether they will put more potatoes in the soup and less straw in the cigarettes. Similarly, the statesman asks: Will they bring more bushels of wheat across the Atlantic? Will they deliver more tons of coal from the Ruhr? For the specter of an empty national breadbasket, an empty national coalbin, an empty national treasury, obsesses a national leader in just the same way that hunger and an empty pocketbook make an individual incapable of even pretending to take an interest in questions of high policy.


The whole Continent thus remains debatable ground for ideas and ideologies. The old ideas of the French Revolution have not regained possession of the heart and mind of Europe and the new propositions of Lenin and Stalin have not established themselves in their stead. So far the debate has hardly begun in earnest. You cannot eat either "Das Kapital" or the Declaration of the Rights of Man. When Europe has money that is worth working for, and something to buy with it, she will again develop the intellectual and spiritual energies to understand and debate and decide. Until then at the best she will hang fire, as it were, not opting definitely for our aims in life, but on the other hand not turning from them decisively; at the worst her uncertainty and misery will force the pace and produce civil strife and chaos.

Now these are not great discoveries, but they underscore a point which American policy seems not to have taken fully into account. In so far as action like that asked by President Truman in Greece and Turkey was decided upon in order to encourage democratic faith and stiffen democratic resistance in western Europe, there is some question whether every part of the President's message did in fact produce that effect. The direct allusion to Communism and the indications that military aid was contemplated may have overshot the mark. Certainly they awakened fears as well as hopes among our best European friends, some of whom are members of coalition governments with Communist ministers as partners, and all of whom must take account of Communist strength in national parliaments and Communist domination of national trades unions. Their hopes leapt up at seeing the United States preparing to stay in Europe and contribute to the stabilization of nations threatened with social disintegration. At the same time, they could not help being worried at the intimation that everyone must now choose sides in an ideological battle, the more so as our decision not to act through the United Nations was taken at first to mean that we thought the time for negotiating specific problems in the world forum was over.

In adopting a cautious view these European leaders are not necessarily craven; they may simply have an acute sense of timing. The Communist parties throughout Europe have attracted millions of voters who wished merely to register a protest against things as they are. As already indicated, there are exceptions -- the fearful who want to hedge against the risks of a possible Communist victory, and the workless and rootless (the Geächteten of Ernst von Salomon's novel of that name after the first war) who find adventure with pay as seditionists or guerrillas. There is a general belief that many millions of those who turned in protest votes for Communist candidates, and even some of the others, will drift back to Socialist or various liberal parties whenever the economic situation improves and social stability is restored; for that will free them from the compulsion to think about ways of existence instead of ways of life. If this expectation is correct, and if there is any chance that over the course of two or three years Europe will be producing more food and fuel, based, above all, on stable currencies which encourage work, then there is ground for arguing that though the American proposal to give aid in Greece and Turkey was wise, indeed could not have been postponed, its crusading aspects were overemphasized. They were taken as a call for a showdown between the east and west, and the moment for the suggested conflict was considered unpropitious.

Some strong answers can be made to this line of argument. In the first place, we obviously cannot make our whole foreign policy contingent on not embarrassing the democratic leaders of Europe. President Truman had to take account of American as well as European public opinion; he had to persuade Congress that a major crisis existed in eastern Europe justifying the expensive steps which he recommended. Further, he and his advisers are responsible for planning the defense of our national interests in all spheres, not in Europe alone. Even former isolationists and advocates of limited risks are beginning to find difficulty in drawing the frontiers of what they used to call "the American region." President Truman and Secretary Marshall are not able to rest on a mere probability that distant events will leave the interests of the United States untouched. It is comparatively easy to defend one's interests where one's power is preponderant; diplomacy's hard task is to defend national interests outside the field of instant national power. Above all, no one can be absolutely certain that even with energetic American help the European economy can be restored and a social balance maintained. Our leaders must think what to do if there is a complete breakdown, and prepare to do it as successfully as the tools supplied them will permit.

Nevertheless, to the extent that our policy in Greece and Turkey was directed beyond the situation in those two countries and aimed specifically to strengthen the morale of western Europe, we might lend an ear to some of our friends there. They ask us to remember that in the realm of ideas they and we are working at present under great handicaps. They suggest we therefore might adopt a slower tempo, putting emphasis first on economic recovery, then encouraging by all means at our command a gradual reawakening of interest in American political and economic aims, and only if these methods fail, or are not allowed time to succeed, insisting on an open ideological contest. If that contest comes, they would like to have had the maximum opportunity for gaining recruits to their, and our, banners.


It will be asked why there is any reason to suppose that the Communists will themselves delay in forcing a showdown if time is likely to work in our favor. The answer is that they may feel forced to wait. What factors might counsel them to be cautious?

One is the weakness of Soviet Russia herself. This has manifold aspects, but two seem particularly important. In the first place, some twelve million Russians have been killed, the most productive areas of Soviet territory have been devastated, and much of the Soviet industrial plant and transport system is in disrepair. Soviet Russia's inability to supply her own population with everyday necessities and conveniences is so great that anywhere else the Communists would present it as a reason for a revolution. Most observers report that the Russian people want war no more than do the American people. This means very little; in a dictatorship the lives of millions -- let alone their wishes -- are of negligible account when the ruling caste is considering major decisions of policy. Much more important is the apparent fact that the country's physical condition today is not such as to encourage Marshal Stalin and the Politburo to make war, even on the supposition (for which there is no proof) that they would like to do so. The behavior of Soviet representatives in the United Nations and in the Conferences of the Foreign Ministers supports the conclusion that Soviet policy does not seek a showdown. They have negatived attempts to tranquillize the world, but in the Iranian, Trieste and Greek affairs they have stopped short of forcing or permitting an outbreak of hostilities. In the second place, there is the atom bomb. The Kremlin realizes we will never use it unless attacked. Our possession of it thus does not strengthen our diplomatic hand, and indeed weakens it by laying us open to Communist attack for trying to coerce the world by the menace of atomic destruction. Nevertheless, the Kremlin must have a thoroughly realistic knowledge of the value of the bomb to us in the event of hostilities. Thus Soviet foreign policy can be exceedingly strong up to a certain point; but it has a weak base.

The second factor is the decreased prestige of Soviet Russia in areas where she has been on exhibition since the end of the war. The spectacle of Russia's heroic defense of her homeland and successful repulse of the invader, which so aroused the world's enthusiasm, was followed by an irruption of Soviet troops into eastern and central Europe. These troops have not turned out to be envoys of Soviet good will or even advertisements of Russian might. They came as liberators but stayed as locusts. They are badly dressed, crudely fed, and their equipment is startlingly inferior to that of the other Allied troops of occupation. They are now kept out of sight as much as possible. Their avid appropriation of personal belongings and household gear was actually less damaging to Soviet prestige than the way Soviet agents dismantled village mills, local power plants and small bridges, and shipped the parts off to Russia, along with antique river craft, trolley-cars of Toonerville design and the rails they had run on. The rather unfair feeling -- unfair in view of Nazi devastation in Russia -- was that if the Soviet colossus needed such primitive equipment so desperately its collectivized economy had not made all the strides advertised at the end of successive five year plans.

Beyond all this, of course, the populations of eastern and central Europe, especially those that recall fierce struggles for freedom and have a memory of self-government, resent the Soviet pressure which has put them under minority Communist parties. The fact is that wherever Russian Communism has been felt on a people's own skin -- whether in the Soviet zones of government in Germany and Austria, or in a country with an indigenous Communist dictatorship like Jugoslavia -- a violent irritation has been set up, with a resulting tendency toward immunity. Today any sign of hostility in a country under Soviet occupation or domination is dealt with summarily; any head that shows above the level of its subject fellows is simply knocked off. Over several generations, national consciousness and the remembrance of freedom may be extirpated. But for the present, Soviet Russia must reckon on finding that her rule has made fewer friends for Communism proportionately in, say, Bulgaria, than Franco's rule has made for Communism in Spain. This essential weakness of dictatorships can be revealed only when some great upheaval releases native forces at the same time that a realignment of world forces is in progress; but this, again, might be another reason why Soviet Russia would be cautious today about loosing a world cataclysm.

A third factor that might restrain Soviet tendencies toward actual war, if such there be, could be the Continent's preoccupation with material problems. Disappointing as this phenomenon is to American visitors who hoped to find a greater sense of cheer that some powerful country still stands for freedom against dictatorship, it must be even more discouraging to the propagandist of dialectic materialism. Talk as he will about the evils of western plutocracy and the bankruptcy of western capitalism, bread comes from America and it does not come from Russia. From Hungary, Jugoslavia and Rumania, indeed, it goes to Russia; and those countries have to turn to the decadent west to make good their deficit. Even governments in which Communists hold office do not relate their hopes for reconstruction to any plan emanating from Moscow, the happy home of planners, but to requests for help made to the United States or the World Bank, to which the United States has contributed over three billion dollars and the Soviet Union has contributed nothing.

Account should be taken, fourthly, of the possibility that in some of the European countries the Communist parties may not be as strong as they have seemed. The leaders act as though they were not entirely sure that in a crisis they would be followed. Some of them have been dismayed by the policies which Moscow on occasion has imposed upon them. French Communist leaders realize, for example, that support of revolution in Indo-China and Madagascar, useful as it may be in Soviet schemes for the disintegration of empires, does not sit well with the French public; and who knows? -- there may even, here and there, be a French Communist leader who is squeamish about the program on patriotic grounds. Similarly, Italian Communists were greatly discomfited by the orders they received from Moscow all through the debate over Trieste. True, the trade unions in France, Italy and other continental nations have come into the control of Communist Party members; and at their simple order labor can completely cripple the national life. But so far the order is withheld. Perhaps this is because a prolonged general strike would be liable to end in civil war. Soviet Russia might hesitate to produce this result, for fear of provoking the United States into greatly increasing its economic and financial support for the legal régimes thus put in danger, as well as supplying them with the arms that international law entitles them to purchase. If Soviet Russia crossed the line between what can be represented as mere acceptance of a "spontaneous" realignment of political forces in an occupied country and direct terroristic intervention in its domestic affairs, or if she sponsored the formation of international brigades to operate against the legal government of a member of the United Nations, she might disrupt the organization and turn it, in essence, into an anti-Soviet coalition. Even highly optimistic Soviet diplomatic agents would find it difficult to report to Moscow that the United States and other non-Communist nations would be likely to see Italy and France torn with civil war and the United Nations destroyed without undertaking in return a series of most formidable defensive actions.


What should the United States do in order that when Europe makes a choice of social philosophies it will judge our ideas on their merits? We do not really need to ask more than that.

In the first place, American economic help must be not merely palliative but constructive. Day-by-day relief holds the fort. But if the European economy is gradually to be revived and restored, it must be helped to reconstruct the plant that in turn will enable it to be independent of us and to compete with us. This means credits to buy machine tools, farm machinery and raw materials; it means loans to create the stable currencies without which there is no incentive to utilize land and plant to the full; it means the adoption by us of commercial policies that will make it profitable for European nations to sell part of their output to us and so secure new cash both for consumer goods and further improvements in plant. We must encourage not merely enterprises which will be mutually profitable to Europeans and to us, ut also those which will be profitable to them and to third parties; for Europe will resist becoming the satellite of American capital and industry, even in order to live, and in broad terms it is not to our advantage that she should so become even if she would. Many of the returns on a nation's foreign investments are normally received through three-cornered or multi-cornered transactions. First we must give; then we must invest; whenever possible we must buy; and eventually we may hope to begin getting our money back. Even if we do not get it all back, in ten years or fifty, we shall have made a contribution to political and social stability which may save our children from death and their homes from destruction.

For the European countries to demonstrate that they can plan together how to use American help to the greatest advantage would be an encouragement to the American Congress to supply it. But to say that and stop is not enough. If there is to be a long-range, over-all plan, American brains and energies should join from the start in the effort to give it reality. Such a plan would have subheads on Europe's minimum requirements of raw materials and machinery; on where they can be found; on what they will cost; on how they are to be transported, allocated and distributed; on which parts of the monies required from us are to be treated as similar to lend-lease in their relationship to the defense of vital American interests; on the suitable joint guarantees for the eventual repayment of the remainder; on the commercial policies to be adopted by the United States in order to permit repayment; on how to establish stable currencies to reward work and encourage initiative; and on similar subjects. In each instance the participation of the United States is obviously essential. Perhaps the Economic Commission for Europe, a United Nations subsidiary organ to which we belong, might take the initiative. If it asks Europeans like Jean Monnet, Camille Gutt and Gunnar Myrdal to set to work, why not enlist Americans of similar caliber under the leadership of Will Clayton? In any case, it is a waste of time to blame the European governments for not having ready in advance a completed web of the innumerable international agreements which will be necessary to the successful operation of a plan once it has been made. The first step is for the countries most directly concerned, of which the United States certainly is one, to collaborate in drawing the plan up. Any which later do not wish to profit from its benefits and conform to its requirements need do neither.

A second general ordinance we might adopt is self-denying in one of the fields of our fondest beliefs. In order for our help in Europe to yield us the greatest returns, material and psychological, we must avoid seeming to make it contingent on a repudiation and avoidance of many things that are not in the book of American capitalism (though not so strictly outside American practice in times of crisis as those who write the books sometimes indicate). Government planning, government controls, nationalization, can all be attacked as "Marxist." It will not be wise for us to make that sort of attack indiscriminately. We can argue properly and perhaps effectively that no program should be adopted with our help simply because it is Marxist, and we can point out the dangers of permanently saddling a national budget with the functions and functionaries created to handle a special job of, say, rationing or rent control. But we move into uncertain territory if we demand that a particular emergency policy shall be omitted because it has Marxist sanction. We are not trying to impose capitalism, precisely as we understand it in this summer of 1947, on Europe. If we attempted that we should fail. What we want to achieve is that as many nations as possible shall have an opportunity to decide, by democratic means and at a time when they have alternative choices before them, what sort of economy they want.

Another obvious rule will be for us to act always in the spirit of the United Nations and wherever possible through its agencies. Of almost equal importance is for us to make sure that everyone understands this is our purpose in every case. The original statement of the "Truman doctrine" aroused some apprehension in European foreign ministries that the United States was faltering in its support of the United Nations. At Senator Vandenberg's suggestion, the State Department and Congress promptly found a way to set the record right. The misunderstanding would not have occurred if the "public relations" aspects of our policy were more carefully planned and expertly executed. On the substantive side, we should of course continue our pressure for the creation of the necessary United Nations agencies, possessed of proper powers and deprived of nationalistic or ideological bias. We may have to wait some time for the Russians to agree to join in agencies of this sort; but meanwhile we would enjoy considerable advantages if we made more clear just how far we ourselves were willing to go.

Closely connected with the above, we should consider how to make the face we show in Europe represent more closely the rugged visage of the United States, how to make our voice there ring out with more of our native confidence, and how to reveal that the warm heart which the world readily grants we possess is matched by a clear head and a spirit that John Gunther has called American "spring-mindedness." As the people of Europe begin to find time to think and plan for the future they should be given the proper measure for judging the propaganda of the Communists to the effect that the United States represents all that is decadent in modern life. Of course the first essential for giving the right impression is that we shall in fact be what we claim to be. We know we are far from perfect; but we would like to be credited with being at least as good as we are. Our detractors commonly say that because we believe in the same fundamental freedoms we struggled to establish in the past we have stopped short in our development. It is not enough for us to reply that our principles of representative government and our system of free enterprise have given us the highest standard of living the world has ever seen. We must in addition show that they are capable of extension and improvement to meet modern needs and desires, and that we are constantly busy extending and improving them -- as, to cite just one reform and one development, by the SEC and the TVA. Our representatives should visit factories at least as often as they dedicate monuments, should get to know labor leaders and intellectuals more intimately, and should speak more of our minimum wage for workers, our old age and sickness insurance, our restrictions on monopolies and cartels. These and many other things which need to be known, but which we can hope to make known only slowly, should not be advertised in a tone of bumptiousness or superiority, but merely as matters of fact. The tone makes the music. And in talking about yourself it is especially hard to hit the right note in the long gamut between shrillness and inaudibility.

First to help Europe live; then to help her help herself to live; then to nourish the bloodstream that feeds her brain as well as her physical energies; meanwhile to propagate gradually in her rich old soil a new belief in the old principles that made and we believe will save western civilization; and to do all this without forcing a premature precipitation of her political elements in the temporary absence of interest in political principles -- this will take careful planning and patient execution. At best the task will be delicate and long. We undertake it because we must. We can draw encouragement for the outcome from the knowledge that Europe wants what we can give and Soviet Russia cannot -- material help. And with it we offer what Soviet Russia will not -- political freedom.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now