The Day After Russia Attacks
What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond
DURING the last three years I have been approached by various people who have first professed complete agreement with what I have written in The Nineteenth Century (of which I became Editor in 1919) on the subject of the recognition of the Soviet Government by Great Britain,--and who have then asked me to print articles by themselves favoring traffic with and recognition of the Soviet Government! For this grotesque line, namely, hatred of Bolshevism combined with an eager desire to enter into friendly relations at once with Bolshevism, they have offered various arguments which are worth mentioning because, judging by public speeches in this country and by articles in many popular newspapers, they are by no means peculiar to a few propagandists; on the contrary, they are common-form among many thousands of people today in Great Britain. One of their explanations is in effect: "We must have World Peace or civilization will perish. If we do not adopt a friendly attitude towards the Soviet Government and go in with it there will soon be another World War, and then we shall all be destroyed." This is the popular nonsense known as pessimism. There is of course not the least likelihood of another World War on the scale of 1914-18 for at least some decades to come. Any great leader of armies, indeed any sane civilian who has thought at all about the matter, will, I think agree with this. As to civilization or the human race perishing, there was far more likelihood of this a hundred, five hundred, a thousand years ago, when the world's population was small, when there was frequent and furious internecine warfare, and when civilization--its material side at least--was minute compared with what it is today.
But suppose another war on a huge scale is threatened, how can it be averted by recognizing and patching up treaties with a Power which makes not the least secret--and the frankness of the actual Soviet leaders we must admit--of its desire and intention to smash our whole system of civilization, including Christianity, which it despises as hypocrisy and rubbish? Can any thoughtful man honestly believe that by eagerly trading with or assisting in any manner an evil Power such as this we shall end war and assist Christianity? "Turn the left cheek to the smiter"--though I confess with shame I have never myself been able to do it, I perceive in that one of the noblest directions ever given to mankind. But Christ did not mean thereby, as too many of our public performers appear to think: "Defend and assist a Power which proclaims fiercely and frankly its intention to sweep away the whole doctrine of Christianity as a monstrous imposture." To assist and fraternize with the Bolshevists, and to recognize their Government, for the sake of peace and in the name of Christianity, is to sink very near the Bolshevist level in morality; whilst it is obviously to sink below the Bolshevist level in courage.
Another quite different argument for recognizing the Soviet Government is that it should be done for the sake of the security of the British Empire. They are plotting in the East and elsewhere to break up our Empire, and unless we are diplomatically in touch with their Government we shall have very great difficulty in discovering and defeating their evil designs. I wonder whether those who urge this would have been in favor of remaining diplomatically in touch with Germany during the war, in order to discover as far as possible and defeat her designs, could such an ingenious arrangement have been made.
A third argument for going in with the Bolshevists is very common and popular in Great Britain today, and is advanced unblushingly by various members of our political parties. I feel that it is, whether financially sound or not, by far the most debasing of all: namely, that we must go in with the Bolshevists, traffic freely and speedily with them, no matter what their crimes and plots may be, because, if we do not, we shall lose money, and other nations who do go in with them will make money at our expense. I may be asked at this point: "Then what do you think of the argument of large numbers of more or less anti-Bolshevists who oppose treaties and traffic with the Soviet Government simply on the ground that it will not help us economically, and that we should not gain but lose money thereby?" I do not think that, from a moral standpoint, there is much, if anything, to choose between these two schools. I dare say the second one is much better informed economically than the first, much shrewder financially. But this is a matter which ought not to be dealt with and decided on from the £.s.d. standpoint. Suppose in August, 1914, this country, which was pledged to stand by Belgium in case she was invaded, had at the last moment come to the conclusion that it would be wiser economically and financially to stand aside and see what happened. I dare say there are people who incline to the belief that if we had not intervened we might today be a more prosperous nation, with far less unemployment, and very likely driving a fine trade with Germany, if not with Austria. And it may be quite arguable that therein they are correct. But by adopting such a policy we should have acted in a disgraceful manner, if the German and Austrian propagandists who have lately been showering their leaflets and articles on the editors of English newspapers and reviews will pardon me for saying so. We should not in the least degree have helped by such a policy to "end war on earth." We should have completely sacrificed our national honor. We should have retarded, not forwarded, civilization; which is exactly what we are doing today by recognizing the Bolshevists and making or trying to make lucrative financial arrangements with them.
I am not, of course, preaching against or deriding commercialism and finance. That would be foolish and thoughtless; and, moreover, hypocritical, as are many of the sermons and sneers in which the "recognizers" and allies of the Soviet Government indulge. I only wish to point out that there are a few great national questions which must be decided on other grounds than those of commerce and finance, that is, if we adhere to such things as national honor. If the question of recognizing and befriending Bolshevism is not one of these, then to profess a belief in national honor is purely hypocritical.
Contrast now the attitude and policy of Great Britain towards the Bolshevists with the attitude and policy of the United States.
Very little is uttered aloud or printed on this subject today in my country. Comparisons naturally are odious, both to the out-and-out supporters of the recognition of the Soviet Government and to the half-and-half supporters. I shall take the opportunity to touch on this matter, however, because the policy of the United States strikes me as by far the most intellectual, the most progressive, and the noblest that has been taken by any nation. It strikes me as the most upright, the most logical, and, as far as concerns Christianity and the true cause of civilization, the soundest decision in regard to any grave problem which a great nation has taken since 1918.
Why has America taken this line? There are so-called critics of America in this country who, in reply to this question, will say with a sneer: "Why, of course, because she does not see her way to make any money to speak of out of Russia just now. America, as we all know, is out for money." Now for many years I confess I believed the story that America was nothing if not intent on making money, that it was her supreme aim and object in life. I accepted this common-form statement. The word "dollar" helped somehow to dupe me. But during the war I began to have my doubts; and since then, quite apart from this Russian question, I have used my own intelligence instead of accepting jabber as fact, and I have come to the conclusion that the whole of this talk about America being more devoted to money than Great Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, or any other nation is nonsense.
I have no doubt that America does perceive that, apart altogether from the questions of right and wrong, to recognize and traffic with the present Soviet tyranny would be commercially useless. But it was not that which induced President Wilson to take in 1919 the firm and straight line he did towards the Bolshevists; the line which has been taken by his successors, and by the nation as a whole. In his famous note in 1919 he said: "In the view of this Government there cannot be any common ground upon which it can stand with a Power whose conceptions of international relations are so entirely alien to its own, so utterly repugnant to its moral sense. There can be no mutual confidence or trust, no respect even, if pledges are to be given and agreements made with a cynical repudiation of their obligations already in the mind of one of the parties. We cannot recognize, hold relations with, or give friendly receptions to the agents of a Government which is determined and bound to conspire against our institutions, whose diplomats will be the agitators of dangerous revolt, whose spokesmen say that they sign agreements with no intention of keeping them."
America's service to civilization in the war was immense. The war could not have been won, I doubt whether it could have even been drawn, without her aid. We gladly availed ourselves of it. But when that peril to human progress had passed, and the scarcely less formidable one of the Soviet tyranny and its schemes of revolution throughout the world took its place, we paid no attention to America's policy. Hence our disgraceful recognition of the Soviet, and the plight we find ourselves in today.
The Ponsonby Treaty, directly it was announced, was attacked and jeered at as a "fake" by the larger section of the Liberal Party, and half defended half attacked by the other and smaller section. Virtually the whole of the Conservative Party attacked it, including those Conservatives who had protested a little against the recognition, but had not seen their way even to divide the House of Commons over it, and those who had approved of the recognition as a wise step economically. I do not perceive much to choose between any of those four sections. I may be told that the reason why the Conservatives did not, after their mild little protest in the House of Commons, challenge a division over the recognition proposal early in the year was because they knew they would be defeated by a large majority, the Labor Party and the Liberal Party being absolutely agreed in the matter. That is so. They would have been defeated and the recognition would have been arranged just the same. But it is a feeble excuse. Conservative, Liberal and Labor members constantly challenge a division over all manner of political questions, knowing perfectly well beforehand that they will be defeated. They regard such divisions as of great importance; and if honor counts in party politics, obviously many a division over a great question of right and wrong is essential. Honor was overlooked in regard to the recognition proposal.
What attitude in this matter would a great Liberal statesman like Gladstone have taken, or a bold Conservative like Randolph Churchill? My impression is that both would have challenged a division over the recognition, instead of waiting some months to expostulate loudly over the natural result of the recognition--the so-called "fake" treaty. I noticed that Randolph Churchill's son, in a speech at the end of September, declared that Gladstone would have entirely condemned the Soviet Government, and have declined to have any relations with it. I feel sure in any case Gladstone would not have loudly applauded the recognition, and then a little later have scathingly condemned its natural result, the Treaty. In a letter to me dated November 13, 1896, W. H. Gladstone remarked: "I entered the House of Commons in 1832. 1. The moral standard of legislation has been raised; 2. that of personal conduct lowered. . . ." I wonder what Gladstone's opinion would have been as to the raising or lowering of the moral standard of legislation in 1924 as compared with 1832.
The truth is that those who blessed the recognition as a wise and humane step and then loudly condemned the Treaty as a wicked "fake" are about as logical as they would have been had they condemned the recognition and soon afterwards blessed the Treaty. I am not partial to the Socialist and Communist Parties--though I have met honest and intelligent Socialists and liked them--but I admit that over this Bolshevist question they have at any rate been bolder and more logical than a great number of their opponents and half-opponents.
What will be the comment of a number of party politicians in Great Britain on what I have stated in this article? It will largely be: "The fellow is queer. He goes in for sentiment. And he is not up-to-date. Moreover he knows absolutely nothing about economics." Virtually the same criticism is passed on all people in this country who oppose having friendly relations and traffic with a Power which proclaims its intention of smashing civilization. Well, I do believe in sentiment in such a matter as this. Sentiment--a fact overlooked by people here who are so fond of misusing and spoiling words--is derived from the Latin word sentio, "I feel," and feeling is very closely related with thought in such matters.
As to up-to-date that is another matter. Americans are often good-naturedly accused in this country of using multitudes of slang words and expressions. I doubt, however, whether America or any other country could vie with England at the present time in the use of the expression up-to-date. Used in relation to material necessities and conveniences there appears to be some intelligence or reason in "stunting" the expression up-to-date. By up-to-date boots, hats or tobacco, is implied, and often no doubt correctly, the most serviceable and desirable necessaries of everyday life. So far, then, there is no harm in up-to-date "stunts." They at least help the masses who might not know the best goods without some such means.
But when the up-to-date cry and the "stunt" method are applied to, let us say, literature, morality, religion, education, politics home and foreign, the result in Great Britain is thoroughly bad. The masses are not in the least degree helped. On the contrary they are blinded and made fools of. They are induced often to change their views of great and urgent problems of civilization without thinking them out, or trying to think them out: at the most they are helped to chatter and giggle. The stunt-monger, for example, will tell you today that to refer with disapproval to the recognition of the Soviet is not to be up-to-date. That view, he proclaims, is all over and done with --only old Reactionists and Die-hards are today in favor of not getting in with the Soviet Government. But unless he is a frank Communist--and neither the Communists nor the Socialists in Great Britain are such culprits in regard to this debasing up-to-date folly as is the popular "stunter"--he allows you to scream and wring your hands over the proposal to make a loan to the Soviet. You will not be up-to-date by helping the Soviet commercially--but you will be splendidly up-to-date by recognizing and going in with it. Don't mind how many tens of thousands of people the Bolshevists have tortured and killed during the last few years, or are torturing and preparing to kill today. Overlook the fact that they announce their intention of destroying our system of civilization and Christianity. Never mind all that--or you will be a mere Reactionist, Die-hard, or antiquated Tory or Liberal. Instead, be an up-to-date progressive person, and (if you fancy the idea) be a Christian, by forgeting all about that and by concentrating instead on the question of what we can "scoop" out of our new friend the Soviet Government.
In over thirty years' experience of politics in Great Britain I have never known the average smart talker, writer and performer on so low a level of intelligence as he is at present. It is this that no doubt largely accounts for the debasing and foolish plight we find ourselves in today in regard to the Soviet Government.
Suppose in this matter, which for all European Powers is clearly the most urgent problem since the close of the war, America had sunk to our level in courage and intellect, would she today be in her present much better and more promising condition? I doubt if she would. When eventually we recover our sanity and manhood and when the Bolshevist peril ends--and not being what is termed a pessimist I incline to believe both these things will happen after we have received our punishment --we shall perceive and acknowledge the sterling service of America, not to herself alone, but to mankind.