The Endless Fantasy of American Power
Neither Trump Nor Biden Aims to Demilitarize Foreign Policy
For five years between 1925 and 1929, a certain portion of mankind, like those parched travelers in the desert who think they have glimpsed the oasis which will save them, believed the gate to lasting peace was at hand. This, as we now know, was only a mirage. But such a mirage had never before existed. People had never believed so fervently in the blessings of peace, or hoped so passionately that peace would be perpetual. Optimism rose to new heights. "Away with cannon and machineguns: instead, conciliation, arbitration, and peace!" At the meeting of the League of Nations on September 10, 1926, when Germany, recently defeated, was received as a member, the French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand touched a new intensity of emotion with these celebrated words.
We have not yet reached the fiftieth anniversary of that ephemeral period of hope. The last of its principal actors, the French statesman Joseph Paul-Boncour died in March 1972 at the age of 99 years; but the period might well belong to another century, or another planet. International historiography has long since taken possession of the subject. The release of the German, British and American archives, the approaching release of the French and the Italian, and the release of the archives of the League of Nations (which we owe in particular to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace), in addition to hundreds of memoirs and personal accounts, offer an inexhaustible source of material which constellations of young historians are currently attacking. However, the essential outline of the whole is clear. The reader will, I hope, allow me to aim at a general view of the period, pointing out its essential characteristics: noble illusions and grave errors.
The year 1924 marks a turning point in international relations. Up to that time, the French and British governments, the most directly affected, had very little faith in the League of Nations. Each year, in September, they dispatched delegations to the League that were characterized more by brilliance than effectiveness. France sent René Viviani, a sonorous orator, and Leon Bourgeois, the Pope of radicalism, who in 1910 had written a book, "Toward a Society of Nations," which had made him the French expert on the subject, although he was in the main a solemn but lazy man. In 1924, after the election of a Chamber of Deputies "of the Left," Aristide Briand, Edouard Herriot and Joseph Paul-Boncour made their first appearances at Geneva. The first Labour government in England also decided to take the Geneva organization seriously. It seemed as if the sour and brutal policies of the immediate postwar period had come to an end: the policies personified by Poincaré, a believer in the pitiless "execution" of treaties, the man who, to be sure of German reparations payments, seized the productive Ruhr basin.
Henceforth, the atmosphere evolved from "execution" to conciliation in an agreeably steady manner. Negotiation replaced force. To be sure, collective security had not become automatic. The Geneva Protocol of 1924 would have been able to achieve this by making arbitration obligatory and making it possible to identify an aggressor. Edouard Herriot's formula, "Arbitration, security, disarmament," was the logical conclusion to this process. Disarmament, in the French view, could be undertaken once security was assured. However, in the eyes of the British, it was through disarmament that security would be reached. In the end, this contradiction was responsible for the failure of the protocol. When the Conservatives returned to power, with Austen Chamberlain in the Foreign Office, they refused to ratify the protocol, under pressure from the dominions, as well as opposition from United States, which viewed it as a kind of "Holy Alliance" which might undermine the Monroe Doctrine.
But at the time this failure seemed unimportant, simply a matter of postponement. Other fruitful agreements were signed. In the summer of 1924, the agreements of London permitted the adoption of the Dawes Plan, which had been prepared by experts to facilitate the payment of reparations. Germany, in effect, accepted without any pressure a provisional plan of five years to start paying reduced reparations. A flood of private American capital would provide the necessary funds. To be sure, the Germans were not particularly pleased with this agreement. But Gustav Stresemann, who was in charge at the Wilhelmstrasse from December 1923 until his death on October 3, 1929, was, like the later Walter Rathenau, a partisan of the policy of fulfillment. The cancellation of the unjust clauses of the Diktat of Versailles would not be achieved by opposition to the French, but rather by demonstrating German loyalty in the execution of those very clauses. And, in fact, by adopting the Dawes Plan, the Germans obtained the evacuation of the Ruhr.
At this point, the most likely way for Germany to improve its position was to enter the League--a proposition which required many months of public discussion, for German opinion demanded concessions. Principally, this meant the cancellation of Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty, which seemed to affirm Germany's war guilt. That was a question which haunted all Germans and supplied the ultranationalists with fuel to maintain the fires of hate. However, Stresemann was a realist: economic prosperity, progress toward "Gleichberechtigung" (equal rights) were well worth a lessening of insistence on Article 231, Before Germany's entrance into the League an intermediate stage was reached. In October 1923 the famous treaties of Locarno were signed. Germany freely admitted that it would not invade the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland. Thus, there would never again be an August 1914, or, inversely, an invasion of the Ruhr. The United Kingdom and Italy stood as guarantors. If the treaty were violated, the Council of the League of Nations would immediately take up the matter; further, if the violation were "flagrant," the victim of the aggression and the guarantors were empowered to undertake military operations without waiting for the opinion of the Council
Did this not mean that peace was assured? The French felt that it would be even more secure if there were also an "Eastern Locarno," if Germany would also guarantee its borders with Czechoslovakia and Poland. But Stresemann did not wish this at any price. He had implicitly agreed to the renunciation of Alsace-Lorraine, but the Polish Corridor, Danzig and Upper Silesia were another matter. And the British, certain that they would never go to war over Danzig, discreetly supported Stresemann in his resistance.
From that point, one can pass from the regional to the universal. Eleven months of negotiation, illuminated by the "spirit of Locarno," resulted in the admission of Germany to the League of Nations. Committed to Locarno and to the League Covenant, Germany had taken a decisive turn toward pacifism. It capitalized on this by requesting the expected evacuation of the occupied zones and the re-annexation of the Saar without waiting for the plebiscite of 1935. These two points had been under negotiation since the famous interview at Thoiry between Briand and Stresemann in September 1926. On the first point, the anticipated evacuation, Stresemann triumphed at the Conference of The Hague, a few weeks before his death. In exchange for the adoption of a new reparations plan, the Young Plan, drawn up not for five years (as the Dawes Plan had been) but for 58 years, the last of the occupied zones, the areas surrounding Coblenz and Mainz, would be evacuated in 1930-a remarkable and admirable evidence of faith in treaties!
This success can be largely explained by an earlier event-the signing of the Pact of Paris (the Briand-Kellogg Pact) on August 27, 1928. The history of this incredible episode is well known. As the French parliament had refused to ratify the Mellon-Berenger accords of April 1926, on the payment of French war debts to the United States, Briand was trying to pacify American public opinion by some spectacular gesture. Advised by Professor James Shotwell of Columbia, he proposed, in April 1927, on the tenth anniversary of American entry into the war, that the United States and France mutually renounce war-an undertaking which, given the state of U.S.- French relations, meant nothing in practical terms. But, as a consequence of the influence of a pacifist radical, Salmon O. Levinson, on Senator Borah, and Senator Borah's influence on Secretary of State Kellogg, the American response was a proposal to extend the treaty to all nations of the world. Briand accepted, in a spirit of resignation rather than enthusiasm, and war was duly outlawed, except for military sanctions undertaken by the League. Stresemann lost no time in taking advantage of this situation. As soon as the pact was signed, with the current (and future) peaceful character of Germany as the basis of his position, he called for the departure of those whom he had referred to in a private letter to the German Crown Prince as "our stranglers."
Thus, within a five-year period, a network of treaties and accords was established. In September 1929, opposite Stresemann, for whom this was to be the last Geneva session, Briand launched a new initiative. Speaking to the 27 European members of the League (nearly half the total membership of 61 states), he proposed that they establish among themselves "some sort of federal link."
However, all of this was to break down like a house of cards. "Black Thursday," October 24, 1929, precipitated the stock market crash on Wall Street, which was the prelude to the most serious economic crisis capitalism had yet faced. In 1930, Europe was only indirectly affected. Nevertheless, within three years the entire political effort and attitude symbolized by Locarno was to crumble. On September 14, 1930, 104 Nazi deputies were elected to the Reichstag, as opposed to the 14 in 1928. Hitler would have 13 million supporters by the spring of 1932, and 230 deputies in the elections of July 31. On January 30, 1933, the aged President, Field Marshal Hindenburg, badly advised by Franz von Papen, would name Hitler Chancellor of the Reich. After 1930, Briand's proposal for a European union would founder in the face of British and Italian opposition. Despite the Briand-Kellogg Pact, Japan invaded Manchuria in September 1931. In the same month, England was to devalue the pound sterling, also putting an end to 80 years of free exchange.
Powerless against Japan, the League of Nations was equally unable to bring the conference on disarmament to a successful conclusion in the face of Hitler's will to rearm. In October 1933, Germany withdrew from the disarmament conference and from the League. In the same year, Mussolini began to think of taking Ethiopia by force as a colony in which to settle an Italian population. Since the end of 1932, there had been no more reparations payments and no more repayments of European war debts to America. Roosevelt, who assumed power during the tragic month of March 1933, planned to resolve the American crisis at the national level, and, despite the opposition of the U.S. Secretary of State Cordull Hull, extinguished the last hope of a stabilized international economy by torpedoing the London Economic Conference. The débâcle was total. "It will be His Majesty the Cannon who speaks," prophesied Mussolini.
We must not in our sad hindsight lightly dismiss the system symbolized by the word "Locarno," but, rather, try to get to the core of the principles on which Locarno was built.
The year 1924-the year in which British and French leaders finally became interested in the League and began to put some hopes in it-was the year in which the deaths occurred, within a week of one another, of the two men who had done most to demolish the system of a European equilibrium: Lenin and Woodrow Wilson. Let us leave aside Lenin and the avatars of an isolated Soviet Union in which Stalin was building "Socialism in a single country." For the West, Wilson's destiny had been to plant a seed which would bear fruit only after him. Before Wilson, the Great Powers assigned themselves special rights. They managed the affairs of smaller countries. And among themselves, if conciliation and negotiation did not produce desired results, there was always recourse to the other solution: the force of arms. Since, after the French defeat of 1871, Europe had been divided into two groups of opposing alliances, the shock of a military clash, if it came, would have, as the German memorandum of July 24, 1914 foresaw, "incalculable consequences," The deaths of millions of young men had just demonstrated the ultimate result of the "balance of power."
What Wilson had longed for with all his heart was, on the one hand, the equality of small and great nations, and on the other, through the League, a means of avoiding final confrontations. During the opening years of the twenties, he had failed, not only in the American Senate but in Europe as well, where Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Bonar Law, Millerand, Poincaré and Mussolini saw little of value in his principles. But by 1924 the situation had changed. Macdonald, Briand, Herriot, Paul-Boncour, Beneš, Politis, Titulescu and legions of other influential statesmen were saturated with Wilson's ideas, Stresemann, more nationalist than Wilsonian, repudiated, out of sincerity or expediency, the idea of revenge by force. This new generation-squeezed between the traditionalists who regretted diplomacy in the style of Bismarck or Delcassé and the audacious cynics who were to produce fascism-sincerely tried to build a Wilsonian Europe, and for a while even thought it was being successful. And in the United States itself, if the Republicans in power were "nationalists," Wilsonian "internationalists" also influenced a sizable portion of public opinion.
These men, of whom Briand is probably the best example, had based their conception of security on optimism, taking the League as a framework of action. "The League," wrote Paul-Boncour, "was a massive attempt at international democracy." He goes on to say: "Briand was marvellously skilled in manipulating this institution ... he played on his voice as if it were a violoncello. Anyone who has not heard him winding up a debate at his place in the Council, yielding only on secondary points, but maintaining all the essentials, does not know the best of Briand's talent."
It was really a question of an entirely new diplomacy, replacing the traditional secret negotiations conducted by expert and cynical career ambassadors. This new diplomacy was open and slow, embellished by long speeches but offering statesmen periodic personal encounters and a means of becoming acquainted, which sometimes produced genuine friendships transcending national boundaries. Specifically, if the earliest efforts of the League were far from promising (the affairs of Vilna, Memel and Corfu), it enjoyed an obvious success in the settlement of the bloody Greco- Bulgarian incidents of October 1925, and it governed the Saar efficiently. Its top bureaucrats played an inconspicuous but effective role in securing the protection of minorities, working to overcome social disasters and securing safeguards for labor. What was, in fact, the system at its apogee could be seen, for a time, as a promising beginning.
Neither the League nor the diplomacy of Locarno can be considered responsible for the prosperity of 1925 to 1929. However, there was a kind of prefiguration of the future Bretton Woods system in the sense that the League contributed to the financial restoration of certain countries whose economies had been dislocated by the war. Prepared by Jean Monnet, the Assistant Secretary-General, the Brussels economic conference (September 24 to October 8, 1920) had tried to regulate monetary disturbances. These efforts produced the "Economic Committee," and the "Financial Committee," composed of well-known experts, whose common secretary was Sir Arthur Salter. Many countries benefited from his advice. In a recent book, "Banker's Diplomacy," B. H. Meyer demonstrates that if the central banks played the decisive role, the monetary restoration of Poland, Jugoslavia and Rumania owed a certain amount to the "Economic Committee" of the League. Austria, too, received help which permitted her to restore her economy. The Italian delegate, Tittoni, proposed at Geneva that the natural riches of the entire universe be held in common, under the absolute control of the League. An economic conference was held in 1927, a favorable year? for currencies were stable again and budgetary stability was the rule rather than the exception. This conference denounced economic nationalism and fixed as its objectives "the return to free international trade, the primordial condition of prosperity." Was it not possible to believe that such a philosophy might gradually alter the general attitude? Even in strongly protectionist countries like the United States of that time, a liberal philosophy deriving from President Wilson's Point Three had been adopted by influential persons, in particular by Cordell Hull.
But optimism, faith in human nature, hopes of progress and peace manifested themselves, above all, in a multiplicity of formal agreements. We have mentioned the most celebrated of these, Locarno and the Briand-Kellogg Pact. Faith in contracts had never been stronger. Treaties of peace, of commerce, of alliance, public and secret, had certainly existed in large numbers during the three preceding centuries. But what appeared now, and seemed to be developing, was something different: treaties limiting armaments (Washington, 1921; London, 1930); pacts of nonaggression; pacts of arbitration; treaties of recognition of governments (particularly regarding the Soviet Union).
The so-called Diktats of 1919-1920 were succeeded by treaties that often were freely negotiated and then signed by equals. Italy, for example, although Fascist, participated in this "pactomania," sometimes of course with tongue in cheek. To consider only those treaties reached by Italy between 1924 and 1929: in October 1925, the Locarno agreements; on December 6, 1926, an agreement with the United Kingdom ceding Djaraboub to Libya; the exchange of Anglo-Italian letters between December 16 and 20, 1926, on the subject of Ethiopia; in September 1926, a treaty of friendship and technical assistance with Yemen; on September 16, 1926, a treaty of friendship with Rumania; on November 27, 1926, a pact of friendship and security with Albania; on April 4, 1927, an Italian-Hungarian treaty of friendship; on November 22, 1927, a treaty of defensive alliance with Albania; on May 30, 1928, a treaty of friendship with Turkey; on August 2, 1928, an agreement of conciliation and arbitration with Ethiopia; on September 23, an Italo-Greek treaty of friendship.
The Soviet Union signed treaties still more systematically: January 20, 1925, an agreement with Japan; December 17, a Russo-Turkish treaty of neutrality; April 24, 1926, with Germany, the celebrated Berlin treaty of friendship, neutrality and nonaggression; August 31, 1926, a Russo-Afghani agreement; September 28, 1926, a treaty of friendship and neutrality with Lithuania; March 9, 1927, a treaty (which was not ratified) with Latvia; October 1, 1927, a treaty with Persia; February 9, 1929, the Moscow agreement on the Litvinov protocol, the adhesion of the Soviet Union, Poland, Rumania and Latvia as well as Turkey, Lithuania and Estonia to the Briand-Kellogg Pact.
These lists, though incomplete, demonstrate how widely European treaties were multiplying-from the most insignificant and often self-serving to the most exacting. It was as if the universe were following the example of William Jennings Bryan, the great Commoner, for whom the signing of agreements, no matter how fragile, was a mania.
The impulse of pactomania was to survive through the 1930s, even as the system on which it was based was breaking up. Hitler, who had no concern for sworn agreements or the sanctity of treaties, exploited the fondess of his future adversaries for pacts. He rarely violated a treaty without the simultaneous offer of some grandiose nonagression pact which was to cover the next 25 years. Everyone fell victim to this maneuver, from Poland in 1934 to Russia in 1939, with the lamentable treaties of nonaggression signed by Great Britain (September 30, 1938), and France (December 6, 1938). For the Fuhrer, all this was a smokescreen.
Consider a traditional democracy like France: despite her links with Czechoslovakia and Poland, in 1938 she violated her word and abandoned her ally Czechoslovakia, and in 1939 entered the war unready for the undertaking, theoretically to help her ally, Poland, but knowing full well that with an army organized entirely for defense, she could not, in fact, deliver any help.
Signing numerous treaties is a manifestation of faith in the word of others. It is also a presumption that one will oneself have the courage and strength to keep a sworn obligation. At the time of Locarno, there was a readiness to believe in fundamental human goodness. "Locarno," Austen Chamberlain wrote toward 1935, "remains a curtain of safety for Europe. To cast any doubt on its validity would be to encourage hopes and ambitions which could be realized only by war." Alas, does the suppression of doubt as to another's good faith guarantee that good faith? Stresemann considers the same question in one of his last speeches in September 1929: "International understanding is often a labor of Sisyphus. The rock which one thought one had pushed to the summit rolls to the bottom once more, and one feels close to despair. It is, therefore, essential to have faith."
In its totality, the spirit of Locarno was less a spirit of "world public opinion," than it was a reflection of the common attitudes of a group of influential men for whom Geneva was the center: ministers, ambassadors, high international civil servants, journalists, writers, a few academics, members of numerous national and international associations which supported the League, certain religious groups and so on. Their aim was to avoid war, to consolidate peace. Their means were open discussion, generous proposals and the signing of pacts, using over and over again the words "peace," "security," "reconciliation," "rapprochement," "accord," "understanding," "hope," "progress," "future," "humanity," "union." They believed, as Stresemann expressed it in the speech already cited, that "Anyone who looks back with his mind's eye at these recent years, and who is not deliberately blind, must agree that international understanding has progressed. This progress must continue."
To understand the collapse of the Locarno world order, three themes must be touched upon: the narrowness of the political base, the persistence of nationalism, and the errors of economic policy.
The world of the League, as distinct from that of the United Nations following the "package deal" of 1955, was narrow. The Soviet Union thought of the Geneva organization as an association of its adversaries which was planning to encircle and destroy it. To be sure, the illness of Foreign Commissar Chicherin in 1928, and the growing influence of Litvinov, would lead Soviet Russia to modify its policies and to join the League in 1934. But it was already too late. The Soviet Union was of no great concern to the men at Geneva, except to the Germans, who used it to strengthen the Soviet resistance to the West. In France, Briand was always indifferent to Russia, and the first steps toward a Franco-Russian rapprochement could not be undertaken until after his death. As for the United States, there was never a majority of Senators in favor of adhering to the Geneva organization. The exclusion of the two potentially most powerful countries in the world sharply limited the effectiveness of the system, even if the two great countries were associated with certain of its undertakings: the Briand-Kellogg Pact and the conference on disarmament.
There was, also, an immense universe of silence comprising the innumerable peoples subject to empires. All of Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, with few exceptions, followed destinies imposed on them by distant European leaders. Today, the genuine reactions of these people, or at least of their élites during the colonial period, are studied with passion. Actually, there can be no doubt that the success or failure of the League in Corfu, Bulgaria, the Saar, or Chaco interested these élites very little. Their aspirations to equality, either through assimilation (e.g. the "Jeune Algérie" movement) or by gaining independence, were unknown to the public at large as well as in Geneva. Political Europe was unaware that a world was preparing to be born.
But-and this is equally important even in countries which were members of the League-large segments of the public showed skepticism and even hostility toward it. In addition to communist sympathizers who emphasized the "bourgeois" and "capitalist" character of the League, there were the nationalists who were more preoccupied with power and prestige than with peace, and the traditionalists, who wished to return to the old principles of European equilibrium based on a concert of great powers and bilateral alliances. Thus, it can be said that only a minority of public opinion, recruited from the moderate Left, supported the policies of Locarno.
In a curious book entitled "Locarno without Dreams" which the French political writer Alfred Fabre-Luce, known as an adversary of Poincaré and a partisan of the League, published in 1927, he enumerates its basic weaknesses and contradictions: "Opposition between the principles of the League and its geographical extent;" "Opposition between its general organization and the regional agreements it authorized;" "Opposition between Justice and Treaties;" "Opposition between the League as executor for the victors and the League as an organ of reconciliation;" "Opposition between the absolute prohibition of war and the incomplete organization for the peaceful settlement of conflicts;" "Opposition between the Spirit of the League and some of its methods of action." It was an effective summary of the narrowness of the international organization's political base.
In Germany, nationalism appeared in a virulent form. But Fabre-Luce was not correct in referring to the League as the executor for the "victors." Was not maintenance of the status quo as produced by the treaties of 1919-1920 the easiest way of maintaining the peace? But all Germans thought these treaties unjust and they believed that, by acting as though the treaties were just, the French practiced a pernicious nationalism also. Briand had made concessions, but as a compromise, "en zig-zag" as Fabre-Luce remarks.
Let us cite Pascal, and we shall understand the dilemma of the League vis-à-vis the nationalists: "Unable to force obedience to justice, it has been made just to obey strength; unable to strengthen justice, strength has been justified, so that justice and strength are one, and peace exists, which is the sovereign good."
A world in which all international dealings would be regulated by contracts, and in which contracts would be faithfully observed, could be an intellectual paradise for jurists and something less than that for great masses of humanity. For the origin of contracts is sometimes more important than their appointed value. And in international society, a contract is almost always a transaction based on force. The victor imposes his will on the vanquished. A world in which victory invariably reflects the will of God would be a fortunate world indeed. We know, alas, that this is never the case. A peace treaty, therefore, usually implies advantages for the victor, founded principally on the maxim "Vae victis!" The victor may adopt a variety of attitudes: he may spare the vanquished, as Bismarck spared Austria in 1866, to avoid pushing it into dangerous alliances; or he may satisfy a desire which he feels is perfectly just, but which the vanquished may feel with equal sincerity is perfectly unjust. (An example is Bismarck's annexation of Alsace and Lorraine because their German dialects seemed to him to make them part of Germany. The French could accept this Diktat only with indignation because the will of the Alsatians and Lorrainers to remain French seemed to them a higher criterion of nationality than language.) Or the victor can go even further and satisfy his own interests without any concern for justice (for example, the partition of Poland, simply because it was weak, by Hitler and Stalin in 1939).
In any case, a treaty can arouse in the vanquished a passionate discontent, and a more or less violent desire for revenge. A treaty may be not only unjust in itself, but also a cause of war and of violence. And it is no use saying that time will settle everything. In certain cases, as we have seen in Ireland, violence can flare up again at the very moment that certain essentials seem to have been settled.
To a believer in totalitarian government, ready to subordinate all other values to his doctrine, sworn agreements count for nothing; when the balance of power changes, he will eagerly seek to profit from the change. This is true of both the confirmed nationalist and the confirmed racist, Bismarck, whom one may certainly call, if not a nationalist, at least a confirmed Prussian, made the following remark to an Austrian diplomat: "Austria and Prussia are both states too large and important to be linked by the text of a treaty. They can be guided only by their own interests and by their own convenience. If a treaty blocks the way to realizing these interests and these conveniences, the treaty must be broken." This would also do very well for a Marxist-Leninist, who expresses relations between powers in terms of the class struggle. Stalin observed the treaties negotiated in 1920 and 1921 between Bolshevik Russia and its neighbors to the West only in so far as it seemed to him impossible to break them. When the possibility arose, in the summer of 1939, he did not hesitate in accomplishing a great maneuver, skillfully, he imagined; he relied on a confirmed enemy, detested by all mankind, to recover the Russian territories lost at Brest-Litovsk.
For the Western democracies, respect for a treaty is a far more certain value than for a totalitarian state. If a Western democratic statesman follows the consequences of this idea to its logical conclusion, as President Wilson wanted to do, he tries to make sure that the contract is fair, so that the vanquished will adopt it and abandon the idea of revenge. The difficulty is that there is as yet no objective criterion as to what is fair. One can sometimes achieve success by trial and error, or perhaps because one has some help from geography and history. Certainly the Treaty of the Pyrénées of 1659 between France and Spain was a good one because, apart from the exceptional crises of the Revolution and the Empire, the frontier has remained stable for over three centuries. In that case, too, there was a winner and a loser.
In the case of Wilson, it was incomparably more difficult. To be sure, the principles involved were sound, establishing as they did the equal rights of large and small nations, setting frontiers along "clearly recognizable" lines of nationality, not to speak of creating the League. Unfortunately, in many areas the lines of nationality were not at all "clearly recognizable." In many parts of the world, two peoples can equally passionately lay claim to the same district as an integral part of their nation. Certain American historians have a tendency to believe that the peace of Versailles would have been more just if Wilson had not been obliged to struggle with Clemenceau. But, in fact, on every point of disagreement between the two men-the Saar, the political separation of the Rhineland-Clemenceau yielded, holding fast only for the temporary occupation of the Rhineland. And this, too, was to be evacuated in advance, by 1930, three years before the advent of Hitler. What seemed unacceptable to every German, and sustained a sense of exasperation which favored the Nazi rise to power, were two points on which Wilson and Clemenceau were always in agreement: Article 231, which seemed to affirm German guilt, and the famous Polish Corridor, which derived directly from Wilson's Point Thirteen, according to which a reconstituted Poland should have access to the sea.
If, therefore, it is very difficult to arrive at "fair" contracts, one of the preoccupations of democratic societies must be to find a way of ameliorating contracts which are unsatisfactory. Treaties are not eternal, unless, as Mussolini put it, one wishes to say that the world is dead. Even for a democrat, treaties are not eternal. Democratic jurists have introduced the notion "Rebus sic stantibus" (if conditions remain the same). And, of course, conditions never remain the same forever.
It was easy to see, between the two wars, that the Treaty of Versailles was not perfect. But the two principal democracies responsible for it, France and England, had adopted contradictory attitudes toward it. For a long time France clung to the notion of a full "execution" of the treaty. Then she made concessions-but "too little and too late." England was converted to the idea of concessions by the spring of 1919, and undoubtedly this attitude, shared by the French Left, and later by Briand, was the wiser. But the English sank into incoherence in their desire to maintain and even systematize their policy of concessions after Hitler took power. This was "appeasement." Nothing is more significant than the reaction of Anthony Eden, head of the British Foreign Office, to Hitler's reoccupation of the demilitarized zone in the Rhineland, in March 1936. This, he observed, was "a heavy blow to the sancity of treaties." But, he added immediately, "Fortunately, there are grounds for hope that this will not lead to war."
Some of Eden's successors came to think that any blow struck by Hitler against the Versailles treaty, or for the annexation of German-speaking populations, was, in the end, justified. It was only Hitler's method which was to be condemned. Therefore, the original contract having been broken, the dictator must be persuaded to sign a new one. Hitler understood this attitude so well that he coupled his acts of international violence, as we have seen, with spectacular proposals; for example, treaties of nonaggression for the next 25 years. Thus, on one side, Hitler tried to pacify the democracies by offering them treaties which he was prepared to violate as soon as the balance of forces shifted. On the other, the English felt they could persuade Hitler that his methods were bad, and so offered him treaties designed to convert him to an attitude more respectful of treaties. Of course, the results were the opposite of what had been hoped, and, ultimately, Secretary of State Stimson's approach of not recognizing the fruits of aggression was the more rational.
The greatest weakness of the system we have described is also the least well known. It is the mediocrity of economic policy, or, to put it more precisely, the failure of policy to reflect economic reality.
The decade of the twenties had been, for the West, and particularly for the United States, a decade of unbridled capitalism. For Hoover, who was largely responsible for this situation, first as Secretary of Commerce, and then as President, optimism was the rule. "American individualism" implied the possibility of each citizen's making a fortune. For capitalists, it also implied the possibility of acting without constraints imposed by the state, and even with the protection of the state in the form of low taxes and high import duties.
On the international level, contrary to the ideas of Wilson, and later of Cordell Hull, there was disorganized competition and protectionist egoism. In Europe, more or less the same methods were followed, although here and there the international cartels were able to impose some sort of order. The International Agreement on Steel, adopted on September 30, 1926, fixed the production quotas of Germany, France, Belgium, Luxemburg and the Saar. But that was an exceptional instance. On the whole, nothing was available to control production, overproduction and credit, except a sanctimonious faith in the excellence of economic laws.
This faith had another consequence. It was considered essential that debtors repay their war debts. To encourage repayment, the Hoover administration established a principle according to which countries which had not settled their debts, or the citizens of those countries, were not eligible for American loans. These stipulations, between 1925 and 1930, oriented available American capital toward Germany, thus enabling it to pay reparations during the five years of the Dawes Plan. But when the crisis came, and American funds were withdrawn, Germany was no longer able to pay reparations. The ex-victor countries could no longer pay their debts. This situation arose in 1932, and we know how much these difficulties helped poison relations between Europe and the United States.
Monetary errors were added to protectionist egoism. Drawn after the war into a world of inflation until then unknown, European leaders committed almost every possible error. By retying the pound sterling to gold at its 1914 parity, Winston Churchill, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, condemned England to an indefinite period of a million unemployed. By counting on reparations to make up her budget deficits, France lived until 1926 in a state of permanent monetary crisis. As for Germany, the destruction of the mark in 1923 certainly enriched a few powerful businessmen, but impoverished the salaried class, wiped out all small savings and created conditions of misery ideal for Nazi recruitment. The relative wisdom of the years 1925 to 1929 (balanced budgets and more or less stable currencies) was accompanied by a total absence of control of production and of credit, as if the state, having become wise for a time, was allowing producers the right to go mad.
When the crisis of overproduction developed no one was prepared to deal with it. In monetary matters, the world, instead of engaging in mutual assistance, split into three groups, the countries which had devalued (principally the United Kingdom and the United States); the countries of the "Gold Bloc" (principally France), stupidly clinging to monetary parity and trying to lower their prices by a deflation productive of discontent; and countries with total currency control (principally Germany). This absence of international solidarity was almost as catastrophic for the world as the advent of Adolf Hitler.
One might summarize these "economic errors," of which only a very incomplete list is given here, by saying that the politicians, either through ignorance or illusion, were unaware of the invasion of politics by economic considerations. The Great War had formidably heightened the economic responsibilities of governments, but these had recoiled before the new reality. They managed their budgets as they had before 1914, leaving to private interests, notably to banks, the particulars of running their economies. The French, English and German banks, all-powerful before 1914, investing all over the world, had drawn back into themselves. A French law of 1918, which was operative for ten years, even forbade investments in foreign funds, an extraordinary contrast to the proud economic imperialism of France at the beginning of the century.
The banks did not know how to fill the void left by governmental economic incompetence. And the central banks-the Bank of England of Sir Montagu Norman, the Reichsbank of Dr. Hjalrnar Schacht, the Banque de France of Robineau and then Moreau, instead of considering themselves instruments in the service of the common good, sought above all to preserve their private character and their independence vis-à-vis the state. The fabulous economic and financial ignorance of Aristide Briand, a typical statesman of the "Locarno generation," should not blind us to the fact that his partners, Austen Chamberlain, Frank B. Kellogg and even Gustav Stresemann were hardly more competent than he.
Thus, in a world where the state was becoming responsible for the economy, the politicians did not try to adapt to their new responsibilities and the banks did not help them. The economic conjuncture looked good, and once again, an excess of optimism led to the belief that it would remain good indefinitely.
The spirit of Locarno was a beautiful dream-a dream of reconciliation and peace based on fidelity to sworn engagements. From that pleasant but somewhat absurd dream came the plunge into the abyss of horror. And, of course, between the spirit of Locarno and the spirit of Lebensraum, the choice is not difficult. At least let us share with the men of Locarno, already belonging to such a distant day, a faith in the progress of humanity. It is simply that after 50 more years of experience, our faith is less naïve and more anxious.