The Hard Truth About Long Wars
Why the Conflict in Ukraine Won’t End Anytime Soon
AMERICAN isolationists, long in the saddle, are fighting to stave off the disaster, as they see it, of a swing in American public opinion back from the direction it began following in 1919. True, they won a major victory in preventing revision of the Neutrality Act at the last session of Congress. But on every hand they see evidences of a deep tide of American sympathy for the democracies and against the totalitarian Powers -- a tide which might lead us to give moral and material support to the democracies, engaged in a life and death struggle, or even to our eventually becoming their partners.
The isolationists attribute this reversal of public opinion to "insidious propaganda." Scarcely a day has passed in recent years without a solemn warning from some senator, congressman, editor or business leader against that propaganda. It is alleged to have been devised abroad and fostered here by disloyal or merely credulous American "internationalists" in order to enlist the American people in another "crusade" -- ostensibly to make the world safe for democracy but actually to pull British, French, Chinese, and various other chestnuts out of the fire.
Of course, the British, French, Chinese and others have wanted our support and have been doing their best to win it. Unquestionably they have used propaganda to persuade us to understand and sympathize with their point of view. Let us take the fact into full account. But it is only part of the picture. In order to understand fully what really is going on we must also have an accurate understanding of the nature and extent of the propaganda in favor of isolation. With a clear idea of the propagandist forces at work on both sides the ordinary citizen will have a better chance of discounting any improper influences of either and of making up his own mind on the merits of all the issues at stake.
First of all, exactly what is propaganda? The word means different things to different people. Mr. Herbert Hoover defined it at Colby College on November 8, 1937, as follows: "That special breed of cultivated untruth we call propaganda. This word at one time had a reputable and even sanctified meaning. . . . It is now a sinister word meaning half-truth or any other distortion of truth. It moves by tainting of news, by making synthetic news and opinions and canards. It promotes the emotions of hate, fear and dissension." This definition effectively expresses the current popular view that propaganda is inherently misleading. But it obviously is inadequate, for it does not cover a vast amount of activity which is universally recognized as entirely legitimate but for which no other descriptive term exists.
A very different idea of the real nature of propaganda was expressed in an editorial in the July 15 issue of the well-known Catholic weekly America: "Propaganda is nothing but the dissemination of views, principles and facts, and in itself is as innocent as wheat-growing." And the editorial pointedly continued: "It becomes evil when by forged processes it strives to distort the truth by deception."
About two years ago a distinguished group of educators and publicists representing a number of our leading universities organized the Institute for Propaganda Analysis "to help the intelligent citizen detect and analyze propaganda." Their approach has been scholarly and disinterested. They defined propaganda as the "expression of opinion or action by individuals or groups deliberately designed to influence opinions or actions or other individuals or groups with reference to predetermined ends." This definition does not suggest that a propagandist necessarily distorts or falsifies, or even that his statements lack logic or accuracy. The definition would apply alike to Goebbels' anti-Semitic campaign and to the foreign missionary work of the Presbyterian Church; to Harvard University's appeal for contributions to its Tercentenary Fund and to the campaign for the Townsend Plan; to the Russian Pavilion at the World's Fair and to the current efforts of the United States Chamber of Commerce to win the public to a more favorable opinion of private enterprise. In short, it describes a well-nigh universal form of activity which in itself is neither good nor bad, but which has infinite potentialities in either direction.
By this definition, any person who becomes convinced of the merits of a given cause and devotes himself to persuading others to support it is a propagandist. For example, I myself have been a propagandist for the foreign policies of Secretary Hull, since I sincerely believe them to be best for our country and would like to persuade as many as possible of my countrymen to agree.
In recent years in the United States people have become divided roughly into those who favor what is called isolation, those who believe in what is called collective action, and those who haven't made up their minds. Those who believe in one course or the other strongly enough have become propagandists for it. In a recent book,[i] one of the propagandists for isolation terms those on his side the "Peace Party" and calls those on the other side the "War Party." To show the extraordinary diversity of personalities on both sides a reviewer selected two lists from the names given.
The so-called "Peace Party" was said to include such strange bedfellows as Herbert Hoover, William Randolph Hearst, Charles A. Beard, Father Charles E. Coughlin, Norman Thomas, General George Van Horn Mosely, the German-American Bund and World Peaceways. The so-called "War Party" was said to include Franklin D. Roosevelt, Cordell Hull, Alfred M. Landon, Earl Browder, Nicholas Murray Butler, Thomas W. Lamont, Bishop William T. Manning, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the American League for Peace and Democracy.
The volume in question also included in the left wing of the "Peace Party" those redoubtable isolationists Senators Borah, Johnson, Nye and Lundeen. Representative Hamilton Fish was listed in that party, too, though his activities on his recent European peregrination seem a bit paradoxical for an isolationist. Among the publications said to represent the "Peace Party" were the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News and The New Republic. On the other side were put the New York Times and the Daily Worker (can the latter be left there after the Hitler-Stalin coup?). Ex-President Hoover's Secretary of State, Mr. Henry L. Stimson, was also mentioned in the "War Party." There were many others.
Plainly, any such line-up is bound to be artificial and to do an injustice to the intellectual equipment of many of the individuals mentioned. The very terms "Peace Party" and "War Party" are ridiculously exaggerated and seem to have been adopted chiefly for the purpose of attracting attention. Nuances of opinion are largely left out of account. For example, what of persons who have not wished to bind the United States in advance to follow a set pattern of collective security but who are not isolationist in specific cases where international collaboration obviously becomes a matter of American self-interest? There also are many omissions. If ex-Secretary Stimson is mentioned in the so-called "War Party," why not mention in the so-called "Peace Party" his former Under-Secretary, William R. Castle? The rôle of the Republican New York Herald Tribune in the so-called "War Party" ranks is hardly mentioned; the editorial policies of the Chicago Daily News and the Washington Post are not mentioned at all, nor the activities of The New World, the enlightened organ of Cardinal Mundelein's Archdiocese of Chicago. On the other side, no mention is made of organs like Social Justice and the Brooklyn Tablet, which stand in sharp contrast to The New World and to a liberal Catholic weekly like The Commonweal. Such refinements and omissions aside, enough has been said to show how variegated is the line-up in the great debate over the proper international rôle of the United States. On both sides the leaders have been speaking boldly over their own names and the sincerity of their convictions need not be questioned.
But the propaganda of foreigners is not to be overlooked. Each side in the debate noted above receives powerful, though often unsolicited, help from foreign sources. Let us take the isolationist side first.
It is profoundly in the interest of the Nazi and Fascist Powers, and of Japan, that isolationist sentiment in the United States should prevail. They require that they be left free to carry through their programs of conquest and aggression without opposition or protest from the United States. They require that their opponents shall be cut off from the commercial contact with the United States which is habitual in time of peace and which is traditional and legal in time of war. Consequently Hitler and Goebbels and the agents of the Japanese Foreign Office and to a lesser extent the representatives of Mussolini and Ciano have left no stone unturned to see to it that the propaganda of the leading American isolationists receives the fullest possible support. What the rôle of Soviet Russia is to be following the destruction of the anti-Comintern front remains to be seen. In recent years its efforts were usually directed against American isolation. This activity is not, of course, to be confused with that of dissident Marxists, or rather anti-Stalinist Marxists, who while subscribing to an international ideal of their own stood fast against any collective action which they thought might strengthen Stalin's Russia.
The Institute for Propaganda Analysis has reported the existence in the United States of some 800 organizations which could properly be called pro-Fascist or pro-Nazi, and which have been deluging the country with anti-Semitic, anti-democratic and isolationist propaganda. Ostensibly this propaganda has originated entirely from American sources. Actually this has not been the case. A great deal of the printed material, for example, has originated in Germany; it has been printed there in the English language and sent to Nazi organizations and sympathizers in the United States for distribution throughout the country. The Institute stated: "It might be reasonable to estimate that about one American in every three is being subjected to Fascist propaganda."
The New York Post of December 30, 1938, printed in parallel columns an anti-Semitic address made by Goebbels in Munich in 1935 and an article signed by Father Coughlin in Social Justice three years later. The latter had purported to be an original composition by the priest of the Shrine of the Little Flower, at Royal Oak, Michigan. But except for a scattering of insignificant verbal changes which in no way affected the meaning, the texts of the speech and the article were identical. In December 1938 the Brooklyn Tablet printed an attack on President Roosevelt containing phrases later shown to have been used previously in a Nazi paper in Stuttgart.
The varied, widespread and effective activity of Nazi propagandists all through our country was brought to light by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a part of the evidence used to convict three Nazi spies in November 1938 in the U. S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The Fuehrer himself has contributed to elucidating the thesis of certain American isolationists. Dorothy Thompson wrote as follows of the sections of his speech of April 28, 1939, in which he replied to President Roosevelt's suggestions for maintaining peace: "The part of the speech devoted to answering the President of the United States was prepared by the German Embassy in Washington. . . . The arguments which he marshalled were carefully aimed at the anti-Roosevelt forces in this country and were designed to play upon the isolationist sentiment. . . . The rebuke to American interference in European affairs . . . was couched in almost the language used by many of our own critics of the State Department's foreign policy. . . . The German Embassy in Washington did a good job and so did he."
For those inclined to discount Miss Thompson's statement because of her anti-Nazi convictions, here is the opinion of Paul Mallon, of the violently pro-isolationist Hearst Press, on May 1: "No German conceived Hitler's reply to Roosevelt, certainly not Hitler. . . . In conception the speech was distinctly an American political campaign speech, designed to appeal to mid-Western sentiment and anti-Roosevelt Americans. Its shrewd knowledge of inner politics here could not come from a distant Nazi mind. Its arguments and appeals were based accurately on a studied background of American history which is utterly foreign to dictatorial methods of thinking and ideals. . . . The ghosting was so obvious that some of the isolationist Senators at lunch next day agreed the White House would no doubt get around to charging them with having done the job."
The Institute for Propaganda Analysis has stated that in 1938 the Japanese Diet appropriated $2,000,000 for propaganda in the United States. The Institute concluded that, with the money spent here by Japanese business men, "Japan's propaganda machine here" is "the biggest, the most impressive and by far the most expensive of any foreign Power." The objectives of this propaganda, it said, are to persuade the United States "to keep hands off the war, to buy Japanese goods, and to invest money in Manchukuo and Japanese-dominated China;" also, to persuade the United States not "to build up its fleet" and not "to revamp its foreign policy to provide for boycotting aggressor nations as suggested (at times) by the President."
Presumably these intensive and expensive efforts of foreign propagandas have played some rôle in strengthening American sentiment for isolation.
Mention should also be made of the foreign language press in the United States and the foreign language broadcasts. Within 30 miles of Times Square live almost twice as many Italians as are in Rome, and the German-speaking populations of New York and other cities are very considerable. The views and comments of almost all the Italian papers and broadcasters, and of many German ones, have naturally tended to appeal to the isolationist sentiment existing here.
Now, what of the foreign propaganda on the other side?
In April of this year, Senator Gerald Nye, of North Dakota, placed in the Congressional Record extracts from a book by a British author, Sidney Rogerson, called "Propaganda in the Next War," issued last fall as one of a series edited by Captain Liddell Hart, a noted English military expert. Senator Nye quoted as follows from a section of the book dealing with the propaganda course which Great Britain should pursue towards neutral states: "In the next war, as in the last, the result will probably depend upon the way in which the United States acts, and her attitude will reflect the reaction of her public to propaganda properly applied." In another place the book says: "Since on paper our case towards neutrals appears to lack a mainspring, it will behoove us to manufacture what we can and press it everywhere we can -- a task of making bricks with little straw at which we showed ourselves to excel in the last war." To accomplish his purpose, Mr. Rogerson recommends: sending "leading literary lights and other men with names well known in the United States to put our point of view over the dinner table;" arranging facilities at the front for American newspaper correspondents and newsreel cameramen so they can obtain horror scenes; capitalizing American sympathy for the oppressed; helping involve Japan in the war; decorating Americans serving in the forces of Great Britain and her Allies.
The British publisher was afterwards reported to have withdrawn this book from circulation. This is not surprising. Though the volume represented a private English view (Captain Liddell Hart has been a severe critic of the present British Government), one nevertheless cannot but sympathize with Senator Nye when he said: "It amazes me that men could be so brazen in laying down the plans which are to entrap us. . . ."
Most British propaganda is more subtle. It reaches us in the form of visits from leading British personalities who present a point of view about life congenial to our own. Mr. Hearst's New York Journal-American commented on this sort of thing last winter in its usual staccato style:
"Captain Eden raced here to tell us all about the greatness of the democratic form of government -- something we had to fight for against the armed opposition of Captain Eden's ancestors.
"The Cavalcade marches on to the designed CONQUEST OF AMERICA BY THE BRITISH EMPIRE.
"The climax will come next Spring when their Majesties, King George and Queen Elizabeth, will visit us 'to see the President and the World's Fair.'"
In the early stages of the Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese Government retained a prominent American public relations counsel to disseminate propaganda for their cause. After a few months they discontinued his services. Prominent French citizens, in association with a group of well-known Americans, maintain the French Information Center, Inc., in New York. The organization emphasizes that it confines itself to answering questions, giving "facts, not propaganda." But facts, as already noted, can be the most powerful propaganda in the broad sense of that term.
The influence of the Communist movement on American public opinion is difficult to estimate. In national elections the Communist Party has proved itself negligible. Communist influence in certain labor units, however, has been strong, and Communist ideology, as differentiated from much Communist practice in Russia, doubtless carries an appeal to many Americans. In so far as Communist propaganda works in the political field, its influence in this country has probably been most often on the side of collective action; though what it will be in future Stalin has not yet indicated as these lines are written.
Another source of propaganda against isolation must be mentioned -- the refugees driven out of Europe by dictatorial intolerance and persecution. Outstanding individuals like Albert Einstein, Eduard Beneš and Thomas Mann are representative of hundreds of scientists, scholars, churchmen, artists, business leaders and craftsmen who have been exiled because of their race or their democratic inclinations and who carry the torch of their liberalism with them. The main influence of this group, obviously, lies not in any direct pleas which they may make individually for or against American isolation, but rather in the eloquent testimony which the mere fact of their presence in this country provides as to the reality of the Nazi and Fascist menace to our type of civilization.
I have given what can be taken at least as a rough approximation of the line-up pro and con American isolation -- sincere American citizens on both sides, and on both sides certain foreign influences. The volume of propaganda on both sides is immense. It is my thesis that in neither case is the propaganda wholly evil or wholly good and that it ought all to be turned to useful account. The task of American citizens trying to make up their minds on the basic issues is not to disregard these propagandas but to try to sift the wheat from the chaff in them, to judge what is true and what is false, and to balance the two truths.
We Americans cannot justly criticize foreign nations for trying to gain our good will when we ourselves are engaged in doing the very same thing in Latin America. We consider it quite proper that Latin American nations should coöperate with us in preventing European and Asiatic Powers from gaining a territorial foothold in any of the territories to the south. We consider it self-evident that the interest of the South American countries and our own are identical in this regard. That is the essence of the Monroe Doctrine. And in order to make the Latin Americans see our point of view we have tried to improve and intensify our propagandist activities in their countries.
Similarly Great Britain and France may quite sincerely regard themselves as fighting our battles as well as their own in so far as they are able to interpose military barriers to further Nazi, Fascist or Japanese aggression, because by doing so they prevent the totalitarian Powers from conquering strategic territories which the latter might use as bases for naval or aërial attacks on American shipping or even on American cities in some future war. There is plenty of technically competent confirmation of this point of view. Rear Admiral Yates Stirling and Major George Fielding Eliot, for example, have both pointed out the military importance to the United States of having the various Atlantic and Pacific islands in friendly hands. The Azores, for instance, happen to belong to Portugal, long an ally of Great Britain. In the event of a conquest of Portugal (including, of course, the Azores) by a Spanish Fascist Government, aided by Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy, or if Portugal herself moved into that camp, Major Eliot believes that the result would be of grave concern to the United States and he raises the question whether we might not have to take active counter-measures.[ii]
The question, then, for thoughtful Americans to decide is not whether or not we are being subjected to propaganda by all the various nations which would like our favor or dread our opposition. We know this is the case. Our task as Americans is to examine critically just how far our national interests coincide with the lines suggested by this or that particular foreign propaganda and how far they differ. In doing this we might be helped by having certain standards of judgment: (1) Is the propagandist's advocacy of his cause open and aboveboard? (2) Are his facts accurate? (3) Does he attempt to suppress, distort or conceal any facts relevant to the argument? (4) Does he distinguish between statements of fact capable of proof and expressions of opinion?
Much propaganda which we read and hear conforms to these standards. It is propaganda not because it is inaccurate or insidious but because it is disseminated for the purpose of persuading us to favor a certain course. If the present crisis in American foreign policy did not exist, exactly the same material would pass as purely educational in character. "The distinction between education and propaganda," writes Professor Carl Joachim Friedrich of Harvard, "is often so complex and obscure that those engaged in one of these activities are honestly unable to say which it is. The distinction cannot be lightly dismissed as one between sincerity and insincerity or between ability and the lack of it. There is sincerity on both sides and ability too."
On the other hand, we should constantly be on guard against propagandist attempts to fool us by getting us to form favorable or unfavorable opinions of individuals or causes without a cool examination of the evidence. The mere cry that an opponent is a "propagandist" is often a useful tool in propaganda. The Institute for Propaganda Analysis has analyzed some of the commoner devices of the propagandist who endeavors to exploit our emotions. He calls his opponents names. He tries by repetition to associate his own program in our minds with noble words like "liberty," "honor," "progress," "democracy," "justice." He "transfers" the authority and prestige of symbols which we respect and revere, like the Cross or the Flag, to some cause which he would like to have us accept. He secures high-sounding testimonials which impress us. He says "everybody is doing it," i.e. "get on the bandwagon with my candidate and my cause." Finally he lies, distorts and falsifies; he resorts to over-emphasis and under-emphasis; he dodges issues and raises smoke screens; in short, he stacks the cards in favor of his cause by every art of chicanery and deceit.
With these standards and devices in mind, the thoughtful citizen would do well to scrutinize critically all propaganda both for and against isolation, and to figure out for himself how much of it is grounded in reason and sound principle, how much is out-and-out falsification, how much consists of purely emotional appeals to prejudice, hate and fear.
But are the American people capable of discriminating between the various sorts and qualities of propaganda? Wasn't Adolf Hitler right when he said that "by clever, constant propaganda a people can be convinced that heaven is hell or that a miserable life is paradise?" I agree that Hitler may be right as to the infinite capacity of propaganda to mislead where no opposing opinions are permitted. But where conflicting propagandas are allowed free play, as in the United States, I think he is wrong. Proof of this is afforded by our experience during the World War and during the world crisis of the last two years.
The recent situation in the United States has been similar at many points to the situation during the World War. No sooner had the war begun in Europe in 1914 than Americans began to be subjected to conflicting propagandas which lasted throughout the whole period of our neutrality. There was violent anti-Allied propaganda by pro-Germans, there was anti-British propaganda from American sympathizers with Irish nationalism, and there was pacifist propaganda pure and simple. There was also pro-Allied propaganda, some materialistic, some moral and intellectual.
Those who have propagandized for isolation have not paid any attention, in looking back at 1914-1917, to any propaganda except that which was conducted by the British and the French Governments. We were betrayed into the World War, they say, by the clever propaganda of the Allies, who concealed and distorted the truth and appealed fictitiously and cunningly to our crusading instincts, and by international bankers and business men who made fortunes by financing the Allied cause. The slogan "to make the world safe for democracy" was never anything but a fake. In reality, the Great War was a struggle between two groups of nations for obscure and selfish purposes with which the United States had no concern. Whether the Allies or the Central Powers won meant nothing to us. We gained nothing from the victory. We were taken for a ride and robbed of our shirts. We are today in imminent danger (the isolationists conclude) of being victimized again.
Let us subject this highly colored picture to a little sober analysis. I hold that not merely is it unreasonable to believe, as do isolationists who argue thus, that our whole wartime generation of Americans, including our elected leaders, were half-wits and dupes, but that a review of the course of subsequent events confirms the opposite conclusion.
During the decade before the World War, Germany attained the peak of her prestige. Not only was she rich, strong and respected; she was the mecca of scholars, artists, music lovers and friendly tourists from other countries. Every year tens of thousands of Americans from all parts of our country travelled, lived, and studied in Germany. I happen to have been one of these. Through my father, who was a post-graduate student under the great theologian, Harnack, a close friend of the Kaiser, I came to know the noble and gemütlich Germany which we would have liked to think was the only real Germany. But it was impossible to live in Germany without coming upon not a few evidences of a condition which had no counterpart in other more democratic states, including our own. In particular, there was a powerful and increasingly arrogant military caste which was treated by even the most eminent civilians with a subservience amazing and disturbing to any open American mind. I remember the impression produced on me by seeing young Prussian officers striding down the sidewalks while the civilians tumbled out of their way with obsequious salaams. I speak of my experience as of interest only because it must have been typical of that of many young Americans. For a year I attended the Hohenzollern Gymnasium at Berlin, where I received continual reminders of the hostility of my classmates to all "Englanders." This puzzled me until I learned that they were only repeating what was being systematically drilled into them by their professors, parents and friends -- that the English were a nation of shopkeepers, gross and cowardly, and that it was Germany's destiny one day to teach them their place.
This sort of first-hand knowledge of German militarism was unquestionably one of the factors which influenced American opinion at the start of the war. It can be said that such a judgment was prejudiced or wrong, but not that it was based on anybody's propagandist activities. It was based on observation of Germans. And it was not contradicted by subsequent German military actions in Belgium or on the high seas. Indeed, it is a tenable hypothesis -- I hold it myself -- that the steadily rising tide of pro-Ally feeling from 1914 to 1917, which was what led the United States to its most deliberate decision to enter the war, was influenced to only a negligible degree by conflicting propagandas, and arose out of the impact of actual events on the minds of the broad masses of our people. My own particular evolution on the issues involved in the war took account of the following factors: my personal prewar knowledge of Germany; a comparison of the officially authorized case for Germany with the officially authorized case for Britain and France; the German invasion of Belgium; the sinking of the Lusitania; the German militaristic philosophy that "might makes right," categorically expressed by eminent scholars, artists and professors and exemplified in such actions as the sack of Louvain, the deportation of Belgian laborers and the introduction of poison gas; the declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare.
In regard to none of the wartime purposes of the German Government have the researches of the past twenty years brought to light any evidence substantially at variance with what we knew at the time. There was propaganda about those purposes. It was mostly beside the point. The facts spoke for themselves. Germany's invasion of Belgium was the precursor of similar treaty breaches on the part of Japan in Manchukuo, by Mussolini in the case of Ethiopia, and by Hitler in the invasion of the Rhineland, the rape of Czecho-Slovakia and his attack on Poland. The doctrine of military necessity as translated into action by Germany at the opening of the World War and as frankly defended by Bethmann-Hollweg, is precisely the doctrine which has again alarmed some of our country's most thoughtful spirits and has strongly reënforced the natural bent of the sympathies of the majority of our people toward Great Britain and France.
The American people believed a great many things about the general origins and particular incidents of the World War which subsequent historical research has proved to be mistaken. They later learned that the origins of the war were not simple but were confused, that responsibility for the war was not Germany's or Austria-Hungary's alone but was divided among the Powers, and that the assertion written into the Treaty of Versailles that the Central Powers were solely guilty was unjust. But the strongest belief they had -- the one primarily responsible for our entry into the war -- was that the victory of Germany in the war would be not only a catastrophe to Europe but a permanent menace to free nations. They believed that although the militarist philosophy of "might makes right" had its adherents everywhere, its stronghold was in Germany. This conviction has since been abundantly confirmed. From 1919 onwards we read a host of "debunking" writers about the origins of the war. The Nazis have debunked the debunkers.
No blockades have shut off the American public from what the Nazis want to say about themselves. Yet by Nazi word and Nazi act, from the pages of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" and from his actions in one after another domestic and international situation, we have been getting openly, violently, brazenly, the proclamation of the very issue over which Americans were willing to fight in the World War.
Recently the development of the Gallup, Fortune and other polls has begun to give us a more dependable yardstick than we ever had before for measuring the factors governing American public opinion. It is illuminating to study the changing course of public opinion in matters of foreign policy as revealed by successive Gallup polls within the past two years, and to connect those changes with specific events abroad.
Just two weeks before Chamberlain and Daladier met with Hitler and Mussolini at Munich, the Institute of Public Opinion found 57 percent of Americans willing to sell food supplies to Britain or France in the event of war, but only 34 percent willing to sell war materials. After Munich, a small majority swung over to favoring sending war materials, while a much larger majority favored the sale of food supplies. The figures became 76 percent in favor of food and 55 percent in favor of war materials. Intensification of persecution of the Jews followed. It swung all classes of Americans still further from Germany. Finally, with Hitler's annexation of Czecho-Slovakia the vote in favor of aiding the French and English became as follows:
|Favoring the sale of food supplies||82 percent|
|Favoring the sale of war materials||57 percent|
"These events," wrote Mr. Gallup in the New York Times, on April 30, 1939, "have caused Americans to see danger for 'the other democracies' and even to fear that the United States might be attacked by the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo axis if England and France were defeated. A sizable majority (62 percent) feel that the totalitarian powers would represent an immediate menace to America in case they won."
Similarly, when Hitler suddenly began to make clear that he was preparing to risk a European war by seizing Danzig and attempting to partition Poland, only 14 percent of those who replied to a Gallup inquiry were found to say that Hitler's claims were justified, against 86 percent who said they were unjustified. What effect the German attack on Poland will have on American willingness or unwillingness to sell food supplies and war materials to the British and French who have gone to Poland's aid will have become more clear by the time this article is published.
The sequence throughout has been that of cause and effect. Actions, not words, seem to shape the thought of Americans more than isolation propagandists like to think. Hitler's persecution of the Jews and his successive cynical acts of bad faith culminating in the rape of Czecho-Slovakia and the attack on Poland were not the figment of British and French propaganda; they were facts. They were more potent than all the propaganda that could be issued from now to doomsday in convincing Americans that the Nazis stand against their way of life and all they cherish most and that relatively the British and French stand for that way of life.
Also significant was the gradual development of American sentiment in connection with the Spanish war and the Sino-Japanese war.
Successive Gallup polls revealed a swing of American sympathy towards the Spanish Loyalist Government as people realized that it was the legally elected Government of Spain and as evidence accumulated that Hitler and Mussolini were heavily supporting Franco behind the fiction of "non-intervention." In February 1937 the Gallup poll showed that 65 percent of those voting were in favor of the Loyalists; in February 1938 the figure was 75 percent; in December 1938 it was 76 percent. Even among Catholic voters, about one third of those questioned said they were not for either side, and of those who gave definite answers only six out of ten were for Franco.
In September 1937 a Gallup poll indicated that 51 percent of Americans had sympathies neither for China nor Japan. By June of 1939 the same question elicited the information that only 24 percent of those polled still had a neutral outlook. The number of those sympathizing with China had increased from 47 percent in September 1937 to 74 percent in 1939. The number of those who indicated that they would translate their sympathy into action by stopping buying goods made in Japan increased from 37 percent in October 1937 to 66 percent in June of this year. Was this change in sentiment due to intensified Chinese propaganda in the United States? Obviously not. The Japanese propaganda has been enormously more extensive and very much more heavily financed than the Chinese propaganda. What was responsible for the change of sentiment was simply the actions of the Japanese Government during the intervening period.
We may conclude from the course of public opinion during the World War and more recently that the philosophy of life roughly expressed in our American Bill of Rights has a profound hold on American thought. In the main, we like and prefer to do business with people who share the respect for the dignity of the individual to which the Bill of Rights gives expression. When we see human rights brutally stamped upon and deliberately rejected, as a matter of principle, by the powerful individuals who control great nations, we do not stay neutral in thought forever. We construe as a menace to ourselves the rising power of those who flaunt the principles we believe in, both in private relationships and in the relations of peoples. As experience has shown, not propaganda, but the free circulation of news is the enemy which American isolationists have most to fear.
[i] "Blood Is Cheaper Than Water," by Quincy Howe. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1939.
[ii] See also "The Frontiers of the United States," by A. Lawrence Lowell, FOREIGN AFFAIRS, July 1939.