The Day After Russia Attacks
What War in Ukraine Would Look Like—and How America Should Respond
"THE friend of every country but his own!" No American Secretary of State wishes to have George Canning's contemptuous tag applied to him: he knows that it is the duty of our government in Washington to frame and press policies which will protect and advance the interests of the people of the United States. If this is accepted as the basis of the international action that we should attempt, it follows that every other state is entitled to take the same view of its foreign policy. Hence our Secretary of State, in addition to being sure of what he wants, must be prompt in detecting dangers from other quarters, even before they are expressed in the form of wants or demands.
At a time when Burke was denouncing the French Revolution, Walpole advanced the opinion that "no great country was ever saved by good men." This philosophy we repudiate and, in so far as foreign policy is concerned, we agree to -- indeed pride ourselves on -- one important requirement: the means as well as the ends of our policy must pay a "decent respect to the opinions of mankind."
Present discontents in the international field (a euphemism for relations with Russia) derive in part from the fact that Russia seems to attach little importance to the opinions of mankind, and even to suggest that the opinions do not matter. In saying this, I am not unmindful of the jibe which has sometimes had a good basis in fact, that we are prone to judge what other states want in terms of our ideals and to weigh our own international desires and actions on the scales of expediency; that we think the acts of others are irrational, but see reasons for our own conduct which elsewhere is not regarded as rational. Present discontents do not result from that kind of muddled thinking. They are due to a fundamental cleavage.
What the interests of a people seem to be at any epoch is determined by their national history and position, by the political philosophy they accept, by the form of government under which they live, and by the way of life which they seek. The methods which spokesmen use to protect and advance interests internationally will be similar to the methods which they use nationally when they must make continuous and difficult adjustments between rival groups and sectional pressures. A statesman who in Washington is a Mr. Hyde cannot go abroad and suddenly become a Dr. Jekyll. If in Moscow he is a Dr. Jekyll, he cannot in Paris get out of character and play Mr. Hyde. Neither Dr. Jekyll nor Mr. Hyde can become a Caspar Milquetoast willing to jettison what he thinks are interests of real concern to his people.
A few at least among my readers are now about to say: "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" My answer to the impeachment is that the biblical injunction does not apply: that there is no hypocrisy in refusing to cast out first the beam from our own eye in order to see clearly to pull the mote from our brother's eye. For when we examine that beam we see that it is nothing less than our whole political heritage. We prize it highly and intend to preserve it. And the mote in the Russian eye comes out of Marx via Lenin to Stalin. Nowhere in the ruling circle in Russia is there any desire to cast it out, and the western world cannot pull it out. Then let us be frank in describing the shape and substance of our beam, and of the Russian mote, that we may deal with the situation as it is.
It is a failing of Americans to take their political heritage for granted -- at any rate, so long as there is no suffering from the slings and arrows of a contrary fortune. Free governments do not call upon their people to beat drums and chant a creed. It has been said that although a camel is hard to describe, everyone knows one when he sees it. But we reflect on our liberties when we believe them to be threatened, and we ponder our political way of life when things are going badly.
Our heritage goes back of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. The men and women who settled America sought to escape from arbitrary power and to obtain religious and political freedom. Their adventure made an impact on all subsequent political thought and action. Man could seek freedom. In a new land he could strive to make real the principle that Colonel Rainboro stated in the Cromwellian Army Debates: "I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the richest he." In America a man's life could be his own, not to be managed or controlled by king or church. He had a right to create for himself that liberty which Milton so truly declared to be above all other liberties: "the liberty to know, to think, to believe and to utter freely according to conscience." Rainboro and Milton cried in the wilderness a century and a third before the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that all men were created free and equal. Our history since then can be written in terms of a sincere, and, by and large, a successful search for institutions and laws which would preserve and expand freedom and permit the individual citizen to seek to enjoy his "inalienable rights" to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
There have been many brief statements of the freedoms that matter to us and of the essential norms of our political way of life. In his first inaugural address, in 1801, Jefferson used these words: "Equal and exact justice to all men, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected -- these principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us." The Nazis annihilated all these freedoms by first annihilating freedom of speech, of the press and of association. I think that Jefferson would now emphasize that the architectonic freedom is that of speech, of the press, of the radio, of public discussion. When its citadel begins to crumble all other freedoms are lost.
During the early struggle to build foundations under this citadel, printers bore the brunt of the labor. They fought their battle long before there were any newspapers. Elizabeth's Star Chamber confined printing to London, Cambridge and Oxford and attempted to search out and destroy all unlicensed presses. Against a similar ordinance of the Long Parliament, Milton in 1643 issued his "Areopagitica, A speech . . . for the Liberty of Unlicens'd Printing," itself an unlicensed book.
"If anyone ask what a free government is," Burke exclaimed, "I answer that for any practical purpose it is what the people think so; that they and not I are the natural, lawful and competent judges of this matter." The Russian people are the natural judges of their Government, and it may be that they are well content. They were serfs until 1861 and emerged from feudalism in 1917. But without freedom of discussion a people cannot determine whether they are competent judges and whether they want to improve or change the régime under which they live. Nor can we determine this about them. We repudiate with horror the notion that a government can have the duty or the right to coerce its citizens into a way of thinking that dooms them to live what they may believe is a life of falsehood. Whether a government is monarchical, parliamentary or presidential -- whether elections go by the calendar or result from dissolutions of the legislature when it is in conflict with the executive -- these are matters of relatively little importance. Elections can be postponed, as they were in Great Britain for four years beyond the constitutional date, and if there are political parties and a free press the government remains representative. Rousseau was wrong when he declared that the British people were free only at a general election and that through the decision then made they enslaved themselves. The ballot boxes may continue closed for a time. There still will remain, in countries of free discussion, knowledge about what leaders are doing and the ability to criticize it. This is the indispensable thing.
Sometimes, of course, we suffer by reason of those who say, as did Carlyle's statesman: "I lead because I follow." In democracies, where government is by discussion, the "good men" referred to by Walpole may not, to use a further expression of his, "go to the lengths that may be necessary." Disclosures on the events of the days preceding Pearl Harbor show how unwilling were those in the seats of the mighty in Washington to reach decisions which they feared might not be supported by public opinion, or to take action which might, even by international standards, be described as immoral. They were unwilling to fight fire with fire until the flames had blazed up. We consider this sort of lethargy in action at worst a venial fault. In short, we are willing to pay the price of government by discussion, following decisions taken in accordance with "the sense of the meeting," whether that happens to be a group of responsible officials, a legislature, or the community as a whole. Further, in this government by discussion we permit outsiders to participate. Recently Mr. Gromyko told 14,000 people assembled in Madison Square Garden at a meeting called by the International Council of American-Soviet Friendship that the early activities of the Security Council "have revealed a tendency on the part of certain countries to play a dominating part in the organization to the detriment of the cause of peace and security." His hearers knew that the United States was one of the countries he had in mind. The American response to that statement was not an angry assertion that Mr. Gromyko should not have made it but a consideration of whether there was any merit in what he said.
We know that among us "equal and exact justice to all men" is not always a reality. "In its majestic impartiality," said Anatole France, "the law forbids both the rich and the poor to sleep under bridges." The costs of litigation and local prejudices occasionally make equality before the law seem theoretical rather than actual. But it has been the glory of our institutions that they have sought to minimize discrimination against classes and races and to treat poor and rich alike. Indeed, to treat enemies and aliens alike as well! Nazi saboteurs who were landed from submarines received a fair trial and were represented by counsel. A Russian naval officer thanked the Seattle jury which found him not guilty of espionage. Courts are not those of a political party; they are free of control by the executive. They administer laws openly debated and enacted and backed by public opinion. They make no distinction between public officials and private individuals. In times of crisis the protection of habeas corpus may be temporarily in abeyance but a free parliament and press are adequate safeguards against abuse. During the war the chief criticism of the British Home Secretary was that he too hastily released persons whom he had interned rather than that he arbitrarily kept in custody some whose previous actions and associations did not justify the belief that they might prejudice the safety of the realm. We tolerate no secret police, and the accounts of governmental agencies must be public so that the citizen knows what they cost and how the money is expended.
The purpose of this congeries of ideals and institutions is to create a political climate in which the ordinary citizen, no matter how humble, has a chance of a better life and can strive to break the bonds which tie him to his station. Latterly the state has provided assistance. Here is a freedom that Jefferson did not include in his enumeration. There was no necessity of it then. Life was still relatively simple. The tortoise of political wisdom had not then been left far behind by the hare of scientific invention and economic change. Enlightened states no matter how "capitalistic" must now prevent the struggle for the survival of the fittest from becoming so cruel that those who are least fit cannot survive. This is a freedom that has to be created by government restrictions wisely thought out and intelligently administered. We reassure ourselves by maintaining that restraints, when self-imposed, can always be lifted; but the dilemma democracy faces is that, save in moments when war achieves national unity, democratic methods are ill adapted for dealing with some important economic problems.
As ideals, and to the greatest extent as realities, we hold these to be truths. The beam which is in our eye is the importance we attach to the freedoms of speech and expression and worship, and from want and fear. We seek these freedoms at home. We desire to see them established everywhere, even though we recognize the fact that other governmental systems can be based on different philosophies. Our traditional policy, interrupted at times by aberrations, has been that stated by Washington in the last letter he wrote to Lafayette, on Christmas Day, 1797, only a few months before his death: "My politics are plain and simple. I think every nation has a right to establish that form of government under which it conceives it shall live most happy, provided it infracts no right and is not dangerous to others."
Washington's important qualification was repeated by President Roosevelt in a little-noticed gloss that he put on the provision of the Atlantic Charter affirming "the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live." Speaking on February 12, 1943, he said: "The right of self-determination included in the Atlantic Charter does not carry with it the right of any government in the world to commit wholesale murder or the right to make slaves of its own people or of any other peoples in the world." To "Nazism, Fascism and Japanism, if I may coin a new word, the United Nations can properly say . . . two simple words: 'Never again.'"
A second corollary of the American system is that if might does not make right at home, it does not do so in relations with other states, and particularly smaller ones. A century ago the United States took this view when, although not small in size, it was a weak power internationally. Steady territorial expansion, a rapidly increasing population, the development of ample natural resources, and a tremendous growth of industry made the United States a Great Power before it thought of itself as a World Power. It has on occasion been guilty of high-handed action vis-à-vis the smaller republics to the south. The Good Neighbor Policy is relatively recent. But there have been few examples in history of a Power which could so easily have extended its boundaries and yet refrained from doing so, or which could have made satellite states of neighbors and instead allowed them to determine their own ways of national life.
Democracies can of course make tragic mistakes, nationally and internationally. Who would now assert the wisdom of American withdrawal from the world in 1920, or of our foreign loan policy, or of the Hawley-Smoot Tariff? Because of unpreparedness and appeasement from 1937 on, Great Britain narrowly escaped ruin. But errors and miscalculations are not, happily, the monopoly of governments by public discussion. What states have made as great mistakes as did Germany and Italy under Hitler and Mussolini? Bagehot once made a famous generalization that the faults that contemporaries find in public men are not the faults that historians find. The historian can see the consequences of what was done. Napoleon had a maxim, "I judge men only by results." If great designs succeed, then there may be approval. The Axis designs did not succeed.
Similarly in 1914-1918 the régimes which collapsed were the non-democratic ones, including that of Russia. In the Second World War, Germany, Italy, Japan and the Fascist satellites crumpled. Russia was on the victorious side, but the defeat of her armies would have been certain without supplies from Great Britain and the United States. These two world conflicts demonstrate that there has been resilience and staying power in governmental systems which are based on discussion and in which the people think of statesmen as their hired men. For this very practical reason also we value the beam that is in our own eye.
Eight score and ten years ago the men who peopled the thirteen colonies unshackled their chains. That was a world-shaking event. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was a world-shaking event also, but its purposes and results were vastly different. The colonists thought only of themselves, and their aims were primarily political. The Russian Revolution was designed to free masses of men from economic slavery. It was the first step in what the Marxian dialectic confidently predicted would be a world movement; and until the process was completed, they said, there could be no political liberty. This fundamental difference is the principal reason for the diplomatic line-up of Russia and her satellites versus the western world, and failure to realize the fact is largely responsible for the muddled tolerance with which present difficulties are frequently weighed and for the careless unawareness of difficulties still to come.
For, with one exception, there can be found in Russia none of the freedoms which matter to Americans. Save the little that seeps out on the white market, the only information reaching the Russian people is what a government department decides is harmless and proper. Government departments determine whether, when, and what part of President Truman's or Secretary Byrnes' speeches may be printed. Publishing, the press and broadcasting are used by the government to manufacture mass opinion. In Russia there could be no meeting for a free discussion of American-Russian relations, and if there were, the Ambassador of the United States would not be permitted to speak. Even in the Middle Ages, Erasmus could travel through Europe and spread enlightenment. That would not be possible in Russia now. Still in the Russian future is an assault like that of 300 years ago against Elizabeth's Star Chamber. If it were launched now its instigators would be purged.
The leaders of Russia are leaders because they permit no opposition to, or within, a single minority party. Any known contenders, even aspirants, for their posts have been physically exterminated. Entry of travellers is rigorously limited. The movement of citizens within the country is watched and the government decides what few of them will be allowed to visit in foreign lands. The law courts are party courts. There is no public accounting for the expenditure of public funds and a secret police is a swooping omnipresence. The number of political prisoners is unknown, but the lowest estimate is several million.
First Mussolini and then Hitler did no more than adapt -- and, in the latter case, badly brutalize -- the methods of the Communist state. They also paid more attention to the theatrical trappings of government -- colored shirts, salutes, parades -- and cajoled as well as directed. Mussolini and Hitler, nevertheless, were at a disadvantage. They had no coherent respectable body of doctrine which they could instil into their followers. "Das Kapital" deserves and gets intelligent attention from economists. "Mein Kampf" had special interest only for statesmen who did not heed it and for psychiatrists who were tardy in reading it. Moreover, Communism so far makes no distinction of race, and its profession that all men are equal has an undeniable appeal to millions, particularly in backward areas. Fascism and National Socialism never did that.
Neither of Lenin's two imitators seemed to regret that "guns not butter" was their slogan. They did little in respect of what is the only part of the American credo of freedom that the Russian rulers think important: the development of an economic system designed to give the average man a higher standard of living and to enable him to live a better material life than he had lived before. The future will determine Russia's measure of achievement in this respect.
The contrasts stated here rather summarily are well known. They have been drawn time and time again. There is no difference of opinion on fundamentals. Caveats go only to details.
The fundamental cleavage between the two systems must be a major factor in any discussion or diplomatic negotiation between the United States and Soviet Russia. Western states are accustomed to elections and to decisions by legislative assemblies in which there must be losers as well as winners. Harsh, even libelous language is sometimes used in the campaigns and debates. But when the die is cast the controversy is over; the losers hope to win next time. People know what has happened and can say what they think about it. But in Russia political decisions are reached in the small group of the Politburo, or perhaps by Stalin himself against a majority of his colleagues. Then the decisions are imposed. No one can challenge them. The Russian people are permitted to learn no more about them than is thought wise in order that their regimented reaction may be the one desired. This technique is not suited to the conduct of international affairs. It cannot be used against states which (unlike, say, Hungary or Poland) are not helpless.
The technique described does, however, free the Soviet Government of any domestic obstacles to changing its policies overnight or to pursuing two conflicting policies at the same time. Before the war was over, Stalin was being hospitable in Moscow to a committee of German generals and ex-Nazis, and simultaneously was calling for the severe punishment of a large group of German leaders. More recently, Molotov has made a complete about-face in respect of Germany's future industrial strength and military might. At San Francisco, he offered to withdraw Russian opposition to the admission of Argentina into the United Nations if the United States would lessen its pressure in respect of the composition of the Polish Government. Who doubts that the Russians would cease caring about Franco if they were allowed their way on the Danube and Adriatic? Such changes and swappings are not possible for governments which have to pay attention to public opinion.
Nor can countries where there is free discussion stand on what they declare to be their dignity and refuse to discuss the merits of issues. In December 1939, when the Russian-German pact was under consideration in the League Council, Molotov sent the Secretary-General a telegram: "If the Council of the League and the Assembly were . . . convened to consider Rudolf Holsti's application [Holsti was resident representative of Finland at Geneva] the Soviet Government would not deem it possible to take part in these assemblies. This decision is also supported by the fact that the communication of the Secretary-General of the League of Nations and . . . reproducing the text of Holsti's offensive and slanderous letter, is manifestly incompatible with requirements of due respect for the Soviet Union." How many incidents in the Council of Foreign Ministers and in the Security Council have disclosed the same attitude?
In Russian domestic affairs the battle has been to the strong. In international affairs the Russian theory has frequently seemed to be that the battle will be to the strong language. Two Russian diplomats, Litvinov and Maisky, are now kept close to the Kremlin. In London, the latter, gaining as much for his country as could any representative of a different type, acquired many friends and a reputation for urbanity. The behavior of subsequent Russian negotiators has given currency to the remark that they seemed anxious to prove that "we are men, not Maiskies." Russian statesmen select their names to stir, even frighten, their peoples. When we see the names we infrequently remember their meaning: Stalin, "man of steel," Molotov, "sledge hammer."
Given the political way of life existing in Russia, Russian leaders are doomed to ignorance of the outside world, despite the free press in western countries and irrespective of the expense of the Russian intelligence services. A group of leaders who indoctrinate their people must sooner or later come to believe much of what they teach. Russian statesmen and diplomats may have been taught, but they have not been educated, for they see everything through prisms fashioned inside the intellectual prisons where they have lived. Eighteenth century ambassadors bribed the mistresses of kings and curried favor with others who were influential at court. Now ambassadors and their staffs must seek to know a whole country -- its editors, educators and labor leaders -- and to learn the thoughts of men in all walks of life. Only thus can a diplomatic representative or an economic or labor attaché feel that he is correctly interpreting what he is told or what he reads in the press. Russian diplomats isolate themselves (and their families) from everyday contacts. They are afraid not to do so.
Does their fear extend also to the transmission of impalatable judgments about the trend of affairs in the countries where they are accredited? So it often seems. Mr. Stalin may not realize it, but the foreign offices of many countries are almost certainly better informed on the currents of opinion in and the personalities of the United States -- including the labor movement -- than is the Kremlin. A foreign minister should report to his government not what it wishes to hear but what he believes are the facts. He must remember his possible prejudices as a man of the Left or of the Right, as an aristocrat or a proletarian; and those at home who read his dispatches must be mindful of the personality of their author. The Russians have different views. There is no curtain which they cannot easily push aside when they want to see and find out things, but they have not learned that the most dangerous encirclement from which a nation can suffer is one that is self-imposed.
This may account in part for the lack of freedom of decision which is allowed Russian emissaries. It is said that the Russians came to a meeting with the Americans in Germany and demanded three changes in a memorandum of agreement on certain matters relating to the occupation. The Americans considered the proposals and said: "We accept. Now everything is settled." "Oh, no," the Russians replied. "You see, we did not expect you to agree and now we shall have to telegraph for further instructions."
I began by saying that Russia was entitled to frame and press for a foreign policy which would protect and advance the interests of her people. How far her shifting policies seem to threaten the interests of the American people is not my present subject. Nor shall I attempt to say just where a reasonable search for security ends and where deliberately incandescent imperialism begins. Only a soothsayer could answer such questions. We know so little of what is behind Russian policies; and they may change tomorrow.
Assuredly the Soviet Government wants peace until its country is less impoverished, its air power stronger, and the know-how of the atomic bomb is no longer our secret. Will Russia or will she not cease grabbing when the peace tables are finally cleared, and will her manners then become better or worse? If western states seem friendly, will fifth column activities be abandoned or intensified? Will possession of the know-how of the new weapons result in a more real self-confidence or in a new arrogance and willingness, even eagerness, for a showdown? When Russia has attained a decent standard of living, will many of her recent threats and manœuvres appear to have been due to suspicions and fears which history has justified: invasion by the Germans in 1914 and 1941; by the Allies in 1919; by the Poles in 1920 -- invasions which cut deeper because of the precedents of Napoleon and the Poles and the Swedes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? No one can blame Russia for not wanting that to happen again. But nobody outside of the Kremlin can know what is in the minds of Stalin and his colleagues on these subjects.
Ignorant of Russian purposes, we can still say that they cannot justify many of the means that the world has been witnessing. Nor is it sure that those means in themselves may not prove as shortsighted and as futile as the construction of the Maginot Line. What is sure is that Russian means and our own means highlight a deep abyss between the two ways of thinking and acting. Bridges may be difficult to throw across, and even if they are constructed they may be able to bear only a few light loads before they break. Then we shall have to plan the construction of new bridges.
Meanwhile, we must make our representative institutions more efficient for solving grave economic problems. Here as everywhere the architectonic freedom is freedom of speech. Hungry men cannot eat it; but only through knowing and uttering can men achieve freedom from want and at the same time remain free.