A GREAT people weathers a period of stress like that through which Americans are now living if its institutions are sound and express its deepest convictions. The American institutions, molded by time and experience, contain values that give meaning to the things we do. Time, place and fortune have wrought their own special imprint upon the American conscience and endowed our folk with an ethical bias peculiarly their own. The indefinable something we call the American outlook adds up to a philosophy of life and a political morality. But Americans are inclined to take their ethical notions for granted and busy themselves with immediate issues. They do not worry about their ideology and would not recognize the meaning of the word if used to describe their beliefs. If in the present crisis they are troubled and confused by the contradictory policies urged upon them, it is because some of their counselors speak a language alien to American experience and indifferent to the inspiration of American polity. We seem to have lost sight of the recognizable drift of our own history and of the sweep of its great energy.

This exuberant and restless power, so recognizably descriptive of the United States, has been disciplined by an equally strong moral bias which has not only canalized and contained it within bounds, but humanized it as well. How else explain this crude and boundless might, which fought two great wars 3,000 and 6,000 miles distant from its own shores, and then, at the height of its military glory--with the enemy defeated and the world helpless to resist the strength of its armies--dismantled its gathered force and returned to the pursuit of peaceful ways, asking only that the other nations of the world do the same? It has placed no other people under duress and has exacted neither homage nor obeisance from the weak and the powerless, as well it might have done. Nay, more than that. It has not only denied itself any compensation for the burden and cost laid upon it by two wars, but at the end of the fighting it has offered its resources and its skill to help bind the wounds and assuage the pain that the wars had imposed upon other peoples--including the enemies it had just defeated. The Hoover Commission, in the First World War, UNRRA and the Marshall Plan at the end of the second, are but parts of the effort by the American people to make life livable again for those who had suffered in the conflict. But the story does not end there. After the First World War, Wilson became the architect of a League of Nations that would protect the weak against the strong--against ourselves in fact; and, after the Second World War, Roosevelt and Hull became the chief movers to do over again through the United Nations what had been attempted after the First World War by Wilson. To say that a people that on two such occasions behaved in this way has no philosophy of politics, no sense of direction, and no international policy is to speak the sheerest nonsense. What may be said is that the United States has never elaborated its implicit values into a conscious doctrine. This, however, is an evidence of strength and vitality. A formal ideology is an unconscious apology, a claim for validity that needs to be defended. A vigorous, spontaneous life calls for no explanation and overflows any doctrine.

The tenor of American polity, both internal and external, is clear enough if we will only look at it. If we have not looked at it in recent times, this is in part due to the distorted doctrines in which our generation and the one before it have been caught up. Many of those doctrines are not descriptive of our behavior and do not stem from American experience. We have--and here our intellectuals and teachers are perhaps more guilty than others--permitted ourselves to be beguiled by theories of economic determinism and "power politics." We have attempted to explain American foreign policy on grounds in which we really do not believe--the proof of which is that we do not act upon them. Our behavior is a standing contradiction of the theories taught us in books based upon the beliefs and practices of other peoples. And when--as happened on occasion--our government through the executive departments has behaved as if the theories of "power politics" and economic determinism were true, the American people repeatedly repudiated the policy, and forced a return to the traditional though inadequately formulated American belief that the little nations of the world have the same right to live their own life as the strong and powerful. In fact, our sympathy for the weak has always been greater than our admiration for the strong. The "big stick" formula of Theodore Roosevelt is an anomaly in our experience, was condemned by large numbers of Americans from the beginning, and formally repudiated within a few years after his death. The Reuben Clark memorandum on the Monroe Doctrine, written inside the State Department in 1928, represents the official demise of the big stick theme in American foreign policy. But even Theodore Roosevelt explained many times that he meant to strengthen the weaker states in the Caribbean rather than permanently to control them.

In short, the American people have always had a principle of foreign policy. They have had it from the very beginning. The basic motivation that has governed American relations with other states became evident during the earliest dissidence that led up to the War of Independence, was the chief cause of the Revolution itself and (to use William H. Seward's phrase) "is in reality the chief element of foreign intercourse in our history."

The controlling proposition in American foreign policy was clearly enunciated by James Madison when he said: "The fundamental principle of the Revolution was, that the colonies were coordinate members with each other and with Great Britain, of an empire united by a common executive sovereign, but not united by a common legislative sovereign. The legislative power was maintained to be as complete in each American Parliament, as in the British Parliament. . . . A denial of these principles by Great Britain, and the assertion of them by America, produced the Revolution." The "fundamental principle . . . that the colonies were coördinate members with each other and that . . . the legislative power was . . . as complete in each American Parliament, as in the British Parliament" has remained the unbroken popular theme in American foreign relations. It was this inspiration that ultimately made Rhode Island and Texas equal within the American federal union. The Pan American system of equal states rests upon the same fundamental principle, and to this basic motivation we must ascribe the gradual evolution of the Monroe Doctrine from unilateral to multilateral policy. It explains the "hands off" injunction imposed upon European Powers in regard to the Western Hemisphere and is the reason for the non-aggressive attitude in the Monroe Doctrine. This fundamental principle was the keystone for our advocacy of the Open Door in China, as it was the justification for a continuing opposition to Japan. We accepted the challenge of a war in the Far East rather than yield the governing principle in our foreign policy.

The American commitment to the ideal of the juridical equality and moral integrity of states explains our participation in two world wars. It explains our effort to develop a League of Nations so as, in Woodrow Wilson's words, to expand ". . . the doctrine of President Monroe as the doctrine of the world . . . that every people should be left free to determine its own polity, its own way of development, unhindered, unthreatened, unafraid, the little along with the great and the powerful." In such words President Wilson was simply restating the version of the "fundamental principle" which Madison knew was the chief cause of the War of Independence. But the same motivation was also one of the chief reasons for the defeat of the League of Nations. One need but turn back to the debate in the Senate to recognize that what defeated the League of Nations was in no small degree the conviction that America's belief in the "coordinate" membership of all peoples had been repudiated. There is a peculiar consistency in this belief of ours that the little nation has the same rights as the big one. Our quarrel with Russia is upon this ground. The Truman Doctrine is a modern version of the basic propositions of President Monroe; and our defense of Korea is explainable only on the grounds that the only kind of a world the American people can comfortably live in is one in which Korea has no more right to attack and dismember Russia than Russia has to attack and dismember Korea--or Finland. We really believe that Ecuador and Haiti are coördinate with the United States, just as we believe that Poland and Bulgaria are coordinate with Russia.

To some these American notions seem impractical and foolish. Influential scholars and counselors would have us abandon them. They suggest that we cease being childish and idealistic and recognize that the national interest requires us to become disciples of Machiavelli, take our lessons from Richelieu, Bismarck or Clemenceau. The fact that Germany and Japan have committed national suicide by consistent adhesion to these doctrines seems not to dampen the eloquence of those who would persuade us to abandon the beliefs and practices by which we have lived and prospered from the beginning.


The United States is the oldest international society (excepting Switzerland) in existence. It is also the largest. It is composed of 48 "indestructible," "sovereign" states, greatly differing in wealth and population. How great the difference between them is can be seen by comparing Rhode Island to Texas in area, and Nevada with about 160,000 population to New York with more than 14,000,000. And yet there is no invidious distinction between them, and a Senator like Borah from a small state could be a dominant voice in the foreign policy of the United States for some 20 years. In the United States, the representative of the smallest member of the Federation can speak for the entire system without anyone being aware that he represents the least of the states. This is a profound political miracle and was made possible by our acceptance of the principle of equality. Without it, no nation based upon a federal system could have been built to span an entire continent and grow to be not merely the most powerful but perhaps the stablest political entity on the face of the earth.

The issue of juridical equality had to be settled first in the history of the United States, or this nation might never have been born. The Constitutional Convention which advised a "more perfect union" found, as had already been shown in the Continental Congress, that the little states would not yield their juridical equality, their equal sovereignty, or their territorial integrity. This was the stumbling block to union. The warm debates revealed the danger of a permanent dismemberment of the newly-born nation. Oliver Elsworth from Connecticut said on June 29, 1787: "If all the states are to exist, they must of necessity have an equal vote in the general government. Small communities when associating with greater can only be supported by an equality of votes." And Luther Martin from Maryland laid it down that "you must give each state an equal suffrage, or our business is at an end." The course of the debates need not be reviewed here, but the compromise--reluctantly agreed to by the large states--adopted the older practice of Connecticut, that of an equal vote for the political units and a popular vote for the governor. Each state was to have two members in the Senate; representation in the House was to be determined on the basis of population in the states. In effect, this means that the smaller states can outvote the larger ones in the Senate, and that in any crucial legislative issue the states are equal, because a bill has to be passed by both houses. It also means that in foreign relations the smaller states could play the decisive rôle if they voted as a bloc. But they do not vote that way. Equality has eliminated jealousy.

The extension of this principle of equality to the new states to be carved out of the Western Territories is, next to the formation of the union, the most important political decision in our entire history. Without it there would have been no federal union that spans a continent. It was recognized that in time the new states would outnumber the original 13, it was argued that the East would be surrendering itself into the hands of the new states, and among other limitations it was proposed that the representatives of the new states should never be allowed to outnumber those of the original 13. But the principle of equality prevailed. Madison insisted that "the Western States never would nor ought to submit to a union which degraded them from an equal rank with other states." The resolution adopted by the Continental Congress to govern the admission of the new states said that new districts "should become and ever after be and constitute a separate, free, and sovereign state, and be admitted into the union as such, with all the privileges and immunities of those states which now compose the Union." This is what coordinate membership means. This same principle was applied to the lands that came with the Floridas, the Transcontinental Treaty, the Louisiana Purchase, and those ceded to the United States as a result of the war with Mexico. The principle was further evidenced by the agreement that no large state could be divided, and no small state united with another without its own consent.

The juridical and political equality of the "indestructible" states has made possible sharp difference of opinion over questions of interest and policy without undermining the union. What we have not quarreled about is the right of each state to its full share in a common judgment and in the formation of a common policy. And herein lies the basic issue in international relations. We forget that the United States is an international society because we do not quarrel over the right to partake in common decisions.

The principle of equal membership within the federal union ultimately eventuated in Calhoun's doctrine of a dissoluble compact between the states, and in the Civil War. The South still speaks of the War Between the States. But it also explains the even more remarkable political event of the readmission of the defeated states on a par with the victors. If the union was to survive, no other course was possible. A federal union built upon the principle of equal sovereignty is not a proper instrument for military government nor for the arbitrary denial to others of the rights and immunities which the individual states claim for themselves. The American ideal of coordinate states is in its essence anti-imperialist.


This is well illustrated in our relations with Latin America. The Monroe Doctrine is woven of many contradictory strands and influences, but the firm hand of John Quincy Adams, more than that of any other, shaped its final form. Two years before it was given to the world, Adams had declared that "colonial establishments cannot fulfill the great objects of governments in the just purpose of civil society." They were, he said, "incompatible with the essential character of our institutions;" they were "engines of wrong," and in time it would be "the duty of the human family to abolish them, as they are now endeavoring to abolish the slave trade." The Monroe Doctrine, therefore, has in its background the broad proposition, again in Adams' own words that: "The whole system of modern colonization is an abuse of government and it is time that it should come to an end."

Our government chose to act separately when announcing the new policy rather than with Great Britain, as originally proposed by Canning. But it is worth recalling that John Quincy Adams urged the British to follow our example and recognize the independence of the Latin American nations because "upon this ground . . . a firm and determined stand could now be jointly taken by Great Britain and the United States in behalf of the Independence of Nations."

President Monroe before issuing the declaration consulted Jefferson and Madison, who had preceded him in office. Jefferson thought that it was a good occasion "of declaring our protest against the atrocious violations of the rights of nations" begun by Bonaparte and "now continued" by the Holy Alliance. Madison suggested that it might encompass not merely the Western Hemisphere but Spain and Greece as well. The full significance of the Monroe Doctrine must be read against the anti-imperialism of its chief American sponsors. And William H. Seward, writing to the French Government, declared that: "The practice of this Government, from its beginning, is a guarantee to all nations of the respect of the American people for the free sovereignty of the people in every other State."

This same theme comes, surprisingly perhaps, from Richard Olney, famous for his boast in the Venezuelan dispute that a fiat of the United States "is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition" in this continent. He added, however, that the Monroe Doctrine "does not contemplate any interference in the internal affairs of any American state." And in what seems like a reminder of the great debate in the Constitutional Convention here transferred to a debate between nations, he said that "the United States would cherish the territorial rights of the feeblest of those states, regarding them . . . as equal to even the greatest nationalities."

It was left to Theodore Roosevelt temporarily to twist the Monroe Doctrine beyond its historical intent. He argued that, "however reluctantly," the United States might be compelled "to the exercise of an international police power" in the Caribbean area. But even Roosevelt's exuberance was modulated by the basic American tradition, and he declared that the Doctrine did not imply or carry "an assumption of superiority, and of a right to exercise some kind of protectorate" over the Latin American countries. It was during Theodore Roosevelt's administration that Elihu Root, speaking as Secretary of State, made the ever-memorable statement: "We wish for no territory except our own. . . . We deem the independence and equal rights of the smallest and weakest member of the family of nations entitled to as much respect as those of the greatest empire." And it was during Root's administration of the Department of State that the United States' delegates to the Second International Peace Conference at The Hague sought "a limitation upon the use of force" in the collection of public debts, because such a practice was inconsistent "with that respect for the independent sovereignty of other nations which is . . . the chief protection of the weak nations against the oppression of the strong." In 1915 Wilson proposed the formalization of the idea of coördinate membership in the hemisphere by a treaty which would guarantee the territorial integrity and political independence of the American nations, "so that," to use Colonel House's words, "the Monroe Doctrine may be upheld by all the American Republics instead of by the United States alone as now." Hughes, when Secretary of State, said that "our interest does not lie in controlling foreign peoples; that would be a policy of mischief and disaster," and quoted Jefferson on "the advantages of a cordial fraternalization among all American nations." While Reuben Clark in 1928 declared that "the socalled 'Roosevelt corollary' . . . is . . . not . . . justified by the terms of the Monroe Doctrine."

The Good Neighbor policy is the logical sequence to a tradition as old as our government. Bolivar's effort of 1826 to form a federation of American nations was resuscitated by Blaine when he called together a Pan American Congress in Washington in 1889. These nations, to use Blaine's words, "shall meet together on terms of absolute equality." Secretary Hull's definition of the coordinate position of the American states as consisting of "the absolute independence, the unimpaired sovereignty, the perfect equality and the political integrity of each nation large and small" has a classic finality about it. The Non-Intervention Doctrine enunciated by Franklin D. Roosevelt in Montevideo in 1933, and the series of resolutions beginning with the Havana Conference in 1940 and culminating in the Rio de Janeiro Treaty of 1947, converted the Monroe Doctrine from a unilateral to a multilateral policy. Wilson's hope, embodied in the proposed treaty of 1915, had been fulfilled. The growth of the Organization of American States extends to the Western Hemisphere the ideal of a federation of "indestructible states" upon which the United States itself is founded.


The more than a century-old history of our relations with the independent countries of this hemisphere illustrates the slow and sometimes painful working out of this doctrine. When, during the Grant Administration, an attempt was made to annex Santo Domingo, Senator Sumner of Massachusetts vigorously opposed the project because: "Santo Domingo is the earliest of that independent group . . . towards which our duty is as plain as the Ten Commandments. Kindness, beneficence, assistance, aid, help, protection, all that is implied in good neighborhood--these we must give . . . their independence is as precious to them as is ours to us, and it is placed under the safeguard of natural laws which we can not violate with impunity." After the War with Spain, when the question of Cuba came up for consideration, President McKinley wrote: "I speak not of annexation, for that cannot be thought of. That by our code of morality would be criminal aggression;" and he instructed the military commander to administer the island for the benefit of the Cubans.

The controversy with Mexico, which began in 1912, when Taft was President, and continued almost unabated for 30 years through periods of great tension, ended in a peaceful settlement because the people of the United States would not destroy a nation in defense of material interests. Wilson said: "It is none of my business and none of your business how long they [the Mexicans] take in determining their form of government. It is none of my business and none of yours how they go about the business. The country is theirs, the government is theirs, the liberty, if they can get it--God speed them in getting it--is theirs, and whilst I am President nobody shall interfere with them." His statement prevailed in the end in spite of Coolidge's assertion in 1927 that, "The person and property of a citizen are a part of the general domain of the nation, even when abroad."

Theodore Roosevelt's boast, "I took the Canal," is less impressive than the fact that Panama was encouraged to set up as an equal member within the American family of nations. And after the Second World War it exercised its equality by requiring the United States to surrender, much against its will, the use of air bases which it had constructed for the defense of the Canal. In some ways the Panamanian rebellion is comparable to the secession of West Virginia during the Civil War. It is not a good instance of imperial conquest. And to appease our bad conscience we paid $25,000,000 to Colombia.

The series of interventions in the Caribbean and Central America that followed the Roosevelt Corollary are fruitful demonstrations of the workings of the American fundamental principle. The significant point to remember is that intervention is taken to be a temporary intrusion. No one believed--neither the Americans, nor the Haitians, Dominicans or Nicaraguans--that the United States was there to stay. In each case the President was placed on the defensive. The Senate appointed investigating committees, individual senators attempted to attach riders to the naval appropriation bills denying the use of public funds for the payment of the Marines in the occupied countries. The different administrations were compelled repeatedly to justify their activities before the country, and for half of the time were busy explaining that we were trying to withdraw the Marines from foreign soil. The Clark memorandum officially denied the legitimacy of the government's policy of intervention, and Hoover said in 1928 that "dominion of other people is repugnant to our ideal of human freedom," and in 1929, that "in the large sense we do not wish to be represented abroad [by Marines]." The liquidation of the policy of intervention was begun under Coolidge and Hoover and was completed by Roosevelt. The Platt Amendment, supported and opposed with so much heat, was also repudiated. The American adventure in imperialism in this hemisphere evaporated in one generation.

The one real deviation in the application of the fundamental principle in our foreign relations in this hemisphere is to be found in the annexation of Texas and the war with Mexico. Both of these events are so closely tied to the struggle for position between the slave-holding and free states that they do not really make a clear case of repudiation of the principle. The opposition to both was bitter. John Quincy Adams, "the architect of American foreign policy," signed a public manifesto opposing the annexation of Texas; Lincoln, Webster and Clay, among many others, condemned the Mexican War and the acquisition of Mexican territory. Clay said: "This is no war of defense, but one of unnecessary and of offensive aggression. It is Mexico that is defending her firesides, her castles, and her altars, not we." He then compared the war with Mexico to the partition of Poland. American historians have generally criticized the war with Mexico. H. H. Bancroft calls the war "a deliberately calculated scheme of robbery on the part of a superior power" and contemporary historians repeat Lincoln's accusation that President Polk simulated an attack by Mexico. One unhappy historian attempts a defense of the war because "every American father ought to be able to say to his boy: 'Your country never fought an unjust nor an inglorious war.'" The question has continued to trouble our conscience, and Henry L. Stimson, speaking in New York before the Council on Foreign Relations in 1931, while Secretary of State, referred back to this period as an aberration "directly attributable to the influence of slavery in this country, then at the height of its political power."


This same doctrine has worked its way into the Far East. After the Spanish-American War, President McKinley was sorely troubled by what we ought to do about the Philippines. He explained his decision to a delegation of the General Missionary Committee of the Methodist Episcopal Church: "I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance. And one night it came to me . . . to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died." But this explanation failed to convince the American people. The Anti-Imperialist League declared that "the subjugation of any people is criminal aggression and open disloyalty to the distinctive principles of our government. . . . A self-governing state cannot accept sovereignty over an unwilling people." And while the President was explaining the inspiration that led him to disregard the fundamental principle of our foreign relations, one of his chief supporters in the Senate was saying that, "I do not know of anybody, from the President to his humblest follower, who is proposing by force and violence to take and hold these islands for all time to come." The bill for the annexation of the Philippines passed by a majority of one vote and that slim victory was due to the news of the rebellion of the Filipinos against the United States; it arrived the day before the vote was taken. Still the act was on our conscience. Taft, who became Governor General of the Philippines, spoke of "our little brown brothers," and implied an attitude that expressed itself by gradually including in increasing proportion Filipinos in the local administration. The Jones Act of 1916 promised the full autonomy that was given the Filipinos in 1936.

The Filipinos were saved their self-respect, the leaders of the rebellion against the United States became our chief supporters, and when the American flag was lowered and the Filipino flag raised the people of the islands spoke of Ang Ulalin Watawat-- the orphan flag. When the crisis was upon us in 1941, instead of joining our enemies, they fought on our side. In spite of conquest, annexation and foreign administration, the basic American belief in coordinate membership had made itself felt in the relationship that had grown out of the original conquest. In some ways this is the most eloquent testimony to our inability to treat any nation as a "subjugated" people. The episode came to an end with complete independence in 1946.


The much older story of the Open Door in China led to the tragedy of a great war and to the contemporary heartburning of a lost cause. But what we have done in China through more than a century is so typically American that we probably could not have acted differently.

Our fundamental attitude toward China antedates the Open Door Policy of Hay by nearly 70 years. In 1832, when Edward Livingston wrote out the instructions to Edmund Roberts, our first diplomatic agent to the Far East, he told him to inform the rulers of those strange countries that "it is against the principles of our nation to build forts, or make expensive establishments in foreign countries," and "that we never make conquests, or ask any nation to let us establish ourselves in their countries. . . ." This statement of American policy toward China reappears over and over again in the instructions from the Secretary of State to our representatives in China. Caleb Cushing asked our Minister to make it clear to the Chinese that they need stand in no apprehension of territorial ambition on our part. W. L. Macy informed Robert M. McLean, who had urged our joining Great Britain and France in a more aggressive policy, that there was "no hope that such authority could be obtained from Congress." Lewis Cass told our Minister that "this country, you will constantly bear in mind, is not at war with China, nor does it seek to enter that empire for any other purpose than those of lawful commerce. . . . You will, therefore, not fail to let it be known to the Chinese authorities that we are not a party to the . . . hostilities and have no intention to interfere in their political concerns." Hay's well-known statement of 1900 that our policy is one "which may bring about permanent safety and peace to China, preserve Chinese territorial and administrative entity," is but a logical sequence to what had originally been stated in 1832.

The only major deviation in a century-long policy toward China is to be found under the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, who made so many others as well in American relations to the world. In the Taft-Katsura memorandum of July 1905, Japan was given a free hand in Korea, and the Root-Takahira Agreement of November 1908 "suggests," to use Professor S. F. Bemis' words, "that Roosevelt was preparing to give to Japan a free hand in Manchuria as he had done already in Korea." It is worth noting that both of these were executive agreements and were not submitted to the Senate for confirmation. But Taft, when he became President, sought to safeguard China against further depredations. He suggested a loan to China for the purchase of the Manchuria Railroad, as "perhaps the most effective way to preserve the undisturbed enjoyment by China of all political rights in Manchuria."

President Wilson opposed the International Consortium. Within two weeks after he took office--on March 18, 1913--he made the far-reaching public statement which reasserted the traditional position of the American people toward China: "The conditions of the loan seem to us to touch very nearly the administrative independence of China itself. . . . Our interests are those of the Open Door--a door of friendship and mutual advantage. This is the only door we care to enter." And Bryan in 1915 told the Japanese that "the United States cannot recognize any agreement or undertaking between the Governments of Japan and China, impairing the political or territorial integrity of the Republic of China, or the . . . Open Door policy."

The Nine-Power Treaty of 1922 brought the principles so long maintained by the United States into a formal international agreement of the signatory Powers, including Japan, Great Britain and France. Those Powers agreed: "To respect the sovereignty, the independence, and the territorial and administrative integrity of China; to provide the fullest and most unembarrassed opportunity to China to develop and maintain for herself an effective and stable government."

To Japan, however, the Nine-Power Treaty, the Pact of Paris and the Kellogg-Briand Pact were in the nature of plausible sentiments uttered to satisfy the mood of the moment. As others have done and still do, she made the profound mistake of assuming that we could not really mean what we said. And when she saw the opportunity--when the Western World was distraught by the economic and political difficulties of the Great Depression, when the League of Nations was a council divided, when the United States and Great Britain had both permitted their navies to fall below even the permitted strength under the Washington Naval Treaties--she attacked Manchuria.

China was weak, the United States was pacifist and isolationist, and Great Britain could not and would not fight alone against Japan in defense of China. The United States protested, Secretary Stimson reminded Japan of her signatures to the Nine-Power Treaty and the Kellogg-Briand Pact, but the Japanese pursued their fateful adventures, regardless of the judgment of the world.

On January 7, 1932, the American Secretary of State announced the now famous Stimson Doctrine that the United States does not "intend to recognize any treaty or agreement . . . which may impair . . . the sovereignty, the independence, or the territorial and administrative integrity of the Republic of China . . . or the Open Door policy. . . ." America gave her adherence to the Lytton Commission's report which condemned Japanese actions in China. Japan walked out of the League. In 1940-41 the old story was drawing to a dramatic close. We had frozen Japanese assets and had placed an embargo against oil shipments. Japan had occupied most of China and had invaded French Indo-China. On November 20, 1941, the Japanese Ambassador handed a note to Secretary Hull containing the conditions of peace for the Pacific. Japan promised to withdraw from French Indo-China in return for the lifting of the embargo, removal of the order freezing Japanese assets, and restoration of normal commercial relations. Those were the things Japan asked from the United States as a condition of peace. They seemed very simple and realistic. Surely they would serve the national interest of Japan and would not injure that of the United States. But Secretary Hull and the American people thought otherwise. The American Secretary of State replied on November 26, 1941. The reply was as follows: "The Government of the United States and the Government of Japan, both being solicitous for the peace of the Pacific, affirm that their national policies are directed toward lasting and extensive peace throughout the Pacific area, that they have no territorial designs in that area, that they have no intention of threatening other countries or of using military force aggressively against any neighboring nation, and that . . . they will actively support the following fundamental principles . . . : (1) The principle of inviolability of territorial integrity and sovereignty of each and all nations. (2) The principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. (3) The principle of equality, including equality of commercial opportunity and treatment. (4) The principle of reliance upon international coöperation . . . and pacific settlement of controversies . . . and that the Government of Japan will withdraw all military, naval, air, and police forces from China and from Indo-China."

Japan's answer was Pearl Harbor, December 7. And so the climax had come. The statement made by Hull in November 1941 is not unlike the first one made by Livingston in January 1832. Roosevelt and Hull fulfilled an original American commitment: the pledge that we would not be a party to the destruction of another nation.

Why were we so idealistic as to insist upon an affirmation of national integrity at a moment when the "wave of the future" seemed so overwhelming? Our acceptance of the Japanese challenge involved us in mortal danger and the staggering military expenditure that no possible benefits from an Open Door policy would have justified. Our investments in China in 1914 were smaller than those of England, Japan, Russia, France or Germany, and in 1931 they were only about equal to those of France, representing only 2.8 percent of our investments abroad; our exports and imports to and from China hovered between one and two percent of our international trade. To argue that we accepted so dangerous a challenge in order to defend so small a material interest is a conclusion which could only be drawn in an age when economic determinism is the great obsession. When the Japanese offered us peace in the Far East, after they had already occupied most of China and a large part of French Indo-China, we refused. They even agreed to evacuate Indo-China if we would but recognize their conquest in China and Manchuria. We declined. Because of economic interests? No. Because Roosevelt and Hull, speaking for the American people, recognized that no settlement which compromised Chinese political independence and territorial integrity would be acceptable to our sense of justice or consistent with our basic tradition. No American President could have satisfied the Japanese demands without risking repudiation, not merely by the opposition, but by his own party as well.

The fundamental principle of the coordinate state ruled this decision as it has most others in our foreign policy from the beginning.


This attitude does not imply any special virtue on our part. It has not saved us from serious errors in dealing with other nations, and it has not endowed us with any special grace in cultivating the good will and friendship of foreign people. On the contrary, our record for irritating our friends by saying the wrong things in the worst way is well above the average. Our good intentions are a small excuse for the unwelcomed preachments we like to indulge in, and the "holier than thou" tone which we often adopt does not add to our persuasiveness in the world of diplomacy. Nor is our record for coöperation, even by our own standards, by any means above reproach. But our failings are within a consistent historical tradition that leads back directly 150 years--and indirectly much further. The policy derives from the assumption that security rests upon coöperation, that coöperation is possible only among equals, that equality eliminates the basic reason for political disruption because those equal politically are coordinate in dignity and in rank.

The doctrines of "power politics" now being preached by such persuasive scholars as Professor Hans J. Morgenthau of the University of Chicago are a denial of this tradition and a repudiation of the lessons of American experience. The advice offered is exactly that which has ruined half of the nations of the world. Historically these doctrines have always led to war, and often to national suicide. The new school of Realpolitik advances its arguments for a settlement with the Soviets on the basis of "spheres of influence," and in terms of the "national interest." The "national interest" is a beguiling phrase: everyone desires to advance the interests of his country. But what country, concretely, is to be sacrificed in the power deal which would determine the quid pro quo? Which national interests do not count? Intellectuals abroad who urge upon us this "return to diplomacy" (as the fashionable slogan goes) should be sure of one thing--that we will not bargain away the independence of any other nation.

Fortunately, with all our errors and misjudgments, Americans have never successfully been persuaded that in foreign policy might makes right, or that Machiavelli was a great moral teacher or even a good guide for an understanding of human motives. Our repudiation of "power politics" in this sense of the term does not mean that we do not believe that policy must not be backed by strength, or that we do not possess strength. Germany and Japan can testify to that. When Dean Acheson speaks of a "position of strength" he means strength to resist aggression. To assume that this position is mere sentimentalism and utopianism is to miss the basic point of American history. We are a strong nation because we are an "indestructible union" of weak states. The very essence of American international relations rests upon the idea of a coöperative relationship.

The United States entered the First World War because we were convinced that we could not abide a world dominated by such brutal disregard of the rights of other nations as imperial Germany displayed. The German attack upon Belgium was seen by the American people with absolute horror. Here was a little peaceful nation bound by treaty to remain neutral, cultivating its fields and following in quiet its own affairs, suddenly destroyed without a declaration of war, without cause and in complete repudiation of a solemn treaty. The declaration that the treaty was a scrap of paper merely confirmed the callousness of the German Government. The burning of the library of Louvain, the unrestricted submarine warfare, the braggadocio, and the contempt for the small and the weak all confirmed the American people in the belief that the German régime was a present danger to all nations. And we went to war not to increase our power, not to expand our territory, not for aggrandizement, but to end such practices. That was the meaning of the Fourteen Points; that too was the purpose of the League of Nations. And paradoxically that too was one of the major reasons why the League was defeated. One needs but read the debates in the Senate to recognize that the bitter feeling that turned on Wilson stemmed in part from disillusionment at a peace which repudiated the moral purpose that had taken us into the war.

Our entrance into the Second World War was no less an expression of the great tradition. The surrender at Munich had made it seem that there was no moral principle left in Europe that was worth defending. The spheres of influence settlement at Munich was a yielding of the basic principle of national integrity and political equality for which we had gone into the First World War and crossed the ocean a million strong to maintain. It would have been infinitely easier for the American people to have joined Great Britain in war if she had in 1938 thrown herself against Hitler on the grounds that she would not be a party to the destruction of an independent nation. When Britain became the small bastion that resisted destruction by the evil reborn in Hitler, the attitude of the American people changed. In 1939 when Roosevelt, who clearly saw the meaning of the Nazi threat, had addressed himself to Hitler and Mussolini to exact from them the terms of a possible peace, he spelled out the old American tradition in favor of the security of the independent nation by listing separately all of the nations within the possible reach of the European dictators. Again when in 1940 Russia occupied the Baltic countries, Sumner Welles reasserted the old tradition on the grounds that the very basis of our civilization rested upon the respect for the little nations. This same doctrine of the equality, freedom and independence of the small nation along with the great reappeared in the Atlantic Charter and gave the Second World War the meaning that the First World War had had. Those ideals reappear in the Moscow Declaration, in the statements issued after the Teheran Conference, and are embodied in the Charter of the United Nations: "The organization is based upon the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members." These same principles reappear in President Truman's speech on the fundamentals of American foreign policy delivered in October 1947, "We shall not recognize any government imposed upon any nation by the force of any foreign power;" and in the Truman Doctrine the same old proposition is reasserted. It is implied in the North Atlantic Treaty and in the national defense assistance policy. The fundamental principle of the coordinate state with which our history as a nation began has remained a continuing philosophy of international relations to the present.

No swing away from it lasts long. The deviation in some of the Yalta agreements has, characteristically, met bitter and continuous opposition. The announcement that the United States had asked for three votes in the General Assembly to offset Russia's demand for three votes was made on March 29, 1945, and repudiated April 3: a major policy reversal in five days. The Great Power veto has been widely criticized in America from the beginning. It since has lost much of its effect by the transfer to the Assembly of issues that could be blocked by the Russian veto. The fact that that transfer of jurisdiction was made in an effort to protect the sovereignty of an independent nation--Korea--is eloquent testimony to the soundness of the American tradition. The provisions for permanent membership of certain Powers in the Security Council seem to Americans just as unreasonable as it would have been for the Constitutional Convention to have named the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Virginia as the great states of the Union with special power and privileges--a proposition which was indeed made and rejected. One may predict that if the United Nations is to survive it will in time adopt, perhaps in stages, the proposition of "coordinate" membership in the fullest sense. On this point the lesson of American experience is plain, for, as we have noted, the American Federal Union and the Pan American system have grown stronger with the years: the principle of equality, by providing an equal opportunity to participate in a decision which affects all members, removes the fundamental obstacle to international coöperation. International security can stem only from the loyal coöperation of people associated in the enterprise of peaceful existence in a recalcitrant universe. Power derived from conquest, exploitation and abuse is insecure precisely because it is unjust. There is neither an alternative nor a substitute for the strength that comes with union. But a true union depends upon voluntary adhesion, only possible among those possessed of equal dignity.

It would be good for the world, and for ourselves, to be clear about the concrete significance of this tradition at the present moment. Americans want peace with Russia, but will not buy it at the expense of other nations. The American tradition has no room for a settlement which would divide the world into spheres of influence. It has no room for the sacrifice to Russia of any nation, small or large, for the sake of securing an abatement of the "cold" war or for the sake of avoiding a hot one. The only kind of peace acceptable to it is one based on collective security--again, the principle of the coordinate membership of all states in the family of nations. Much misunderstanding would be avoided if, in their reasoning about us, our friends began with that simple fact.

The enormous energy of the United States has been disciplined by the ethical conception of political equality, and harnessed to the ideal of collective security resting upon a federation of coordinate states. These are the grounds of our difference with Russia. We are not quarreling over economic interests, political doctrines or her internal policies, even if we do not like them. We cannot accept Russia's denial of the coördinate character of other states. We do not believe in the Big Five, the Big Three or the Big Two. The day the Soviet Union learns, if it can, to accept its neighbors as of equal rank with itself, the world will be united again and the Iron Curtain will melt into thin air. Our quarrel is not about Russia, but about her contempt for the independent sovereignty of other nations.

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  • FRANK TANNENBAUM, Professor of Latin American History at Columbia University; author of "The Mexican Agrarian Revolution," "A Philosophy of Labor" and other works
  • More By Frank Tannenbaum