THERE is no doubt that during the last few years the United States has become increasingly unpopular abroad and that this is true in Asia as well as in Europe. There is a vague unhappiness and resentment in many parts of the world because of changes in former power relationships and because it is hard either to give or to receive favors gracefully. But part of our unpopularity has more specific origins.

In particular, three charges are being levelled against us. It is alleged that we are imperialistic; that we seek war and slight peaceful alternatives; and, finally, that we are bitterly racist and anti-Negro. Many Americans would consider these charges so evidently false that they would think it unnecessary to refute them. The fact remains that they obtain widespread acceptance. It may therefore be appropriate that a member of the opposition party, one who is not an admirer of the present national Administration, should try to set the record straight. I shall endeavor to do so without showing pique that we are "misunderstood" or "unappreciated" by many peoples for whom we have only respect and friendly feelings, and certainly without imagining that a happier economic situation than that of some nations gives the United States any moral or intellectual superiority over them or entitles Americans to preach at them.


First, let us consider the charge of imperialism. If it had been made a half or even a quarter of a century ago, there would have been a considerable degree of truth in it. For in the concluding years of the nineteenth century we also fell prey to the fever of imperialism and colonialism which was rampant in Western Europe and which had caused Britain, France and Germany to divide up Africa and to take control over so much of Asia. It was the period of Tory Imperialism and of Kipling's "White Man's Burden" and we as a nation were guilty along with the rest.

Out of the Spanish-American War, we took Puerto Rico and the Philippines and established a protectorate over Cuba by means of the Platt Amendment. In addition we annexed Hawaii and eastern Samoa. Admiral Mahan's teachings were being put into effect; and a book with a novel title, "The United States as a World Power," by Professor Coolidge of Harvard, paralleled the part played in England in the reign of Edward VII by Sir John Seeley's "Expansion of England." We began training our diplomats in the standards of the British Foreign Service.

Soon thereafter came the staged revolution in Panama and the attendant intervention by President Theodore Roosevelt which enabled us to complete the Panama Canal and to refuse to pay Colombia the price which she had demanded for this privilege. This shabby adventure, the complete facts of which are not yet known, did much to weaken our prestige and fasten the imperialistic label upon us. This judgment was intensified by our armed occupation of Haiti and Santo Domingo in 1914 and 1915 and of Nicaragua in 1927. And it was further strengthened by the declaration of our diplomats that the Monroe Doctrine was a unilateral policy under which we not only kept the European nations out of Latin America but also made our own will and decisions paramount over those of our neighbors to the south.

Imperialism therefore can with some reason be said to have been one of the dominant policies of this country during the 35 years from 1898 to 1933.

But there was always a strong current of opposition to this course and gradually the anti-imperialists won the day. The objections to the treaty which concluded the Spanish-American War were so powerful that it was barely ratified. Newspapers like the New York World, the New York Evening Post, the Springfield Republican and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch voiced their protest and William Vaughn Moody in his "Ode in Time of Hesitation" expressed the feeling of betrayal which millions of humble Americans felt at the prostitution of their ideals by the party of imperialism. The American people had sought to free the Cubans in 1898—not to found a new imperialism. In the presidential election of 1900, William Jennings Bryan and the Democrats made imperialism their chief issue and while they were defeated by the "full dinner pail" argument of Mark Hanna, the opposition to colonialism was always strong and operated as a continuously restraining influence upon the State Department and upon those military, commercial and financial interests which favored a more aggressive policy toward the Latin-American peoples.

In justice to Herbert Hoover, it should be said that his genuinely pacific instincts inclined away from imperialism and that he tried to break away from the previous pattern. This was notably the case in Haiti. But it was with the election of Franklin Roosevelt and the coming to power of the Democratic Party in 1933 that a full reversal was effected. There was no more armed intervention. The Platt Amendment, giving us the right to intervene in Cuba, was repealed. The Tydings-McDuffie Act, providing for the practical freeing of the Philippines, was passed in 1936 and to the surprise of virtually all the Europeans was actually put into effect. In 1946 the Philippine Independence Act was also passed, completing this process under terms which in practice have proved to be comparatively generous. America thus led the way in the abandonment of colonialism and did so of her own free will and decision.

Puerto Rico was granted commonwealth status under which she obtained all the advantages of being a part of the American Union, including freedom of movement for her people and the free entry of sugar into our markets, but was released from any attendant burdens, such as the payment of income taxes. The Monroe Doctrine was transformed into a multilateral policy. Nor did our actions stop there. American sentiment was a factor in persuading the British to leave India and we put heavy pressure upon the Dutch to do the same in Indonesia. While we never pushed matters to the breaking point to get the French to act similarly in Indo-China, the weight of our influence was in that direction.

This record indicates that we have been the strongest force against colonialism among the Western Powers. Internally within the Asiatic countries, also, we have worked for land reform. This was perhaps the most lasting and beneficial feature of General MacArthur's reform measures in Japan. The Bell Commission urged it for the Philippines and President Magsaysay with our benevolent backing is seeking to carry it out. We have encouraged similar policies on Formosa as we did on the mainland of China prior to 1948 and we are working in the same direction in South Vietnam.

In these ways we would seem to have more than cleaned our skirts of imperialist tendencies; and even though the Republican Party is now back in power, my critical eye can find no indication that its responsible leaders have any desire to return to the ways of their predecessors. The American sympathy for the underdog and our strong belief in independence and self-rule have conquered the spirit of imperialism. This was weakened in any case by the knowledge that colonialism is both a financial burden and an emotional strain. If there is one major Power in the world that has abandoned colonialism and imperialism, it is the United States.

The real imperialistic countries today, as Sir John Kotelawala, the Prime Minister of Ceylon, stated so eloquently at Bandung, are of course Communist Russia and Red China. Russia has enslaved a string of satellites, including the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania and Albania. These contain a total of approximately 100,000,000 people. In each of them, self-government has been eliminated and a brutal dictatorship established. Red China has taken over Tibet and North Korea, has its agents in Nepal and will be able to call the tune in North Vietnam. It is reaching out for the control of all Southeastern Asia—an area rich in food and natural resources and not overpopulated. Judging by the tactics which the Chinese Communists are using inside their own country, their oppression of the other Asiatic peoples, if and when they obtain dominance, would make the exploitation of the British, Dutch and French imperialists in days past seem as child's play. Nor would there be any real redistribution of the land to the peasants; this might be permitted for a few years, but Communist teaching and practice are very clear that as soon as possible the farm lands are to be organized in state collectives. The peasants would then lose even the degree of independence which they now have and a new and more terrible tyranny would set in under which they would become the work slaves of the state.

The pity of it all, however, is that since this political and economic oppression has not been directly experienced as yet in Southern and Southeast Asia it is not appreciated. As a Burmese statesman remarked to a friend of mine, it remains something purely theoretical. The oppression of the colonial administrators of the European Powers has been experienced directly and in the very recent past, however, and hence is keenly remembered and deeply resented. Thus the uncommitted third of the world tends to be much more angry at Western than at Communist imperialism, and since we are a Western Power and part of the white race we are included in the general dislike.

There are two particular ironies in this. Although we long since freed ourselves from imperialism, we tend to be blamed, as the most powerful Western nation, for all that has gone before. In India, for example, the Indians tend to exonerate the British who controlled that country for so long and to heap their condemnation instead upon us who certainly have never hurt them and and who have indeed from time to time given them a helping hand. The second irony is that while the so-called world of color for understandable reasons dislikes the whites, Soviet propaganda has apparently been successful in getting the majority of colored peoples to forget that Russians too are whites.

Some of this unfortunate drift in the public opinion of the neutral and uncommitted third of the world was perhaps inevitable. Some of it could, however, have been averted by a more vigorous policy of opposition to colonialism than our government has been willing to evince, by more considerate and friendly treatment of the Asiatic peoples by our diplomats, and by a bold program of truth-telling about the real facts.


The second complaint is that we are always rattling the saber and brandishing the atomic bomb and that we and not Russia have been the aggressors since the conclusion of World War II.

Now it is my opinion that the utterances of Secretary Dulles have at times been maladroit and I think that on crucial occasions he has used threatening language which he has not been prepared to back up. But it certainly is not true that we have in any sense been the aggressor during the last ten years. Our record is, in fact, quite the contrary. We were good allies to Russia during World War II, despite the suspicion and hostility with which our representatives were treated. We can be certain that if the rôles had been reversed, Russia would never have given us the 11 billion dollars' worth of war material and supplies which we lavished upon her. If anything we were overgenerous to the Russians in the terms to which we agreed at Tehran and Yalta, although the degree of these concessions has been greatly exaggerated. Nor should the world forget that we practised unilateral disarmament following World War II. When the war ended, we had the mightiest force in the world and were supreme on the land, on the sea and in the air. Within 18 months, however, we had shrunk our armed forces from 12,500,000 to 1,500,000 men. On the other hand, while we were becoming militarily weak, Russia maintained a huge army of at least 3,500,000 men and was making great strides in the development of her air force and her submarine fleet. If we had been aggressive, we would never have behaved as we did; and if Russia had been peace-loving, she would never have done as she did.

It will be remembered that Secretary Byrnes offered Russia a 25-year and then a 40-year treaty under which Germany was to be kept disarmed and thus removed as a possible threat to Russia's western border. Both proposals were rejected by Russia.

Nor did our considerate attitude toward Soviet interests stop here. We contributed over seven-tenths of the relief furnished to the Ukraine, White Russia and Byelorussia after the war and in 1947 we offered to make the Marshall Plan apply to Eastern as well as to Western Europe and hence to Russia as well as to Britain and to France. Russia not only spurned this offer for herself but she also prohibited Poland and Czechoslovakia from accepting after these nations had indicated their initial agreement. Not content with this, the European Communist parties under Russian direction went on to carry out a program of opposition and sabotage against the application of the Marshall Plan in the West. Russia's policy was proof that she preferred hunger and misery in Western Europe to economic recovery because they would give her a better chance to take over these countries from within.

At about this time, moreover, when the United States had a monopoly of the atomic bomb, we offered, in the Baruch plan, to denature our existing stores of bombs, to enter into a world compact to manufacture no more and to use atomic energy for exclusively peaceful purposes. There was but one essential qualification which was attached to this offer, namely, that there should be a competent international system of inspection to see that the pledge was being observed. This is an essential feature of any disarmament agreement, as our experience after World War I with the Japanese mandated islands of the South Pacific demonstrated. Of course, we offered to submit ourselves to such inspection along with every other country. Russia refused to accept this necessary condition.

Similarly Russia has defeated every honest proposal for international disarmament. She killed the idea of an international police force. She refused to permit any international inspection. She has advocated disarmament only on those items in which we are strong, such as atomic bombs, but has been unwilling to cut her own huge ground armies.

American efforts to induce Russia to be coöperative continued well into 1947. Long before this, however, Russia had shown her evident determination to follow a program of aggression and of attempted world domination. While Great Britain and we lived up to our wartime pledge to withdraw our troops from Iran, Russia for a long time refused and finally agreed only under great pressure. The international conferences on the future of Italy, Hungary, Austria and Germany were stymied by cynical Soviet sabotage, as Governor Byrnes has well described in his book, "Speaking Frankly." Only recently did a treaty on Austria at last become possible.

In 1946, and again in 1947, Russia tried to get control of the Straits of the Dardanelles and to secure a strong foothold on the shores of the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean Seas. Turkey was bullied and an internal revolution was started in Greece. Only American help for the established constitutional régimes saved those countries. This help, it should be noted, was extremely careful not to trespass upon the sovereignty of the nations concerned or of their governments.

In 1948, Russia instituted the Berlin blockade, a wanton effort to starve West Berlin into submission. Instead of sending armed trucks to blast open the highway from the west to Berlin, as we would have been justified in doing, we instituted the airlift. This was successful, but only at great expense to ourselves.

Then in 1950 came the Communist invasion of South Korea. While this was nominally carried out by the North Koreans, it was quite plainly stimulated by the Russians who gave the invaders, first the Koreans and later the Chinese, supplies, equipment, artillery, airplanes and technicians.

Similarly, when we had the Communist forces on the run in June of 1951 and could probably have pushed on to the neck of the peninsula, the Russians made a cease-fire proposal to which we trustingly agreed. This turned out to be a hollow farce but we went through with it and finally agreed to an armistice which permitted the Communists to build airfields down to the 38th parallel and which placed no restrictions upon the Chinese taking up the offensive elsewhere. This they promptly proceeded to do by switching their support to Ho Chi Minh in Northern Vietnam. At Geneva, we acquiesced in a surrender which gave this area to the Communists and which opened up all of South Vietnam to their propaganda.

The present Administration has at times talked "tough," as when Mr. Dulles spoke of "massive retaliation" and when Vice-President Nixon talked of sending American troops to help the French defend Indo-China and Dien Bien Phu. But when the test has come, it has always backed away from the actual use of force. Indeed the Red Chinese claim that we are in fact a "Paper Tiger." How this argument can be reconciled with the other Communist claims that we are a bloodthirsty aggressor, I do not know. But Communist propaganda is never troubled by gross inconsistency.

Thus I do not think the Administration can legitimately be charged with being aggressive, let alone with being an aggressor. At times, in order to score a political advantage over us Democrats, the Administration will take an unsound position or stray from the truth, as when the President said that under President Truman we had shielded the Communists from Chiang Kai-shek and that he was issuing instructions to the 7th Fleet no longer to shield them. This so-called "unleashing of Chiang" led our government to help Chiang to fortify the Taechens, Quemoy and the Matsus as steppingstones to an ultimate invasion of the mainland. The consequences of this unsound encouragement have been injurious to our prestige in Asia; but the way in which the Administration has backed down when it was put to the test indicates that it is not fundamentally aggressive in its purpose.


The third charge is that we are bitterly racist and anti-Negro. This indictment is grossly exaggerated in its details, but it touches nevertheless our worst national sin. The Communist agitators in the Orient strive to paint a terrible picture of the oppression practised upon the Negroes; they would have it believed that bloody lynchings are a daily occurrence in the United States and that the only question raised in our country is whether the Negroes are to be hung or burned at the stake.

It is true that 40 years ago our record in the matter of lynchings was disgraceful—the annual average for the six years 1910-15 being 63.6. It was still bad enough 30 years ago, when the yearly average was 41.3. In the last decade, however, lynching has virtually disappeared. The average for 1946-51 was only 2.4; and in the last three years there have been no lynchings at all.

But while the terrible reality has vanished, the din of Communist propaganda keeps resentments hot.

I am offering no apologies for our treatment of the Negroes, which along with the existence of slums in our great cities I regard as the worst blot upon our civilization. But censorious critics might perhaps remember that we have had the most gigantic problem of harmonizing racial differences ever presented in the history of the world and that year by year we have been improving our handling of it.

In sharp contrast with the European countries, which over the centuries have been able to achieve a largely unified population both racially and culturally, the United States is the most diversified nation in the world. Our great cities, notably New York and Chicago, are composed of racial mixtures hitherto unknown in history. European observers of American culture indeed predicted that this diversity would be our undoing and that, torn apart by bitter racial antagonisms, we would collapse at the first open test with the outside world. This prophecy proved false. We came through two world wars with greater rather than less unity and with racial tensions lessened rather than heightened. For example, anti-Semitism has markedly decreased during the last decade and the some six million American Jews are being properly received on terms of equality in American life to a degree that is probably unsurpassed elsewhere.

But the 15,000,000 Negroes and the some 2,000,000 Mexican-Americans of the southwest do suffer from real disabilities. No one can or should deny this. Nor should it be excused. These groups suffer from poverty, poor health, inadequate housing and school facilities. Over wide areas they are afraid either to vote or to take any real part in civil life. There is some discrimination against them in employment. But other nations might consider whether their own record is essentially better. The tu quoque argument is not effective in itself but use of it may be permissible here to show that what we face is a weakness in human character to which not Americans alone are subject and which we should all discuss with humility. If the prospect of a few added thousands of Jamaican workers was enough to excite the wrath of a large section of British labor, what would they feel and do if it were suggested that one-tenth of their population become, as ours is, Negro? And would British workers take with equanimity the yearly migration of hundreds of thousands of Negroes into their industrial centers, as happens with us? The fact seems to be that often when the attitudes of other countries towards the race question seem superior to ours, this has been primarily due to the fact that they have comparatively few of a widely different race amongst their numbers. The behavior of European soldiers, administrators, planters and businessmen in Africa and Asia lends no support to the thesis that they are more civilized in matters of race than we. This is indeed cold comfort, for unless all of us in the West effect a speedy and thoroughgoing improvement in our basic attitudes and behavior towards the black, brown and yellow peoples, this presently neutral third of the world is likely to join our enemies.

Nor would it be fair to pass over in complete silence the fact that our Indian friends, who often are to the fore in denouncing symptoms of American racism, belong to a people which engaged in the mutual slaughter of several millions of Mohammedans and Hindus during the separatist riots of 1947, and that India has maintained the cruel caste system under which tens of millions of human beings have been treated worse than animals. Socially conscious Indians disapprove of such practices and India is making a real effort to wipe them out. But to do so takes time and effort, just as it takes time and effort to end discriminatory practices in our country.

I shall not dwell on the inter-racial hatreds which flourish elsewhere in Asia. The rivalry and bitterness between Malayans and Chinese, between Chinese and Japanese, between Chinese and Koreans, between Japanese and Koreans, and so on, are evidence that most peoples, even those who themselves have suffered from the blight of discrimination, find difficulty in being friendly or even just to those who differ from them widely.

A real improvement has been taking place for some years in the United States. In the first place an almost complete intégration of the races has been effected within all branches of our armed services. Instead of separate Negro battalions and regiments, blacks and whites are now commingled in the same squads and platoons in both Army and Marine Corps. A similar integration exists in the Navy and the Air Force. It was originally feared that such an intimate mixture of the young and hot-blooded of such different races would breed discord and violence. This has not occurred. The change has been accepted with relative quiet and the testimony of competent field commanders is that the over-all combat effectiveness of the services has been increased.

Similarly we have made great progress in the field of political life. In the North and Middle West the political power of the Negroes has increased. They are an important factor in at least a dozen states north of the Mason and Dixon line. They play an increasingly important part in local government, with many aldermen and indeed the President of the Borough of Manhattan coming from their members. Numerous state legislators are Negroes as are three members of Congress. One of the most respected Judges on the federal bench is a Negro.

South of the Mason and Dixon line events have also been marching on. In the cities which border on the North, Negro voting is the rule rather than the exception. In cities like Atlanta and New Orleans it is increasing. Indeed in the former city, a respected Negro has recently been elected to the Board of Education for the city as a whole by the white vote. However, in the sections where the blacks are overwhelmingly predominant, as in the seaboard districts of South Carolina and Georgia and in the Delta counties of Mississippi, only the whites are in practice allowed to vote. In general there is little political participation by the blacks in the predominantly rural and farming sections. But we have come a vast distance from the almost total disenfranchisement of the Negroes of 30 years ago, and as a two-party system develops in the South, as it seems to be doing, rivalry between the parties will cause them increasingly to seek the Negro vote and hence will greatly speed up the process.

Great gains are also being made in the field of employment. The general shortage of labor from 1940 opened up many jobs to Negroes and they have been enjoying an unparalleled 15 years of prosperity. This has enabled them to improve their homes and their education. While the movement for a fair federal employment practices law has been defeated because of the power of Southern senators to filibuster such a measure through unlimited debate, there are a dozen states and a large number of cities with similar acts and ordinances. Discrimination, although not rare, is on the defensive throughout the North and the West. One of the most heartening events in recent years has been the way in which Ralph Bunche has won deserved honors. At least a score of American universities have conferred honorary degrees upon him and in so doing evidenced a desire to make atonement to his race for the slights and wrongs of the past.

The so-called restrictive real estate covenants have lost their binding force by decisions of the United States Supreme Court, with the result that the more well-to-do Negroes have been leaving their erstwhile ghettos and have been buying homes in outlying sections of the big Northern and Western cities. This is comparable to the way in which the Jews of Western Europe moved out of their ghettos and began to take their part in society as a result of the liberating influence of the French Revolution.

But the biggest forward step has of course come about as a result of the decision of the Supreme Court in outlawing segregation in the schools. The Court unanimously held that any such segregation was a violation of the provision in the 14th Amendment which guaranteed to each citizen the "equal protection of the laws."

In previous decisions the Court had ruled that the States must provide equal educational facilities. This opened the graduate and professional schools of a number of Southern States' universities to Negro students. No untoward events occurred and the experiment was generally pronounced a success. The decisions also led to an extensive school building by the Southern States to raise the level of the educational facilities available to Negroes so that the South might then better defend its doctrine of "separate but equal" facilities.

Then in 1954 the Supreme Court in a unanimous opinion struck down even this defense. The Court ruled that separate facilities were inherently unequal since they implanted in the race with lower social status the feeling that they were inferior and hence gave to most of them an inferiority complex which handicapped them in their later struggles in life. I personally regard this as the most important forward step since the Emancipation Proclamation and the subsequent 13th Amendment which formalized the abolition of slavery. The Supreme Court wisely ruled that it would reserve for later decision the ways and means by which the program of integration was to be effected and invited the States to submit plans of procedure. Arguments have been heard on these very matters.

The Court's decision has had a pronounced effect in the border States of Maryland, Delaware, Missouri and Kentucky and in those Northern cities where segregation was still practised. It has also led to the abandonment of segregation in a considerable number of Southern communities where the percentage of Negroes is not great. It has had virtually no effect thus far in the so-called Black Belt of the South. But while there may still be trouble in these regions there is little doubt but that segregation in the schools is on the way out.

In short, the forces of racism are fighting a rear-guard action in the United States. The whole drift of public opinion, as Congressman Powell testified at Bandung, is in the direction of a more perfect democracy in which men and women will be given greater opportunities, and then judged on their merits without regard to their race or religion. What many of us believed would take decades to effect has been done within a few years.

On the whole, then, I feel that the United States faces the world with relatively clean hands on the main issues on which it is often attacked. In striving to strengthen the forces of democracy in the world and to halt the spread of oppressive and totalitarian Communism we are merely putting into effect the principles to which the American dream has been dedicated and which we seek, not wholly without success, to establish within the texture of our own life and institutions.

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  • PAUL H. DOUGLAS, U.S. Senator from Illinois; former Professor of Industrial Relations, University of Chicago; former Lt.-Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps; author of "Controlling Depressions," "Ethics of Government" and other works
  • More By Paul H. Douglas