On Moscow front Tennessee lawyer wins acclaim... On domestic front worried Administration battles inflation, strikes, pressure groups
ERNEST K. LINDLEYDecember11943
On Moscow front Tennessee lawyer wins acclaim... On domestic front worried Administration battles inflation, strikes, pressure groups
ERNEST K. LINDLEY
AS THIS is written, official Washington is swelling with elation over the results of the Moscow conference. The disposition here is to give much of the credit for the success of the gathering to Secretary of State Cordell Hull. This may be unwarrantedly parochial or partisan; but this venerable statesman does have a way of making an impression on international gatherings, as the Latin-Americans discovered long ago.
With his white thatch and sombre countenance and severe black suits he has a somewhat unworldly look. He can discourse by the hour on principles principles of almost anything—with saintly dignity. Years ago, President Roosevelt spoke of him as “the only saint in the Administration.” But, when it serves a useful purpose, Mr. Hull can lapse into the earthy speech of his home country in the Cumberland mountains of Tennessee, an area where the language and hearty humor of the Elizabethan period still flourish. In picturesqueness his profanity is without a peer in Washington, although when only slightly provoked he is likely to content himself with a simple expostulation in an odd pronunciation enforced by an ill-fitting upper plate. (During the Moscow conference there was conjecture in the Washington press galleries as to how Mr. Hull’s profanity would be translated literally into Russian.)
One Ambassador, of a nation now Axis-dominated, cherishes the recollection of Mr. Hull’s comment on the fall of his native land: “Never mind, we’ll whip hell out of those fellows yet.” Mr. Hull reported merely that he had consoled the Ambassador “in appropriate terms.”
Some of Hull’s stories have become Washington classics, although he seldom repeats them. One which he told at a conference of War, Navy, and State Department experts one Sunday morning in 1940 fortunately was recorded immediately afterward by one of his listeners. It was told to illustrate the problems of the United States in trying to protect two oceans with the forces then available. Said the venerable Secretary of State:
“You boys remind me of a lawsuit I tried down yonder.” (Meaningin Tennessee.) “It was a will case. One of the lawyers was in the unfortunate position of representing both the legatees and the devisees. When he made a point for the legatees he was likely to harm one of the devisees, and vice versa. He got pretty well tangled up and when he sat down his opponent announced that he wouldn’t put in testimony or make a summation. Instead he wanted the court’s permission to tell a story.
“The story was about a friend of his who was travelling on a Mississippi River steamboat one night when the boiler blew up. The traveller was thrown from bed, ran on deck, and committed himself to the river, where he swam manfully for the Arkansas shore. As he pulled himself up on the riverbank he discovered to his dismay that he was clad only in a red flannel undershirt. The noise of the explosion and the sight of the burning vessel had drawn a great gathering of men, women and children to the riverbank. The traveller was a modest man. Seeking to hide his seminakedness, he pulled his shirt down in back. But as he did so it rode up in front. He then pulled his shirt down in front and it rode up in back. ‘The plight of my unfortunate friend,’ said the lawyer,
‘reminds me of the difficulty into which my learned colleague has fallen.’
“ft reminds me, gentlemen, of your dilemma: plotting the strategy of a two-ocean war with a oneocean Navy.”
HULL IS more than a moralist with a frontiersman’s humor. He is tenacious and shrewd. He has been Roosevelt’s one and only Secretary of State. In these 10 and one-half years, one man after another in the Administration has ventured to lock horns with Hull. Every one of them has lost, from Raymond Moley on. This is partly because of Hull’s prestige in Congress as a representative of the old-line Democratic party of the South, but partly also to his cleverness in political manoeuvre. Hull waited more t han four years for his chance to oust Sumner Welles. There was no serious difference as to policy between them. Hut Hull is jealous of his prerogatives. He
resented the fact that Welles had frequent and direct access to the President. Also he blamed Welles— in my opinion wrongly—for inspiring certain newspaper articles critical of Hull and the State Department.
This is the narrower side of Hull’s character, but it indicates that he is not the naive preacher which some have made him out to be. If bargaining is required, he can bargain. He still likes to recall that he was the best poker player in his regiment in the SpanishAmerican war. But he did not go to Moscow to trade. He went to seek a fundamental agreement, and also to try to remove the suspicion, fostered by the leftwingers ever since the Spanish Civil War, that he is anti-Russian. He is not. He has steadfastly argued that a Soviet-British-Ameriean accord is essential to a long-term peace, but that this must be fitted into the framework of a larger world organization.
According to reports from American sources, Hull’s mixture of high principles and backwoods pithiness won the confidence of the Russians. At this writing we do not yet know, however, how Hull, who is 72, drinks little and likes to get to bed early, managed
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the vodka during the twenty-some toasts drunk on top of the wines at the state banquet in the Kremlin between 8.30 p.m. and 2.30 a.m.
The joint declarations at Moscow were signed and published while the Senate was still dallying over a resolution “advising” the President that the United States should employ its power, in collaboration with other nations, to enforce the peace. Chiefly because the Senators are jealous of their exclusive Constitutional rights to ratify treaties, they brushed aside the Fulbright resolution, overwhelmingly adopted by the House, and, belatedly, drafted one of their own.
This, the so-called Connally resolution, named for the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, borrowed certain safeguarding clauses from the Republican party declaration at Mackinac two months earlier. The backers of the earlier and more definite B2 H2 resolution, named for two Senators whose names begin with “B” and two whose names begin with “H,” insisted that the Connally resolution was so weak as to be meaningless. The debate ran on. Significantly, however, it was protracted by the more advanced interventionists, instead of by the small group of remaining isolationists. It was the wrangling of legalists over the fine meaning of words. The significance of the Connally resolution was unmistakable from the start. It was a declaration for active collaboration in organizing and enforcing the peace. It contained phrases which made it palatable to the exisolationists, but it was in no sense an isolationist declaration. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that except for the Chicago Tribune-Patterson press and its small number of disciples, there is no active isolationism in the United States today. It may revive, but I doubt it. There will be disagreement over methods. There will be new mistakes, doubtless, but they will not be the mistakes of 1918-19.
By delay, however, the Senate has suffered in prestige. Passage of the Connally resolution was urged on the ground that it would strengthen Secretary Hull’s hand at Moscow. It proved unnecessary at this stage. Britain and Moscow apparently are willing to proceed, for the present, on the assumption that the United States will participate actively in organizing and maintaining the peace.
To what extent the Senate’s treatyratifying power will be necessary in organizing the peace is an open question.
It is possible that everything necessary from the United States can be achieved by the Executive, alone or with the approval of a simple majority of both houses, without recourse to formal treaties requiring a two-thirds majority of the Senate. Much depends on the declarations as to foreign policy adopted by the two parties in their national platforms next year. Secretary of the Navy Knox, who was Republican nominee for Vice-President in 1936, has publicly advocated identical declarations by the Democrats and Republicans. This objective is probably unattainable, but it may be approximated, especially if Wendell Willkie is the Republican nominee, which now seems more probable than not.
Pressure Is Mounting
In domestic affairs nearly all headlines channel into the main story of economic stabilization. Pressure from labor and agriculture against the inflation-control program has been mounting daily.
In October Fred M. Vinson, Director of Economic Stabilization, reported that prices had risen only 12% in the first 19 months of American participation in the war, compared with 29.5% in World War 1. Since Sept. 15, 1942, the date set by Congress for stabilization of prices and wages, prices have increased about five per cent, while wage rates had gone up about one half of one cent an hour. However, the weekly “take home” wage, which includes overtime payments at the time and a half rate, had jumped 15% since September, 1942.
Vinson was withdrawn from the Federal bench to hold the inflationcontrol line. Previously he had been known as a popular Congressman. But in his present job he has performed as a fearless judge rather than as a politician. He has turned down every pressure group with suave firmness. Even the Petroleum Administrator, Harold L. Ickes, once known as the toughest man in the Administration, was unable to obtain from Judge Vinson approval for an extra 35 cents a barrel on crude oil.
The advance guard of labor’s attack on the stabilization program continued to be John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers, closely followed by some 1,400,000 railroad workers. The strikes of the soft coal miners last spring finally compelled the Government to take over the mines, through Secretary of the Interior, Ickes. Ickes thought the miners had a case for higher wages and sturdily disagreed with the War Labor Board’s insistence that their claims could not be granted without violating the stabiliza-
tion plan and opening the way to further wage and price increases all along the line. Meanwhile John L. Lewis negotiated a new agreement with the soft coal mine operators in Illinois, and the anthracite miners worked out an industry-wide agreement with their operators. After prolonged deliberation the War Labor Board rejected both and substituted compromise proposals. The soft coal miners got substantially what they had asked for, through a juggling of overtime arrangements. The hard coal miner got somewhat less. Meanwhile lekes had gradually returned the mines to the private operators. Then for the second time this year the U.S. Government took over the operation of the country’s coal mines. This action was taken after 530,000 miners had walked out of the pits on the orders of the IJMW. At this writing no solution had been reached.
The railroad workers have special mediation machinery for the industry, and their agreements are passed upon directly by Judge Vinson instead of by the War Labor Board. He stood firm in the defense of the wage stabilization program, which permits increases in hourly wages of only 15% over Jan. 1, 1941.
Both the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations have been giving support to these attacks on wage stabilization, while clamoring for lower living costs. In short, they have acted as straight pressure groups.
The farm lobby, likewise, is determined to breach the stabilization line at the price end by knocking out consumer subsidies. The President has no alternative to standing fast and fighting both groups of special interests, which, considering their numerical backing, is not easy politically. In general, however, labor is more cooperative than the farm bloc, which relies on its strength in Congress.
Chester Bowles, who made a small
fortune as a young man in the advertising business, has succeeded Prentiss Brown, former Senator from Michigan, as head of the Office of Price Administration, an agency which also handles rationing. Bowles is a newcomer to Washington. He attracted attention by his skill in interpreting the price and rationing program to the citizens of the state of Connecticut, where he was State OPA Administrator. In accordance with a Congressional edict, he has replaced various high-ranking economists and university professors in OPA with men of practical business experience, but has left no doubt of his determination to roll prices back to the September, 1942, level—if Congress does not stop him by shutting off subsidy money.
One of the brightest aspects of the domestic scene is agricultural production. Despite pessimistic predictions field crops ran well ahead of the 1932-41 average and only seven per cent below last year’s record high, while a 12% increase has been reported in the nutritionally important livestock, poultry, egg, and dairy categories. As feed supplies lag behind livestock population a reduction in livestock production is now necessary.
Besides the third largest corn crop on record, now being harvested, bumper yields are calculated in potatoes, beans, dried peas and rice. Owing to the labor shortage commercial fruit crops are down 10% and canned vegetables seven per cent. These losses will be partially offset by extensive home canning of fruits and vegetables.
For next year the War Food Administrator has requested the tillage of 380,000,000 acres, 16,000,000 more than this year, with major increases in plantings of wheat, oil-bearing crops and feed.
Most families accustomed to incomes of $3,000 or more are eating less well than they used to, but the majority who formerly had lower incomes are eating better than at any time since the ’twenties, if not better than ever before.
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