With neither the strength nor spirit to fight, West Europeans refuse to believe war is near. And if war did come they’re not sure the U.S. would defend them against a Russian attack
PARIS—Early in the last war I crossed the ocean in a Liberator bomber. In 14 hours I was transported from the normal life of New York to a shattered but defiant London. The contrast was great, but in some ways hardly greater than the contrasts which greeted me a month ago when I flew from New York to Montreal and TCA brought me to London in 14 hours.
In New York the people were awaiting the proclamation of a national emergency. Civil defense plans were under way. The conversion of industry had begun. Off Long Island jet fighters were regularly patrolling the air approaches to the city. Newspapers were filled with black headlines about the war in Korea. The people were psychologically attuned to crisis. One afternoon a fuse blew out on a Manhattan subway train and passengers struggled out of the cars into the dark tunnel, screaming that an atomic bomb had exploded.
In London, less than 24 hours later, people talked mostly about the cut in the meat ration, the difficulty of getting whisky but the great abundance of gin. Businessmen talked of the rosy prospects of tourist trade during the Festival of Britain this summer. The front pages found space for news from Korea but much more space for movie stars and murders and the fact that Princess Margaret is sporting a print scarf which bears the legend, Toujours rAmour. War? They may be worrying about it in Whitehall but not much beyond the Georgian doors of the Foreign Office.
In Brussels the conferees at the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Atlantic Pact nations talked of crisis but what they saw on the Boulevard Adolph Max was the most brilliant electrical display in Europe. Brussels merchants are out to get tourist business from France, Holland and Britain, and the electrical display was the opening phase of a three-year program to make the capital more attractive. In France the people grumbled about strikes and the rising cost of living and, of course, about the politicians. War? You won’t find anyone to discuss it. The people have shut it out of their minds.
The contrast poses a puzzle for the observer fresh from America. Here, in the cradle and probable arena of the next war that America is preparing for so feverishly, you can’t raise a discussion about war, much less a reasoned argument.
In a small pub just off the Strand, near Aldwych, the barmaid’s face was familiar. I had seen her in 1941, in that dreadful autumn when Nazi
legions stood on the Channel and at the approaches to Moscow, when England stood alone and seemingly bereft of hope. I asked her then: “What
would you do if the Germans came across?” She smiled a crooked smile and passed her hand over the necks of beer bottles which lay on a low shelf beneath the bar. She said: “If I can’t find a gun to shoot I’ll bash ’em with these.”
Today I had another question to ask her—“Do you think we’ll have a war in 1951?”
“You people from America are all the same,” she said shrilly. “Always talkin’ about a war. Listen, dearie, there won’t be a war. Who wants it? Maybe you people from America but that’s all, that’s all. Only you people from America.”
I asked the question differently from a deep leather chair in the office of an ambassador of one of the principal members in the North Atlantic Pact: “Are the nations of Western Europe going
to plunge as far, as fast and as deep into the American conception of the crisis as would be indicated by their quick adherence to Dean Acheson’s proposals and leadership in Brussels?” The ambassador answered: “The nations of
Western Europe don’t necessarily approve of every
move or of every policy of the United States in dealing with the crisis, nor do they believe in many cases that war is imminent or inevitable or even probable. One or two are absolutely convinced Russia does not want war now. Others who take a more serious view of Moscow’s intentions feel that wise cool-headed diplomacy can avert war. All Western Europe is now beginning to recover its economic fitness and its governments know it will be a difficult job to turn their people back to the economic waste and personal sacrifice of full preparation for defense.”
The barmaid and the ambassador had spoken accurately. Each represented a phase of the dilemma attending Europe’s participation in the struggle between the great antagonists of East and West.
The dilemma is this: There is a cleavage between American leaders and European leaders—to a certain extent on the seriousness of the crisis and to a greater extent on the methods and sacrifices necessary to avert a world war. There is full agreement only on the proposition that a world war would be catastrophic for both victor and vanquished.
And there is another cleavage, this one between European leaders and their peoples. The peoples of Western Europe are beginning to breathe again; they are exhausted by suffering and sacrifice. With that bittersweet hope which is the prerogative of the extremely weary they look to better things this year and still better the next. Their leaders, sitting in solemn conference, may heed the call to duty and sacrifice. But can they convince their peoples?
We have, then, a double cleavage between the vibrant, vigorous, aroused people of the United States, who are abreast of and even ahead of their leaders, and the weary peoples of Western Europe, who lag far behind their own governments. This double cleavage is the crux of the problem in the Atlantic Pact family.
It is the problem to which General Eisenhower must address himself initially if he is to have a hope in heaven of organizing a vibrant spirit of defense in Europe.
That Eisenhower himself regards this as his primary problem was broadly apparent the moment he arrived in Europe not long ago. In every statement he emphasized the necessity of arousing the people of Western Europe to the urgency of their own defense.
It was beautifully
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balmy and sunny the day Eisenhower landed in Paris. His welcome at Orly airfield was impressive both in point of the ceremony and the number of newsmen present.
He drove to his headquarters, the Astoria Hotel, Champs Elysées, and together with other journalists I kept a vigil at the hotel most of the day. The wide avenue outside was thick with Parisians strolling in the sunshine and the most extraordinary feature of the scene was their complete lack of reaction to Eisenhower’s appearance.
Although his arrival at the Astoria was headlined in all newspapers hardly an eye was turned toward the hotel by passing crowds. Gendarmes guarding the entrance stood about sleepily with nothing to do. One remarked happily, “This is most pleasant. Last month I wa ; on duty when Ingrid Bergman visited here. Mon Dieu— such crowds, you would not believe it!”
If Eisenhower working in his upstairs office glanced down at the crowds strolling by the hotel he might have recalled his last appearance on Champs Elysées in 1945 when it required the locked arms of thousands of gendarmes to control the hysterically cheering crowds.
In the five years between, a new thing has ri en in Europe. You cannot call it isolationism, for purely physical factors make isolation impossible in Europe. Perhaps a better word would be insulation—a desire to shield their minds from the perils against which there is no sure shield for their bodies.
Suffering Breeds Selfishness
There are three reasons, I believe, for this curious insulation of the Western European peoples against an awareness of war danger. The first is psychological. After 11 years of privation and danger and death the people are beginning to live again. Life is almost normal. These people refuse to entertain the thought of another war. It is a blank spot ton their collective brain. And it is difficult to convince them that the Russians, who suffered even more than they during the last war, can seriously consider a new war—-dictatorship or no.
The second reason stems from an idea deeply rooted among the people that their own governments do not seriously share America’s concern about war with Russia. Every long-range plan promulgated by governmental authority points to continued peace.
In England, for instance, in the same week that he King delivered his sober Christmas message, he also announced plans for a tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1952. This does not smell like war to the British people who know that the King does not lightly make such auspicious plans without deep consultation with his ministers. In Whitehall plans for a new type of air-raid shelter have been shelved for three years because materials are more urgently required for industry.
The third reason for this insulation lies in an inclination among European peoples to regard America as a young and headstrong nation whose fears and foibles must not be taken too seriously. There is ample appreciation of the American effort in Korea, but it is pointed out that France in Indo-China and Britain in Malaya have been fighting the Communists for three years with comparable casualties but without the fearsome excitement which has accompanied the American sacrifice.
In short, by emotion and what they believe is sound reason, many of the
people of Western Europe decline resolutely to regard war as a near prospect.
And there is an overriding reason which encompasses all three reasons I have set down up to now. In its most fateful hour since Genghis Khan’s hordes drove into Central Europe, Western civilization finds itself without dynamic leadership. In the face of possible disaster there is no rallying point. In France politics has fallen to the lowest ebb in the history of the republic. A cabinet crisis raises less interest than a championship prize fight and even Charles de Gaulle, who still bravely tours the hinterland calling
for action, is regarded with pity, like a has-been movie star.
In England Clement Attlee’s policy of systematically discarding overseas responsibility in favor of pursuing internal socialistic revolution has invested the British public with a singularly insular psychology.
A British M.P. summed it over lunch the other day. He told me: “Ten
years of suffering have bred a curious selfishness among our people and fear of atomic warfare has intensified this selfishness. It is my estimate that if the Russians drove across Europe 30% of the people of France, Italy—and I’m
sorry to say 20% of the British— wouldn’t raise a finger in resistance.”
The mantle of leadership of Western civilization has fallen to the U. & and the bitter fact is that American leadership has not only failed to inspire confidence but has actually evoked the suspicion that Western Europe is being used as a pawn in the squabble between internationalists and isolationists at home.
There is an active fear here that America’s war hysteria is far outdistancing American determination to defend Europe and that if Russia is panicked into war a change in the
volatile U. S. foreign policy will leave Europe helpless.
The reason why Eisenhower was so casually received by Western European peoples is that the«enthusiasm he might have inspired was effectively canceled out by the Hoover and Taft isolationist speeches which preceded him across the Atlantic.
If the average European could speak openly he’d say: “There are two ways in which we can face the Soviet threat. First is to manoeuvre ourselves diplomatically for the next three or four years during which time it is our belief Russia will be busy trying to consolidate its Asiatic satellites. No one can predict what new weapons will be developed or what new Titos will arise to change the complexion of the world situation.
“The second way is for America and ourselves to create immediately a solid military defense of Europe. This can be done only with full American help and with the guarantee that America is unified and determined on this project.
“We would prefer the second way, but unless there is a guarantee of American constancy in foreign policy we choose to withdraw from American leadership and steer a neutral course as best we can.”
On the diplomatic level there is a tendency in Paris and London to follow a middle course between full preparedness and diplomatic manoeuvre.
Some diplomatic listening posts inside the U.S.S.R. still insist there’s little evidence that an attempt to conquer Western Europe is presently scheduled by Moscow. On the purely military side intelligence reports fail to show troop movements, the preparation of road and rail communications or the material buildup necessary for an offensive this spring.
This is especially true in Eastern Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia where intelligence reports are considered accurate. Moreover, diplomatic intelligence reaching London and Paris seems to agree that the Soviet internal situation is not yet sufficiently secure to command national support of aggressive warfare. Indeed these reports hold out hope of startling revolutionary developments inside Russia.
I went to Lieut.-General Sir Frederick Morgan, who was Eisenhower’s deputy chief of staff’, for an informed opinion on the military strength needed to defend Western Europe effectively. Sir Frederick, the man who created the master plan of liberation for Europe in 1944, is a soldier who is unusual in that he always speaks on the record regardless of repercussions.
I asked him, “How many divisions does Eisenhower need and where should we set up our main line of defense?”
Sir Frederick replied, “You can’t figure it in terms of divisions. Some politician mentioned 50 divisions the other day. How did he arrive at that
figure? Did he pick it out of a hat? That’s not the way the defense of Europe can be figured. The first thing that must be developed is a spirit of resistance. Right now there is none —none in Germany, none in France and very little even in England. What’s the use of putting even 100 divisions along any line if there is no spirit of resistance among the people?
“Our line of defense must be where we stand today. The spirit of resistance must be such that the peoples of America and Europe will say to Eisenhower: ‘You tell us what you need
and we will raise the men and the armor.’ Then the defense of Europe will he secured. It’s not the number of divisions in the line that would cause the Russians to hesitate; it’s military strength combined with the spirit of resistance. That’s real defense in depth and that more than anything else will stop the Russians.
“The situation is dangerous,” he went on, “but it can be retrieved. Of course Russia feels she can walk across Europe today as far as the Channel. But this does not mean she feels she can win. There are two great deterrents operating against Russia. The first is the fear of American production which spells out to Russia that she cannot win a war in which America is involved. The second is her fear of American offensive strength in the air, which is very real and very great.”
To sum up: If war comes will
Europe make the full effort? Will Europe fight?
If Russia attacked today there would be little organized resistance by nations between the Elbe and the Channel because there is not sufficient war spirit among the people to fight a losing war. There is not sufficient war spirit because (1) they don’t believe war is imminent or even probable, and (2) they are virtually naked of defensive strength.
Will Europe make the full effort? If European and American leaders can come together and agree, not only on paper but in hard practice, on a diplomatic and military policy toward Russia, they can act as a linchpin to bind the peoples of America and Western Europe. Given unity on a common purpose and a common plan, given assurance that American policy is firm and constant and free of the cross-currents of domestic politics, the people of Western Europe will make a great effort. It will not be a full effort, not to the extent that America’s is a full effort, because after two world wars the European peoples have neither the substance nor the inner strength.
How great the effort will be depends on Eisenhower. His task is to weld the Atlantic community into one force. No man has ever undertaken so gargantuan a task in peacetime. If he succeeds his place in history will stand at the pinnacle of our time. Ff he fails we all fail. ★