The Question Mark Above the White House
As one of the most malignant election campaigns in American history gets under way the rest of the free nations anxiously read the faces and platforms of Eisenhower, Taft and Truman — the leading candidates for commander-in-chief of the western world
IN THIS YEAR, one of the most dangerous on human record, the future of mankind will be directed largely by the inhabitants of three buildings. One is the Kremlin. The other two are the Pentagon and the White House in Washington.
As the United States moves toward the most confused but vital elections since 1932, as the free world alliance moves toward a period of terrible strain, the Kremlin remains invisible and unknown. The Pentagon and the White House are visible, known and, to a foreigner, pretty shaking.
The Pentagon contains thirty-nine thousand people, it has twenty-two miles of corridors, where peddlers of cigarettes and Coke travel on tricycles, and in its more secret offices tricky gadgets will set off alarm bells from the mere animal heat of any intruder. The new apparatus of American military power is built into the Pentagon on a scale unthinkable by any former peacetime standard.
But the White House, after being rebuilt from the ground up, is silent, gutted, gaping.
The swarming Pentagon and the empty White House present the outward picture of this year’s inward crisis in the American mind. The soldiers know precisely where they are going, what they can do with their power, what they cannot do and what they will do in any given situation. The politicians do not know where they are going or what they, will do in any of a dozen major situations now approaching. They cannot know for they are the servants of the American mind and that mind is not made up.
The appalling confusion in politics, this quadrennial vacuum in government, and not the personalities of the headlines, create the American crisis, hence the free world’s crisis, of 1952.
Ina Washington bewildered, disillusioned and angry as it has not been since the night of Pearl Harbor the American democracy is trying to do something which it was never intended or equipped to do, something in denial of its whole nature, something opposed to its deepest instincts and alien to its primary laws of life.
It is trying to erect and lead, in a fashion never known on earth before, a world-wide coalition of free peoples whom it does not understand and frequently antagonizes through its lack of understanding.
It is trying to exert upon others, for their own good, the naked and unequalled power of America. It is trying to do this
not by compulsion, as other world leaders often exerted such power in the past, but by the democratic process of persuasion and agreement. Thus the position of the United States today is unique and incalculable and it often seems well-nigh impossible.
After misconstruing the world at the end of the war, plunging into the great boom, losing half of Asia and suffering huge casualties in a perimeter war, the American people have just begun to face the real facts of life.
No wonder that American politics are in a state of chaos, now superheated by the first blast of the most malignant election campaign in modern times. Behind the dervish dance of the election the American asks himself what precisely he is trying to do for the world and for his own country. What has happened to all the old, comfortable ways, the assurance of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?
After all the speeches are made and the slogans exhausted what is the true purpose of American civilization—profits, wages, high living standards or something more valuable, for which everything must be risked? Since most of the old assumptions are out of date, what is left to believe in? In short, now that the Pentagon is crammed with military power, what kind of moral power is to be built into the empty White House in the election of 1952?
The sovereign fact in the free world today is this crisis in the American mind. The paramount necessity of the free world in 1952—necessary far beyond military preparations and political decisions—is that the American people shall escape from their own quarrels, decide where they should move and move together. They have not decided yet. Until they decide, until they can achieve a new unity of purpose, there can be no unity anywhere, except the unity of slaves.
Those are the real issues raised by the election campaign. By our Canadian standards the campaign is terrifying in its rancor, bewildering in its mechanics, obscure in its direction. The nation is totally divided, not into two clean segments but into groups and factions beyond counting so that, as one eminent statesman told me, there almost appears to be one political party for each of the ninety-six senators.
Whoever wins the presidency and the legislature, the election will be successful only if it brings out of this welter a government which has the overwhelming confidence of the nation, as the present government has not, a government which can truly govern, lead and reunify a nation now divided.
THESE THREE MEN EM HOD Y THE CRISIS OF THE U.S.A.
Whatever his other qualifications may or may not be, General Eisenhower is probably the only American who can hope to perform that miracle. No one believes, however, not even his managers, that he will have the chance to attempt it unless, long before the end of spring, he comes home and fights for the Republican nomination against a professional machine controlled hy his enemies.
A second fundamental fact of American politics in this election year is that the New Deal, having established the Roosevelt revolution beyond repeal, does not know where to go from here. The long and illustrious regime which began with the Hundred Days of 1933 is tired, corrupt in places and, by the laws of political longevity, is dying frojn the exhaustion of its labors. Is it to be given yet another mandate? Is the momentum toward state power and away from the power of private individuals to be slowed, halted or reversed, as the Republicans propose, each in varying degree?
A third fact underlying the decisions the United States must take this year is that the voters are asking quietly and the politicians are asking openly whether the United States has gone far enough or much too far in underwriting the world, militarily and economically.
A Truman or an Eisenhower— the two being united on foreign policy can answer in formal speeches that the United States must go further. A Taft, being as much opposed to Eisenhower’s foreign policy as to Truman’s, can answer that the United States must reduce its total commitments and transfer them partly from Europe to Asia. The word is out of fashion hut there is a latent isolationism at work today as there has always been, or at least a feeling that the nation’s obligations abroad are overexpanded and must be reduced. Of this view Senator Taft is so powerful a champion that General Eisenhower, like President Truman, considers his possible election a world disaster.
Neither the Democrats nor the Eisenhower Republicans believe that Taft can be elected under
any conditions but, elected or defeated, be is chiefly important because he raises the question of the nation’s position in the world.
Behind such issues stands a belated discovery which colors all American thinking in the election campaign and outside i’t. A people who, since the days of the Minute Men, have always mobilized a citizen army at the eleventh hour and sent it home immediately after the war, are now asked to support a huge military machine, to pay staggering taxes, to conscript their young men, to concentrate still more power in government and to change the whole climate of American society—with no end of this process in sight.
“The biggest question of all,” says a leading figure in government, “is whether a democracy under our system, and with our antimilitary tradition, can build up enough power for the job and, if it does so, whether it can maintain that power for years, maybe decades, without either using it recklessly or getting tired of the load and dissolving it, just as the Russians hope. It’ll be the toughest thing we ever tackled and remember, if you foreigners need our understanding, we’ll need yours.”
These are long-term calculations. In the short term the United States has to decide immediately whether it should do more or less for Europe. Here it faces a question which w orries Ottawa as much as Washington: Why is it, seven years after the war, with their productive engine repaired, with more goods than ever being produced, that the European nations still cannot live within their means? Will they ever close the gap in their housekeeping so long as the United States continues to close it for them? On the other hand, if the United States turns its back on them, will they turn to neutrality, perhaps in some cases to Communism?
Those are the real questions represented by Senator Taft and his unequalled power in the Republican Party. While his foreign policies are not clear to the public and understandably may not be quite clear to him yet, Taft in office could
be expected to answer such questions with caution, economy, scepticism of foreigners, grave doubts about continental Europe and a cutting of foreign losses. An Eisenhower administ ration would answer them with world commitments as large as American power can sustain, on the assumption that American civilization cannot long survive the loss of Europe.
This is not to forecast an inevitable Republican victory. Just because they are in the deep freeze of scandal don’t forget the Democrats. They are still the most numerous party with the voters by a large margin, they are not split on foreign policy like the Republicans (though they have always been split on domestic policy between right and left) and they may well beat any Republican but Eisenhower. And curiously enough, to a Canadian, ti e Eisenhower people believe that either Senator Kefauver or Governor Stevenson of Illinois would be a harder man to beat than Truman, whose own intentions were not known when this was written.
Whoever wins this election will be the commander-in-chief not only of the United States but of the free world. All free men now alive have a stake in this election, a stake which could mean life or death.
If such a statement appears extreme in Canada it is because Canada is so intoxicated by a garish boom, so elated at finding itself a major nation, that it has grossly underestimated the dangers of this year. We Canadians, I suppose, are the most complacent people in the world at the moment. To cross the forty-ninth parallel from north to south is to pass from a country spiritually at peace to a country spiritually at war, from a country whose Korean casualties are low to a country which already has endured a substantial bloodletting. Up to now our own government, which doubtless knows the facts and fears them, has been far from candid in sharing them with the public.
If Washington is more confused than Ottawa it is far more realistic. The over-all strategical calculations of the American government start with the assumption that Russia does not want a world war in the immediate future - -first, because it is
doing all right with its present method of quiet shoplifting; second, because it believes Marx’s prophecies of ultimate capitalist collapse; third, became it lacks the atomic weapons essential in a contest with the United States.
Tint assumption, if sound, is subject to large reservations. As one of the chief official students of Russia put it to me: “The real danger is as real as it is simple, a mere quirk in the Russian mind if you like. It is that the Russians will continue to msread the American mind, as they have done in every crisis, before, during and after the last war.
“They didn’t think we could or would defend Berlin with our air lift. They made the worst mistake of their lives when, by the Korean stab in the back, they produced our rearmament. They simply will not believe what we say. They think we always lie, as they do, by a fixed state policy.
“Well, the danger is that at some point of crisis they will think we are bluffing, that they can get away-' with some new steal, and then that they will blunder into another burglary at some point on the map and produce a war that neither of us wants. The most dangerous fact in the world is Russia’s misunderstanding of us.”
At this writing the United States believes that the Russians and Chinese, for reasons of their own, warn a truce in Korea. If a truce or even an uneasy cease-fire can be arranged, Korea will no longer be the chief centre of American anxiety. The key point on the map will be the rich and strategically vital peninsula called Southeast Asia.
Washington's nightmare today is a Chinese advance, openly or by guerrilla infiltration, into Indo-China or Burma. Just over the Chinese border large Chinese forces, some three hundred thousand trained men, are poised.
If Stalin ignores American warnings again and pushes his Chinese pawns into the areas which contain much of the world’s tin and rubber, if he tries to drive a wedge down to the Bay of Bengal and enfilade India, then the United States and its allies will face a new crisis strategically far larger and more difficult to manage than the Korean crisis of 1950. In the considered judgment of American strategists an invasion in Southeast Asia could be effectively countered only by direct air attack on China, land invasion of China being out of the question. The immediate military question of this year, therefore, is whether China will take this risk and, whether, if it does, the United States will feel compelled to bomb China.
As a military operation this would be simple enough. In the broad land mass of China American planes could wreak unimaginable damage on industry and communications.
Military strategy of this sort, though chilling enough, is not the primary calculation on this year’s agenda. The primary calculation is political. If the United States finds itself dragged into China how far will Russia support its satellite? Merely by supplies of weapons or up to the point of outright war? If American power is committed to a gigantic and swelling operation in Asia can the United States still maintain its planned strength in Europe? Under these conditions will the European peoples still have the heart and hope to rearm themselves? And will Stalin continue to resist the temptation to walk into Europe before it is rearmed?
Those are all fearful risks but there is, perhaps, an even larger one.
Britain, the whole Commonwealth, including Canada, as well as the European members of the grand alliance regard a large war in Asia as the ultimate stroke of lunacy. They fear it would solidify all Asia in hostility to the white man with his destroying bombs. It would gravely weaken Europe by spreading inadequate power too far and too thin.
Commonwealth statesmen believe that mistake was avoided by a hair’s breadth in the MacArthur incident last year but it could be made, perhaps could not be avoided, this year if Southeast Asia explodes into a second Korea. The major preoccupation of Commonwealth statesmanship of late has been to dissuade the United States from
entering the Russian bear trap of China if it can be avoided.
The American government understands that danger, as its dismissal of MacArthur showed, but it asks its allies: Are you prepared to let Southeast Asia fall and watch Communism spread to the Indian Ocean? Depending on the mood of the Politburo or of Mao, acting on his own, that question may have to be faced before midsummer.
Should the United States be compelled to defend Southeast Asia by threatening or attacking China then the strains between it and its allies will be extremely grave.
“If,” says a noted Commonwealth diplomat, “the Americans are embroiled in a large-scale Asiatic war, with the best intentions, maybe with no alternative, it might undermine the foundations of NATO.”
These Tliree Building* Em body The Crisis of a Wailing; World
The dangers to the alliance implicit in a Chinese war are serious enough to haunt the Commonwealth governments, to terrify western Europe, to invite Stalin to take long chances for the obvious gains of Allied disunity.
Is there then in Washington nothing but hasty improvisations to meet thrusts as they occur all over the map, no over-riding American world strategy? There is.
The real politique of American long-run strategy is to consolidate the North Atlantic Alliance, to cement especially American ties with the Commonwealth, to build up Germany as the central bastion of a unified and democratic western Europe in the hope that Germany will use its power wisely and to build up Japan as the fulcrum of a new balance of power in Asia.
This is not pleasant to
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contemplate. Rut it is inevitable so long as Russia forces everybody else to resort to sheer power and, by a kind of bastard Gresham’s law, debases the spiritual coinage of the world.
Moreover, this program, though based at the moment on expediency, need not be a mere military alliance of the old sort and certainly will not be aggressive if Germany and Japan take the right path, if the Americans use their power wisely and, above all, if the Allies trust one another and can gain the trust of the yellow races, which they lack now.
Things may turn out far better than anyone dares to hope and certainly will so turn out if Stalin understands the American mind and the strength of free men elsewhere. If China behaves itself there can be peace in Asia and, in two years or so, after they have worked their passage and proved their good intentions, the Chinese Communists can even win American recognition and thus end the long split on Asiatic policy between the United States and Britain.
In all the setbacks of the last year one definite item of progress is now established: so far as the American government and the Eisenhower Republicans are concerned, the hope of a Communist collapse in China has been abandoned. Mao, or his successors, it is now realized, will be around for a long time. If they give up aggression as a bad job no attempt will be made to dislodge the Chinese Communists by force.
That is the starting point of an American policy in Asia, but nothing more. For the policy of aiding Chiang Kai-shek, which failed, the United States so far has no clear, long-run alternative in Asia. It is in this vacuum of policy that all the present
confusion, including the views of the MacArthurs and Tafts, still flourishes.
There, in oversimplified terms, is the anatomy of this year’s prospects. What will come of them must depend on the Politburo in the first place, on the White House and the Pentagon in the second.
No one knows what goes on in the Politburo but anyone can see that the United States has not yet learned how to manage a coalition of the sort it is called upon to manage. It cannot and does not wish to use the old methods of compulsion. Yet it cannot always persuade other peoples to follow it.
Rather naively, up to recent years, the American people have assumed that their form of democracy, their economic system and their living habits are the norm of human behavior, to which all other peoples were moving inevitably, as fast as possible. It is a shock to the American mind to discover that this is not so. While the rest of the world envies the United States’ living standard and is eager for American aid, it is not prepared to buy the American economic system or the American Dream. The drive of peoples everywhere to create their own private dreams is one of the most obvious facts of the day. It repeatedly proclaims itself in such unlikely symbols as the weeping Prime Minister of Iran, the amorous King of Egypt and Bevan, the angry man from the Welsh coal mines.
The American people are deeply hurt to find that after all their outpouring of blood and treasure, much of the world is still sceptical of their leadership, is terrified lest this wellmeaning giant will either stumble into general war or, disillusioned with its friends, will pack up his dolls, as they say in Washington, and go home.
Neither the United States nor its allies has yet faced up to the real facts
meAe in the world of 1952. America’s enes have not found a workable rue-native to the American economic „J'.baim which they criticize and on which they depend to keep themselves afloat. The United States still assumes that it can satisfy its friends, conduct the largest power struggle in history and equal the strength of Communism without touching its own living standard .
This legend of a sacred living standard is the fallacy on which the power of the free world can founder. Unless Russia conveniently relaxes its pace and gives us four or five easy years to rearm, none of us can do the job and live as well as we are living now. That frigid fact neither the United States nor Canada, the only two rich partners of the alliance, has yet acknowledged. Inflation—an attempt to use more goods than we produce—is the sure proof of our failure, a failure of Canadians and Americans alike.
One result is that the American arms program is limping badly at the moment and has been partially postponed in some categories. The gap between American and Russian strength, especially in the air, is not closing, cannot close until about 1955 at earliest and could close too late.
The other result is even more serious - the United States and Canada, demanding that Britain and Europe reduce a living standard already intolerable to us, are antagonizing their overseas friends by boasting of their own standard, the highest ever known.
It is all very well for the economists of Washington and Ottawa to prove statistically that Britain and Europe must live harder to survive. This is statistically undeniable and cannot be long denied, but humanity does not live by statistics. It lives by hopes, myths and dreams. The basic failure of North America in world leadership so far is that it has been unable to create the hope, the myth and the dream which the rest of the free world is ready to follow.
North America—and no Canadian can forget that Canada is a part of North America-—can never achieve that position of leadership until it is ready to sufTer at least some of the world’s daily hardships. Its own sterile myth called the standard of living stands as a fatal obstacle in the way of the free world’s unity.
Vaguely the American mind senses that truth today, though no politician seeking office in this election year is likely to admit it. The American citizen is torn between the natural fear that the rest of the world cannot or
will not do the job at hand, will only suck up American wealth and pour it down the familiar rat hole, and the other fear that if America abandons the world, or if the world abandons America, then the struggle will be lost and Communism will win more or less by default.
This inward debate, as reflected by all the superficial vagaries of politics, turns the American in upon himself and makes him ask such questions about his own nature as he has never asked since the Revolution.
In this unimaginable era of world
revolution what are the chances, what are the objectives, what is the real meaning and value of American civilization? A mere appetite for more and still more goods, like that of Barrie’s “diseased goldfish?” An opportunity to share its goods, its democracy and its genius with mankind? A final abandonment of those spiritual ideas and the simple faith which were its origins or, alternatively, a retreat from the Pursuit of a disappointing Happiness back to the Founders’ hard, tough Life and Liberty of quite another sort?
Those questions are all raised this
year as never before. They cannot be answered finally in the present election or in any single election. For the final answer lies in the individual mind of the individual American. That individual American, a more important man in this election year than Harry Truman or Dwight Eisenhower or Robert Taft, must at least begin to make up his mind between now and the end of 1952.
Theempty White House, the crowded Pentagon do not tell us what direction his mind will take. Perhaps the Kremlin alone can answer, if