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American Morale: The First Year

ISSUE:  Winter 1943

Morale is the determination that arises from intensity of vision and singleness of purpose.” Measured by this standard, our morale, on the eve of Pearl Harbor, could not be accounted very high. We were divided in our counsels, and uncertain of our aims. A whole year has gone by, a year of feverish effort and dull frustration. Our achievements on the material plane are undeniably great. Never have production, organization, training, proceeded at such a pace. If we do not choose to dwell on these substantial victories, it is because, at this critical hour, complacency would be the deadliest of sins; when preparation means sparing the lives of our sons, we shall never feel that we have provided enough. How is it with us in the domain of morale? We need both material weapons, and strength of spirit to wield them right; but it would be a less desperate enterprise to fight a clear-sighted, wholehearted war with inadequate arms, than to fight a blurred, faint-hearted war with the best mechanical equipment.

In some obvious and very important ways, our progress in morale has fully kept pace with our material effort. Japan’s treacherous aggression has created in us all that singleness of purpose that no mere incident could have determined. The attitude of Germany and Italy has relieved us of any lingering hesitancy. We were left no choice but to submit or to fight; and even among professed pacifists, I have not heard a self-assured voice preaching submission. Our will to conquer is unquestioned. We may have to pay more, to work more, to deny ourselves every luxury: but as soon as the issue is placed squarely before us, we are eager to meet the test.

The old hallowed selfishnesses are in retreat. “Politics as usual, business as usual,” are but faint and dishonored ghosts. How silly would sound at present the plea for “regularity” in party allegiance, or for the “profit motive” in production! The men who die for us are not dying for political bosses or for increased dividends. The claim that Americans would never work with a will, unless they were assured of their “rake off,” traduces our ideal. We know at last that America’s business is not Business, but to live a free and a decent life. And this rediscovery, this renewed dedication, must be counted an inestimable gain.

Our morale stands well also against the sore trial of frustration. We have felt annoyance, to use the mildest term, because our giant strength could not be exerted at once, and with telling results. We had to bide our time, and we, who love speed, did not enjoy the experience. But there was no dismay because of our disappointment. We had not begun to fight yet. Hope deferred grew more ardent, and thwarted purpose gained in weight, hardness, and momentum. And when we were told that the tide was turning, there was no vulgar boastfulness, but an even sterner resolution. On this score again, our morale shows no sign of faltering.

It is not mere pride and stubbornness that cause us to reject any thought of appeasement. We are deeply convinced, not only that victory is essential to our way of life, but also that mere victory, of the old-fashioned type, will not suffice. We are not vindictive; but we are not ready, if ever Nazis, Fascists, Japanese Imperialists or Vichy “collaborationists” should grow weary of the strife, to meet them half-way. For between them and ourselves, there is no half-way house. Their conception of the world and ours are not simply different, not even merely antagonistic; they are incompatible. No tolerance, no pluralism, can cause the predacious and the prey to lie down peaceably together. There are essential evils that must be securely chained, if they can not be utterly destroyed. This second period of the World War is not like other wars; it bears no resemblance, for instance, to our scuffle with Spain, or to the Crimean campaign under Victoria and Napoleon III. This time, there can be no peace conference, no treaty, no reconciliation. Carrying out to its sternest consequence the principle of the Kellogg Pact, we must outlaw war, and those powers of darkness which are committed to war. A peace treaty is a solemn promise, and we know that Hitler is debarred by his very principles from giving any pledge that would be binding. Between the Hitlerites and ourselves, we want to establish “normal relations,” but of a somewhat formal and frigid character; the relations between jailer and felon.

These words may sound like the old propaganda that did us such incalculable harm, the kind that was fed on atrocity stories, and was summed up in the cry: “Hate the Hun I” This is not what they are meant to convey. To hate men, because they are mentally stunted, deformed, deluded, or ailing, is itself a shameful disease. But to curb evil is the first condition of a sober life.

Where is “evil” to be found? The smug, of course, are invariably on the side of the angels; it is too easy to call “evil” those whom we want to fight. How often have “we Anglo-Saxons” been taxed with this egregious brand of hypocrisy? Self-righteousness is a snare, and we must first of all search our own hearts relentlessly. But we have to guard also against an indulgence which would easily lead to complicity, and ultimately to disastrous self-indulgence. The injunction, “Judge not,” is necessary to curb the Pharisee; the injunction, “Judge without fear,” is needed to shame the Laodicean. We all have heard—perhaps from the President of a great University of the Middle West— the convenient reasoning: “Who are Ave, that we should dare to champion righteousness? Are we without sin? Have we not left our poor unfed and unclothed? Have we been invariably courteous to Negroes and Orientals, and kindly in our thoughts to Hebrews? Therefore, we should give Hitler a free hand to exterminate the Jews and enslave the Poles.” The Gospel intended no such consequence. The principle, “We have no right to condemn in Hitler those things which we condone in ourselves,” would be considerably safer in converse form: “We must never condone in ourselves or in our allies those evils which we condemn in Hitler.” For the evil we are fighting is not the half-educated Schickelgruber, an ugly and pitiful symptom. It is “Hitlerism”—racial arrogance, brutality, selfishness—a disease which can be curbed in our own lives only through constant vigilance and rigorous self-discipline.


So I am not a preacher of hatred. I am attempting to fight hatred with the only possible weapon: Justice. And the fight is not an easy one. Once more, this war is not like other wars. The adversaries cannot shake hands and he friends, like the French and the Russians after Sevastopol, or the Spaniards and ourselves after Manila Bay. The difference is profound. Schrecklichkeit was not invented in 1914: war is organized terror, and we cannot visit upon the soldier, his commander, or even his ruler, the inevitable cruelty of the fight. It is not the scale of destruction that makes the difference: a soldier who kills a thousand enemies in loyal combat is not a criminal. But there has been in this war a sadistic desire to crush, to humiliate, to torment— and to destroy. Whole nations are suffering an unceasing and subtle martyrdom which is to end only with their annihilation. The Nazis are piling up a debt of hatred for which there seems to be no remission. And this moral fact, which must be faced in all its hideousness, is the most pressing of our problems today.

For it is the hatred they have aroused which nerves the German people to desperate resistance. There is no proof that they are solidly Nazis; but it is evident that they live in dread of what would happen if the Nazi regime should collapse. The fear of the reckoning is Hitler’s best asset on the home front. It is felt that any weakening would be followed throughout Europe by a furious flare of retaliation. Even if a massacre could be avoided, the prospect beyond defeat would be dark beyond endurance. This time, there would be no need of a formal guilt clause: the followers of Hitler would remain branded like Cain. No wonder the Germans who are not Nazis at heart will fight to the death rather than submit to such a fate. They could not bear “a taste of their own medicine.”

Out of this difficulty, there are two ways: forgiveness and justice. And I contend that justice is the kinder as well as the safer way. It would be easy enough for America and even for England, who have not lived under the Nazi heel, to advocate a “generous” treatment, a White Peace: no blame, no punishment, no reparations, no dismemberment. This may sound both Christian and wise; but, unless certain precautions be taken, it would leave Europe poisoned and prepare another Armageddon. A White Peace would be a compromise peace and a moral victory for Hitler: “He saved us from the wrath of the whole world!” A Germany not wholly purged of the Nazi virus will never permanently relinquish the fruit of previous victories. Whittling down her present supremacy would be considered by herself and by her American friends as an intolerable outrage. Just as she resented giving up the Corridor, which was 90 per cent Polish, she will resent giving up Czechoslovakia and the Ukraine. And the victims will be smarting under a sense of injustice. No, it will not do to dismiss the murdered and the unrepentant murderer as equally innocent or equally guilty. If we should seem satisfied with a peace that would save the skin and the pride of the Nazis, captive Europe would lose interest in our fight. Such a lame and shameful peace she might hope to secure from the Nazis themselves, and on easier terms.

Between these two perils—an explosion of brutal vindic-tiveness, which we want to prevent at all costs, and a smouldering resentment if the culprit escapes—there is, we believe a humane and a practical solution: that is prompt, ruthless, but definite and even-handed justice. It would actually be easier to attain than in 1919, for the conflict this time is not primarily between nation and nation. In each country, the masses hate tyrants, profiteers, and traitors of their own kin even worse than they hate their overlords. It is not the Germans as such who are to be chastised, but a certain spirit, and certain acts. We need not revive “the myth of a guilty nation.”

In 1919, unprepared as we had been for war, unprepared for peace, we were even more unprepared for justice. We made a jest of the vulgar slogan, “Hang the Kaiser!”, and we were not wrong. But we had nothing to substitute for sheer vindictiveness. The world grew morally sick, not because wrongs had remained unavenged or crimes unpunished, but because the German soul was unredeemed. Out of that pestilential confusion arose Hitler.

That is why it is so important for the free representatives of all nations—including Germany—to define now those deeds which cannot be condoned as normal politics or traditional warfare, and to define also what constitutes active participation in such acts of fiendishness. President Roosevelt was right in his speech of October 12th: the responsible leaders must be tried according to the rules of criminal law. The Governments in exile, the French National Committee, Soviet Russia, are in perfect agreement on this point with our President and with the spokesmen of Great Britain. They are already drawing up indictments and collecting evidence. It is not Germans alone who shall be brought to the bar: for, heading the Norwegian list, we find the name of Major Quisling; and the French will undoubtedly pay a similar tribute to the sinister eminence of Pierre Laval.

The task, appalling in bulk, is easy in principle. The hierarchical system of the Nazis makes it a simple matter to assess responsibility. The high officials of the Party stand out: there can be no quibbling about their persons or their ideas. They themselves have drawn up the lists that we need. With them should go those men who, of their own accord, have accepted positions of authority under the Nazis; and, no less manifestly, the politicians, professors, and journalists who have made themselves the advocates of Nazi principles translated into Nazi methods. These men are self-designated, self-convicted, self-condemned. Justice would not be mocked if they were to receive the same short shrift as the six obscure saboteurs whom President Roosevelt ordered to be electrocuted. If we want a full trial, it is not because the result is in doubt, but because we desire to make the verdict more impressive.

A decree of death against a few thousand Nazis and lackeys of the Nazis, throughout Europe, might avert the massacre of many who are innocent. It would reassure at once, not ninety-nine out of a hundred Germans, but nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every ten thousand. There are times when limited and exemplary ruthlessness is the highest form of humanity.


But justice cannot remain just, unless it remain sane. Sanity is the palladium of our morale. “What we need from our leadership,” wrote Mr. Mark Sullivan, “is tonic to fight, incitement to the simple, primitive emotion of hunting down our enemies, destroying them.” We must resist such a temptation with all the strength that is in us, for it is a counsel of despair; it implies that righteousness and clear-eyed reason are of no avail in this world. It accepts the “dynamic” or “daimonic” fallacy: if you would survive, you must put your whole trust in brute force urged by crude instinct. If this were true, America would be defeated in ad” vance. We all feel with Mrs. Margaret Hughes: “I would rather see my son dead than degraded to the Nazi level.” President Wilson was right—with a slight correction: we are too proud to fight—on that plane. If we did fight and conquer with rage and spite in our hearts, our American way of life would be defeated in the very moment of apparent victory. For if we roused the elemental beast in us, when and by whom would it be tamed again? We are defending civilization: let us remain civilized.

Perhaps there was some truth in that “fighting mad” fallacy in the old days of hand-to-hand encounters. Today, individual combats with the bayonet and even with the knife do still occur, but they are mere incidents; and there is no sign that our men, when it comes to such a test, are lacking in “the simple primitive emotion of hunting down our enemies.” But total war means total planning, world-wide strategy in every field, with the utmost degree of accuracy and efficiency. The men who design and build our fighting planes cannot afford to be mad; the men who select their objectives, plot their course, and despatch them on schedule, must be cool and composed; the men who fly, the men who drop the bombs, must have the self-possession of a scientist in his laboratory. Mr. Mark Sullivan’s advice is fit for raging bulls. The bull offers a magnificent spectacle; but the moment comes when he rushes madly on the blade held steadily by a man whose courage is cool and clear. Never seek refuge in unreason: reason is our best ally. Whatever cannot be done in the calm light of our intelligence should not be done at all.

So I revert to my main theme: our morale, which must be free from the madness of anger, must also be free from the madness of hatred. Anger, which is fitful, might be excusable, although it never is right. But hatred, which is concentrated, smouldering, inveterate anger, should have no place in our hearts. We must guard with the uttermost care against that horrible taint. For hatred is low, and drags us down. A man who hates is less than a man. A Christian cannot hate, and be a true Christian; an American cannot hate, and be a true American. For Lincoln spoke for us all when he said: “With malice toward none, with charity for all”; and David Starr Jordan made for our country the proudest of claims when he called America “the land where hatred expires.”

We do not need to hate what we seek to restrain or even to destroy. You do not hate a mad dog when you shoot him; the fireman is too busy fighting the flames to hate the fire; the physician does not have to brace himself with a dose of hatred. In condemning hatred, I am not preaching non-resistance, which, on the earthly plane would mean the unopposed triumph of evil: bacteria can not be overcome with good, nor can a devastating flood be stopped by love. I am urging the duty of quiet, clear-sighted determination; so that, when we fight, we should know definitely what we are fighting for, and what we are fighting against; so that we do not stop fighting a moment too soon, or keep on fighting a moment longer than we need; so that, above all, when victory is ours, we may be able to preserve what we have won.

We shall never have a chance to draw up, to enforce, to maintain a just settlement, if we allow ourselves to be blinded by hatred now. For hatred, when it abates, as abate it must, leaves us ashamed, weakened, with an uneasy conscience. Hatred destroys itself in a brief orgy of vindictive-ness. What is needed is not revenge, the last and most bitter fruit of hatred, but retribution, atonement, discipline. Anger and hatred alternate inevitably with cynicism and with sentimental pity; it does not make an attractive pattern. Just because men went mad “hating the Hun” twenty-five years ago, they wept a few years later over the poor Germans, who were expected to pay a small portion of the damage they had wilfully and wantonly done, and who were not given enough Poles to maltreat. A judicial settlement, without anger, without hatred, will have to be far more drastic than the lame peace of Versailles, and far more rigorously applied. But it will not rankle as Versailles did, if the condemned have to acknowledge that the trial was fair, that the same principles were applied to friend and foe; if the guilty states, the guilty ideologies, and the guilty leaders are utterly destroyed, but the deluded masses not saddled with eternal shame.


But by far the greatest mainstay of our morale is a clear and clean purpose. Machiavellism is the most insidious of our enemies. If diplomats should indulge again in the “masterly” Talleyrand game of intrigue, there would be no prospect for mankind, but eternal counterplotting, shady “deals,” double-crossing, and renewed war. This warning was uttered by Mr. Sumner Welles with admirable definite-ness in his speech before the New York Herald-Tribune Forum of Current Events:

This time there must be no compromise between justice and injustice; no yielding to expediency: no swerving from, the great human rights and liberties established by the Atlantic Charter itself.

These solemn words should be forever present in the mind of the men who guide our destinies.


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