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Big Four

ISSUE:  Autumn 1943

Four men are guiding four great nations, with their supporting allies, to victory in this war, just as four leaders finally headed up a coalition of four participating great Powers in World War I. If there is any difference, these four personalities today are more important and collectively exert more influence than the Big Four of the victory and the peace in the last war.

Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek combine more vigor, “drive,” and popular appeal than did Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and Orlando. Their age in life, average or maximum, is less, but their total public experience is greater, particularly their participation in actual warfare and battle acquaintance. On the whole, they have more factual information, as well as vision and perspective. They have certainly witnessed more changes in the ways of society and in the role of government in society. They know the world, all kinds of people, and each other better than did the former Big Four. They have recognized each other’s leadership more clearly. They can speak realistically and directly for more continents and more races of men.

The present Big Four confront Hitler, an arch-enemy leader, who has more mass appeal, though less world acquaintance, than had Kaiser Wilhelm II, who personified the enemy for the former Big Four. These are the days of great machines and great human leaders, of masters of phrases, men, and machines. The observation applies to democracies as well as to dictatorships.

Roosevelt and Churchill are successors, respectively, to Wilson and Lloyd George, as representatives of Powers with general interests in all regions and on all fronts. Stalin, the Russian, replaces Clemenceau, the Frenchman, as inspiring champion of the most invaded European belligerent, which is carrying on great fighting and is greatly concerned over retaking territory, securing reparation, and meting out punishment to guilty enemy leaders. France has replaced Russia as an unstable country, dismembered by Germany in war time. Stalin’s country, like Clemenceau’s country, has had a revolutionary clash between Church and State, with a healing of the breach and a resurgence of religion in Russia in war time, as was experienced by France, where Clemenceau broke precedent and went to victory mass. Chiang Kai-shek, of China, replaces Orlando, of Italy, and to his countrymen Japan is the Austrian Empire that must be destroyed. The other leaders might admit to him and to his country what Lloyd George said about Orlando and Italy, “We have not quite painted you in the picture yet.” For China is not quite in the picture yet. This incompleteness of picture had serious consequences before. Will it again?

It may not constitute gross violence to prophecy or to the timetable to visualize Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek together around a peace conference table, They would make up a picture quite different from that given of the Paris Big Four by John Maynard Keynes in his book, “The Economic Consequences of the Peace.” There would be no wearer of white gloves over oiled hands in the manner of Georges Clemenceau, the generally silent old “tiger.” Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin would exhale more tobacco smoke than any three of the other Four, Churchill would not shift position on big and little questions nearly so freely as did the opportunistic Lloyd George, Stalin would not be a victim of the past in his outlook as was Clemenceau. Chiang Kai-shek would be more continental, if not global, in his views than was Orlando. Rooseelt would not and could not moralize so abstractly and profusely, with overlooking of significant details, as did Wilson. He would not be alone, as was Wilson, in recognizing the call of the future. He might not be the most progressive of the group, nor the most conservative. The new Four would be much farther removed from nineteenth-century thinking than the old Four. Perhaps no member would contribute as many off-hand epigrams as Lloyd George put in the records of the Paris Conference. But there would be epigrams and wise-cracks.

The present Four, if meeting now, would not have to deal with and reckon with a non-member possessing the international reputation, influence, and power of obstruction with which Marshal Foch confronted the Big Four at Paris. There is no military leader today who could or would threaten to get out of bounds with Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek, as did Foch on more than one occasion with Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and Orlando. The new Four pack far more military acumen and sophistication in their make-up than the other Four, and would be less dependent in technical matters on “borrowed brains,” to use a Wilson phrase. Chiang Kai-shek could surely be his own generalissimo. Moreover, not a few of the world’s generals today have acquired political experience in dealing with different peoples and problems in ways never dreamed of by Foch. This is strikingly true, for instance, of Mac-Arthur, Wavell, or Eisenhower, not to mention the Russians.

The attending group in the entourage of the Four today would include Madame Chiang Kai-shek, interpreter of the East and the West to each other. Her role would be greater and more public than was that of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, who was the most important woman associated with the Big Four at Paris. She would be a constructive international influence rather than just a conspicuous private personage concerned with the internal goings on at the top of one delegation. Mrs. Roosevelt would also be quite different from Mrs. Wilson, would be more independently active on her own account, and would hardly be at home so closely as was her predecessor at a Paris residence on Place d’Etats Unis, Moreover, she would very likely never be charged with engineering a split between Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins in the manner in which Mrs. Wilson was considered an agent of discord between Wilson and Colonel House in 1919.

There would be language difficulties among the delegations as on the former occasion. But the four principals would not have to concern themselves with a demand that French, “the language of diplomacy,” be the exclusive official language of the treaty-making. Wilson’s Paris comment about other peoples and other languages coming into the field of diplomacy would be much more applicable to the conference today. There would be much concern, as formerly, over press relations, though probably no one would be sufficiently provoked, as was Lloyd George, to think of changing the conference city to avoid news leaks.

As in 1919, the Four and their supporting delegations would have to deal with the thorny problems of doubtful or questionable countries, governments, and groups. Empires do not break up without leaving scraps and pieces that defy precedent in the handling. France might take the place of the Russia of 1919 as a land of competing and conflicting groups, with the tables turned and with Russia being the insider and being most suspicious of certain outside French elements. The Polish Question could still be written in capital letters. Baltic and Balkan peoples would again furnish post-armistice friction. There would also be the question of the role and voice of small countries, in comparison with the great ones. But experienced handling might prevent the complaint, as at Paris, that the big Powers were running the conference, a complaint which Lloyd George answered with the comment that the big Powers ran the war.

World issues of inter-racial adjustments would loom with greater urgency than before. There would be more concern with non-European areas and peoples. China would supplant Japan as chief pleader for Oriental equality and would be more effective as a democratic participant with heavy sacrifices for victory. China could not, as was Japan in 1919, be appeased at the expense of China. Would India again be left to the discretion of the British and left largely outside? Turkey would be in a different role, not a conquered enemy for the carving. African issues would pivot on French and Italian regions more than on the German colonies that Wilson, General Smuts, and others wrestled over.

Again there would be labor issues and problems, and very likely demands for stronger steps than were taken at Paris by the Peace Conference committee of which Samuel Gom-pers was chairman. Again there might be opposition by professional diplomats, including Americans as before, to giving significant attention to labor matters. But trade unionism and labor movements are stronger in the Allied countries than at the end of World War I, though much weaker than before in the Axis nations. More clearly than before, it might be said that the world cleavage is between pro-labor and anti-labor combinations of Powers. Hence there would be no necessity for an inferiority concern on this score among the victors, as was true before.

In the whole realm of social progress and social trends the new Big Four could speak for countries in the forefront. They would have more reason than the other Four to give keen attention to working out livable economic adjustments with less reliance on mere nationalistic or territorial self-determination. There could be no frank American objection, as at Paris, to including discussion of the world’s raw material in the agenda. The Atlantic Charter is more pointed on that issue than were Wilson’s Fourteen Points.

The Big Four today would surpass the former Big Four in recognizing the importance and magnitude of administrative tasks and problems in regions of devastation, dislocation, and revolutionary friction. They would have to maintain more occupational forces on the job throughout the world and through a longer period of transition. They would be more able and more likely to strike a balance between deliberation and administration, between peace-making and rehabilitative action. They know the vital importance of food and food administration to the social order and the existence of nations. Rut their concern would extend beyond matters of food relief and the restoration or preservation of national sovereignties. They would have more down-to-earth social-mindedness in their delegations and less cause for Wilson’s pronouncement against lawyers writing the peace treaty. There would be more reason and opportunity for them to recognize that establishing or maintaining peace is a social process that far transcends the formulation of a paper document. As advisers to this Big Four, Harry Hopkins, Anthony Eden, and Molotov would be much more in sympathy with social trends than were Colonel House, Balfour, and Monsieur Fichon.

It would be interesting to speculate as to how far the American and British leaders, with or through their cohorts, would find themselves getting together on certain issues prior to common decision by all. Would such activities be greater or less than at Paris, where advance understandings were reached or sought by English-speaking leaders on several settlements, as in connection with the Free City of Danzig, Far Eastern issues, and League of Nation concepts?

At Paris Anglo-American statesmen had to bridge a gap between their outlook and ideas of Latin Europe. Next time it will be more important to extend the bridge from the Anglo-American world to Russo-Asiatic thinking. Would Roosevelt and Churchill manipulate this larger bridge more successfully than Wilson and Lloyd George managed the smaller one? Would they, for instance, let Anglo-Saxon ideas of “splendid isolation” prevent consideration of adjusting national sovereignty to the establishment of a genuinely international army or a general staff to enforce the peace and provide collective security? They would certainly realize that much legalistic logic has been washed over the dam since 1919, and that international law must yield to social forces. More consciously and universally could they subscribe to the Wilsonian dictum, “The forces of the world do not threaten. They operate.” They would very likely pay more attention to the demands of people than to handed-down concepts of international law in dealing with Adolph Hitler. They would not run into monarchical institutional traditions and difficulties in the case of Hitler, as was true of proposals at Paris for the trial of the Kaiser, with Belgium clearly declining the role of prosecutrix.

The role of “brain-trusters,” particularly in the American delegation, would be greater than at Paris, where Wilson set an American record in the use of professors. In fact, the Americans might again reflect a degree of jealousy or rivalry among the three groups: professional diplomats of the State Department, Army and Navy officers of the delegation, and lay specialists, including academic geographers, historians, and economists. The Frankfurter pupils might be important, though Justice Frankfurter himself might not be around as before. Several Wilson aides are available to Roosevelt, among them the geographer, Isaiah Bowman, president of Johns Hopkins University, and James T. Shot-well, historian of Columbia University and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Shotwell, who was a pre-natal intellectual doctor to the Briand-Kellogg Pact, has been directing an unofficial study of postwar problems. Bowman has recently been a visitor to the White House. The British might again bring along Professor John May-nard Keynes, who was a prophetic economist with the Lloyd George delegation. Premier Jan Christian Smuts, the grand old man of the Union of South Africa, could serve as a philosophical liaison between the conferences following the two World Wars. A significant addition to the new delegations will surely be the presence of many planning authorities, who will tend to cut through lines of division between the international community and domestic economies.

Wherever they might meet, the Big Four today would be constantly in touch with the whole world and less under the spell of the conference locale than were the peace-makers at Paris. To Wilson and his colleagues speech by radio was not available, but millions upon millions of the world’s peoples have heard Churchill, Roosevelt, and the other leaders of today. To the Paris conference there came only two over the ocean by air, and their Atlantic crossing involved the use of an island in a one-stop flight. No leader today would have to be absent from the conference for weeks, as was Wilson in the winter of 1919 for urgent business with Congress, The progress in radio and aviation will affect the new peacemaking as much as it has affected the new warfare. Reports to and from all big and little corners of the globe will register in effective ways not even envisaged at Paris. Incidentally, there is infinitely more knowledge of the wide world even in the hinterland hamlets than at the end of World War I, particularly in the mechanized regions. The Big Four would speak for more and to more than it was humanly or physically possible to reach in the days of Wilson. The next conference will have wider horizons.

The Four, meeting today for peace-making, would have a certain advantage as compared with the former Four in the general stability of their leadership. The Chinese leader and the Russian leader are more closely identified with the public life and governmental structure of their countries than were the French and Italian members of the Big Four at the end of the last war. Clemenceau’s premiership, which started in 1917, was nearing its end with the finish of the Peace Conference of 1919. Orlando’s government, which also dated from 1917, did not survive 1919. Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek, however, have been in power for some years and seemingly have many more years to go. Roosevelt’s tenure of the Presidency is now four years longer than was Wilson’s in 1919, and he has as much remaining time as had Wilson, without considering fourth-term speculations, Incidentally, he is physically able to keep up with all things, as Wilson was not. Churchill is about as far along as was Lloyd George, who became Prime Minister in 1916. India may be part of Churchill’s undoing, as was Ireland a contributing factor in Lloyd George’s fall in 1922.

Forms of isolation and circumscribed national interests would plague the Big Four peace-makers today as yesterday. Churchill, like Lloyd George, might have to leave the table to calm the Commons and answer an angry press. The Chicago Tribune would be hating and obstructing Roosevelt as it hated and obstructed Wilson. Chiang Kai-shek, like Orlando, might have trouble with radicalism on the left and reactionary flare-ups on the right, with both complaining over inadequate gains from the victory. Stalin, like Clemenceau, might have difficulty making the fruits of the peace match the victory of war in the eyes of his people, particularly in terms of national security against Germany.

Isolationism, though strong in America and elsewhere, would have much more argument and opinion against it than it faced in 1919 and 1920. The ghost of Woodrow Wilson is abroad in the land. The bitter fruits of isolation are more patent today than ever. There was no Republican Willkie or Stassen in Wilson’s time, and Wallace’s vision goes much farther beyond a good cheap cigar than did that of Vice-President Tom Marshall. Sympathetic discussion of international affairs is no longer limited to academic circles or to academic speakers trying to reach other circles. The American folk spirit is different and broader, though our folk ways are more nearly the same.

The Big Four would today go into a peace conference with much more open dramatics carried over from the war and with much less secret diplomacy than was the case in 1919. And the democratic world is more conscious than ever before of what is happening on the stage where its leaders are acting their parts. These roles take on greater significance as the chief Axis actors pass from the stage.


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