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France, Germany, America

ISSUE:  Winter 1934

For the last thirteen years, our foreign policy (for, willy-nilly, we have a foreign policy) has been guided by our distrust of France. Whatever may be the issue —League of Nations, security, disarmament, treaty revision, moratorium, reparations, debts, tariff, currency—we invariably find France as the leader of our opponents. Our first article of faith is that the French are infallible in perversity. Most of our statesmen and journalists, conservative or liberal, red, yellow, or motley, from Idaho or from Oklahoma, would heartily endorse the order I received in 1918 from my commanding officer: “See what those damned Frogs are doing, and tell them not to.”

The possession of a scapegoat is a source of unspeakable comfort. But it has its drawbacks. Whilst it confirms our sense of righteousness, it is apt to blur the lucidity of our thinking. As a matter of fact, I doubt whether it is possible to think sanely in terms of national psychologies. We ought to be aware that Messrs. W. R. Hearst, N. M. Butler, O. G. Villard, Hiram Johnson, Frank Simonds, and Will Rogers do not stand for exactly the same thing, or see eye to eye on every question. Yet we speak of “the French” as though Messrs. Poincare, Clemenceau, Briand, Charles Maurras, Herriot, Daladier, Tardieu, Louis Marin, and Leon Blum were strictly interchangeable. I have long given up any attempt to understand “France” or “America.” On either side of the Atlantic, men are divided in their counsels, changeable in their moods, and usually muddle-headed: for they are men. There is no “French” truth and no “American” truth. In the market of the spirit, it is not our duty to buy American. There are French and American delusions; there are, in the technical sense of the term, French and American aberrations. The truest instrument, the soundest organ, the keenest mind, have their aberrations: these have to be isolated, analyzed, measured, in order to be properly discounted. When pure aberration meets pure aberration, each backed to the full by national stubbornness, the result is chaos.

What we call “national opinions” in France and in America are sets of fixed ideas, which prevent sane men from thinking sanely: for ideas should be neither fixed nor loose, but flexible and organic. In the case of France, the fixed idea is the sacrosanct character of the Versailles settlement. In the case of America, it is the dogma of our absolute independence, our lofty isolation, our horror of foreign entanglements. Neither of the two countries has lived up to the letter of the creed it professes: life is seldom quite so foolish as logic can be. France has already, and on vital points, accepted a thorough revision of the Versailles treaty—whilst proclaiming it the law of the Medes and Persians. America has every one of her fingers in some European pie: debts, investments, land armaments, Central European reconstruction—whilst maintaining that Europe simply does not exist in her eyes. If this were the time for the ludicrous, we might enjoy the farcical humour of the situation. But it is obvious that no intelligent progress can be expected in international affairs until France and America have blasted away these obstacles to thought.

These two delusions are correlated. France is faced with a definite and tragic peril: the spirit of revenge in Germany. It is easy to scoff at such a peril as imaginary, because, every six months, Germany’s inspired Fiihrer professes the most unimpeachable devotion to peace. In the interval, he and his lieutenants lash to fury the will-to-power of the German people, and seek to restore, as fanatical as it ever was under the Kaiser, the Odinic worship of the sword. In fairness to the Nazis, we must admit that they are likely to be candid ninety-nine per cent of the time: when they talk war, they mean war. France would consider that very real peril with greater equanimity, if America were pledged, pledged publicly, irrevocably, without equivocation, without reservations, to the defence of international justice. It is our refusal to give such a pledge that makes European peace so precarious.

On the other hand, it is the very precariousness of European peace that justifies our abstention. If all European problems were wisely settled, or even if the way to a fair settlement were clear, isolation would still have its fanatical advocates in this country; but our pacifists, our liberals, and, in overwhelming numbers, our honest Christians, our sensible business men, would agree with the French plea for general security. After all, we are not committed to “insecurity” as a world ideal. But these modern and generous men, who ought to be the friends of France, are afraid of being dragged into an inextricable tangle. They would do their best for the preservation of peace, if they believed it was indeed peace. They will not, in any way, commit themselves to the defence of an order which offers no inner guarantee of stability. If a European settlement never means anything more than a shift from one hegemony to another, we shall take no hand in the crazy game. (We can afford to be virtuous in this respect: our own hegemony in the Western world is not seriously challenged.)


Such is the difficulty. It is my earnest belief that the French, like ourselves, like decent people throughout the world, stand for peace, the only peace that deserves the name, a peace not of force but of justice. But American opinion is uncertain, and must be reassured. The best way to understand the French is to understand ourselves. Fixed ideas are fortresses of thought that soon turn into jails: we must come out into the open. What are the causes of our distrust? If we could state them unequivocally, perhaps they would receive an unequivocal answer.

First of all, America will never support a régime which perpetuates war in the form of any legal disparity between victor and conquered. The treaty of Versalles was an “unequal treaty”; vitiated not because it was harsh, but because it was not freely discussed. On this point, the Germans—Jew as well as Gentile, Communist as well as Nazi, pacifist as well as bellicist—are all of one mind: we did not need the plebiscite of November 12th to be assured of the fact. And we are today unanimously on the German side. Today: in 1918, Pershing was more implacable than Foch, and our stern old Romans at home were all for unconditional surrender. We may have been as bad as the French, or worse: at any rate, we have learnt. “Peace without victory”: Wilson’s phrase was unfortunate because it was ambiguous. But, in the deeper sense, it was and it remains profoundly right. Everything that reposes on victory alone, on the Vae Victis! as the sword of Brennus cast into the scale, on the Diktat, as the Germans put it, must go, and leave not a trace.

This does not mean that every single clause in the Versailles Treaty should be erased. Only fanatics will maintain that Versailles is irremediably bad. Like Gilbert Murray, I condemned it at the tie, and never anticipated that I should have to plead in its defence. Many of the terms were in accord with the Fourteen Points accepted in advance by both parties; others have remained a dead letter; and most of the rest of have been modified or are in process of modification. The chief objection to the Versailles Treaty is a moral one, and it might be removed by granting Germany a moral satisfaction.

This, I believe, could be d one by formally expunging the Guilt Clause. In a free conference, and with proper qualifications, such a clause might have been signed by the Germans in 1919. After all, the war guilt of the Hohenzollern Empire was the sole justification for the (late) German Republic. If the Imperial Regime was not guilty, then the Revolutionists, on November 9th, stabbed the Fatherland in the back. It is too late now for such an admission. The Germans hate, not so much the thing itself, as the rankling memory that they were first trapped into one-sided confession, then starved and bullied into submission. Many of them are now eager to start a new war, in order to clear themselves from the reproach that they started the last one.

The abrogation of the Guilt Clause was long resisted, as likely to upset the reparations settlement. But reparations were never meant to be punitive: they were, purely and simply, damages assessed for destruction actually done. And now the slate has been wiped clean (with a few smudges) j at Lausanne. At present, refusing to eliminate this offen- j sive article is not policy, but simply a case of international bad manners.

In the final peace, which must be substituted for the tragically protracted armistice of Versailles, there will be no place for any one-sided protection or guarantee. Locarno, with its scrupulously mutual provisions, has set the right example. And the Disarmament Conference, which will be a success as soon as we are ready to do our part, has admitted in principle Germany’s right to equal consideration. j

The second point which our French friends should keep in mind is that America will never support a system that requires special alliances for its defence. For us, the old doctrine of an equilibrium founded on a permanent alignment of nations into rival camps has been the chief cause of general wars. On this point also, I may safely say that we are unanimous. World citizen or isolationist, Pro-German or Francophile, there is no one among us who is not opposed to foreign entanglements. This cardinal principle does not preclude agreements which are definite in their scope, free from any taint of secrecy, and open on equal terms to every one.

This conviction of ours creates in many minds a natural, if not a legitimate, suspicion against France. France is the head of a coalition: so far, although Italy and England may have their special friends, they are not committed to them through any formal alliance. I know what may be said in defence of the French policy. France and her allies have no desire to form an exclusive league. They are united in the service of the treaties and the Covenant, that is to say of the law as it stands. Let England, Germany, Italy, America, join with them in the simple task of keeping their word, and the need for a Little Entente or a Franco-Polish understanding will disappear. It is only because nations attach a Pickwickian sense to the Kellogg Pact that other forms of protection have to be sought. In theory, the French are right. But the fact remains for all eyes to see: France has a clientele of protected nations. In our minds, rightly or wrongly, every system of alliances means a system of injustice. America will never feel herself free to pledge her aid to the principles France is defending, if France is bound, by special agreements, to support Poland or Yugoslavia.

Let there be no misunderstanding. We do not mean that France should abandon, for the sake of our capricious friendship, the causes that she deems to be just; that she should allow Italy to crush Yugoslavia (because Italy, forsooth, is a great nation, and such has always been the prerogative of great nations); or that she should placidly watch Germany mutilate Poland for the fourth time. But France must defend these causes only because they are just, only in so far as they are manifestly just. France must not say, as Germany did in 1914: “My ally, right or wrong.”

All this means: “Back to Wilson I” It means that even the harshest terms of the treaties must stand, if they are in agreement with the principles proclaimed by America, endorsed by the Allies, freely accepted by the Germans themselves. It means also that the terms which are in contradiction with the Wilsonian programme must be frankly abandoned. France can not be asked to countenance injustice in favour of Germany, on the Bismarckian plea that Germany is strong and must have her way. But we can not be asked to countenance any injustice to the detriment of Germany, simply because it suits the interest of France and her friends.


Let us translate these general propositions into concrete terms. I do not believe that a wholesale shifting of frontiers is the best means of securing justice and peace. But, on two points at least, Danzig and Austria, a new settlment could be easily arrived at, without any sacrifice of principle, loyalty, or interest.

America often confuses, under the name of Polish Corridor, the two zones of contention, Danzig and Pomorze. They are contiguous, but different. The Polish strip that reaches to the Baltic may seem absurd on the map, but it happens to be a reality. The land is Polish, through its history, through its language, through the interests, and, it seems, through the political preferences, of its inhabitants. For such a view, pre-war German authorities are not lacking, and Senator Borah may have them for the asking. But Danzig is a purely German city. The present compromise between history, economics, and self-determination was ingenious and seemed wise. Materially, it is workable; morally, it is a constant source of offence. Obviously, it is Danzig’s interest to remain united with Poland: but no self-respecting people ever placed material considerations foremost. You need not tell the Filipinos that it would be good business for them to become Americans, or the Irish that they should not, if they have any regard for their pocketbooks, cut loose from Great Britain: chains of gold snap with surprising ease. The indisputable right of the Poles to be Polish, even in the Corridor, does not imply any abridgment of Danzig’s right to be German. Let Danzig unite, politically, with the Reich, if it so desires. Economically, the Free City needs Poland far more than Poland needs Danzig.

Poland possesses, and must retain, a guarantee, a weapon, a second outlet, Gdynia: Danzig has no hinterland but the Vistula basin. Their pride and loyalty once satisfied, the Danzig people are too shrewd to quarrel with their natural customers. This has already come to pass to some extent: the Nazi regime in the Free City is more willing to come to a sensible arrangement with Poland than the previous welter of feeble snarling parties.

The absolute veto of the French to the Anschluss of Austria seems to us unaccountable obstinacy. The French are haunted by history: but are they reading history aright? Sixty-six years ago, Rouher, in the French Chamber, swore that “Never!” would the Italians be allowed to enter Rome. “Never” is a treacherous word: three years later, Victor Emanuel II was in his capital, and Rouher’s Emperor a prisoner. “Realistic” historians are still upbraiding Napoleon III for not preventing in time the unification of Germany, which led to the humiliation of France. But it was not German unity that forced the French to Sedan: it was their own gratuitous attempt to thwart it. Similarly, the Anschluss will be a danger for France only in so far as France chooses to make it so.

No doubt England formally vetoed a Franco-Belgian union in 1830: she could no longer do so today, if the two countries still desired to unite. No doubt it was Bismarck himself who drove Austria from the German fold: but are the French such Bismarck-worshippers that they should make themselves the belated instruments of his policy? France refuses to have 6,700,000 added to the numbers of a potential enemy. But the dreaded Anschluss would not give Germany a single additional soldier: if the Austrians were at heart with the Germans, and if war were to break out again, what would prevent the Austrian contingent from immediately joining the German army, Anschluss or no Anschluss, just as, in 1870, the Bavarians united at once with the Prussians? The Anschluss might have been avoided if a Danubian Confederation had been created in time—and the time was 1918. Again, it is too late. Just at present, Hitler is serving the French cause almost too well: Austria very naturally refuses to be absorbed by the ruthlessly centralized and fanatical Germany of the Nazis. Even so, the Dollfuss regime is a paradox and a desperate gamble. Certain it is, at any rate, that the problem can not be disposed of by a mere veto from Rome or from Paris. France gives a phantom-like existence to the Austrian corpse by repeated injections of gold: efforts and money are equally wasted. Seventy million Germans, all satisfied, would be far safer neighbours than sixty-three million Germans plus seven million Austrians, all smarting under a sense of humiliation. And the bicephalous Empire, Berlin and Vienna, with the Catholic element strengthened, would be far less threatening than a Prussianized Germany of the Bismarckian pattern.

More tangled, I confess, is the colonial issue. For the French, it should be a minor one. They did not go to war for the sake of a small share in the German spoils. The mandated territories are free-trade areas; they add nothing to the power and very little to the wealth of the nations that control them. It is a manifest injustice that Germany should be without overseas dominions, whilst England, France, Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, and the South American Republics possess more land than they can actually develop.

But a return, pure and simple, of the former German colonies would be neither the easiest solution, nor the best. Italy has served notice that, in case of a new deal, she does not mean to be ignored; and her claims are just, as such claims go. If Italy is to have her share, because of her teeming population, why not Poland, the fastest growing of the larger European countries, with a yearly surplus of births equal to those of Italy or Germany? And why not Japan?

As in Europe, so in Africa: not to shift boundaries, but to minimize and almost to abolish them, would be fairer to all. Not redistribution, but the largest measure of internationalization. The whole of intertropical Africa should be opened to all the powers. From the Sahara to the Zambezi, whatever may be the political flag, let the three principles of mandated government prevail: administration of the country in the interests of the natives; absolute equality of economic opportunity; absolute equality of all Europeans before the law. Such a regime already obtains over the greater part of that immense area: the Conventional Basin of the Congo. Concessions to Germany in the colonial field have been advocated by M. Joseph Caillaux for a quarter of a century; the idea has received the support, before an international audience, of M. Sarraut himself, one of the leaders of Greater France. No foolish pride, no vengeful desire to keep the Germans in their humble place, must interfere with justice, and with the permanent interests of Europe and Africa.


“What! Has France not already granted to Germany: a permanent seat in the Council of the League; the evacuation of the Rhineland years ahead of the appointed time; the end of reparations; and, in principle, equal rights in the matter of armaments?” All this is true: I wish our own record for the last twelve years were as substantial. Yet France, except for a brief period under Briand, has never reaped the moral benefit of her generosity. Why? Because, on every occasion, her concessions seemed to be wrenched from her weakness, rather than freely and cheerfully consented to, out of a sense of fair play. And tomorrow may have the same disappointing experience in store. On all the points I have mentioned, I believe the French will ultimately yield. If they do so too late, after much sullen haggling, they will not win back our admiration and our respect.

It is hard for them, no doubt, to show themselves more lenient towards Hitler’s Third Empire than they were towards the bewildered and well-meaning Republic of the Weimar days. Hard as it is, it must be done. International blundering alone has made Hitler possible: we can not refuse to cure the disease, simply because its virulent symptoms have become apparent.

The plebiscite of November 12th has, at any rate, made the international situation clearer. Whatever we may think of Hitler the man, of his political philosophy, of his programme, of his methods, it can not be doubted that, in his demand for equality, he is the spokesman of a united Ger-many. We cannot force him out of power by promising j the Germans better terms if they get rid of him: they would spurn the offer. Small blame to them: unfortunately, such promises have almost invariably proved deceptive. France gave up Delcasse, because he was objectionable to Germany: the sole result was to make Germany more dictatorial. Germany overthrew William II in order to secure a more favourable peace: but the Allies did not relent in the least. It is not for the outside world to eliminate Hitler, but for the Germans themselves, if and when they grow dissatisfied with his leadership. One thing only we can do for the defeated German Republicans: we can deprive Hitler of his strongest claim to popular support. He is at present the incarnation of a national grievance: remove the grievance, and much of his power and prestige will disappear.

We have to deal with Hitler, then. Morally, it is painful; materially, it is dangerous. It is humiliating to yield to a bully, even when the bully is right. It may seem ludicrous to call disarmed Germany a bully: but, although her fist is no longer “mailed,” she can still bang it on the council table with all the old bravado. It is humiliating, and it is hardly safe. Hitler’s Germany will hail every concession as a symptom of fear, and resent every restriction as an unfriendly challenge. It is evident that Germany in her present mood would not be satisfied with a moderate revision of the Versailles Treaty on Wilsonian lines: she wants the full restoration of the 1914 Reich. As she was—in her own eyes —neither wrong, nor fairly defeated, any other settlement she would regard as robbery. And with the restoration of the 1914 Reich would come a full restoration of the 1914 spirit. We shall have to face again the dreams of Pan-Germanism, European hegemony, Weltherrschaft. The one hope of the world is in reasonableness; and it would be a poor prospect for sweetness and light, if more power were given to the author of “Mein Kampf.”

The best guarantee of world peace today lies in the petit bourgeois level-hea,dedness of the French people. Whatever may be their limitations, the extremely moderate Radicals who have steered France’s foreign policy for the last nine years are exactly the reverse of romanticists, fanatics, and gamblers. They are the steady and lackluster representatives of a nation far less sentimental and far less imaginative than her temperamental Eastern neighbour. But even the peasant-like patience of the French might snap in the end. A coalition ministry including Messrs. Poincare, Tardieu, and even Marin, would still be tolerably safe and sane. But under a ministry of the Right, a ministry with “the proper spirit,” determined to brook no offence to national dignity, peace would be at the mercy of the slightest incident.

Such is our tragic dilemma. The world shall not know peace, so long as Germany is tortured by a sense of intolerable wrong. But, for Nazi Germany, her right consists in inflicting wrongs upon the lesser tribes. To keep Germany in fetters is unreasonable, and ultimately impossible; to let loose an unbalanced fanatic would be criminal folly.

Frankly, I do not see any solution on the European plane. At present, the French system of alliances alone is preserving a semblance of peace: but such a peace is only frustrated war. No relief is to be expected from Mussolini, for he also is a fanatic of sacro egoismo, and a Machiavellian to boot. No relief is to be expected from England, so divided in her counsels as to be paralyzed for constructive action. The fate of peace lies in American hands.

It might be argued that today’s confusion is the result of our “great refusal.” A very frail and imperfect Wilsonian world might have gathered strength if we had consented to help. This collaboration was denied, not by the American people, but by a handful of politicians and journalists playing upon popular ignorance and prejudice. We may or may not join the League some time: but we are not in the League today, and the problem is immediate.

The League, however, is not the sole avenue to international action. What is needed today is American mediation: and mediation was successfully offered by Theodore Roosevelt in 1905. We are in the Disarmament Conference; it is out of that Conference that the present crisis arose; and out of it also a saner world may be evolved. All that is needed is energetic and disinterested leadership, which we alone can provide. If we are satisfied to remain mere observers, the chances of permanent reconciliation are very faint.

The three issues, Revision, Disarmament, Security, are linked. Moderate revision, by removing the worst causes of conflict, would make disarmament more practicable; controlled disarmament—and controlled it must be, if it is to be effective—implies a world organization and offers guarantees of security. A correction of the Versailles Treaty strictly according to Wilsonian principles would take away from France and her friends nothing of their genuine power and prestige; it would give Germany those material and moral satisfactions needed to remove the burning resentment of defeat.

All that is needed is that we should dare to take the initiative, and dare to commit ourselves to our own principles. We have given the “Myself first and last!” policy a thorough trial. It does not pay very well. We were happier, on both sides of the Atlantic, when France and ourselves were agreed; when Wilson was our spokesman, and when Paris hailed him as no sovereign had been hailed before.


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