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A Golden Day-After-Tomorrow?

ISSUE:  Summer 1944

How New Will the Better World Be? By Carl L. Becker. Alfred A. Knopf. $2.50. Unfinished Business. By Stephen Bonsai. Doubleday, Doran ami Company. $3.00. Victory zvilhout Peace. By Roger Burlingame and Alden Stevens. Harcourt, Brace and Company. $2.75. Hour of Triumph. By George Fielding Eliot. Rcynal and Hitchcock. $2.50. What Is Our Destiny? By Norman Thomas. Doubleday, Doran and Company. $2.00.

“House had a long talk with Clemenceau today and they made me sit with them.” The day was April 30,1919, and the man who sat with the Tiger and the Texan was Colonel Stephen Bonsai. House trusted Bonsai; throughout the entire Versailles conference he had been chief interpreter for the President of the United States and for his closest advisor. Bonsai had functioned in many a conference in which no stenographic notes were made and, at the request of Wilson and House, had made a practice of writing up his daily notes in a journal. The present volume, “Unfinished Business,” is that journal which now for the first time is made available. But not without some hesitation on the part of the man who set it down so many years ago. According to Hugh Gibson, who writes an introduction, we are indebted among others to Arthur Krock for finally persuading his old newspaper friend to break silence with the plea that we are beginning to “repeat the mistakes that led to the tragedy of Versailles.” “It becomes daily more urgent,” continues Gibson, “that we learn to find a safer way amid the old pitfalls.” It is a good book, a welcome addition to the long shelf of first-hand accounts of the ill-fated Versailles meetings. It adds details here and there to a now well-known story, but its chief value lies in its swift portrayal of the discussions of yesterday at a time when council rooms are again busy considering many of the same questions that vexed Ver- j sailles. “Looking over my recent notes,” Bonsai noted in his journal in April, “I find them skimpy. . . . The most desperate struggles took place in the session of March 24th and in that of April 11th, and they were waged over the very contentious questions of (1) an international force j to put teeth into the League, (2) the Japanese demand for racial equality, (3) the prohibition of military preparations in days of tension and stress, when, at the same time, the problem is before the Council for its decision or ruling, and (4), above all the rest, the Monroe Doctrine reservation. . . . M. Bourgeois came back again and again to his original proposition. There must be a permanent international army encamped on the Rhine. . . . The permanent army was regarded in France as the cornerstone of the whole peace edifice.” Bourgeois, according to the Bonsai record, was deeply disappointed when France did not get , her international Rhineland army.

When the battle for the final draft was ended and the document was complete, Bonsai, communing with his journal, recalled one of Wilson’s most stirring speeches delivered before a joint session of the American Congress early j in December, 1917. “Statesmen,” said the President, “must by this time have learned that the opinion of the world is everywhere wide-awake and fully comprehends the issues involved. No representative of any self-governed nation will dare disregard it by attempting any such covenants of self- , ishness and compromise as were entered into at the Congress of Vienna. . . . The Congress that concludes this war will feel the full strength of the tides that run now in the hearts and consciences of free men. Its conclusions will run with those tides.” On April 30, Bonsai noted somewhat sadly in his journal: “Certainly he [Wilson] cannot believe that now. Certainly little Hymans does not feel that tide and certainly the subtle and slippery Scialoja, the backstage brains of the Italian delegation, does not. . . . Fresh from my contacts with the peacemakers, I am not optimistic.” This is Bonsai’s last note on the conference. His book ends with a chapter entitled “Blackout in Washington.”

Roger Burlingame has turned from his interest in the history of inventions to a narrative of the building and the rejection by America of that most ambitious of all political inventions, the League of Nations. With the aid of Alden Stevens he has presented the story of Versailles and the defeat of the Covenant in the United States Senate in the manner of “The March of Time,” “Victory without Peace” is an excellent summary of familiar material but is somewhat too consciously dramatic. In this busy world, if you must choose between Burlingame and Bonsai, read Bonsai.

M. Bourgeois, if he could return, would like George Fielding Eliot’s latest book, “Hour of Triumph.” It is an item in an increasing literature of discussion of the problems of the peace. “Let us first consider,” says our military pundit, “the measures necessary for the restraint of Germany [in the post-war world] . . . It seems advisable that there should be immediately and permanently at hand a small but thoroughly alert preventive force under the immediate direction and at the instant call of the United Nations’ Council, to deal with any violation of the disarmament restrictions which may be imposed on Germany. The ideal location of such a force is in the Schleswig-Holstein peninsula, where it could guard a neutralized Baltic Canal which should be freely open to the commerce of all nations, where it could keep watch over Germany’s principal contacts with the overseas world through the ports of Hamburg and Bremen, and where it could be within immediate striking distance of Berlin.” The paragraph describes one of the principal stones in Eliot’s proposed world police structure. The major advocates the development of a United Nations’ Council into a permanent world board of directors, so to speak, whose strength would be founded on a balance of power between the two “sea and air power empires of Britain and America” on the one hand and the great “land powers,” Russia and China, on the other. This Council would maintain the peace of the world by holding a defeated Japan and Germany in more or less permanent subordination through the use of a small and strategically placed world police which would supplement rather than replace the armed forces of the powers included in the United Nations’ Council. For Eliot, the Council and the alert world police will bring us to the verge of the millennium. It is as simple as that. No need to be troubled by the economic problems and the political questions that plague so many minds—at least our leading civilian major is not troubled by them. But he warns us that the Council and the police force are only a beginning, a first step. Yet if this step is taken, it will be toward a golden day-after-tomorrow. “Of course,” says Eliot as he swings into his peroration, “we must keep our ideals before us. Of course we must look forward to a future of better things, and closer bonds between man and man as between nation and nation. Of course we must try to see on that far horizon the dawn of that true brotherhood of man which shall forever mark the end of war, and which perhaps our great-grandchildren . . .” et cetera! It is fruitless to continue. The men of 1917 and 1918 saw, stretching beyond the military defeat of the enemy, the Utopia of universal brotherhood and of a lasting peace. Wilson, looking through a rose window into the future, stirred the Congress with his depiction of the moral tides running “in the hearts and consciences of free men.” The first World War became the “great crusade.” Because the idealism of 1917 and 1918 promised Utopia, idealism was defeated in the postwar years by the cynics who pointed out the postwar realities. Major Eliot’s quickie with its romantic utopianism and its faith in a piece of international political machinery supported by the military carries us back to a naive yesterday when most of us believed we were fighting the last great war of history.

An hour with Norman Thomas’s “What Is Our Destiny?” brings up memories of Thomas, the preacher, the lecturer, and the presidential candidate of the Socialist party. The book reads like a speech, a somewhat rambling speech, loosely put together with many digressions from the points under immediate discussion, but on the whole leaving the impression that the old warrior is still in fighting trim. It is an earnest book advocating a point of view, but it also at times suggests the pronunciamento of the leader who is at pains to make clear where he stands and why. There is an occasional trenchant and well-turned sentence such as the following: “It is a cause for despair to believe that the Allies have no other purpose than to hand over Hong Kong, Burma and Malaya, Indo-China, and the East Indies to the empires from which Japan took them.” In these words Thomas compresses his hatred of imperialism, past or future, and his abhorrence of power politics. “If we follow time-honored precedent,” he adds, “and if the wicked and stupid game of power politics is little altered by the peace, we, alone or as Britain’s mightier ally, shall become the world’s mightiest imperial power.” Side by side with effective reasoning are to be found lapses into the use of smear words in lieu of informed argument to make a point. “So far as the English-speaking powers are concerned,” says Thomas with a fine contempt, “the signs point to a drastic peace, under which Germans must look forward to a long spell of policing under English and American gauleiters.” Thomas affirms the belief that only the Nazis are responsible for that New Order which has expressed itself in the looting of Europe and the war of extermination against the Poles. He is fond of the Nazi word, “gauleiter,” and makes use of it several times. It is an interesting way of describing the activities of those civil affairs officers who attempt to establish governmental order, to maintain food supplies, and to care for the needs of displaced persons in communities disorganized by battle. But the reader, toward the end of the Thomas discourse, is thrown into some confusion by the remark that, during the early part of the transition period after the end of hostilities, “the victors will have to take over a considerable degree of government in a chaotic continent.” It seems fair to ask if this means that. Thomas advocates the use of gauleiters—and in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France? The matter of the gauleiters illustrates a tendency in the book toward confused and superficial thinking which depends heavily upon emotive and undefined words including, among others, “imperialism” and “power politics.”

But the book has merit. Unlike Eliot, Thomas thinks in terms of economics and proposes an eight-point program for the rebuilding of the world of tomorrow. This includes greater freedom of international trade and of population movements for purposes of immigration, international control of scarce raw materials, a world fiscal system, provision for a healthy flow of capital into regions which need industrial development, “higher minimum standards of wages for workers throughout the low-wage countries,” and “international agreements by which the air is at least as free as the sea in time of peace.” He opposes “a police force league of victors” and puts his hope in “a federation of co-operative commonwealths.” Few of the ideas are new and Thomas does not take the trouble to give them the analytical discussion which is needed to make them an effective contribution to our current inquiry into the problems of tomorrow. The best part of the book is its brief consideration of the question of civil liberties in war-time America.

“Can we abolish power politics and end imperialism?” Carl Becker, writing in the quiet of his study above Cayuga Lake, makes this question the title of one of the chapters of “How New Will the Better World Be?” “For good or evil,” he continues, “words often have a great influence in their own right, apart from the things they represent. . . . During recent years the terms ‘power politics’ and ‘imperialism’ have come to be more than terms of reproach; they have come to denote something wholly evil. The reason is that we identify them with the philosophy and practice of Hitler and the rulers of Japan. We are all convinced, and rightly so, that the kind of power politics which they practice and approve is wholly evil, and the kind of imperial dominion which they aim to achieve is no less evil. . . . It is chiefly for this reason that many people find it possible to think and say that after the war is over ‘power politics must be abandoned,’ and ‘imperialism must end’. . . .”

Over the entrance to the library of the University of Col-orado is written the sentence: “He who never escapes from his own generation remains always a child.” Becker with courage and with keen analysis brings the perspective of a lifetime devoted to historical scholarship to an attempt to construct a picture of the international world that will emerge upon the defeat of Germany and Japan. Here is the panorama he sees. It will be a world of nations in which the sentiment of nationalism is strengthened; it will be a world of empires in which the old efforts to deal with the problems and responsibilities of empire will go forward, perhaps with less bungling and irresponsibility than in the past; it will be a world in which power—political and military— will center in three, perhaps ultimately four, great nations; it will be a world governed by power politics, for the essence of all politics, domestic and international, is the struggle for and the expression of power. The fate of tomorrow will rest with China, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States, and will depend upon the ability of these powers to live and work together to bring some sort of order out of the present tragic chaos. The destiny of tomorrow does not hang upon some invented league or federation; it depends rather upon the success of the efforts by the powers working together under the necessary leadership of the three greatest powers to solve the worldwide economic problems which are the root of international wars. “These many countries must, then,” says Becker, “be associated in some form of union, however loose and flexible it may be. It would, however, I think, be a mistake to begin by blueprinting the union, defining beforehand the precise obligations of its members. It would be better to begin with an attempt to act together for solving a few immediate and pressing and concrete problems, and let the union take whatever form may be found best suited for dealing with these other problems as they arise.”

Becker proposes a pragmatic inching forward into the new world and he argues cogently that no other way is possible. But pragmatic inching forward was the method of Adolf Hitler in building up the “New Order” in Europe. The weakness of pragmatism as a philosophy lies in its failure to set forth standards of value by which action can he judged. Becker, student of ideas, is aware of this defect in any pragmatic program. In his final chapter, in which he deals with the possibilities of an international economic order, he proposes a few simple economic standards. Then, in the last pages of his book, he suggests a broader ideal. “Making a new and better world after the war will be what it always has been, a slow and dearly earned conquest of some additional and better-secured freedoms—the very freedoms which for countless generations men have longed for and with immense effort have in part won.” With all its eloquence this pronouncement remains vague and of little value in an age whose cruelty and savagery so powerfully reinforce that ancient belief of Augustine and Calvin in the inherent corruption of human nature and in which philosophies of cynicism and of force are still widespread. Those who agree with Becker’s reasoning—and the present reviewer is one—cannot afford to stop where he does. Freedom, undefined, is not enough. It is essential in this dark and terrifying age, to ponder critically and thoroughly what values at all levels, not merely economic, must be established in our lives and in those of our children if we are to enrich freedom with humane living. We must advance beyond pragmatism and bring to the task of ameliorating our times a criticized idealism. Becker’s book omits the concluding chapter toward which his thought, both in its generous implications and in its constructive reasoning, moves.


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