An Intelligent American’s Guide to the Peace. Under the General Editorship of, and with an introduction by, Summer Welles. The Dryden Press. $3.75.
This book is perhaps less than a guide, for it contains a wealth of information which enables the reader to form his own judgment, and does not seek to influence that judgment. It is as objective as available sources permit. And that may be just another way of saying that for that very reason it is more than a guide.
The scope of the book is perhaps best illustrated by pointing out that we have here a picture of twenty-six European countries; of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations; of twenty-five countries of the Western Hemisphere; of eleven countries and political entities in the Far East; nine countries and political divisions in the Near East and the Mediterranean orbit; and ten countries and political divisions in Africa. Finally we have a terse but adequate description of two ventures in international organization, the League of Nations and the Universal Postal Union.
In each case we are given a description of the basic element of any state, the land, and the people; but then follows a summary of the historical development, a description of the racial and religious factors, with an outline of political and economic development, including the present political, and economic organization, with a brief statement of the problems confronting each country and, in most cases, the stakes each country has in peace.
All this may be summarized by saying that we have here the best reference work available today to anyone who wants to follow intelligently political, social, and economic developments in almost any part of the world.
In saying that the book is objective, it is not to be understood that it is the sort of pallid objectivity which hesitates to take a position. Even a well-informed American will find useful the chapter on the United States; but there still may be some who would be offended by the frank statement that “In 1921 the triumphant reactionary elements cut the ties of all international interests although they had no warrant from the electorate for this policy.” Perhaps a large number will consider as too harsh the characterization of Calvin Coolidge, “as abstemious, unimaginative, inhospitable, isolationist, exacting.” The New Deal is kindly treated and pictured as being “distinguished for one trait: it sought salvation not in precedent but in innovation.” It can not be gainsaid that the author is correct in saying that “the achievements of the New Deal on the whole survived.”
In fact, it might have been pointed out that in the 1944 campaign Governor Dewey on the whole accepted the major New Deal legislation and largely criticized only administrative methods; indeed, that in Los Angeles and San Francisco he promised an extension of some of the New Deal reforms.
It is, however, information on foreign countries that will prove most useful and timely to the average American. There has been much discussion lately of the Curzon Line, It is typical of the value of the volume that to find the required information all that one needs to do is to turn to the chapter on Poland.
Primarily a reference work, the publication necessarily has some limitations of the type. Again, all the information we have from some countries, so far, is governmental propaganda, and that does not always give a true picture of political conditions and of the role of individuals. Thus, the author of the chapter on Czechoslovakia gives the impression that the founding of the Republic was almost entirely due to the efforts of Messrs. Masaryk and Benes. The reason, of course, is that Czech official propaganda always concentrated upon creating this impression. An examination of the pre-1914 record of these men, and of the history of the movement for independence, during the war, does not bear out this thesis. The difficulty is, however, that the Czech records on this point are not available to most historians.
Even before Masaryk and Benes returned from abroad, in 1918 and 1919, the Czechoslovakian Republic was a going concern, due to the efforts of such men as Svehla and Rasin, the latter an exceptionally able Minister of Finance. Masaryk’s Slovak collaborator, General Stefanik, is not even mentioned. The part of Czech legions in Russia and Siberia is ignored. Masaryk came to Russia in 1917 after the legion organization had been established and Benes had never been in Russia prior to the postwar period. Yet, without these legions all political activity would have been in vain. The real declaration of independence came on October 29, 1918, in Prague.
It must be admitted that probably such details, as well as other phases of Czech history, cannot be described in a work such as this; but that does mean that a real objective history of Czechoslovakia, including the pre-Munich period, still remains to be written.
Also, such considerations are perhaps for the specialist, statesman, and historian. For the average intelligent American the volume has great value.