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Peace and Action

ISSUE:  Spring 1939

When There Is No Peace. By Hamilton Fish Armstrong. New York: The Macmillan Company. $1.75. Men Must Act. By Lewis Mumford. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. $1.50.

Sooner or later the remaining democracies, as well as countries still not completely totalitarian, will be forced to make a decision whether their retreat before the dictatorial powers shall continue to the point of complete extinction of anything resembling popular government in Europe, with the consequent domination of a major part of the world by governments recognizing neither law nor any moral consideration, or whether a stand is finally to be made in defense of a civilized way of life with everything that resistance may imply. This problem is again posed by two small but extremely important publications, both of them meriting close study by all who realize that 1938 was a fateful year in the development—or is it decline?—of modern civilization. They are “When There Is No Peace,” by Hamilton Fish Armstrong, and “Men Must Act,” by Lewis Mumford.

Pending future revelations, Mr. Armstrong’s careful and dispassionate array of material will be an indispensable handbook for all who desire to be informed concerning a war which was lost without a battle and which resulted in the abandonment of a faithful ally with an efficient army and strategic fortifications and positions of immense value. Indeed, adequately to review Mr. Armstrong’s contribution would be to paraphrase his findings, and so one must be content in saying that not a single essential fact has escaped the author’s examination.

The strength of the book lies in the very fact that Mr. Armstrong refrains from moralizing and passing judgments. Yet there is left with the reader an abiding conviction that what led to Munich was the lack of a clear-cut policy on the part of the Western Powers; a lack of decisive, firm, and farsighted leadership, an absence of an understanding of the Powers’ own interest, and even downright ignorance.

Mr. Armstrong points out that “it is fair to Prime Minister Chamberlain to note that many of his Conservative supporters, including, probably, members of his own Cabinet, felt more community of interest with Fascism than Communism and also instinctively preferred Germany to France.” There is validity in this observation and it explains, too, why Czecho-Slovakia was suspect in the Tory minds because of its alliance with Soviet Russia, conditioned though that was on French action, and because of the influence of Leftist elements in the government, although these elements were far removed from Communism. The ignorance of course lies in the fact that the Tory mind has completely failed to grasp that the rights of private property are circumscribed only to a smaller degree under Fascism than they are in Soviet Russia.

There is actually confession of ignorance in the statement appearing in Mr. Chamberlain’s broadcast on the eve of Munich: “How horribly fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.” Considering that this is an utterance of the ranking statesman of an empire over which the sun never sets, this is hard to surpass as an exhibition of sheer parochialism and it gives point to Mr. Lloyd George’s gibe that Neville Chamberlain was “a good mayor of Birmingham in a lean year.” And, of course, as Mr. Armstrong points out, the Prime Minister seemed to be blissfully unaware of the fact that even from the British point of view, he was not dealing with a frontier dispute five hundred miles distant but “with the problem of German expansion and possible German hegemony on the continent.”

From the point of view of statesmanship it is a question whether proof of ignorance does not constitute a worse indictment than evidence of downright betrayal. And yet, formidable as Mr. Armstrong’s array of facts is, the writer finds in his work, and all others of a similar nature, an omission which is quite striking to one familiar with Czechoslovak official policy for the past decade, criticism of which, since Munich, has been very vocal in Czecho-Slovakia.

Could dismemberment have been avoided had the policy of Mr. Benes been less doctrinaire, relying less on the alleged democracies? While Mr. Benes was in power hardly any criticism of his policy was possible, owing to a rigid censorship, to a law protecting the president against all critics, and to his own methods of dealing with any opposition. But now many works have appeared which bitterly attack Dr. Benes from the Czech point of view and serious charges are being made with the probability of a parliamentary investigation, if not of impeachment. It is obvious that a complete picture of the Munich drama cannot be presented without an objective investigation of what is now being said of Dr. Benes in his own country. Not all this can be attributed to the pressure of Berlin, because those now speaking claim to have warned years ago. An examination of the Czech sources now made available is in order. It would be a grateful task for Mr. Armstrong, with his patience and ability to organize his material, to undertake this labor.

The nature of Mr. Mumford’s “Men Must Act” is indicated by its very title, and largely under the influence of Munich, it is a pamphlet in the classical style; an eloquently written call to arms to all who would save Western civilization. For almost twenty years it has been the fashion among liberals and pacifists to blame all ills of the post-War world on the Paris treaties. It is refreshing finally to read the work of a liberal who has the courage and clarity of thought to say that, “to make their tacit alliance with Fascism easier, the absolute pacifists have, until recently, adopted an optimistic attitude toward Fascism itself. They have treated Fascism as if it were entirely a product of the villainous political and economic conditions introduced by the Treaty of Versailles. This is a partial, and therefore, essentially false, interpretation of both the doctrine and the ritualism in which it has flourished.”

Sincere liberals would do well to ponder Mr. Mumford’s insistence that “one of the reasons that liberalism has been so incapable of working energetically for good ends is that it is incapable of resisting evil: in its priggish fear of committing an unfair moral judgment it habitually places itself on the side of the successful. This moral queasiness has been one of liberalism’s effective contributions to Fascism’s victories. Out of the spinelessness of liberalism, the backbone of Fascism has been created.”

Therefore, democracy must act—men must act! How? Mr. Mumf ord does not believe that action necessarily means war in the sense of a clash of armies, navies, and armadas in the air. He believes there are many methods short of all this which would be calculated to bring to book arrogant Fuhrers. These measures can be epitomized in one word: non-intercourse. Non-intercourse, not only political and diplomatic, but also commercial and economic. It is evident Mr. Mumford does not shrink from the ultimate possible consequences of complete disassociation from the totalitarian powers, and if we are to have any kind of affirmative action one must go along with Mr. Mumford.

Mr. Mumford’s position can be supported on grounds he does not touch upon. Admission to the society of nations has always been based on the presumption that the state seeking admission has reached a certain degree of civilization. If that state has reverted to a tribal stage, are not civilized countries justified in disassociating themselves from it? This would appear to be not only morally justified, but also a logical corollary of an elementary doctrine of what we used to consider to be international law. It has been a long time since there has come from the pen of a liberal a volume as stimulating as Lewis Mumford’s.


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