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The Rough Road to Peace

ISSUE:  Autumn 1940

The Quest for Peace, By William E. Rappard. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. $4.00. Why Europe Fights. By Walter Millis. New York: William Morrow and Company. $2.50. A Federation for Western Europe. By W. Ivor Jennings. New York: The Macmillan Company. $2.50.

The whistle and crash of Nazi air bombs provide appropriate sound effects for the current flood of books dealing with the second World War and its causes. But until the day when the air is once more calm, the objective analysis of causes, the appraisal of immediate dangers, and above all, the planning of a viable Lebensraum for all peoples offer pitfalls which no current writer has escaped. Events too often invalidate conclusions before they emerge into print; the premises are almost equally vulnerable.

Nevertheless, the reader who seeks enlightenment beyond that afforded by newspaper editorial comment must look to the broader pictures provided by the writer whose field embraces at least the sequence from 1918 to 1940. William E. Rappard furnishes such a panorama in “The Quest for Peace,” setting his camera and floodlights to throw into high relief the efforts, the small successes, and the catastrophic final failure to achieve a lasting world peace. Walter Millis, in “Why Europe Fights,” uses reverse lighting to throw his entire emphasis on the martial side of this train of events. Read together, these books present a painfully accurate summary of the weaknesses which laid open the victors, the neutrals, and the succession states of 1918 to the cold-blooded ferocity of the Nazi Blitzkrieg. Both, however, are concerned with the past and with a present which gallops too fast, except that Professor Rappard offers a cursory consideration of future prospects in his closing pages. In striking contrast, W. Ivor Jennings’s “A Federation for Western Europe” boldly draws the lines of a “democratic federation of Western Europe.” Apparently he ignores the record of Nazi military successes and the logical expectations as to the future of a Europe dominated by Berlin. He makes no effort to persuade; his is the work of an international lawyer, or rather that of an architect planning a structure which will house all humanity in safety and comfort, omitting therefrom the steel-barred doors and windows characteristic of the dictator’s enclosure.

Professor Rappard’s “The Quest for Peace” is definitely the most important contribution to the literature of the period. It is at once a document for the scholar, the student, and the casual reader. There is even a recapitulation for those whose mental diet is limited to headlines and digests. With peace as his keynote, he provides three definitions: first, the peace resulting from military victory; second, the more far-reaching conditions resulting from lasting superiority of the victor over the defeated; last, the peace imposed on all by the common will of all, supported by force sufficient for its maintenance. How the war aims of the belligerents in the first World War used these definitions as the rungs of a ladder, climbing up or down with each turn in their fortunes, until the moment when the weight of defeat catapulted Germany through even the last, is one of the best analytical bits offered by the author. The scene then moves to Versailles, where the British-generated thesis of a league of nations finally won acceptance because of Woodrow Wilson’s insistence. The author has this to say as to the injustices committed in the name of self-determination: It should never he forgotten that they [the treaties] are infinitely more just, not only than those which Germany imposed on her neighbors to the east and had in store for her neighbors to the west if she had been victorious, but also than the treaties which they superseded. If we compare the Europe of 1020 with that of 1914, we must recognize that the changes which took place in the interval were almost without exception inspired by the doctrine of self-determination. . . . Although all statistics in this matter vary strangely according to the bias of the compiling authorities . . . of the tens of millions of Europeans whose nationality was changed as a result of the war, not more than a quarter were subjected to a new rule which they resented as alien. And of this quarter a great many were already discontented with their lot before 1914.

The reasons for the failure of the efforts to establish lasting peace, then, are not to be found in the “injustices” of the treaties. Instead, the author discovers them in the blunting of the three principal weapons for its insurance: arbitration, collective security, and disarmament. America’s reversion to her traditional isolation is cited for a full share of responsibility. The failure of the League to function as a policeman, after it had established full ground for action in its capacity as judge, brought the final collapse. The early successes of the League in settling such disputes as the Aaland Islands controversy “because there was a will to peace although the ways had yet to be discovered” is sharply contrasted with the dismal failure of the half-hearted efforts to curb Italian aggression against Ethiopia in 1935, “because the will of one of the contestants was for war and not for peace.”

Professor Rappard believes that disarmament was foredoomed—even before the first serious effort to launch the program. The threatened collapse of the other two weapons of peace, arbitration and collective security, Germany’s open violations of the disarmament clauses of the Versailles Treaty, and the Japanese seizure of Manchuria were merely indicators of the fact that the tide of peace was ebbing rapidly. The author has a strong word of defense for the “intransigeance” of France, insistent throughout on a safe minimum of security before scrapping her defense machinery. He might properly have added that all other major proposals, those of Great Britain, the United States, and even Litvinov’s scheme of complete disarmament, ensured its proponent a degree of security no whit less than that demanded by France. Closing with a glance into the future he poses four hypotheses for the establishment of lasting peace between separate political units: (1) autarchy and complete isolation; (2) free fraternal cooperation; (3) subjection to the supreme rule of a single state; (4) voluntary acceptance of a common law with corresponding sacrifice of independence. The discussion of these hypotheses goes just far enough to rouse the desire for more. Still, the future is the author’s concern only in so far as his clean-cut analysis of past errors points its warnings for the leaders of today and tomorrow. Espousing his fourth hypothesis as a road to human advancement, expressing the hope that the federal principle, successful in the United States and Switzerland, may find proper application to this gravest of all problems in human history, he leaves a final word of warning: “. . . the present plight of Europe is due less to the excessive ambitions of the men of 1919 than to the excessive debility of their successors.” It is a fitting epitaph for every national tombstone raised since August 1919—save that of Finland.

Walter Millis writes for the general reader, making, as he remarks, “no contribution to history.” The principal value of “Why Europe Fights” is for the average American who takes his foreign affairs from the news summaries and the rotogravure sections. Using a minimum of words the author compresses into a long evening’s reading the whole tangled web of politics and events which have spanned the two decades since the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Clarity, simplicity of language, and incisiveness of expression mark his exposition. This may not be history in the full sense; it is nevertheless excellent historical style.

Since 1934 the peace of Europe has been marked “made in Germany.” This book explains why: how the world depression rendered abortive the efforts of such statesmen as Briand, Briining, and Stresemann; how a hopeless German people turned to Hitler, partly of their own free will, partly because of well engineered coercion. Reassured as to their leadership by the successes it achieved, they were ready to be forged into a weapon which was to overwhelm six nations in ten months. And, unlike Professor Rappard, who perforce is limited to the grist which came to Geneva’s mill, Mr. Millis takes the reader to the immediate scene of each major event on the road to catastrophe. Thus the reader is introduced to the shabby diplomacy which ensured the abandonment of Ethiopia, the quaverings in Europe’s capitals at the growing strength of both Stalin and Hitler, and the war between all Europe’s Right and Left extremists in Spain.

Necessarily Mr. Millis’s treatment and his conclusions as well will invite disagreement. Striving for balanced unemotional appraisal, he is often too slow to place blame where it belongs. The selfish nationalistic interests which repeatedly drove the victors of 1918 into situations little short of hostility, the American policy of unlimited loans to Europe combined with a prohibitive tariff, the disintegration of France in the internecine war between extremists of the Right and Left until at last the Popular Front in its brief day of power hamstrung the French defense program at a crucial hour— these were developments which paved the road for the inevitable Nazi advance. Nor should England’s industrial torpor in the business of rearmament be dismissed so lightly. Lastly, few will accept the conclusion that Austria was the keystone of the European arch, and that its fall ensured the collapse of Western Europe. Whether the arch could still have been saved at Munich, whether perhaps it was wrecked when Sir John Simon refused to back the Stimson stand on the Manchurian issue, may be left to future historians.

Readers of Mr. Millis’s earlier “Road to War” will find a special interest in this latest survey of that road. It is not merely that he has turned to objective realism, abandoning the emotional sweep and clever cynicism of his initial effort, but rather that he has trained his sights on more important targets. Long a leader of the group which used its ammunition on the munitions makers and big business as the arch instigators of war, he discovers now his proper quarry. As a big game hunter he begins well.

Assuming that “The desirability of replacing international anarchy by international government is so generally recognized—that it needs no demonstration,” W. Ivor Jennings has attempted the worthwhile task of outlining a working system and thereby demonstrating the “feasibility of such a federation.” Rather than setting forth a system that is crystal clear in theory but utterly impracticable of accomplishment, this book is guided by a realization that many confusing compromises must be accepted if any scheme is to be acceptable.

Presupposing that the federation will be composed of democracies—France, Germany, Luxemburg, Belgium, Holland, the United Kingdom, Eire, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Iceland—and that the stage will be set by the defeat of Germany, the plan now bears the mark of wishful thinking. Likewise, one needs considerable faith to believe that a federation, with federal authority limited to clearly specified powers and with all other powers reserved to the states, will have a better fate than the American colonies under the Articles of Confederation. Nevertheless, the scheme presented is an ingenious combination of parliamentary government superimposed upon a structure very similar to that of the government of the United States. The necessary political machinery is provided by the following: a People’s House apportioned on a population basis and directly elected by the people of the federation; a States’ House, like our Senate except that the number allocated to each state varies from three to nine and the members are elected by the legislatures of the various states; a President elected by both houses in joint sessions; and a federal judiciary.

There are several problems admittedly difficult, the handling of which leaves something more to be desired. The proposal to maintain the British Commonwealth of Nations in its present form and yet to include the United Kingdom and the Dominions in the federation introduces many complexities. Likewise, the matter of colonies has been approached with such caution that the colonial commission and colonial administration lack substance. At best it seems a vain hope that colonies, while remaining as possessions of the individual states, could be so supervised by the federation that the result would be equivalent to internationalization. Admitting that “the causes of dissension do not begin only in extravagant nationalism” but also in “grave economic problems,” the author accurately diagnoses one of the major causes of past European friction. The remedy suggested is interstate free trade. The difficulty of attaining such a goal is recognized inasmuch as two alternatives are offered, one conferring on the federation comparatively narrow economic powers and the other providing for a real federal “economic power.” Dr. Jennings expresses preference for the latter, chiefly because it provides fewer opportunities for political friction, although a weightier argument could be based on purely economic grounds.

Dr. Jennings’s thesis marks a pronounced advance in at least some respects over various earlier proposals for the effective world organization of a “democratic way of living.” In place of the usual exhortation to that end, supplemented by a rough draft of a proposed constitution, he provides at least a working basis. It is in fact the implementation of Professor Rappard’s fourth hypothesis. When or whether the effort to translate such proposals into a definite entity can be made depends chiefly on the success or failure of the self-styled “master race” to achieve its military objectives.


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