The news that the Germans had signed the terms of the Armistice in Marshal Foch's railway car in the forest of Compiègne reached Woodrow Wilson early on the morning of November 11, 1918. Reaching for a White House memorandum pad, the President penciled this commentary on the triumph of Allied arms:
The Armistice was signed this morning. Everything for which America fought has been accomplished. It will now be our fortunate duty to assist by example, by sober, friendly counsel, and by material aid in the establishment of just democracy throughout the world.
Wilson exhibited no jubilation. In the hour of victory his mood was one of responsibility, his thought didactic. Yet a creative satisfaction might well have mingled with his severer emotions, for essentially the Armistice was his own. The fresh force of America had clinched the decision, but the Germans, deserted by their allies and facing military disaster, had sued for peace on the basis of the Fourteen Points which Wilson, in his Moses-like capacity of lawgiver, had handed down unilaterally in a speech before Congress in the preceding January. Lloyd George and Clemenceau, consulted belatedly after the fact, had agreed — with reservations — and in France soldiers on both sides of the line ceased firing with the American President's name on their lips.
Whatever was to happen to the peace, the truce was Wilson's. Unhappily, no one in that cozy White House study in the blackness of a November morning could foresee that the peace too would merely be a truce, although lasting for two decades. The President had made the Armistice unmistakably p248 his through a great show of firmness. At times an implacable man, the schoolmaster-statesman had sought to bend the flexible will of Lloyd George and back down the "Tiger" of France by an immediate resort to the pressure of force. A word of dissent brought from him a threat to desert the concert that had accomplished victory. The Anglo-American sea‑power accord weighed nothing in the scale against submission to the President's formulary in toto. Wilson, in truth, had shown a disposition to spurn the Atlantic tie before the victory had been reduced to legal form at Compiègne, a fateful attitude to which we shall soon return.
The American war aims, said the presidential statement, had been accomplished. Now for the peace. What had been the American war aims — for what had America really fought? Few passages in American history have provoked such prolonged and bitter controversy. No misunderstanding has had such lasting effects. Did the Americans go to war for reasons vital to their country, to save their own skins? Or did they fight to "make the world safe for democracy?" Were American interests engaged, or only those of humanity?
Such questions troubled American relations with Europe, complicated the American approach to reconstruction, soured the country on the Allies, disillusioned the Allies with America. And because in 1918 war and peace aims were inexcusably scrambled, many Americans in 1941 have a blurred view of the second phase of the World War. "We fought once," they say, "to establish 'just democracy throughout the world' and 'to crush autocracy everywhere,' and look what happened! We destroyed Kaiserism and got Nazism. What will we get if we crush the Nazis?" This perplexity is understandable. America is paying now in the befuddlement of the national will for the lack of clear definition in 1918, a confusion for which Wilson, quite apart from the undoubted nobility of his vision, must bear the principal blame.
It seems clear from the evidence in the preceding chapter that primarily the United States fought not for the betterment of mankind but — to reduce the matter to its simplest terms — for command of the Atlantic. It fought in defense of p249 its own security, its well-being, its prestige, and its familiar Atlantic world. A powerful, far‑reaching enemy had brought the war to American shores, closing the Atlantic to our commerce, virtually blockading our Atlantic ports, and threatening to shatter American economy. That enemy seemed likewise about to conquer the eastern bastion of the Atlantic world — the British Isles.
This enemy happened to be a dynastic, militarized state, an "autocracy," as Americans lightly put it in 1918 before they came to know how profoundly evil an autocracy could be. The American war aim was the defeat of that enemy. We may now scarcely doubt that our aim would have been the same had the enemy been a republic or a constitutional monarchy. To that end America mobilized her man power, wealth, and productive capacity, sending 2,000,000 soldiers to fight in France.
While Americans fought, their President, not satisfied with the bare, objective, selfish reasons for the tremendous effort, evolved peace aims also. Amid the battle he announced the formularies for a new, democratic order which he hoped the expected victory would enable him to impose on the old, autocratic order. The idea that the United States was embarked upon an ideological crusade was, of course, an afterthought. The Germans were as autocratic in 1914 when they violated Belgium, as militaristic in 1915 when they sank the Lusitania, as in April, 1917, and, until the President replied with war to the renewed submarine campaign he had professed himself unable to distinguish between the belligerents as to their virtue. America went to war in 1917, to be brief about it, because then and not until then the Atlantic was threatened. The command of the Atlantic was America's safety line, just as with the British the fate of the Low Countries brought their vital interests into question. Unless the Americans were extraordinarily smug, therefore, they could scarcely maintain that their entrance into the war transformed the Allied struggle for survival into a moral crusade. It was the magic of Wilsonian verbiage that performed that deed.
p250 On the morning of November 11, 1918, the Atlantic System had been defended successfully. The time had arrived for the President to translate his words (which, incidentally, had been a propaganda weapon of value against the morale of a Germany being slowly reduced by the blockade and military pressure) into a bright new political edifice. In less than four weeks the President was on the liner George Washington bound for Paris as chief of the American commission to the peace conference. With him went the blueprints for a new order, a high sense of his historic mission, and contempt for the Old World "politicians" he was soon to encounter. The liner also carried two of his colleagues, Secretary of State Robert Lansing and the veteran diplomatist Henry White, as well as the commission's staff of experts — economists, geographers, historians, and lawyers. Colonel House and General Tasker H. Bliss, the other commissioners, were already in Paris. One day as the party neared France the President addressed the staff. Dr. Isaiah Bowman, the distinguished geographer, noted the gist of the presidential remarks: "that we would be the only disinterested people at the peace conference, and that the men whom we were about to deal with did not represent their own people."
That conclusion displayed a relaxed grip on reality. It was Wilson's own credentials, not those of the Europeans, which were open to doubt. Only a week before the Armistice the American people had administered what Lansing was to term a "popular rebuke to Mr. Wilson for the partisanship shown in his letter of October." Wilson had called for a Democratic Congress; both houses went Republican. In December Lloyd George won his "Hang the Kaiser" election by a staggering majority. In a test of Clemenceau's leadership two weeks after Wilson's arrival in France, the "Tiger" carried the Chamber of Deputies four to one, the issue turning on the full satisfaction of France's claims at the forthcoming conference. As long as the British and French Premiers stood for a punitive peace and huge reparations they represented their own people quite accurately. The Italian Premier Orlando likewise understood his people better than did Wilson, p251 as was disclosed by the President's appeal to them over Orlando's head in the Fiume matter. Overnight the Italians, who had so recently strewn flowers at Wilson's feet, rose up to execrate him for obstructing their dubious ambitions in the Adriatic. If any of the Big Four at Versailles misread the postwar mood of the plain people, it was Wilson and not his fellow peacemakers.
A stereotype has been widely imprinted on the American mind to the effect that Wilson fell among the thieves of old‑school diplomacy on the road to his new order. According to this image, the innocent prophet was robbed of his elevated aspiration for humanity while his assailants were smothering his principles. Wilson himself did not create this impression, which is more flattering to his purity of motive than his sagacity, and he repeatedly rejected such a construction on the speechmaking trip that brought his collapse. Nor do the facts about the League of Nations, the heart of the new order, bear it out. Lord Robert Cecil, General Jan Christian Smuts, the Prime Minister of South Africa, and Lord Phillimore, a noted international lawyer, carried drafts for a society of nations to Versailles; the Covenant reflected their thought also. There never was doubt of British support. In truth, the anti-League cabal in the Senate and anti-English writers generally failed to give Wilson due credit for launching the League of Nations, preferring, when it suited their purpose, to depict him as the victim of an English plot to foist a superstate on America.
The truth of the legends of Wilson's humiliation and frustration at Versailles has been sufficiently assessed by careful authorities and is not, moreover, a part of our narrative. But whatever his fate was at the peace conference, there can be little doubt that Wilson approached Europe with a minatory and forbidding mien. Winston Churchill, who was not sympathetic with the President, was to recall later that it seemed he came to Paris "to chasten the Allies and chastise the Germans."
Wilson's behavior in Paris and London was unbending. London's millions poured into the streets to honor him on p252 the day after Christmas. The demonstration failed, however, to warm the President into comradeship. A banquet followed at Buckingham Palace. Wilson spoke with "measured emphasis and cold tone," producing on the Prime Minister, as he related in his Memoirs of the Peace Conference, a "chill of disappointment." The President omitted what would have been a normally generous reference to the sacrifices and heroism of the British share in the recent joint enterprise; there was, Lloyd George noted, "no glow of friendship or of gladness at meeting men who had been partners . . . and had so narrowly escaped a common danger." Between that occasion and a subsequent speech in the Guildhall, Lloyd George had Lord Reading subtly suggest to the President that the British would appreciate a kindly reference to their war effort. Wilson withheld even that minimum acknowledgment of hospitality. His frigidity would have had little meaning had it been merely a lapse of graciousness. Its significance was far wider, affecting the relationship between the English-speaking Powers in a time pregnant with the future.
It may be that the President resented Lloyd George's refusal to accept Point Two (freedom of the seas) of the Fourteen Points before the Armistice, a conflict with which we are soon to deal in detail. It may be that both the President and the Prime Minister were mindful of an episode of the past spring, a difference that had not improved their cordiality. After the crushing German offensive in March, 1918, Lloyd George had asked Ambassador Page (according to a cloud of witnesses quoted by that industrious diarist Clarence W. Barron) if he might not get former President Taft and A. Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard University, to come to England for some speeches. The British had just suffered nearly 300,000 casualties, and Lloyd George no doubt truly felt that words of reassurance from these two influential Americans would bolster the home morale and create fresh hope of victory. When the Prime Minister's request reached the two American leaders, they went to the White House for what they expected to be perfunctory approval. p253 The President, who earlier had asked the British Embassy to send home some of the English lecturers abroad in this country, objected. He called to Taft's attention that there were several million Irish-Americans and German-Americans, loyal to this country but anti-English, adding: "I think we have already been too close to England, and I hope to see the relationship less close after the war." Taft and Lowell had no choice but to decline the English invitation.
In Europe now, preparing to set the world to rights, Wilson obviously still saw small value in the English-speaking bond. Indifferent to strategy and even geography, disdainful of nationalism, mistrusting England as he mistrusted Republicans, and accurately aware of self-interest in everyone but himself, the President seemingly knew little and cared less about the Atlantic System. In his History of the American People he had ignored this country's hemispheric status and relationship, making no attempt to interpret the strategical significance of the Monroe Doctrine or the body of thought from which it came. His preoccupations were verbal, not factual, with doctrines and not deeds, and at the moment his scope transcended the merely national or continental. Nothing short of a global reconstitution of international relationships would do.
The pre‑Armistice dispute between Lloyd George and Wilson over the freedom of the seas had fractured the Anglo-American sea‑power concert, which by intensifying the blockade and convoying the army and supplies to France was winning the First Battle of the Atlantic and helping to decide the issue in Flanders. Intent on a literal acceptance of the Fourteen Points, the President, through Colonel House, was in effect proposing that the British scrap their navy at the hour of its greatest triumph. More than ever before Britain, battered and exhausted on land, rejoiced in her mastery of the seas. Wilson, although aware of this, acted with characteristic single-mindedness in pursuit of his purpose, not hesitating p254 to employ severe language and threats against the great Sea Power with which America was linked more closely than at any moment since 1775.
At the time of their utterance the Fourteen Points represented a blueprint for the kind of world Wilson thought it desirable to work toward at the end of the war. They were a statement of Wilsonian peace aims and, to the considerable extent that the President may be said to speak for the country, of American peace aims. Such they remained until October, the endorsement of the Allied statesmen being neither sought for nor volunteered. It was only after Prince Max of Baden, Germany's Chancellor in the hour of disaster, appealed for peace on the promise of the Fourteen Points that the Allied Prime Ministers were asked to underwrite them.
Lloyd George and Clemenceau took the situation with fair grace, but elsewhere, both in America and in Europe, the predicament of the Prime Ministers aroused sympathy. It was felt that Wilson had shown a highhanded attitude. Some critics even suggested that he had been collaborating with the foe to present his Allies with an ultimatum. Taft, a loyal supporter of the American war effort, expressed this point of view in a letter to a friend, one strongly condemning the President for failing to consult the Allies before replying to Prince Max. He added: "He would never do that — that is just the kind of man he is. He recognizes no obligations of partnership or of decent courtesy. He thinks he is running the whole show himself. I do not know whether Lloyd George and Clemenceau now have the courage to tell him what is what, but if they do he will turn tail." It seemed to Taft that the Chancellor's "peace offensive was most ingenuously baited" to gratify the President's "vanity."
Wilson's exclusive negotiations with Prince Max can best be justified on the hypothesis that he believed the United States had a moral ascendancy over the Allies; that it had gone to war to rescue them from the results of their own misdeeds, and proposed now to set them straight with or without their consent. According to this hypothesis, the United States had fought for no material stake. This might be called p255 the crusade theory. To that construction Wilson and his co‑believers were to adhere more and more closely. The pretensions arising from this viewpoint account for the President's scorn for the Allied "politicians" and his refusal to extend the comradely hand. Although the crusade theory offended the Allies, they dissembled their annoyance. The authority of America was too overshadowing to be called into question. Harold Nicolson, who was with the British Foreign Office advisory staff in Paris, records in his book Peacemaking his impression that "the President possessed unlimited physical power to enforce his views. We were all, at that date, dependent upon America, not only for the sinews of war, but for the sinews of peace. Our food supplies, our finances, were entirely subservient to the dictates of Washington. The force of compulsion possessed by Woodrow Wilson . . . was overwhelming."
The weight of Wilson's authority had encountered Britain's determination to retain her sea power in the last week of October, 1918, when the Fourteen Points were officially laid before the Allied Premiers. Point Two at once became the stumbling-block. It read: "Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants." The seas were universally free in time of peace. In time of war international usage sanctioned the blockade, a maritime counterpart of the land siege. The blockade was a belligerent right, its rules changing with circumstances, as we have seen. As a weapon the blockade's usefulness devolved on command of the seas. It was one of the strongest weapons in Great Britain's armory, the weapon which had humbled Louis XIV, frustrated Napoleon, and was now reducing the Central Powers. To strip away the right of blockade "would virtually prohibit offensive use of British sea power altogether," as Harold and Margaret Sprout concluded in their book Toward a New Order of Sea Power, "and would largely nullify the advantages of England's incomparable p256 strategic position vis‑à‑vis the Continent of Europe."
That result was, of course, what Wilson and House, who was in Europe as Wilson's "personal representative" on the Supreme War Council, intended. The discussion over Allied acceptance of the Fourteen Points came to a head in Paris on October 28. At luncheon with Lord Reading and Sir William Wiseman that day House warned the British Government that unless it yielded on the freedom of the seas the British "would bring upon themselves the dislike of the world." The United States and the other countries, House was confident, would not tolerate England's "complete domination of the seas" any more than they had suffered Germany to dominate the land, and "the sooner the English recognize this conflict, the better it [will] be for them." The account of House's remarks to Reading and Wiseman are taken from the House diaries; his version is used for this whole episode.
House, Clemenceau, Baron Sonnino (the Italian Foreign Minister), Lloyd George, and Balfour met the next day at the Quai d'Orsay. Lloyd George was firm. He could not accept Point Two "under any conditions." To do so meant that the "power of blockade goes; [and] Germany has been broken almost as much by the blockade as by military methods. . . . This power has prevented Germany from getting rubber, cotton and food through Holland and the Scandinavian countries." The American suggested that England's blockade had alienated the United States in the early years of the war. A similar blockade might throw the United States into the arms of Britain's enemy the next time.
The British Prime Minister still balked, whereupon House casually observed that the President would have no option in case of Allied refusal to embrace the Fourteen Points but to call off his negotiations with Germany and seek his own arrangements. Did that, inquired Clemenceau, imply a separate peace? House agreed that it did. "My statement," House noted, "had a very exciting effect on those present." Well it might. The hostilities were still under way. America's withdrawal in force, or the intimation of such a move, would p257 have had unpredictable consequences. The Germans might even have been rallied for a stand on their own soil. Nevertheless, Lloyd George gave no ground, replying to House that "if the United States made a separate peace we would be sorry, but we could not give up the blockade . . . as far as the British public is concerned we will fight on." Clemenceau signified his agreement, complaining that he could not understand the "meaning of the doctrine . . . war would not be war if there was freedom of the seas."
Before the Supreme Council met on October 30 Wilson had armed his negotiator with an ultimatum by cable. It read: "It is my solemn duty to authorize you to say that I can't take part in the negotiation of a peace which does not include freedom of the seas, because we are pledged to fight not only Prussian militarism, but militarism everywhere." The President's threat conveyed in his closing sentence — "I hope I shall not be obliged to make this declaration public" — did not avail, however, with Lloyd George.
English navalism and Prussian militarism were to Wilson and House on the same footing, as the President's agent made clear to Lord Reading when he protested at a subsequent interview that the British were taking the "same attitude that Germany took in the spring of 1914 regarding her army." Although House pleaded that in his opinion the right of blockade was not to be extinguished, but only modified to insure the "immunity of private property at sea in time of war," the Britons had no doubt that Wilson's aim was enfeeblement of the British at sea as well as prostration of Germany on the land. It was in that sense, said Lloyd George, that the Germans understood Point Two, and Wilson was proposing to accord the enemy a truce on that understanding.
The negotiations hung fire. At House's suggestion Lloyd George prepared a memorandum in which he reserved "complete freedom" on Point Two at the peace conference. He also amended Wilson's conditions to strengthen the provision for reparations. Clemenceau made the Lloyd George draft his own. Thereupon Wilson sent further threatening cablegrams to House, proposing to lay Britain's position before p258 a Congress which he was sure would be unsympathetic with the thought that "American life and property shall be sacrificed for British naval control." To Wiseman, House ventured the opinion that "all hope of Anglo-Saxon unity would be at an end" and "there would be greater feeling against Great Britain at the end of the war than there had been since our Civil War" unless the Prime Minister receded.
Although House threatened now to eclipse the British Navy if the British held out, Lloyd George still refused to endorse the principle. In answer to talk of American naval building he observed only that "Great Britain would spend her last guinea to keep a navy superior to that of the United States or any other Power." In the end House had to be content with a simple declaration by the Prime Minister. "We are quite willing," Lloyd George said, "to discuss the freedom of the seas and its application."
In spite of this defeat, on November 5 House reported to the President "a great diplomatic victory," all the more remarkable in his opinion because accomplished "in the face of a hostile and influential junta in the United States and the thoroughly unsympathetic personnel constituting the Entente Governments." Despite Wilson's determination, the minimizing of sea power for which he contended dropped from sight on the road to the new order. Freedom of the seas was not discussed at the conference. Someone misleadingly told the President that under the League of Nations there would be no neutrals in future and hence no necessity for safeguarding neutral rights at sea.
In the heat of this conflict, the English Prime Minister might have been pardoned for wondering if the decline of German sea power meant the rise of a new and hostile force overseas. It was apparent that something had gone wrong with the prophecies of Jefferson, Chamberlain, Carnegie, Richard Olney, and Admiral Mahan. "Fighting once more in the same cause" had not tended to knit English-speaking affections, if Wilson and House were any measure.
We may only guess at the intellectual forces that spurred Wilson's fight for Point Two. In his cabled remonstrances p259 against the British position he called it "one of the essentially American terms" from which he could not "recede." The doctrine was not unfamiliar in the United States, for it was a shibboleth of foreign policy dating from the days of American weakness, but one which had been clothed with meaning only during the general wars produced by Napoleon and by the Germans under William II. In the 1860's and in 1898 the United States had not hesitated to close the seas to others, employing and extending the right of blockade. America fought in 1917 not for the freedom of the seas but to uphold command of the seas and, once in, she cheerfully enforced the blockade against the remaining neutrals. The matter was demonstrably one of expediency, not principle.
The President may have believed a radical change in the rules of war necessary to keep the peace, yet he proposed no alteration in the rules of land warfare. He may have honestly believed that the British Navy menaced the security of the world. Yet the British had not been aggressors in the war just ending, nor had they provoked Napoleon, and the century between had gone by under the name Pax Britannica without a general war. The arguments of Wilson and House tend to the conclusion that both wished England's sea dominion brought to an end. There is no indication that either weighed the reduction of British sea power in relation to the interests of America, with respect to either the strategical problems of this country or the protection of the security of the Atlantic world against the rise of future aggressors in Europe. Yet in 1823 a strong British fleet had been regarded as a buffer between the New World and Europe. In 1898 the British fleet stood between the Continental Powers and the United States. The Mahan school, dominating naval thought, had for twenty years predicated its defense calculations on the existence of a British fleet screening Europe, and America demonstrated in 1917 her strategical association with and reliance on the British navy. These lessons seem not to have been considered by the President.
p260 Freedom of the seas was a traditional doctrine, but the sea‑power collaboration of the United States and Great Britain likewise had the sanction of usage and history. Plainly, Wilson hoped in a general way to dispense with all power apart from his projected league. The attack on British sea power unfortunately affected the status and security of his own country as well. The United States, as Mahan had pointed out, was also an island, dependent on command of its seas for its security. No society of nations — short of the millennium — could relieve America of a certain concern with the question of who was to command the eastern Atlantic.
The sea‑power dispute at Paris merely ruffled Anglo-American relations. Soon they were to be genuinely vexed. Before sailing for the peace conference in the first week of December, in his annual message to Congress Wilson had given his blessing to naval expansion. Point was immediately added to this endorsement by a bill embodying the recommendations of the General Board for naval increases which if carried out would give the United States unquestioned supremacy on the seas — in strength afloat — within six or seven years. The bill called for twelve superdreadnoughts and sixteen battle cruisers. Under the current building naval act of 1916, ten dreadnoughts and six battle cruisers were within reach. The programs of 1916 and 1918 therefore envisaged a total of forty-four post-Jutland capital ships, embodying the lessons of that battle and far superior to any vessels then in commission.
Although England had emerged from the war in the "highest position" navally that "she has yet attained," as Churchill pointed out, the projected American fleet could have driven her from the seas. Not since Henry VIII had the British Navy so dwarfed Continental rivalry, yet at the Armistice the Admiralty listed only forty‑two first-line capital ships and these were of pre‑Jutland types. Germany's fleet was interned in Scapa Flow, soon it would be scuttled and out of the way, p261 and the Admiralty had settled back for a time of recuperation, of study, adaptation, and leisurely replacement.
The 1918 American naval bill shook the complacency of the Admiralty rudely. If authorized and built, these ships would transport the trident across the Atlantic, and Britain would be put to it to keep in sight of the Americans. House's purring pre‑Armistice threats, it seemed to the Ministry, had not been idle. Moreover the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, confirmed the intentions of the Administration in Washington. Before the House Naval Committee Daniels urged "incomparably the greatest navy in the world," assuring the committee that the President favored the 1918 program. In the London Times Daniels was quoted as defying England to head off American ascendancy at sea, promising that "the United States will lay two keels to every one that Britain does, or five to one if necessary."
British government and naval circles were amazed and shocked. They now understood the cold realities behind House's admonition in Paris that this country had the "money, men and natural resources" to outbuild the Royal Navy. Amid the startled reaction in London a comment made by Wilson was scarcely found reassuring. On December 21 the President stated for the Times of London that he considered it "essential to the future peace of the world that there should be the frankest possible coöperation, and the most generous understanding between two English-speaking democracies. . . . We fully understand the special international questions which arise from the fact of your peculiar position as an island empire." The President "understood," but, it was noted, he had failed to acknowledge England's "peculiar position."
The British, relating Wilson's advocacy of the greatest navy to House's blunt assertions, saw evidence of a power maneuver, a bit of strategy calculated to strengthen his trading position at Paris. This impression was confirmed by Daniels, who disclosed in the New York Times of December 31 a hint from the President that "nothing would so aid him in the Peace Conference as Congress's authorization of a big p262 navy." In February, 1919, a report was to be circulated in Europe and only inconclusively denied that the President had cabled the House Naval Committee that failure to pass the 1918 bill would be "fatal" to his program at Paris. The committee speedily adopted a favorable report in order to enable the President, in the language of the New York Sun, to "lay his cards on the table in respect to competitive armaments." To the Europeans, accustomed to the devices of power politics, Wilson's feinting — if it indeed was that — appeared both reasonable and realistic. It was, however, felt in informed quarters that the navy pressure was supererogatory, his moral and material influence being already sufficient to carry the day if intelligently applied. Here and there it was suggested that in resorting to "Yankee bluff" the President was stepping down from the pedestal, but the season of disillusionment, when a British journalist would remark that the prophet "spoke like Our Lord but behaved like Lord George," was not yet at hand.
Although the political delegates had shelved the naval issue, the naval staffs had not. Daniels's arrival awoke the slumbering antagonism of the sea dogs. Dropping punctilio, Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wester-Wemyss, First Sea Lord, stormed in upon the Secretary at his hotel, putting the case for Britain's continuing mastery of the seas with quarterdeck emphasis. He inquired with scant ceremony why the United States, with such limited responsibilities, desired the largest navy afloat. His opposite number, Admiral W. S. Benson, chief of the American naval delegation, matched the Sea Lord's tones at a later, more orderly conference, where he demanded parity for the American fleet. An evidence of the mutual mistrust between the services was a memorandum prepared by Benson for the President which set forth ominously that "every great commercial rival of the British empire has eventually found itself at war with Great Britain — and has been defeated."
Walter Long, First Lord of the Admiralty, took up the controversy with Daniels, falling back before the Secretary's firm demand for "equality of naval strength" between the English-speaking Powers. Daniels rested his claim on the ground of world peace. The Wilsonians soon would be justifying a great navy as a counterweight to the British in ensuring that the League of Nations would not be reliant solely on British sea power. But gradually out of the Anglo-American naval dispute would emerge not a reduction of armament on the sea, nor a change in the rules of warfare, but a vigorous, healthy American desire to have a fleet as big as the next fellow's — however rationalized. And while, to the English naval authorities at Paris parity with America was an evil almost as inconceivable as American supremacy, a decade later such parity would be accepted, as we shall observe, as the norm.
During the discussion, Long intimated (or so Daniels understood) p264 that American naval ambitions had chilled Lloyd George's zeal for the League of Nations. The Prime Minister was to deny this, adding nevertheless that the League would be a "mere piece of rhetoric if we continue to build dreadnoughts"; but in April he employed an aspect of the League as a weapon against American naval expansion. Wilson had returned home to sign bills at the close of Congress early in March. While there he felt the mettle of the opposition to the League. It seemed to him and his advisers that the omission in the Covenant of any reference to the Monroe Doctrine was the strongest club in the hands of the irreconcilables. Wilson returned to Paris determined to write into the League charter a recognition of that doctrine.
Lloyd George, the approval of the League by his Government having been too complete for a reversal even if he had such in mind, chose to take a stand against incorporation of the Monroe Doctrine. It was assumed that he did so for trading purposes, hoping to extract in exchange from Wilson a modification of the alarming American naval program. His avowed reason was that such an inclusion might exempt the United States from full responsibility under the Covenant, granting to that country a privileged position and opening the way to agitation for the recognition of other regional declarations. Lloyd George's colleagues, Balfour and Cecil, gave House to understand that they lacked sympathy with this viewpoint.
In his exhaustive and scholarly exposition of Wilson's course, Versailles Twenty Years After, Dr. Paul Birdsall of Williams College characterizes the Prime Minister's objection as an attempt to "levy blackmail." To Birdsall, expounding the theory so stanchly advanced by Ray Stannard Baker, the Wilson biographer, of the good prophet beset by wicked and wily men, Lloyd George was the "slippery Premier." To others it has appeared that the adroit Welshman was making a legitimate use of the Monroe Doctrine pawn against Wilson's big‑navy knight in a chess game involving national interest. Lloyd George wished to retain the trident and avoid a naval race. Wilson believed that the Monroe p265 Doctrine concession (it was nothing more to him) would assure the ratification of the Covenant by the English. To the Briton, a naval race might upset the peace of the world; the American believed that defeat of the League in America would be a universal calamity.
The chess game went to a draw. House and Cecil arranged the capitulations. Wilson agreed to recommend that Congress shelve the 1918 program. This represented no actual sacrifice, since Congress had shown an increasing reluctance to press on with naval expansion. Further, the President was willing to have his Government talk over future naval plans with the British. In return Lloyd George waived all objections to the Monroe Doctrine clause. The truce was embodied in an exchange of memoranda between Cecil and House on April 9, 1919. It was only twenty-nine years since Cecil's father had promised Victoria that England could "always catch them [the Americans] up" in naval competition.
The Paris truce was not made public at the time. When news of it reached America a month later, the Anglophobic press, led by Hearst, railed at the President for "selling out" to Lloyd George. In announcing withdrawal of the 1918 program Daniels optimistically declared that existence of the League of Nations made it unnecessary to "impose on the taxpayers of America" for more capital ships. This was late in May. The Treaty of Versailles would not be signed until June 28, but already signs were multiplying of dissatisfaction with the projected League Covenant, so Daniels coupled a warning with his assurance to the taxpayers. Unless we accepted the League we must continue building until we had "incomparably the biggest navy in the world." There was, he said, "no middle ground."
Thereafter Wilson used the threat of a huge navy and costly militarism as a club over the isolationists. Again, as with the Allies at Paris, the size of our navy became an instrument of high Wilsonian policy. Repeatedly Wilson and Daniels uttered the terms of the choice: the League of Nations or "great standing armies" and an "irresistible navy." p266 The form of political pressure exercised by the Administration encouraged big‑navy elements — such as shipbuilders and patriotic societies, as well as naval officers themselves — to provide reasons why America should outstrip the British at sea. The necessity also arose of identifying the potential perils and enemies, and again England became the traditional foe at a time when doughboys and Tommies were still guarding the bridgeheads of the Rhine.
By January, 1919, America was deep in the psychological embroilment that accompanies and aggravates a naval race. The aggressive tone used toward England in the United States evoked like expressions on the other side of the water. House noted with alarm that the "relations of the two countries are beginning to assume the same character as [those] of England and Germany before the war." England again became the football of American politics. The attack converged from two sides. While the Senate "battalion of death" excoriated the British for deluding Wilson into a plot to give the German Empire six votes in the League Assembly (the Dominions each had a voice) to our one, the big‑navy phalanx deployed from the right to swear that we must rule the waves or allow "Great Britain to be the bully of the world." In the Senate all the familiar changes were rung on the theme of "perfidious Albion." The British had "threatened our interests oftener and more seriously than all the other nations on earth." The United States had had "more wars and complications with England than with all the other nations . . . combined." While the "pride of England might be hurt by her slide into second place amongst the naval powers," she was advised that competition with America was hopeless. So went the debate.
As for the British, they were bewildered by the sudden American demand for superiority at sea. For twenty years Sir Edward Grey explained to a German diplomat that the English never reckoned on the American fleet as a hostile force, they had taken Anglo-American naval accord more or less for granted. It was assumed at the Admiralty that the two fleets would never be turned on each other. Moreover, p267 Britons acquired with the strategical aspects of the case could not understand how the United States would dispose the vast fleet contemplated by the General Board. It had no bases outside the continental United States except at Guantánamo and Hawaii. Its strategical responsibilities were not extensive. Of the great sea gates — those narrow passages where the trade routes of the world come together — America held but one, Panama. England had the North Sea and the English Channel, commanding the sea movements of Northern Europe, Gibraltar, Suez, and Singapore, as well as the southernmost capes, Good Hope and the Horn. Strictly speaking, the United States owned no life line; England's life lines ran for thousands of miles around the globe.
The only hypothesis upon which the British could understand American naval expansion was that of intended imperialism. Unless, they reasoned, the United States proposed embarking on a world-wide course of grabbing territories and the bases which alone make naval operations feasible in far waters, there was no point to its having the largest navy afloat.
As the discussion progressed in both countries, the wartime entente of the peoples began to disintegrate, the old antipathies to revive. Many Americans, taking their cue from the Anglophobic press and the cries of the Senate irreconcilables, came to suspect that they had been lured into war by the British for British ends. Contributing to such suspicion was the obscurantism which had jumbled American war motives with the Wilsonian peace objectives. The British, forgetting — if they ever actually knew — that America had gone to war for reasons strictly American, affected to regard the United States as a partner with equal liability to the cause; a tardy and reluctant partner who came late to the fray, tarrying on the way to grow enormously rich at the other partner's expense.
In each English-speaking country the immediate postwar reaction to the other was ugly. There should be no desire to crowd fresh blame on the memory of the peacemaking President, but it must be clear that Wilson's conduct produced a p268 major share of this ill will. He it was who most authoritatively propagated the crusade theory of the American war effort, misleading both Europe and America. It was his employment of the naval program for purposes of diplomacy and domestic political persuasion that aroused the fear and distrust of England and helped fan the coals of the persistent Anglophobia in the United States. That situation was instinct with irony. In pursuing the ends of international co‑operation the President called out at home the forces that traditionally seek to block such co‑operation, and between England and America he produced estrangement. In striving for a world order he impaired accord between the world's greatest Powers. One cannot escape the feeling that in these matters the President acted irresponsibly; that in reaching for the greater he threw away the less and in the end had nothing.
The broad outlines of that vast, praiseworthy, and doomed experiment in world power relationships, the League of Nations, are not pertinent to this study. Engrossed in the development of the Atlantic System, our attention is caught, however, by speculation on the fate of the League had Wilson organized it from the bottom up rather than from the top down. How would the League of Nations have fared in this country had it been built on the experience and power structure of the Atlantic System? Suppose the President, consulting American tradition, had treated the Monroe Doctrine as a cornerstone instead of accepting it as a mere amendment to the League Covenant? These questions, bearing directly on the power problems that will arise out of the war begun in 1939, have more than historic interest.
On June 28, 1919, when the commissioners of the victorious Powers and Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles, the states of Pan‑America and the British Commonwealth stood intact, uninvaded, politically stable, their peoples fed and secure. At the head of these groupings England and America were, moreover, unchallengeable if they chose to p269 act together upon the seas. Alone of the white Powers except for France, amid the fall of dynasties, revolutions, starvation, poverty, and national frustration they possessed political vigor and economic reserves.
Within the boundaries of the Atlantic System and the empire lay 40 per cent of the land area of the world, a third and more of its population, and considerably more than half its industrial productivity and available resources. Here, within one potential power bloc, was the gold of South Africa, Canada, and the United States; the oil of the Americas and the Middle East; the wheat and meat of Argentina, Australia, Canada, and the United States; coal, copper, cotton, rubber, tin, sugar, coffee, tea — all the materials needed or coveted by man in lavish abundance. Outside the Soviet Union there were no important surplus-producing areas not controllable from Washington, London, and New York.
A war‑shattered Europe, unable even in peace to feed itself and supply its workshops with raw materials, was more than ever dependent upon the outside world. The relationships of continental Europe with the world depended, in the final analysis, upon sea power, a vast instrument in the hands of the English-speaking Powers. No such aggregate of military weight and economic power had ever before been joined with the opportunity to create a peaceful, thriving order for the earth. Years after Versailles, Stanley Baldwin, addressing a meeting in Albert Hall, spoke of what might have been after 1919, having always, he said, "believed that the greatest security against war in any part of the world whatever would be the close collaboration of the British empire with the United States. The combined power of their navies, their potential man power, the immediate economic power of a uniform blockade and their refusal to trade or lend money would be a sanction no power on earth, however strong, dare face."
But that was in 1935. A rearming, infatuated, tribal Germany was placing herself outside Western civilization. The United States and Great Britain, earnestly desirous of "peace in our time," had missed the bus, and it was beginning to be p270 apparent that they might have to fight for peace once more.
In 1919 the resources summarized by Baldwin were at Wilson's disposal. No one else could have opposed him successfully had he chosen to reorganize his world on the solid basis of Anglo-American power, using the liberal principles he espoused but deferring to American tradition and reality by limiting responsibilities and sanctions regionally. Suppose he had organized a free society of nations, vanquished and victor alike, world-wide in legislative scope but "compartmentalized" along power lines already tested, a federal system with regional subdivisions; the continent of Europe charged with its metropolitan affairs; the Americas charged with their own; the English-speaking Powers united behind its general purposes and decisions?
Wilson had no lack of advice to that effect. Among the American voices offering formulas for White House consideration was that of Lansing, who as early as May, 1916, wrote of his concern over a possible collision between a world state and the Monroe Doctrine. It might, he thought, be wiser to establish "geographical zones . . . leaving to the groups of nations thus formed the enforcement of . . . disputes. I would not like to see European nations . . . cross the ocean [to] stop quarrels between two American republics. Such authority would be a serious menace to the Monroe Doctrine and a great menace to the Pan‑American doctrine."
Of all the counsel available to the framers of the League of Nations none was more temperate, informed and penetrating than that of Dwight W. Morrow. A partner in J. P. Morgan & Company, Morrow had served during the war on the Inter-Allied Maritime Commission. Later as Ambassador to Mexico he was to embody the "Good Neighbor policy" before it reached the dignity of a phrase. A pragmatist, a gradualist in political reform, Morrow never lost sight of the attainable. In the overwrought weeks of the peace conference, he published a book, A Society of Free States, which he hoped might be of guidance to those drafting the charter of the p271 League. His essay, first serialized in the New York Post, reviewed the long record of man's effort to substitute consent for force in the affairs of states.
Morrow knew that the Covenant as projected went beyond the "general desires" of the American people. He was aware of the strength of American attachment to the American system — the Atlantic System — and the profound dread of Americans of being entangled continuously with the complexus of Europe. He therefore proposed that the League of Nations, expressing its aims in world terms, proceed by intermediate stages. "The men and women of this country," he wrote, "would feel easier in having the United States accept the proposed covenant if it were known that military enforcement would be dealt with, in the first instance, in world compartments."
The Morrow arguments were addressed to the Senate as well as the peace commissioners. To Morrow the League, although it might contain glaring defects, was an essential "step towards coöperative organization." In an address at Columbia University in June, 1919, before the treaty was concluded, he suggested for a characteristic reason that "an interpretive declaration of what America understands the document to mean" should be attached to it by the Senate. "I think it vital," he explained, "that the people of the United States should understand their international obligations."1
That was not to be. A fateful feud between the White House and the Senate turned America back on herself. The Senate minority appealed to the cowardice, the selfishness, and the parochialism of the American people. Their place in history is not a proud one. But what shall be said of Wilson? They handed him back his treaty, revised and interpreted but still a treaty acceptable to Europe — and he refused it. "I shall consent to nothing," he said. "The Senate must take its own medicine." The body and the heart of the man were broken, but not his high, exigent spirit.
Because the men of 1919 — Wilson, Lloyd George, the Senate p272 irreconcilables, and all those Americans and Britons who had a hand in shaping the postwar world — failed to make intelligent use of the potentialities at hand, the men of 1940, Churchill and Roosevelt, had to mobilize the same forces for war once more. The tragedy of 1919 was to be fully revealed twenty years later.
Of the problems left unsolved at Paris two pressed for settlement in 1921 when Warren G. Harding succeeded Wilson in the Presidency, ushering in the brief reign of "normalcy." These were the Anglo-American sea rivalry, aggravated by the pseudo‑navalism of Wilson and Daniels, and the threatening status of Japan in East Asia. Japan was now the third Sea Power and so a party to any consideration of both problems. To England the naval question had first claim, whereas in the United States a re‑examination of the Far Eastern situation seemed equally desirable. The hopes of the English-speaking Powers were met by the Washington Conference on the Limitation of Armaments and Far Eastern Questions, which was convened on November 12, 1921, under the clear, objective, and decisive chairmanship of the Secretary of State, Charles Evans Hughes.
The impulses toward the conference came equally from both sides of the Atlantic. In both England and America the postwar depressions had exerted a chastening influence; both were fed up with war and thinking of economy. These currents were easily channeled into feeling against the cost of dreadnoughts. In America the eloquent, unstable, and determinedly provincial William E. Borah, leader of the Senate "battalion of death" against the Versailles Treaty, first officially articulated the wish for abandonment of the naval race by introducing in December, 1920, a resolution calling for a conference. Next, when Harding was inaugurated on March 4, 1921, he expressed willingness to take part in such a gathering. But Borah was merely abreast of a trend and Harding actually behind it.
p273 A strong movement, given point by the advocacy of Theodore Roosevelt, General Pershing, and General Bliss, was already at flood early in 1921. Roosevelt, referring to the British Navy as "probably the most potent instrumentality for peace in the world," declared in the New York Times that American needs required only a "second navy," and urged an understanding with Britain. Before the House Naval Committee Pershing called for a halt to naval competition before America was plunged "headlong down through destructive war to darkness and barbarism." The press generally agreed with the New York World that excessive navalism was a "crime." Such powerful agencies of mass persuasion as the American Federation of Labor, the Federal Council of Churches, and the League of Women Voters joined the agitation against naval expansion. General Bliss, also testifying before the House committee, specified a remedy, urging that a conference of the Sea Powers be held at Washington at the outset of which the United States Government should submit a "reasonable proposition tending to remove mutual fear." As we shall discover, Bliss's remedy was applied in detail.
The American campaign encouraged similar aspiration in England. Powerful individuals and groups called on the Ministry to seek an understanding with the United States. Added to the sentimental considerations, there was a practical motive weighing with the British Government. Although the 1918 program had been shelved, the British had no assurance that the United States, uninhibited by membership in the League of Nations or by any other international commitment, might not embark again on an aggressive policy aimed at mastery of the seas. The Ministry, hopeful of a shift in the American naval bent as a result of the change in administration, called the British Ambassador home in January, 1921, for a report on the prospects of a naval agreement. (In the fall of 1919 Sir Edward Grey, soon to be Viscount Grey, had been sent to Washington to sound the President, but he found Wilson too stricken and no one else empowered to converse with him.)
p274 In February, 1921, Colonel Arthur Hamilton Lee, now Lord Lee of Fareham, was made First Lord of the Admiralty and charged with the task of coming to terms with America. Lee, whose numerous ties with the United States included marriage to an American, wished the initiative to arise in America. British sensibilities were still raw from the pummeling given England in the senatorial debates on the League of Nations. Lord Lee's first step was to announce on March 16, at a dinner of the British Institute of Naval Architects, that he gladly responded to the "hint thrown out" in Harding's inaugural address. "If an invitation comes from Washington," he add, "I am prepared personally to take part in a business than which there can be nothing more pressing in the affairs of the world." No invitation came. The Administration had not yet fixed a naval policy.
Undiscouraged, Lee tried a more circuitous approach through a private citizen, Adolph S. Ochs, publisher of the New York Times, and a consistent advocate of good Anglo-American relations. Ochs, as was natural because of his position and frequent visits, had many friends in London. Amongst them were Lloyd George and Lee. While breakfasting with the Prime Minister at Number 10 Downing Street on April 22, 1921, the publisher was handed a note from Lee asking for an interview. When they met, Lee observed that it was a "crime against civilization and humanity for the United States and Great Britain to become [naval] rivals," and suggested that the publisher transmit his sentiments to the United States Government.
Lord Lee then startled Ochs by offering fleet parity, saying that the Ministry now agreed that command of the seas should be shared with America. This was news to the journalist Ochs, and hence stimulating. Lee went on to discuss a possible partnership on the seas, under which the United States Navy might be concentrated in the Pacific while the British took responsibility for the Atlantic. Ochs, delighted at the opportunity for an equitable settlement of a troublesome issue between the two countries, saw that his conversation p275 with Lee reached Edwin Denby, Secretary of the Navy, whence the matter went to Harding and Hughes.
Certain writers on Anglo-American relations, ignoring the state of mind in America at the time, have cited the Lee‑Ochs parley as evidence that here again the British Government was leading this country by the nose. The construction is naïve. For while Lee was proposing to Ochs a wide concession in order to gain naval peace, powerful pressure was being applied from many quarters in America toward the same end. Meanwhile Secretary Hughes was feeling his way to his own solution. A simple naval agreement with Britain was not enough, as he saw it. Japan had to be consulted about the future disposition of sea power. That led into the problem of Anglo-Japanese-American relations and the whole Far Eastern complex. Hughes determined to couple the problems, offering the British a naval conference in exchange for discussions on the Far East.
Japan was by no means eager for such a discussion. While the Allies and the United States were absorbed by the war in Europe, Japan had resumed her imperialistic march into China, appropriating Shantung from the Germans at the outbreak of the war and thereafter levying on China the notorious Twenty‑one Demands, the effect of which was to destroy Chinese sovereignty. The United States Government, pursuing the general interventionist policy inaugurated by John Hay, had not condoned either the occupation of Shantung or the Twenty‑one Demands. Adding to American distrust, the Japanese had manifested a pertinacious intention to absorb the Siberian maritime provinces during the civil strife that followed the Bolshevik Revolution. Wilson, induced to join the Allied expedition to Vladivostok, sought ways in which to checkmate the Japanese design and to preserve Russian sovereignty there. Hence the American and Japanese forces in Siberia worked most of the time at cross purposes. Moreover, as the price for their naval assistance in the Mediterranean the Nipponese had obtained from England and France their consent to picking up the p276 former German islands flanking the American sea road from Hawaii to the Philippines.
At the Paris Peace Conference the Allies honored their arguments, including one approving the acquisition of Shantung. The issue of Shantung was one of the most troublesome before the conference. China's claim for return of the German sphere seemed to the Americans and the British morally and legally clear. Yet Japan stood on her wartime engagements, including an understanding pried out of Peking; she was likewise strongly in possession. Wilson retreated at the last moment, justifying his surrender on the ground that otherwise the Japanese might refuse to enter the League of Nations. Ironically, Wilson's moral lapse over Shantung aroused indignant protest from the anti-League forces in the United States, his enemies using Shantung as a stick with which to beat his otherwise high purposes.
In 1921 the Far Eastern policies of the United States, following a broadly consistent course from Hay to Hughes, had again carried America into sharp collision with Japan. The fresh evidence of her aggressive designs on the mainland, her grabbing of strategic islands to the disadvantage of America, her growing navy, and a current flaring up of the perennial Japanese exclusion issue — these had mobilized American public opinion against Japan. As usual the American people, shrinking from political responsibilities in Europe, contemplated action in Asia with approval.
In 1921, indeed, a large section of the American public believed that Japan was the next enemy and though war with England still seemed inconceivable, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance suddenly appeared as an inimical instrument which made even war with England less remote. That alliance, which was up for renewal in 1921, became widely unpopular in the United States. It was clear to Americans that whereas England's mortal enemy Germany had been defeated with American help, the most dangerous potential enemy of the United States, Japan, had been strengthened by the war, and one of the elements in her strength was her alliance with the other great Sea Power. As Hughes put it, the prospect of a p277 renewal of that treaty "aroused no little uneasiness" in America.
Only Canada of the self-governing nations in the British Commonwealth shared the American aversion to the alliance. An influential section of English opinion saw it still as a safeguard to the immense British interests in the Far East and the Pacific. An allied Japan, it was argued, could be deflected from acquisitive glances in the direction of the Yangtse Valley, Hong Kong, and the Indian Empire, as well as being brought to overlook the Caucasian exclusiveness of the South Pacific Dominions. In the winter of 1921 the pro‑Japanese party in England arranged a glittering reception for Hirohito, the Japanese Prince Regent (in 1941 the Emperor) on his first visit abroad. At an Imperial Conference opening in London in June Lloyd George and the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand openly hoped for a renewal of the compact. Arthur Meighen, the Canadian Prime Minister, ranged himself more resolutely on the other side. Canada belonged to the American as well as the British political system; Canada's western provinces faced the same problem of Japanese immigration as the American Pacific States; and public opinion in the Dominion marched with that below the border relative to Japan.
The alliance was not allowed, however, to jeopardize American accord at London. In opening the conference Lloyd George affirmed it as the "cardinal policy" of the British Empire that America should not be alienated, and the Prime Minister gradually retreated before Meighen. Failing, because of Canadian and American opposition, in an attempt to broaden the alliance into a triplex agreement, Lloyd George finally surrendered and threw the alliance into the hopper of a prospective general conference. Harding called the conference on July 10, 1921, hurrying at the last in response to urgent cables from George Harvey, his Ambassador at London, who was fearful that Lloyd George, under parliamentary pressure, might act first and thus gain whatever prestige was involved in initiating the enterprise. Abandoned p278 by her ally, Japan had no option but to accept the call to Washington.
Hughes took command of the Washington Conference within an hour of its opening. Incisive, crisply impatient with dissent, the Secretary of State executed a diplomatic coup by definitively outlining a 5‑5‑3 ratio for the capital ships of the Naval Powers — England, the United States, and Japan. With him on the American delegation were Lodge and Root. Balfour and Lord Lee led the British delegation, Balfour, filled with gracious dubiety, being frustrated in his attempts to act as "honest broker" between America and Japan by Hughes's brittle forthrightness.
Out of the conference came Anglo-American capital-ship parity (a rough equality in other classes would result from subsequent naval conferences); the Four-Power Treaty underwriting the status quo in the Pacific itself; and the Nine-Power Pact calculated to ensure China's territorial integrity. The Four-Power Treaty replaced the Anglo-Japanese Alliance — unsatisfactory to both England and Japan. It was the best Hughes would grant. France was the fourth Power, invited in by Hughes presumably to widen the base and as an acknowledgment of France's position as a World Power. Aristide Briand represented the French at the outset in Washington. His delegation, which went to Washington convinced that the British and the Americans were verging on a rupture, remained to be sulkily persuaded that the whole affair bespoke an "Anglo-Saxon Alliance." In pique over that assumption, the French made common cause with the Japanese in the naval part of the parleys.
The assorted treaties went to Congress and the British Ministry in February, 1922. In his speech from the throne in that month George V rejoiced that "our relations with the United States enter a new and even closer phase of friendship." President Harding professed to view a breach in Anglo-American amity as "unthinkable." Ambassador Harvey thought that the greatest achievement of the conference p279 was the revelation of "the complete mutuality of interest . . . upon the face of the earth" of the two Powers.
Harvey was not alone in believing that American insistence and English acquiescence in naval parity betokened the beginning of a power partnership extending over the seven seas; the press of both countries overwhelmingly applauded the new comity. The London Times pronounced it a "great day for all time in the history of the world." To the Manchester Guardian the result had "drawn close the English-speaking peoples." In New York the Herald called the conference "much the greatest of all time." The Dallas News viewed the outcome as a "demonstration of Anglo-Saxon unity," and the Minneapolis Journal expressed gratification at the "scrapping of the outworn prejudices between the two great English-speaking nations."
The Senate isolationists, led by the xenophobic Borah and Hiram Johnson of California, who as usual echoed Hearst's extreme views, opposed the treaties as a matter of routine. Their efforts were centered on the Four-Power Treaty. But the new Administration had firm control of the upper house, and the treaties were all ratified. There were, moreover, signs that the American people had had enough of the senatorial hermits. Although a wave of antiforeignism was sweeping America along with an aggressive antiradical movement, the old indictments of Britain's iniquity failed to reach their mark. Into the Congressional Record went a signed Hearst editorial, imputing to England in language now hackneyed an "arrogant disposition to employ the United States as a useful tool for the furtherance of her own selfish purposes. England has . . . always succeeded in destroying every great power that rivalled her . . . first Spain, then Holland, then France, then Germany."
But the old poison had lost its venomous effect. Objective observers saw evidence at Washington that the center of power in the English-speaking world had already begun to shift across the Atlantic. To the English it seemed that the United States had asked and been granted much. For the first time in centuries Britannia ruled the waves not alone p280 but in partnership. Moreover, the British Empire had been required to exchange Japan, a reliable ally prepared to fight in support of the imperialistic structure in the Far East, for the unpredictable friendship of the United States in that quarter of the world. At Washington, Britain seemed not leading but led.
Into the Senate debate went a view sharply contrasted with that of Hearst. Borah, outraged, read on the floor a speech made by Paul D. Cravath, an eminent New York lawyer, before the New York chapter of the Council on Foreign Relations. It seemed to Cravath that an Anglo-American entente had succeeded the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. "Every member of the American delegation," said the indiscreet Cravath, had assured him that out of the "understanding" and "sympathy" exhibited at Washington had come a common assumption "that in all future emergencies they can both count on having the very closest coöperation." Cravath knew "definitely" that Balfour shared this opinion. Further, the technical advisers of both countries were positive that the British and American fleets would have no trouble in defeating Japan "in Japanese waters." The speaker was certain that "our naval position as against Japan had been improved rather than weakened."
As a result of a Senate outcry, Cravath telegraphed Lodge an unconvincing denial of the report as read. Hughes felt called upon to disclaim any secret understanding with the English. Root held his peace. Cravath, of course, had spoken advisedly. Anglo-American relations, never static, had been clarified and strengthened. The Atlantic System, disregarded under Wilson, who never accepted its tenets and implications, had been reinstated, and the outline of a Pacific System had been marked out for later filling in. Hearst in America and the editor of the Saturday Review in London each saw his country sacrificed to the ambition of the other, but Archibald Hurd, coeditor of Brassey's Naval Annual, concluded a bit regretfully in the London Fortnightly Review that "the trident of Neptune passes into the joint guardianship of the English-speaking peoples."
p281 Characteristically, service opinion in all three countries deplored their naval "losses." Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wester-Wemyss saw in Britain's peaceable ceding of parity "an act of renunciation unparalleled in history." Japanese naval officers complained that they had suffered a more grievous defeat at the conference table than ever they had experienced in battle. In America Admiral H. S. Knapp condemned the bargain by which the United States agreed not to develop bases west of Hawaii in return for Japan's acceptance of the 5‑5‑3 ratio.
The public in England and America preferred, however, to share Harding's sanguine faith that the Washington treaties had brought in a "new and better epoch in human affairs." It is impossible not to smile at the grave optimism of 1922, yet the Washington Conference was a success within the limitations specified by Hughes. Between the English-speaking Powers its naval agreement has remained in force. The British, if somewhat against their wish, were relieved of an alliance that might easily have proved embarrassing. Japan withdrew in force from Shantung (as indeed she had promised at Paris), and although her mainland ambitions were only temporarily set aside, the crisis atmosphere of 1921 in both Japan and America was relieved. For some time after the conference Americans stopped talking of the "inevitability" of war with Japan.
The participation of the United States followed the clear lines of its major policies, notwithstanding the querulous nonsense of the isolationists. America had reaffirmed her strategic, sea‑power solidarity with the British in conformity with the Atlantic System. As for Asia, the United States had adhered with fidelity to the co‑operative policy initiated by Hay. Whether wisely or not from the point of self-interest, we had again balked Japanese desires with respect to China, wringing from her another acknowledgment of the Open Door. Again America had conducted a purely moral intervention in China; exhibiting the faith in verbal pledges characterizing postwar diplomacy, she had enfeebled her p282 power to enforce respect for her policies by giving up the right to strengthen the bases at Guam and Manila.
The United States had also demonstrated again its unwillingness to bear a part in European politics. The dualism which urges the country toward a decisive voice in Asia while it shrinks from councils of Europe was never more dramatically exemplified than in Washington. At Paris Wilson, Lloyd George, and Clemenceau agreed on a tripartite defensive alliance designed to safeguard France from Germany until the League of Nations should become sufficiently entrenched. The Senate rejected that treaty along with the larger purposes of Versailles. At Washington the French doggedly sought guarantees from England and America in return for the discarded treaty. Hughes as stiffly sidetracked the attempts of the French to open the question of land armaments, aware that any discussion of armies led straight to the guarantees which neither English-speaking Power was at the moment prepared to concede.
The British too had withdrawn from Continental matters after Versailles. "At the very time that the United States Government repudiated the Versailles settlement legally," writes Dr. Birdsall, "the English people did so morally." The drift in Europe in the spring of 1922 could not, however, be entirely ignored by the British, although America would still escape political involvement then, and generally during the long truce.
Lloyd George, therefore, his hands freed by the naval peace, equilibrium in the Far East, and an armistice in Ireland, turned in the spring to the Continent. Two years of peace had been almost as ruinous as war. Germany was in the incipient stages of the inflation which was to liquidate the debts of the country and beggar the middle class. The psychological weight of reparation payments and war debts (little actually had been paid on German account after the deliveries to France and Belgium of livestock, railroad equipment, metals, and other payments in kind) hung over the p283 economy of Europe, palsying all efforts at reconstruction. At this point the rigorous Poincaré succeeded Briand, the great European, on a platform calling for the stricter exaction of reparation payments.
In Lloyd George's opinion, the time had come for a general appeasement and the reintroduction of Germany and Russia into the family of nations. He therefore approached Poincaré on the project for a new "peace" conference to include Russia and Germany and, if possible, the United States. A Social-Democratic Government at Berlin, struggling against the contempt and opposition of the Junker class, the army, and the bureaucrats, was seeking a three-year moratorium on reparation payments. Lloyd George favored this respite; Poincaré set his face against it. The French statesman would agree to Lloyd George's conference only at a price — a defensive alliance with England. Lloyd George accepted the terms, prompting Edwin L. James, the Paris correspondent of the New York Times, to cable his paper that the United States had lost its influence in Europe and no longer held the balance of power. As plans reached maturity for the "peace" conference, to be held at Genoa, the Germans and the Russians met at Rapallo, to the surprise of Europe, signed their own pact of recognition and trade, and re‑enforced Poincaré's worst fears.
The Genoa Conference of 1922, the first in a series of parleys aimed at redressing the maladjustments flowing from the recent war and the peace settlements, ended in failure. The United States, refusing to attend, resisted efforts by the Powers to intertwine reparations with the governmental debts owed to America. Thereupon American-European relations entered the phase epitomized by the quip of Parisian journalist: "The Shylock strain seems to predominate in the cross-breeding of Uncle Sam."
Into this atmosphere was injected the Balfour memorandum on war debts, which placed the approval of statesmanship on the journalist's gibe. Balfour was created an earl in 1922. He stood at the pinnacle of favor, both royal and public; his utterance therefore carried the sanction of Britain. p284 What Balfour did was to announce to the Continent that England was prepared to ask only enough in payment of reparations and loans to the Allies to balance her payments to America. The effect all over Europe was to identify war debts with reparations. Between the lines, Lord Balfour was saying that England was a good fellow, willing to go easy on the defeated foe and her debtors, but that flinty-hearted Uncle Sam was barring such generosity. He further compounded what was in American eyes an offense by a misstatement, a lapse as often stressed by his own countrymen as by Americans. His gift for subtle ratiocination bore the great skeptic outside the boundaries of the factual when he indicated that the United States Government had required Britain's endorsement on loans for the Continental Powers. The truth was, of course, that all the Allies had equal access to the United States Treasury, buying freely of munitions, food, and other supplies and merely sending the bills on to Washington.
No British statesman of his time played as large a part as Balfour in Anglo-American relations; none had communicated such distinguished evidences of goodwill, none had practiced so inept a statecraft. It was Balfour who fumbled indecisively with Pauncefote's dispatch on the eve of the Spanish-American War, Balfour who joined with the Kaiser in the second Venezuelan incident. In 1917, heading the British War Mission, he appeared before a joint session of Congress while all official Washington, led by the President, sang "God Save the King" in a moving gesture of comradeship. Warmly received when he returned in 1921 for the Washington Conference, Balfour became to Americans the best-known figure in British public life. His attempt, therefore, to make the United States the scapegoat for Europe's reparation and debt tribulations was regarded in this country as the wound of a friend, hence harder to bear.
The controversy over the Balfour memorandum illustrated the misunderstandings that grew out of the confused statement of war purposes. On the hypothesis that America had p285 fought solely to crush autocracy and vindicate democracy, the war had been American from 1914 onward, and the Allies had considerable basis for their reproaches that the Americans came late, contributed little but the promise of greater things in the future, withdrew after the fighting, and now demanded their pound of flesh. The American people, squirming under the implications of this hypothesis, felt instinctively that it was a wrong one. But wherever they turned they met the powerful phrases of the man entitled to state America's aims, and Europe was never slow to quote Wilson for its own ends.
Balfour's reflections, offending America, also injured Great Britain's interest there. Calvin Coolidge, who succeeded Harding in 1923 on the President's death, dropped into the discussion his famous rustic rejoinder: "They hired the money, didn't they?" A cold and inadequate dismissal of a profoundly troublesome international problem, the remark punctured Balfour's finespun structure of evasion to the satisfaction of millions of Americans. The funding commission under Stanley Baldwin, Chancellor of the Exchequer, was able to obtain only a minimum relaxation of terms in Washington, France and Italy doing much better. The British paid on the barrel head until the Hoover moratorium of 1931, continuing token payments through 1933. Their debt as funded in 1923 was $4,250,000,000. Altogether they remitted something more than $2,000,000,000. In June, 1934, when the British defaulted, they still owed $4,750,000,000, the increase being due to compound interest and the fact that payments had reduced the principal insufficiently.
So went the years of the false truce. Poincaré, securing to wring blood from the German turnip, invaded the Ruhr, a venture characterized by Lloyd George as "dismal and tragic." Briand, back in power, brought about surface reconciliations at Locarno in October, 1925. The new Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, only just getting a total grip on his country, traveled to the conference spectacularly by train, racing car, and speedboat. Reparations and debts were eased, p286 western frontiers were redefined, Germany was invited to enter the League of Nations. "It is ended," said Briand, "that long war between us. . . . Away with the rifles, the machine guns, and the cannon!"
Lloyd George gave way to Bonar Law, to Baldwin, to Ramsay MacDonald and then to Baldwin again. Hoover succeeded Coolidge, Franklin D. Roosevelt followed Hoover. The Tory Baldwin had no settled American policy, MacDonald, returning to power in 1929, was pro‑American. Hoover pursued the traditional path of collaboration with the British. In 1927 a naval conference at Geneva came to grief when the admirals to whom Coolidge and Baldwin entrusted the negotiations collided in a celebrated dispute over the displacement of cruisers. England wished 6,000‑ton cruisers with 6‑inch guns (converted merchant liners in wartime carry 6‑inch guns) and the United States plumped for 10,000‑ton cruisers with a wide cruising range suited to the Pacific. It appeared for a time that Baldwin's Government, bowing to the Admiralty, was seeking to renege on parity, and Lord Robert Cecil resigned from the Ministry in protest. A delegate at Geneva, Cecil had been overruled by the admirals. An American lobbyist in the secret pay of shipbuilders took credit with his employers for wrecking the conference, and Coolidge, finding fault with the British conduct at Geneva, announced the building of fifteen 10,000‑ton cruisers already authorized.
The Western world, sampling the incipient joys of a boom in 1927, was little concerned over the cost of a few cruisers. The skies over Europe were relatively cloudless, Adolf Hitler was an obscure beer-hall cultist, a leader of street fighters, the author of a dull and rambling book who had been in jail. Germany was making an amazing economic recovery, thanks to loans from the United States and England. Her steel production rose to prewar volume, her merchant marine, soon to boast the Bremen and the Europa, had grown from 400,000 tons to 3,700,000. France, stabilizing her currency, was also gaining prosperity. In 1928 America's foreign trade passed the $9,000,000,000 mark, approximating that of Britain. p287 As the price of a huge export trade, the United States was exporting billions of dollars a year in capital and loans.
The Coolidge years (Westbrook Pegler's "era of wonderful nonsense") marked the heyday of the foreign lending policy, a species of economic imperialism which it was hoped might transfer financial sovereignty from London to New York. By 1929, when the bubble burst, American private investments abroad amounted to nearly $20,000,000,000 — $2,500,000,000 of it irreclaimably sunk in Germany. Sums loaned by the American investor to Europe found their way back to the United States Treasury in reparation payments and inter‑governmental debt service. Optimists, unfamiliar with the elements which had made England the world's banker, erroneously supposed that Wall Street was to eclipse Lombard Street permanently. The United States lacked, however, a tariff policy enabling it to accept goods in payment for dollars; it lacked Britain's vast shipping, insurance, and dockage paraphernalia with which to service trade in all parts of the world; nor had it a tradition of colonial enterprise, with thousands of trained and willing young men available for management in the far corners of the earth.
Wall Street's expansive hopes caused a corresponding apprehension, however, in Lombard Street. Envy of America's economic might had been present amongst the British trading classes since the "Yankee invasion" led by the elder J. P. Morgan in the opening years of the century. It was England's lot to be ruled during the postwar years by men of business such as Baldwin and the sons of Joseph Chamberlain, Neville and Austen, whose attitude toward the United States was conditioned by their fears of Wall Street's self-confident competition.
It took MacDonald's return to power in 1929 at the head of a Labor Ministry to restore the transatlantic perspective of the British Government and heal the breach of Geneva. MacDonald finally settled the issue of parity. Preparing for a goodwill mission to this country, the Prime Minister suspended work on several men-of‑war and assured the League of Nations Assembly that England and America were on the p288 road to complete naval understanding. As his contribution to accord, President Hoover announced that the keels of three authorized cruisers would not be laid pending a re‑examination of parity. While in America MacDonald sat on a log with Hoover at the President's camp on the Rapidan and delivered an invitation to a new naval parley in London. Addressing the Senate, he declared he could foresee no situation under which "our arms, whether on land, on the sea or in the air, can ever again come into hostile conflict." As for parity: "Take it, without reserve, heaped up and flowing over!"
At the London Naval Conference of 1930, full equality in all categories was worked out for the English-speaking navies. France, under pressure of Mussolini's imperialistic thrust in the Mediterranean, fell out with the major Sea Powers, and declined to accept the status allotted to her. The Japanese delegation came insisting on a 10‑10‑7 ratio, won concessions in cruiser strength, and returned home to face angry public demonstrations and repudiation by the militarists. Assassination being a common instrument of public policy in Japan, the extreme militarists contrived the murder of Hamaguchi, the Prime Minister, for upholding the London agreement. The death of Hamaguchi, the "Lion" of Japanese politics, signalized the rise of the brutal forces in Japanese life toward an ascendancy which they were to maintain over the liberal, parliamentary elements for the next decade.
Meanwhile, the New York Stock Exchange had undergone in October and November, 1929, a succession of panic days marking the end of the postwar boom. The ensuing breakdown of the world's interlocked economy supplied, as is now apparent, objective conditions of disintegration out of which came the breakdown in large areas of traditional civilization itself in the 1930's.
In 1931 the postwar world passed into a prewar status. Thereafter fear of the next great war supplanted regret over the last one. Two events marked the transition. President p289 Hoover declared a one‑year moratorium on war‑debt payments, a belated and futile effort to save the deflationary government of Chancellor Heinrich Brüning and so the German Republic. The Hoover intervention represented the final chapter in the long story of Europe's attempt to escape pecuniary payment for the war. It failed to save Brüning, Germany, or the postwar financial fabric. In a rough way, it settled the problem of intergovernmental debts owed to America, since our debtors thereafter repudiated their obligations. The other milestone of 1931 was the Japanese seizure of Mukden, the prelude to the conquest of Manchuria.
Brüning's speedy fall put an end to reconstruction. Japanese aggression destroyed the hope of collective security, which had grown up in the Western world since Locarno, and more particularly after ratification by the Powers in 1928 of the Briand-Kellogg Pact of Paris. After Brüning, Germany was governed by presidential decree, paving the way for the personal government of Hitler. The conquest of Manchuria disclosed the decay of the democratic world and the paralysis of its will to resist aggressors — even, as in the case of France and lesser European democracies, of a will to survive.
An isolationist in 1941, Hoover took an active part in both the crucial occurrences of 1931. Having perceived aggressive threat to American security and well-being in the premonitory happenings of that year, he now rejects the conclusions he once foresaw. His intervention in Europe followed the pattern of American postwar economic relations with the old continent. Contrary to a widespread impression, the United States did not wholly retreat into its shell after Congress adopted a separate peace with Germany. Faithful to its dread of permanent entanglements in the Old World, the United States abstained from political commitments, yet participated in such economic arrangements as the Young and Dawes plans. Wall Street, uncommitted by Washington's parting injunction, extended help throughout Europe. The English-speaking countries rendered enormous assistance, by and large, to Germany, assistance scarcely acknowledged and brazenly denied after the gutter forces had seized the p290 republic. Hoover's moratorium, therefore, followed the policy of economic intervention.
Hoover's Far Eastern interference likewise pursued the traditional path allowing the United States to exert its influence politically in Asia while withholding it in Europe. His Secretary of State, Henry L. Stimson, bore the brunt of the crisis over Manchuria. Stimson believed in collective security; to him the Pact of Paris was a solemn pledge of a better day. A vigorous idealist, he reacted boldly against events that induced pessimism elsewhere, the stresses of 1931 which sent fear through the Western world. A blundering attempt by the German and Austrian governments to create a customs union (Zollverein) provoked militant French resistance but foreshadowed what seemed to others an eventual association. The credit structure of Central Europe was shaken when the Creditanstalt, a huge Rothschild bank in Vienna, fell. England had borrowed at short term in France and had loaned at long term in Germany. When the French called their English loans, England went off the gold standard. In the gathering economic crisis Hitler's Nazis emerged as a formidable parliamentary party, electing 107 Deputies to the Reichstag and polling more than 6,000,000 popular votes.
Japan struck while Europe was thus distracted, and Stimson alone of the democratic statesmen saw the world menace in a clash between Asiatics in far‑off Mukden. His warning that the "new structure of international society" would be "incalculably damaged" unless Japan was brought to book went largely unheeded and unanswered. The outburst of Japanese aggressiveness at Mukden on September 18, 1931, brought an immediate appeal from the Chinese Nationalist Government. Stimson acted as promptly. Thereafter for seven months the Secretary of State sought by every power of persuasion to support China's territorial integrity, halt the fighting in Manchuria (and later at Shanghai), and vindicate the principle of collective security. He negotiated directly with the feeble civil government at Tokyo, with Ramsay MacDonald and Sir John Simon, the British Foreign Secretary, and, at Geneva on behalf of the Nine-Power p291 Treaty and the Pact of Paris. Pledging parallel action with the League of Nations, Stimson called for unified diplomatic pressure, an appeal to "world opinion," and the imposition of economic sanctions if all else failed. The Japanese were more vulnerable to sanctions in 1931 than they would be in 1941. In the decade between the English-speaking Powers enabled Japan to buy huge reserves of oil, scrap iron, and dozens of other military essentials. Stimson likewise urged a policy of nonrecognition of Japan's ascendancy in Manchuria.
Stimson was compelled to make the best of acceptance by the League of Nations of his nonrecognition policy, together with a fact-finding commission under League direction. Geneva would go no further. One factor distracting from his position was the naval weakness of the United States. Another was his inability to get on common ground with Soviet Union, a party of genuine interest. Hoover had neglected the navy and declined, alone of the heads of Great Powers, to enter into diplomatic relations with Moscow.
It was, however, the refusal of Great Britain to collaborate with Stimson that most effectively stymied his endeavors. England, passing through political change, entered in September, 1931, on the long, humiliating, and in the end mortally dangerous road of appeasement which was to carry Neville Chamberlain to Munich. In August, a National Government had succeeded MacDonald's Labor Ministry, with the Prime Minister still at the helm. Two months later MacDonald accepted a coalition Ministry, principally Tory, and was thereupon deposed as head of the Labor party. At the beginning of his physical decline (soon his memory and coherence would be noticeably affected in the House of Commons), MacDonald was the prisoner of his Tory colleagues. The temper of such colleagues as Neville Chamberlain — so anti-American that he reputedly declined to receive Americans visiting London — was averse to making common cause with Washington. Generally speaking, it was the middle-class, business type Tory, thinking first in terms of profit and trade advantage, that let the British Empire down in the prewar p292 years. In fairness to the Ministry it should, however, be noted that the British climate in the 1930's was pacifist to the point of morbidity, the City, labor, and the intellectuals opposing commitments likely to lead, however remotely, toward war.
Simon, a great lawyer but a poor diplomat, was by nature a trimmer. Lloyd George remarked once that Sir John had "sat on the fence so long that the iron had entered his soul." Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary took refuge from Stimson's disquieting importunities behind the walls of the League of Nations. At Geneva it was not clear from day to day during the discussion of Manchuria whether Simon spoke for England or Japan, and Yosuke Matsuoka, there to plead Japan's cause, remarked that the Englishman had summed up in fifteen minutes what he had been trying for weeks to express.
In January, 1932 — three weeks before the Japanese bombed Shanghai, fired the Chapei Neighborhood, and met the heroic Nineteenth Route army in battle — Stimson asked the British to join in a stern note to Tokyo, threatening nonrecognition of "any situation, treaty or agreement brought about in violation of treaties." The British Foreign Office omitted the courtesy of a direct reply, issuing instead a casual communiqué to the effect that "His Majesty's Government have not considered it necessary to address any formal note to the Japanese Government on the lines of the American Government's note." Superciliously, the London Times shed light but no luster on the incident, saying: "The American Government may have been moved by fear that the Japanese authorities would set up virtually an independent administration in Manchuria, which would favor Japanese interests to the detriment of the commerce of other nations. It is clear that the Foreign Office does not share these apprehensions."
Whether the Foreign Office actually believed that Stimson's interest was confined to the Open Door or whether this was mere evasion never has been really clarified. Some time afterward it was semiofficially acknowledged that the communiqué had been a "slip," a subordinate having sent it off p293 on the eve of a week end without waiting for the approval of a superior. On November 30, 1938, a letter to the Times which bore the marks of having been written by a Foreign Office functionary explained that the civil servant responsible for the action had not "realized until it [the communiqué] appeared in the press that it read like a rebuff to America."
Unrebuffed by the communiqué, the Secretary of State continued to press Simon. Obtaining no tangible support at long range, Stimson went himself to Geneva, where the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister were attending the ill‑fated general Disarmament Conference. Face-to‑face negotiations brought no better result. Although expressing "earnest anxiety for complete co‑operation," MacDonald and Simon would not come to grips with the issue as Stimson saw it. As Japan consolidated her theft of Manchuria, establishing the puppet State Manchukuo, Stimson continued to utter warnings that this unrebuked aggression would stimulate like aggressions, endangering peace elsewhere.
Stimson's policy carried into the Roosevelt Administration. The President-elect, who was to take office in March, 1933, authorized Stimson in advance to announce that there would be no change. Nor, except for a less urgent tone with Tokyo, was there change. By 1941 Roosevelt and Cordell Hull, his Secretary of State, had borne the United States into a virtual alliance with China (nonbelligerent it is true), although contradictorily it furnished the sinews of war to Japan until midsummer of that year. And in 1941 Stimson, having correctly diagnosed the first symptoms of the totalitarian malady, was laboring as Secretary of War to help suppress the full-grown evil.
Eight years to the month after the Japanese took Mukden Hitler ordered the invasion of Poland. The stream of aggression rising in Manchuria had come to full flood. During those eight years tension mounted steadily as the regimes to be joined in the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis progressively brought war nearer the heart of Europe. The Japanese p294 fought the Chinese, first in Manchuria, then in China proper; they fought, not too successfully, the Soviet Union on the Manchurian-Siberian border and in Mongolia. In 1937 the Japanese launched their undeclared, all‑out war on China that was still plaguing them four years later. Mussolini's mechanized legions overwhelmed the Ethiopians, armed only for nineteenth-century warfare, and the Fascist dictators, meeting Stalin's forces in Spain, enlarged civil strife into a precursor of general European war while the democracies looked on as if entranced.
The United States Government was not indifferent to Mussolini's naked conquest of Ethiopia, co‑operating with the League of Nations in embargoing shipments of war materials to "both belligerents." As America could have had little access to Ethiopia with such shipments, the embargo was plainly aimed at Italy. In truth, Hull and Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of the Interior and oil administrator, exceeded the zeal of the League of Nations, attempting to halt oil exports to the belligerents. The failure of the League to apply sanctions and Stanley Baldwin's reversal of the MacDonald Ministry's Ethiopian policy when he himself became Prime Minister in 1935 momentarily dampened the zest of the Roosevelt Administration for collective security.
The course of that Administration toward the world had aspects of ambiguity during this period. Although in his annual message of January, 1936, the President denounced the aggressor nations, he accepted with little evidence of distaste the elaborate and naïvely contrived network of neutrality laws which the isolationists in Congress patched up session by session. The poverty of isolationist thought was never more clearly displayed than in this legislation. These laws, beginning with Hiram Johnson's bill interdicting loans to governments in default to the United States, assumed that history runs in undeviating grooves. Because America went to war in 1917 after lending hundreds of millions to the Allies, Johnson seemed to believe that the existence of the loans had been a controlling factor in the decision. Because the United States sold munitions to the Allies and American p295 vessels were sunk by U‑boats, the isolationists considered the sale and the sinkings among the primary causes of its participation in that war.
The authors of such legislation were dealing entirely with surface manifestations. Congress, with surprisingly little opposition from the White House, was invading a field where it had no historical or constitutional business — the primary conduct of foreign affairs. Representing a vote of "no confidence" in Roosevelt's foreign policies, the enactments, as any thoughtful student of American affairs could have informed the isolationist members of Congress, failed to insulate America from the world. They did weaken the influence of the United States, and by so doing assisted the aggressor nations. Thanks to these laws, Hitler and his accomplices proceeded in full confidence that the most powerful nation in his path had for the time being declared itself a noncombatant in the conflict between totalitarianism and democracy. The isolationists had, moreover, struck ignorantly and dangerously at the national interest by attempting to serve notice that America would not defend the Atlantic System beyond her three-mile limit. Fortunately, the unrealistic mood giving rise to the neutrality laws yielded to the onrush of circumstance.
There is, of course, much to be said for the Americans who dreaded another "foreign" war. Since Versailles it had become a commonplace of mass thinking that the United States was duped in 1917 by the combined machinations of Wall Street, munitions makers, and English propagandists, and that after the United States had fought to redeem the Old World from its evil, monarchical, autocratic ways, the Old World had turned on America, dubbing this country "Uncle Shylock" and in the end refusing to pay its war debts. Senator Gerald K. Nye's munitions investigation proved that the Morgan firm had acted as British purchasing agent in this country and that certain industrialists made large profits out of supplying materials for war. Wilson's postulate that America had fought for humanity, a half-truth at best, came to be a bad joke. During the long truce the United p296 States was drenched with what Walter Lippmann has called "cynical histories" calculated to prove everything but the simple truth that America went to war for her own cogent reasons and that, in Wilson's words, "everything for which America fought [was] accomplished."
The myth that the United States had blundered in 1917 was in full currency in 1935. In that year the American people, if they were sure of any one thing, were positive that they would never be gulled into another "European" war. Yet within five years the United States, as a nonbelligerent ally of Great Britain and China, was at war in both the Atlantic and the Pacific in all but name and actual "shooting." The American people had not been gulled into this war. Wall Street was out of the picture. The "merchants of death" had retired, dismantling their plants, to the point where in 1939 the country had scarcely enough smokeless-powder capacity to supply the army for maneuvers. The United States had loaned no money abroad. Its ships were forbidden the war zone. The English, mindful of the American legend, endeavored to keep their propaganda inconspicuous. They only succeeded in botching it.
Something had happened outside the calculations of the isolationists of 1935. That something was the fall of France.
1 Italics ours.
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