The International Scene
Reds Are Natives
This was one of Chodorov's editorials in the August 1954 issue of The Freeman.
If we had sent an army into Indochina (Vice President Nixon once suggested that we should), its immediate objective would have been to kill Indochinese, so as to intimidate those we did not kill. Of course, the dead would have died because they were communists, and the intimidated would have been intimidated for the same reason. But regardless of their ideology, our chosen targets would have been natives. There is no way of getting away from that fact. The same would have been true if we had intervened militarily in the Guatemalan affair, and it is a certainty that we mowed down many thousands of natives in Korea.
The point is self-proving. When two nations make war, whatever their reasons, the purpose of each is to subdue the nationals of the other. The only point at issue is the validity of the reason advanced by each side trying to subjugate the other.
The historic reason for slaughtering natives is conquest: to grab land so as to be able to collect taxes from those who inhabit and use it. Currently, however, the reason advanced by many Americans is that the natives carry an ideological germ that threatens our way of life. We must destroy them and their culture before it destroys ours.
Granted the premise, the question is, will the desired end be achieved by the slaughter of communist natives all over the world? There is no historic support for that belief. The Norman conquerors of England did not impose their culture on the natives they did not kill, but rather made their adjustment to what they found, and the traditional culture of the Jews managed to outlive the paganism of the Roman legions. The evidence of history is that ideas are impervious to weapons.
That our culture—the body of ideas, habits, and traditions indigenous to America—is under severe attack there is no doubt. But can we save it by killing off or subjugating the communist natives of other lands? And by the way, if that is the effective cure of communism, why not try it on our own natives infected with the disease? We harbor quite a few of them in our midst, and, far from slaughtering them, we grant them the protection of the American culture they aim to destroy, and even put them in positions of public trust.
Communism is not a person, it is an idea. True, communism without communists is an imaginative notion, just as sin without sinners simply cannot be. But you cannot get rid of the idea that has possessed the communist by killing him, because the idea may have spread and you cannot destroy every carrier of it. It is better, therefore, to attack the idea than to attack the natives.
Without going into a discussion of the idea of communism as a whole, let us get to its essence, and what we find is simply the notion that the individual would be better off if he were deprived of the right to own property; since property must be owned, the method of communism is to vest all property right in those who wield political power, the state. That, then, is the idea that we who believe in the American tradition should try to kill, and let all natives live.
This first appeared as chapter 11 of Out of Step.
When World War I broke out in 1914, the Chicago Tribune announced with considerable pride that it was sending a parcel of reporters to Europe to “cover” the battles and the capitals of the warring nations. This was something new in American journalism. What had constituted foreign news previously were reports of what royal families were doing, affairs in which peeresses were involved, or a “passion” murder. Most of these stories were taken bodily from the European press. In fact, my wife, before she was married, was engaged in getting up a European “letter” for a news agency with the aid of a pair of scissors and a paste pot. The New York Times, with some pretensions to internationalism even in those days, ran on an inside page a column entitled “Transatlantic Cable Dispatches to the New York Times”; it usually occupied about a half-page and consisted of stories that could well have been lifted from European papers.
The American press did not go to the expense of sending correspondents to Europe because there was little public interest in European affairs, and as for Africa, Asia, and even Latin America, these were places one learned about in school geography. The country was isolationist. The people, judging from the front pages of the city newspapers, were interested in what went on with the neighbors, in local politics, crop conditions, and the weather. When Congress was in session, which was for a few months in the year, some of the debates were accorded prominence, but not too much; type for a three-column headline had not yet been invented.
The war, when we were finally drawn into it, was something of an adventure for most Americans. Three generations of Americans had come and gone since the country had experienced a full-fledged war; the Indian wars and a couple of “punitive” expeditions into Mexico and Central America were of interest only to the professional army, and the contest with Spain was in the nature of an opera bouffe. The war in Europe was the real thing, brought into every home by means of the draft and involving a new instrument of war, the bond. Woodrow Wilson glamorized the undertaking by dubbing it the “war to end all wars” and the “war to make the world safe for democracy”; the latter phrase had all the earmarks of “manifest destiny,” of the duty of imposing our brand of democracy on the benighted peoples of Europe, and thus appealed to our missionary zeal. Yet, the general feeling was that once we had licked the kaiser, we could return to our wonted ways, which, in sum, meant isolationism.
After the war, as usual, disillusionment set in. It was soon realized that the conquest of Germany did not mean the end of wars, but was probably the prelude to yet another one, and that our brand of democracy did not sit well with other peoples. The opposition in the Senate to Wilson's League of Nations reflected the attitude of the people who had had enough of involvement in the tangled mess of European diplomacy and wanted out. For twenty years thereafter pacifism was the ruling passion of the country; in novels, on the stage, in magazine articles, and in college lecture halls the theme that war was inexcusable was repeated. The spirit of pacifism was reinforced by a resurgence of American isolationism, the feeling that nothing good could come to us from interfering in European internal matters, and that we would be better off minding our own business. It was this inbred isolationism which confronted Franklin Roosevelt when he set out to get us into World War II, and from which he was fortuitously delivered by Pearl Harbor.
Since then, isolationism has been turned (by our politicians, our bureaucracy and its henchmen, the professorial idealists) into a bad word.
And yet, isolationism is inherent in the human makeup. It is in the nature of the human being to be interested first in himself, and second in his neighbors. His primary concern is with his bread-and butter problems, to begin with, and then in the other things that living implies: his health, his pleasures, the education of his children, wiping out the mortgage on the old homestead, and getting along with his neighbors. If he has the time and inclination for it, he takes a hand in local charities and local politics. If something happens in his state capital that arouses his ire or his imagination, he may talk to his neighbors about the necessity of reform; that is, if the reform happens to engage his interests. Taxation always interests him. But events and movements that occur far away from his immediate circumstances or that affect him only tangentially (like inflation or debates in the UN) either pass him by completely or, if he reads about them in the newspapers, concern him only academically. A Minnesotan may take notice of a headline event in Florida, as a conversation piece, but he is vitally interested in what has happened in his community: a fire, a divorce case, or the new road that will pass through. How many people know the name of their congressman or take the slightest interest in how he votes on given issues?
It has become standard procedure for sociologists and politicians to take opinion polls and to deduce behavior patterns from such data. Yet, it is a fact that the subject matters of these polls do not touch on matters in which the questionees are vitally interested, but are topics in which the pollsters have a concern. Putting aside the possibility of so framing the questions as to elicit replies the pollsters want, the fact is that the pride of the questionees can well influence their answers. Thus, a housewife who has been asked for her opinion on South African apartheid, for instance, will feel flattered that she has been singled out for the honor and will feel impelled to give some answer, usually a predigested opinion taken from a newspaper editorial; she will not say honestly that she knows nothing about apartheid and cares less. On the other hand, if she were asked about the baking of an apple pie, she would come up with an intelligent answer; but the sociologists are not interested in knowing how to bake an apple pie.
The scientist immersed in the laboratory will weigh carefully any question put to him regarding the subject matter of his science and will probably not come up with a yes-or-no answer, but, he is positive that the nation ought to recognize the Chinese communist regime, because he heard another scientist say so. The baseball fan who knows the batting average of every member of his team, on the other hand, will denounce the recognition of the regime because he has heard that the “Reds” are no good. The student whose grades are just about passing will speak out boldly on the UN, reflecting the opinion of his professor on that organization. Everybody has opinions on international subjects, because the newspapers have opinions on them, and the readers like to be “in the swim.” That is to say, interventionism is a fad stimulated by the public press, and like a fad, had no real substance behind it. If a poll were to be taken on the subject of our going to war, the probability is that very few would vote for the proposition; yet, war is the ultimate of interventionism, and the opposition to it is proof enough that we are isolationist in our sympathies. A poll on the subject of isolationism—something like “Do you believe we ought to keep out of the politics of other nations and ought to let them work out their problems without our interference?”—might bring out some interesting conclusions; but the politicians and the energumens of interventionism would prefer not to conduct such a poll. Our “foreign-aid” program has never been subjected to a plebiscite.
Isolationism is not a political policy, it is a natural attitude of a people. It is adjustment to the prevailing culture within a country, and a feeling of security within that adjustment. The traditions, the political and social institutions, and the moral values that obtain seem good, the people do not wish them to be disturbed by peoples with other backgrounds and, what is more, they do not feel any call to impose their own customs and values on strangers. This does not mean that they will not voluntarily borrow from other cultures or that they will surround themselves with parochial walls. Long before interventionism became a fixed policy of the government, American students went to Europe to complete their education and immigrants introduced their exotic foods to the American table. But these were voluntary adoptions, even as we welcomed German and Italian operas and applauded the British lecturers who came here to decry our lack of manners, We certainly enjoyed the bananas and coffee imported from Latin American countries, and, while we might deplore their habit of setting up dictatorships, we felt no obligation to inject ourselves into their political affairs; that was their business, not ours.
This was the general attitude of the American people before the experiment in interventionism known as World War I. Before that event, Woodrow Wilson had taken leave of his senses in backing one revolutionary leader against another in Mexico, and had even sent the marines to support his choice; his excuse for opposing Huerta was that that leader had not been “democratically” elected, overlooking the fact that eighty percent of the Mexicans were simply incapable of making a choice, or of caring about it. From that interventionary exploit we garnered a mistrust of American intentions vis-à-vis Mexico which haunts us to this day. But, Wilson's urgency to introduce “democracy” in Mexico was purely a personal idiosyncrasy, shared by his political entourage but not by the American people. We cared little about which brigand, Huerta or Carranza, got to the top, and were stirred up only by the fact that a number of American boys were killed in Wilson's invasion.
When World War II got going in Europe and it became evident that Roosevelt was intent on getting us into it, a group of Americans organized the America First Committee for the purpose of arousing the native spirit of isolationism to the point of frustrating his intent. They were for keeping the nation neutral. For various reasons (particularly Pearl Harbor) their plan failed, even though at the beginning they gained the adherence of many Americans. One flaw in their program was a tendency toward protectionism; the anti-involvement became identified with “Buy American” slogans and with high tariffs; that is, with economic, rather than political, isolationism. Economic isolationism—tariffs, quotas, embargoes, and general governmental interference with international trade—is an irritant that can well lead to war, or political interventionism. To build a trade wall around a country is to invite reprisals, which in turn make for misunderstanding and mistrust. Besides, free trade carries with it an appreciation of the cultures of the trading countries, and a feeling of goodwill among the peoples engaged. Free trade is natural, protectionism is political.
The America First Committee's opposition to our entry into the war was based on political and economic considerations. It is a well-known fact that during a war the state acquires powers which it does not relinquish when hostilities are over. When the enemy is at the city gates, or the illusion that he is coming can be put into people's minds, the tendency is to turn over to the captain all the powers he deems necessary to keep the enemy away. Liberty is downgraded in favor of protection. But, when the enemy is driven away, the state finds reason enough to hold onto its acquired powers. Thus, conscription, which Roosevelt reintroduced at the beginning of the war, has become the permanent policy of the government, and militarism, which is the opposite of freedom, has been incorporated into our mores. Whether or not this eventuality was in Roosevelt's mind is not germane; it is inherent in the character of the state. Taxes imposed ostensibly “for the duration” have become permanent, the bureaucracy built up during the war has not been dismantled, and interventions in the economy necessary for the prosecution of war are now held to be necessary for the welfare of the people. This, plus the fact that we are now engaged in preparing for World War II, was the net result of our entry into World War II. Whichever side won, the American people were the losers.
Aside from this necessary political consequence of our involvement, there was the further fact that our economy would suffer. More important than the direct effect of increased taxation was the indirect effect of inflation resulting from the sale of government bonds. Political duplicity and dishonesty reached the heights when these bonds were advertised as anti-inflationary. The prospective buyers were assured that their purchases would (a) help win the war, (b) make them a profit, and (c) avoid inflation; a strange appeal to their patriotism, their cupidity, and their ignorance. It is true that the “savings” bonds, which could not be sold or borrowed upon, would delay their inflationary effect. But, when the government redeemed them, at the will of the holders or at maturity, and was unable to resell these bonds to “savers,” it would have to resort to borrowing from financial institutions, which would of course demand negotiable securities; these become inflationary. This result could have been anticipated by anyone with a grain of sense; but during the war this grain was missing and the bonds sold. They sold in spite of an article called “Don't Buy Bonds,” which I published at the time. And the fiscal irresponsibility which the Roosevelt administration practiced before we got into the war was accelerated; it hasn't abated yet.
As isolationism is a natural attitude of the people, so interventionism is a conceit of the political leader. There does not seem to be area enough in the world to satiate his desire to exercise his power or, at least, his influence. Just as the mayor of a town hopes to become governor of his state, a congressman, or even president, so does the president or the king of a country deem it his duty to look beyond the immediate job of running his country. Necessity limits the interventionary inclination of the head of a small country, unless, indeed, he finds a neighboring small country incapable of resisting his advances. But, given a nation opulent enough to maintain a sizable military establishment and an adequate bureaucracy, his sights are lifted beyond the borders. Tb be sure, his interest is always the enlightenment or the betterment of the people over whom he seeks to extend his dominion or influence, never to exploit them. Thus, Alexander the Great offered the benefits of Hellenic civilization to the peoples of Asia, the Roman legions carried Pax Romano at the tip of their spears, and Napoleon imposed French “libertá, fraternitá, egalitá” on the peoples of Europe, whether they wanted it or not. Hitler tried to extend the influence of Aryanism and the late British Empire was built on the premise that a taste of English civilization would do the natives good.
“Foreign policy” is the euphemism which covers up this inclination toward interventionism. About the only foreign policy consistent with the natural isolationism of a people would be one designed to prevent interference of a foreign power in the internal affairs of the country; that is, protection from invasion. But that is too limited in scope to satisfy the cravings of the government of a powerful country. Theodore Roosevelt's foreign policy was avowedly designed to spread among other peoples the benefits of American civilization—even at the end of a Big Stick. Without an income tax, he could do very little beyond the display of naval might to execute this purpose, and the job was undertaken by Woodrow Wilson. It is interesting to note that Wilson was by persuasion an antimilitarist and an isolationist; yet the exigencies of office induced him to lead the country into war and into the missionary purpose of spreading American democracy far and wide. He failed, partly because the peoples of the world were not willing to adopt the American tradition and partly because he could not break down American resistance to interventionism. It remained for Franklin D. Roosevelt, aided and abetted by the Great Depression and a great war, to do that. And now that a monstrous bureaucracy with a vested interest in interventionism is in control of our “foreign policy,” the nation is committed to a program of interference in the affairs of every country in the world.
Something new has been added to the technique of exporting our culture; instead of sending it abroad at the point of a bayonet, we (or rather our bureaucrats) are attempting to bribe the “underdeveloped” peoples into accepting it. But these peoples, accustomed as they are to their own traditions, their own customs, and their own institutions, seem to be unappreciative of our efforts, and the net result of our “foreign-aid” program (aside from supporting a free spending bureaucracy) is to support the politicians of the recipient countries in a manner of living to which they are not accustomed. The current rationalization of this international dispensation of alms is that it is necessary to prevent the spread of communism. But, communism is a way of life imposed on a people by their politicians, and if these, for their own purposes, choose communism, our “aid” simply enables them to make that choice. Meanwhile, the peoples of the world remain impervious to our brand of civilization; their loyalty to their own traditions is unimpaired by our largess; they remain isolationist. Adding insult to injury, they resent our intrusion into their manner of living, call us “imperialists,” and impolitely ask our agents to go home.
In short, they ask us to return to that isolationism which for over a hundred years prospered the nation and gained for us the respect and admiration of the world.
A Byzantine Empire
of the West?
Chodorov published this article in analysis (April 1947). It was one of his most widely read articles. Rep. Howard Buffet was so impressed that he put it in the Congressional Record of April 29, 1947.
If you–ve an historic periscope in your equipment, now is the time to put it up. For, over the political horizon comes a view not seen these sixteen centuries: the sunset of a world empire. The Spanish Empire, the Austrian potpourri, the German pretension—many such affairs have collapsed and hardly raised dust. But what we're witnessing now is a crackup comparable to nothing that's happened since the Roman affair. In a few years, most likely after the very next war, surely within the century, what was the British Empire will be little more than the United Kingdom. Maybe the ultimate will be another Merrie England, and the islanders will be the better off for lack of imperialistic burdens. That is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
Something over two centuries ago this body of involuntary adhesions began forming. Thanks to British enterprise and British valor, tax-and-rent contributions from wherever the sun did not set bolstered the “national” economy. A wise division with native collaborators facilitated the arrangements, and the subjected peoples made their peace with it because—well, one must live. The producers rubbed along somehow, in spite of the load, and things might have continued in the same way indefinitely were it not for that inevitable concomitant of imperialism, war. Short wars with weak peoples may bring a profit, but when it comes to a life-and-death struggle with a fellow your own size, you have all outgo and no possible return. Several such wars are bound to be disastrous to an empire, for the compounding costs drain production to the point where little is left for existence, let alone for further expansion. It then becomes difficult to maintain the constabulary which shores up the structure. When an empire cannot raise enough cash to “carry out its commitments,” and must call upon a big brother for help, it is a dead herring. No, the socialists are not to blame for the collapse of the British Empire, as the Tories claim; even after World War I the fiscal difficulties at Number Ten Downing Street came to what the doctors call a “critical condition,” and the mission of the present government is simply to administer the last rites. Pax vobiscum.
THE WORK OF MEN
This empire-building business has been going on for a long time, though only once in a while does it grow up to worldwide proportions, and always when an empire gave up the ghost its place was taken by some fledgling, and frequently several rivals sprouted at once. The Byzantine Empire followed hard on the heels of Rome. Though it did quite well for a time, it never made the grade of its predecessor; stirring in the sands of Africa and Asia Minor were imperialistic ambitions which stunted the growth of Constantinople, while a little later the father of Charlemagne sowed the seeds of competition from the West.
It would seem from the constant recurrence of empires that there is something inevitable about the business, that it belongs “in the natural order.” Even now, while the British Empire is hardly laid away, the outlines of a new imperialistic picture are clearly discernible. In the West a lusty heir apparent is flexing his muscles, while the ponderous bear in the East is bellowing his ferocious lust. It looks like another Armageddon is coming down the line.
If we were sure that empires are the product of natural forces, like societies or cabbages, it would be foolish to stand up against their coming. But, when we examine the nature of empires, what their purpose is, and how they are formed, we realize that God hasn't a thing to do with them. They are purely man-made. In spite of their acquired pomposity, they are in fact pretty mean, sordid, and brittle affairs.
If folks knew exactly what an empire is, and resolutely refused to have anything to do with the business, its advocates would have to turn to decent pursuits for a living. The need of popular support is proven by the cheerleader technique of imperialism. The current slogan “Stop Communism!” is a case in point. In the early years of our country somebody put us on the path of plunder with a call to “manifest destiny,” just as the British Tommy was long impelled by the “white man's burden” to commit murder or suicide, and Napoleon's grand army marched into the Russian refrigerator shouting “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity 1” Even that forthright empire builder Alexander the Great said something about carrying Greek culture to his “barbarian” victims, and we can be sure that in the kitbag of Genghis Khan was a phrase like “to make the world safe for democracy.” This is standard equipment in imperialism.
LAND, LABOR, AND EMPIRE
What is an empire? It is a lot of people who are under compulsion to hand over a good part of what they produce to a handful of people who employ the soldiery that does the compelling. There never was an empire of a different character; so, we are justified in calling this an overall definition. Noteworthy and instructive is the fact that all empires are built out of land and people, the two factors of production, showing that imperialists are pretty good economists. Barren and semibarren areas may be included in the framework simply because they are “strategic”—meaning that they afford access to the people under exploitation. The British lifeline was the path traversed by the tax-collecting soldiery.
Speaking of a tax-collecting soldiery, we come to the heart of this something-for-nothing scheme. In olden times, when empire builders were at least picturesque, the business was done with simplicity and directness. There were silks and rare spices in the East to be had, diamonds to be picked up in Africa, gold asking to be taken in America, backward peoples everywhere needing civilization so that they might be the better exploited. For which noble purpose the ancient counterpart of the marines was sent. When the marines had the situation “well in hand”—signifying that the natives had resigned themselves to their fate—the higher-ups instituted the reliable double-barreled scheme of regularized loot; first, they levied a tax on production; next, they fixed up titles to land necessary for production and charged the workers rent for the use of it. Eventually the taxes and the titles were recorded in leather-bound volumes, which, having been blessed with resounding words by solemn professors, achieved reverential status. Black-robed gentlemen infused “justice” into the adjustment and traditional acquiescence dubbed it “law and order.”
The process was facilitated in the olden days by common acceptance of a predatory “upper class.” Nobody questioned the purposes or the prerogatives of these demigods. Primitive honesty also condoned the picking up of a little loot by the common soldier, so that he too had an economic interest in empire building. However, such square-toed methods had to be abandoned with the advent of the printing press, which encouraged the habit of reading, which in turn aroused querulousness. Naturally, the people took to reading moralisms which flattered their egos—namely, the phrases of democracy—and lest this should stimulate any predisposition against plunder, the proper kind of reading had to be provided. Thus, propaganda was added to the arsenal of empire building.
CAME THE CARTEL
The ingenuity of man is coterminous with his cupidity. Out of the claptrap of law came the confusion-confounding device of corporate ownership. Thereby a man-made person, utterly soulless and therefore without moral identity, nevertheless serves to absorb the personal responsibility of moral beings. That this contraption prospers by virtue of an imperialistic venture must be sheer accident; for, surely, one cannot associate the stockholding widow with the exploitation of some worker in Iran or India. Nor can the directors be individually charged with moral turpitude, since they act only in a collective capacity and everybody knows that a collectivity is without moral responsibility. In Russia the cartel, or trust, has attained beatification by way of “common ownership,” thus absolving all and sundry, especially the commissars, from conscious complicity in the exploitation of Finnish miners or Polish peasants. If “everybody” is an imperialist, nobody is.
Which brings us to the imminent American succession to Britain's imperialistic position. Who is behind the plan? Is there any such plan? After all, the only definite proposal is that financial aid be given the governments of Greece and Turkey in their fight against the scourge of communism. Although the exact words have not yet been used, we have been told “again and again” that the money will not be followed by armies, not even to do a little collecting on the loans. Polite usage bans even the suggestion of imperialism. Nobody thinks of it.
When what was later recognized as American imperialism first stepped off the continent into the Caribbean, the prime purpose was to “help our little brown brothers,” the secondary one was to “remember the Maine.” That our sugar interests profited, that some of our bank stocks likewise prospered, must be put down to sheer coincidence; no evidence of premeditated complicity is adducible. And so, if we go through with this empire-succession business, it is quite possible that certain oil and mining stocks will “hit new highs,” certain communications systems will improve their financial position, certain investment trusts will pay out bigger dividends. But that there is any conspirational connection between such a result and the loans to Greece and Turkey will always be an unprovable conjecture. Such is the genius of the cartel.
Not only does the impersonal corporation serve the purpose of conquest while absolving particular persons of culpability, but it also facilitates an established imperialistic process. In olden times, whenever a roving swashbuckler made life precarious for a tribe or a prince, it was good practice for that tribe or prince to court the protective custody of a strong-armed neighbor. Such things are not being done in these days of international protocol. The British, for instance, could hardly be expected to apply for a secondary position in the big American Union; not only is national pride against it, but the cartel system makes such a crudity unnecessary. Through the orderly process of the securities markets, American participation in the profitable oil, rubber, tin, and other concessions will be allowed to infiltrate, so that the cartels may become sufficiently American in character to warrant the protective arm of a government capable of standing up against Russian aggression. Through stock transfers and interchange of directorships the transition from one flag to another is done without offense to national sensibilities or tradition. In some respects, this migration of capital is comparable to the transfer of wealth from tottering Rome to the burgeoning Byzantine Empire, in the third and fourth centuries; the modern cartel obviates the use of a moving van.
And so, as American “interests” enter new “spheres of influence,” as our economy becomes adjusted to the rents, royalties, and taxes provided by peoples enjoying our benevolent exploitation, the American empire will take its place in the historic up-and-down parade. That will require the maintenance of a considerable law-and-order enforcement agency. Empires are made and maintained by armies; armies of conquest are followed by armies of occupation which by self-propulsion become armies of further expansion. From an opposite direction comes the “aggressive” army of a competitive empire and a mutually “defensive” war ensues. But neither logic nor the rules of evidence can point to the cartel as a cause, or even a contributory cause, of the conflict. All we can say is that the profits of imperialism, which in ancient times accrued to a well-defined social group, now flow to the coffers of the amorphous legal contraption.
Putting aside purpose, the methods of empire building require the active cooperation of the nationals who must foot the bill, in blood and dollars. In this country, unlike Russia, where the Communist party has attained that status, the doctrine of an omniscient upper class is without force, and the necessary cooperation must be gained by suasion. The ways of getting people to do that which they are disinclined to do comes under the general head of propaganda, of which the most effective is that which arouses fear. Currently, fear of communism, fear that it will engulf Europe, fear that it will eventually penetrate this country and destroy the cherished American “way of life,” is seeping into our consciousness as if by the force of truth; and, as a consequence, belief in an inherent bestiality of communists is growing. Those we fear we hate, and those we hate automatically fall into a lower category of humans. This churning process is quite familiar to anyone who can remember back ten years.
If we will, we can still save ourselves the cost of empire building. We have only to square off against this propaganda, and to supplement rationality with a determination that, come what may, we will not lend ourselves, as individuals, to this new outrage against human dignity. we will not cooperate. We will urge noncooperation upon our neighbors. We will resist, by counterpropaganda, every attempt to lead us to madness. Above all, when the time comes, we will refuse to fight, choosing the self-respect of the prison camp to the ignominy of the battlefield. It is far nobler to clean a latrine than to kill a man for profit.
Very well, then, let us begin by scrutinizing the spreading fear propaganda. If we don't help Greece and Turkey, we are told, European culture must give way to this horrible communism. But the fact which that scare head obscures, and which is sustained by a mounting mass of evidence, is this: communism is already the religion of Europe. It is the desperation of hopeless poverty which makes converts to communism, and to this desperation our national policy has made its contribution. By preventing the people from producing, by destroying the tools of production, by condoning wholesale robbery, and by rooting up populations, our politicians and our generals are the unwitting missionaries of communism. If we would kill that strange cult, we must abandon the policy which creates the conditions on which it thrives. Bayonets, or dollars to pay for bayonets, will only aggravate these conditions. The only antidote to communism is to let the people of Europe produce and exchange. If communism thrives on scarcity, plenty will destroy it. Hence a policy which leads to unlimited production is the one which we should pursue if we would do what loans to Greece and Turkey are ostensibly intended for. Such a policy would include the removal of our own trade restrictions so that Europeans may be able to buy our surpluses with theirs. Above all, we must take our armies off their backs. The way to stop communism, to put it briefly, is to let the people alone.
If it is argued that such a hands-off policy does not take into account the ruthless and malevolent Russian military machine, that our departure from the scene would leave the people its helpless prey, let us admit the possibility of that consequence and consider the outcome. Suppose Russia imposes on the peoples of Europe the slavery conditions prevailing within her borders. Without arguing the point that these conditions have so reduced her own economy that the robbery of subject peoples has become a policy of necessity, we must admit as a matter of experience that slaves are poor producers, and we can predict the collapse of communism in Europe from lack of production. There is the added fact that, unlike the Russians, Western Europe did experience a measure of freedom, the memory of which will engender subversive activity, further slowing up the productive machinery. In short, the slave economy will bring about primitive conditions (such as Morgenthau envisioned), and the vulture state will die from lack of sustenance. It is poor prospect for the next generation of Europeans, to be sure, but is it any worse than another war? Something might survive a spell of communism, while the result of another war, no matter which side wins, will be annihilation.
When we speak of communism spreading we have in mind, as a matter of habit, the Russian state as well as the ideology. We see Moscow as the capital of a continent, controlling the lives of hundreds of millions by means of a crafty secret police and a hobble-nailed army. In every hamlet, province, and national capital there will be, so the horror-story goes, cunning commissars whose ultimate allegiance will be to the Kremlin. The tale is well constructed, and credence for it is gained by the implication of a subnormal Russian character. We have not as yet been told that the Slav is a Mongolian of inherently low degree; that will come, as it did in 1941, when the campaign reaches the murderous stage. But the insinuation is already strong in news stories, editorials and radio commentaries, and is necessary to the fabricated fear complex.
Yet, when we analyze the horror story, we see how silly it all is. The more the Russian state spreads itself the weaker it must become; the further the central commissars are from their agents, the more tenuous the tie; and the impact of foreign languages, customs, and traditions must undermine the cohesion necessary to centralized power. Russians are people. Like every other people, they want freedom, to live, to love, and to laugh. That is true even of Russian secret agents and Russian soldiers. Give them a little leeway, a little distance from the knout, a small opportunity to hide and run away, and they will indulge desires common to all mankind. The centrifugal force of expansion has a way of weakening political power at the perimeter.
LET THEM COME
Will a retreat from empire building bring the colossus to our homeland? (Shades of the Hitlerian hobgoblin!) Let us admit that danger. Since war is the state's escape from a collapsed internal economy, an intercontinental venture might suggest itself to the commissars. Well, then, would we not be better able to meet the challenge because we had been conserving our resources, building up our stockpile of military power? It is an established fact of modern warfare that victory is shaped in the nation's factories, not on the battlefields; hence our concentration on production while the Russian bear was hungering on the bare bones of its victims would put us in better position to deal it a deathblow. On the other hand, the cost of hacking out new areas of exploitation in the world will tell against us when the inevitable clash, with Russia nearer to her base, takes place.
The strength to ward off any such danger will come not mainly from our production lines, nor even from our military establishment; it will come from the general antipathy toward communism which prosperity engenders. The lesson our imperialists seem unable to learn is that this strange malady of the mind is rooted in despair. Poverty, heavy taxes, unemployment, little to eat, and the uncertainty of eating—these are the environmental conditions which nurture that mental deformity. It should be plain, then, that the expenditure of wealth in imperialistic ventures must create home conditions very favorable to the purposes of the commissars. Russia's ally will be in our streets.
Thus, even if we accept at face value the worst forebodings our empire builders dish up, reason tells against carrying the fight to the communist's lair. There is, however, an even more vital argument in favor of minding our home affairs. If we go along with this poking into the business of Europe, what will happen to the liberty we have left in America? Already there is a “Red” witchhunt afoot, and experience tells us that when the exigencies of the situation require it the definition of Red will include every person who raises his voice against the going order. Mass hysteria will conveniently support such a definition. So that, in the shadow of the impending “emergency,” the outlines of a crowded concentration camp can already be detected.
If war comes—and when did imperialism not bring it?—the worst of what we call communism will come with it. The essential dogma of this creed is that the individual exists only for the purposes of the state. In that respect it must be identified with all other forms of statism, from pharaohism to nazism. Now, when the existence of the state is at stake, even the fiction of individual liberty cannot be tolerated. This is particularly true under the totalitarianism necessitated by modern warfare. Therefore, when our imperialism comes to grips with the empire of the commissars, the very thing we are presumably fighting to preserve will go by the board. Automatically, our liberties will vanish into—communism.
This is what your historic periscope should show you. But since history is what people make it, the smashup which the lens suggests is not inevitable. What men can do, men can undo. We—you and I—can help to prevent it, if we will but assume the responsibility and accept the consequences. Even a losing fight for liberty is worthwhile, for there is always the profit of self-respect to be had.
Free Trade for
“Free Trade for Preparedness” was written for analysis (November 1946).
In the matter of preparedness, the war emphasized two facts. First, that a large standing army is neither a deterrent of nor protection against aggression; second, that offensive and defensive equipment designed on the basis of past experience becomes obsolete almost as soon as the fighting begins. The massive French and Russian armies, even with Allied accretions, could not protect the borders of these nations, nor did their elaborate fortifications prove as impregnable as the builders thought; while the initial mechanical advantage of the Germans was liquidated by the inventive genius of a nation uninhibited by a blueprint. The arms which won the war were designed and built as the battle raged.
Since no formula for international peace has as yet been devised, preparedness will continue to be the concern of politicians, and the larger and more affluent the nation the more the emphasis put upon it. Which means that as long as the United States retains its present position in the world, insurance against war will be a constant national concern. We should, therefore, learn well the two lessons of the war and apply this knowledge to our benefit.
If we follow through on these two lessons we come to the conclusion that the most effective instrument of preparedness is thoroughgoing peacetime free trade. How does this follow? Let us take one important industry and see how the breaking down of our trade barrriers would improve our capacity for making war. The automotive industry is perhaps the best example, because it impinges on virtually our entire economy in the first place, and, in the second place, because it has proven itself a necessary arm of the military establishment during war. Its factories and its engineers and its know-how came in mighty handy when the going was toughest; out of this incubator came the ships, the airplanes, the guns, and the rolling stock, to say nothing of technical knowledge on the field of battle, which won the war. Furthermore, everything we grow or make in one way or another finds its way into the automobile, and if free trade can build this industry into a more potential war machine, it can likewise strengthen our entire economy.
NO COMPETITION IN SIGHT
Even before the war American automobiles and trucks found foreign competition negligible. What nation can offer any now? Germany is finished, England is done in, Japan will have little to export for many years, Russia is still, in spite of its bombastic claims, a backward nation. In automobiles—and in practically everything else which can be made with machinery—the markets of the world are ours for the asking. If we made it possible for the world to pay for them, American cars would soon cover every strip of concrete, every dirt road which connects any two towns anywhere on this globe. As one consequence, Detroit would be entirely inadequate and we would have a dozen such monstrous automotive centers situated in various parts of the country, assuring us of a protective decentralization; as another, the world demand would stimulate competition to a point where no American could not afford a car, while the related lines, from steel making to road building, from agriculture to mining, would have to keep pace, increasing our military potential in every direction. Overlooking, for the moment, the increased demand for labor, with its attendant increase in wages, and thinking only of preparedness, what nation would be foolhardy enough to attack such an arsenal, spread out over millions of square miles? The greater danger might be in the temptation to use such strength and security in a military venture of our own.
The great if in this proposition is our willingness to permit foreign customers to pay for their automobiles. We have not shown any such willingness in the past, and, since the advent of the New Deal, our “protection” psychology has developed into a form of insanity. By money inflation, by import quotas, by “ceilings” we have made it most difficult for the foreigner to buy our products because all these devices simply reduce his capacity to pay. Need it be pointed out that the only way to pay for goods and services is with goods and services? That money pays no part to trade except as a measurement of value? Even as in transactions between nationals every purchase is ultimately liquidated with another purchase, every sale calls for another sale, so must international transactions be likewise balanced. Minnesota cannot sell flour to New York unless it buys New York clothing in return, and Detroit cannot sell automobiles to Argentina unless it is willing to accept payment in either Argentine beef or in some commodity from a third country which has acquired our claim on Argentine beef. That is primary. And yet, our mad primitive isolationism has blinded us to mis basic fact of all business. Like the schizophrenic who seeks escape from reality in dreams, we have taken to the fancy that we can export without importing, by the trick of lending the foreigner our dollars with which to buy our goods; when we get our own dollars back we feel enriched until we ask the foreigner to liquidate the debt, and then we find that our own tariffs prevent him from so doing. When he defaults, as we force him to do, we write off the loss by some trick in accountancy (like lend-lease), and we start the silly thing all over again.
HOW TO STOP INFLATION
If there ever was a valid argument against free trade, there is not the semblance of one today. As a result of the war the productive capacity of any possible competition is nonexistent. Nobody has anything to “dump” on us. Are we afraid of Russia's slave labor. Or the Chinese coolie? In a desperate effort to build up its export business, England is actually starving its population; can a starved laborer compete with a well-fed one? Why should we keep out Australian wool or lamb chops when there is such a shortage of both in this country? We fear inflation and yet we bar entry of the stocks which will hold prices down. We have a shortage of copper wire and a tariff on copper. Printers and publishers are crying for paper while a ceiling on wood pulp is diverting Sweden's surplus of this product to other shores. The beeves of Central and South America are going elsewhere because of a hoof-and-mouth fiction, and American housewives stand on line at our butchershops. So it goes.
If, as has been said, the nations of the world are too impoverished to buy what we can offer, then it follows that they are too impoverished to pay back the dollar loans we are making them. We make these loans on the assumption that when they get back to production they will become sellers of their respective surpluses, and out of the proceeds of these sales (to other countries) will come the funds for repayment. Well, then, if we can trust them with our dollars, we can trust them with our goods. Even if they have no wine to ship us now, the French have always been pretty good winemakers and we can depend on it they will make shipment against any trucks they may take now. Olive oil from Italy would indeed be welcome on any American table whenever it conies. The petroleum interests tell us our domestic supply of this commodity is dwindling to a point of national danger, and yet a tariff on petroleum prevents the importation of the vast supplies offered by South American wells, owned, incidentally, by these same interests. There is no nation in the world which does not have an overabundance of something which we can use, and which would make pretty good specie for the automobiles we are equipped to send them.
WHY SCUTTLE OUR NAVY?
The inclination is strong to extend this argument for preparedness through free trade to other industries. We have seen how all sorts of plants were turned almost overnight into war machines, and since free trade must increase the productivity of all industry by the simple expedient of widening the market, it is evident that free trade is the best assurance of a readymade, well-oiled and superior defense potential. But, there is one industry which merits special attention, since its need in time of war is most essential, and which our protective policy threatens to extinguish. That is our merchant marine. In any war which we can envisage our navy must play an important part, and what kind of a navy would we have without a merchant marine? The common carrier which plies the seas in peacetime is immediately convertible into an auxiliary of the fighting ship, while its personnel are graduates of the most important naval academy.
The maintenance of a merchant marine is so necessary for defense purposes that we have resorted to subsidization to keep it from folding up. Yet there was a time when the American merchant marine was the envy of the nations of the world, and that was when this nation was poor both in population and in capital. The American Clipper was the cockiest ship on the high seas simply because it had cargoes to take home as well as to deliver. It had no tariff wall to impede its progress. The men who manned the Clipper were a comparatively opulent crew, and therefore enterprising, hardy, and resourceful; and all this because there were practically no political impediments to their business. Then came the protective tariff lunacy, about the time of the Civil War, and the American merchant marine began to decline. When World War I came, it was necessary at great cost to build merchant ships in a hurry; as soon as the war was over this vast accumulation of capital had to be scrapped because our protective tariff made shipping a profitless one-way business. Since we as a nation are addicted to this protective lunacy, we were incapable of learning the lesson, and when the second war came we had the same job to do all over again. Unless we come to our senses and realize that ships which carry cargoes out must have cargoes to bring back, we shall have to scuttle a second great and expensive navy. Free trade is the only means of saving it. Imagine what would happen to our railroad system if the various states put quotas and tariffs on the importations from the other states. That is what has happened to our merchant marine.
Now, this vast arsenal which an expanded international business would build up would cost the nation nothing. On the other hand, the wealth it would bring into the country, the wealth it would create by the employment of labor, would strengthen the nation financially in time of need. An army and a navy are all expense. Industry not only supports itself but also supports the army and the navy. The colossal French army collapsed at the first test because it rested on a decadent economy, a tax-corroded industrial establishment. As a consequence the morale of the people was far below fighting pitch and the productive capacity of the country was no match for the extra task put upon it by war. The experience of France should warn us against the stupidity of taxing industry to death to support a standing army. With a flourishing economy, we can build an army when we need it; with a tax-ridden economy, no army can stand up.
USELESS STANDING ARMIES
Rumor has it that Russia has a standing army of three million—a semitrained army of millions more. If this is so, Russia is getting weaker day by day. The cost of maintaining a nonproductive institution of anything like that size must be debilitating. But, more than that, every man who marches and drills is a man who not only is not producing, but because of lack of training is incapable of producing when production is most important. In the last war, the comparative technical skills and capacities of the two sides told off in the end. In the next war this factor will be of even more importance. The wags speak of it as the “pushbutton” war, meaning that mechanical gadgets will be relied upon more than personal fighting. Mechanical gadgets are made and operated by men who know how, and that knowledge can be gained only in designing rooms and shops, not in barracks. In the final analysis the nation with the biggest and most productive factories will be superior to the one with the biggest and best drilled army. Those factories are the product of a free economy — in which free trade is an essential element.
The final argument for free trade as a measure of preparedness is that it tends to minimize the irritations which lead to war. A free-trade nation is a nation of buyers, and on the recognized principle that “the buyer is always right,” such a nation is looked on with favor by its neighbors. So, the most effective good-neighbor policy we could pursue is that of buying from our neighbors that which they have in abundance, and which we can use to advantage, selling them in return the things we have lots of and want least. They would not expect us to buy from them what we can produce more cheaply, nor would they consider buying from us anything of which their natural advantages or skills provide all they want. But, if we have automobiles and cotton which they need, we should not refuse payment in steers or minerals we could use. It is time we quit taxing ourselves to support our inefficient producers or to protect such “infant industries” as the United States Steel Corporation. It is time we stopped irritating other countries by refusing to do business with them on an equitable basis. Thus, both for preparedness and as a preventative of war, free trade commends itself.
Economic internationalism—The elimination of friction by allowing the free flow of goods and services from where there is a surplus to where there is a need. The resulting interdependence breeds mutual respect. Since cultures follow in the wake of goods, free trade leads to understanding and appreciation, and a break in relations becomes unthinkable.
Nonintervention—How a people choose to order their lives is their own concern, and meddling by an outsider, even “for their own good,” arouses resentment. Since the internal affairs of any nation are never beyond reproach, invasion of the privacy of another is as presumptuous as it is mischievous. Political isolationism— minding one's own business—is an essential of peace.