BOOKS JULY 17, 1935
Europe: War or Peace? by Walter Duranty. Boston: World Peace Foundation. 47 pages. 50 cents.
The Pipe Dream of Peace, by John W. Wheeler-Bennett. New York: William Morrow and Company. 318 pages. $3.
Peace and the Plain Man, by Norman Angell. New York: Harper and Brothers. 344 pages. $2.50
The Price of Peace, by Frank H. Simonds. New York: Harper and Brothers. 380 pages. $3.
The title of Mr. Duranty’s booklet, “Europe: War or Peace?” is a question that is asked today more anxiously than it was in 1914. But the question is asked not only for Europe: with infinitely less background of historical friction, wars have been going on or threatening in South America and in the Pacific. The problem of peace in the present world, which has become more and more an indivisible unity, cannot be understood so long as our eyes are almost hypnotically fixed on Europe and the peace treaty of Versailles.
Europe is not only an armed camp “at present”; it has been an armed camp, at least since the treaty of 1871. The rivalry between France and Germany, which Duranty regards as a chief factor in modern Europe, is equaled if not surpassed by the many-centuries-old German-Slav hostility. The peace treaties of the suburbs of Paris in 1919 were only one stage in the development of ancient controversies. Nations trained to regard force and the soldier not as temporary evils but as the lifeblood of history, tempt others to the conclusion: “It is logical to suppose that certainty of opposition by a greatly superior force is the sole argument which they will find convincing.” During recent months, even a public inclined toward optimism and easy solutions in discussing war and peace seems to realize that the problem is everywhere on earth the same: the problem of emotional and economic nationalism. The public is also beginning to realize that no solution can be reached by damning or revising this orthat treaty; as a matter of fact, the peace treaty of Versailles has been in many points revised and its harshness mitigated almost since its signature. The only hope lies in going to the fundamentals of the universal situation and getting ready to pay the price that all nations without exception will have to pay if they sincerely believe in peace and cooperation as more essential than their own sovereignty or the standard of power and life they enjoy by virtue of temporary advantages.
The discussion of peace has become in the last months, for Europe and for the Pacific, tinged with more pessimism, but also with greater realism and maturity. John W. Wheeler-Bennett, a well known British student of international affairs since the World War, has presented in “The Pipe Dream of Peace” the story of the collapse of disarmament. The disarmament conference, well prepared over a period of twelve years by the memoranda and expert opinions of generals, admirals and diplomats, broke down because each nation considered every proposal in the light of its own special interests and wished to shift the burden of disarmament upon other more “aggressive” nations. Thus, the United States and Great Britain urged the prohibition of submarines, but clung to their battleships, whereas smaller Powers exactly reversed the stipulation.
Mr. Wheeler-Bennett successfully links the story of the disarmament conference with the inner development of Germany. He calls Chancellor Brüning’s dismissal by President von Hindenburg (whose reflection in the previous month Brüning more than any other man had brought about) a tragedy—“No European statesman of modern times has been so basely betrayed and ungratefully treated.” But the triumph of the new Chancellor, von Papen, was the prelude to Hitler and to the final collapse of the moribund disarmament conference. Mr. Wheeler-Bennett’s book is a very interesting account of history during the eventful years from the beginning of 1932 to the end of August, 1934, when it became clear that it was not the nebulous movement of “regeneration” but the old Prussian military caste that had gained complete control of Germany.
Norman Angell is an old-time pacifist, but of all his books on peace I liked his last the hest. “Peace and the Plain Man” will be a healthy corrective to the confused thinking of all those who clamor for a league to enforce peace but dislike sanctions and infringements upon sovereignty; in a clear, persuasive style, it exposes other fallacies that prevail among pacifists. Many of them see in capitalism the reason for war, and in the bankers and industrialists, the men who profit by death. But the difficulty of the whole problem consists in the fact that wars are made by the people themselves, who insist upon policies of national sovereignty and protection of national rights, and impose those policies upon their governments. There is, however, a weak point in Mr. Angell’s argument— namely, that he regards “the people” and “the nation” and “the plain man” as abstract and indivisible entities. He does not take into consideration the conflicts of interest that divide a nation into many sorts of “plain men,” some driving toward war and others dumbly driven.
It is often asserted that alliances and precommitments make for war. Mr. Angell points out that freedom from commitment did not keep the United States out of war; on the contrary, “commitment would have kept them out, since if Germany had known that by following a certain line twenty-two states would range themselves against her, she would not have followed that line and there would have been no war.” Mr. Angell’s discussion of the economic and psychological factors is as illuminating as it is useful. He suggests that security can be obtained by means of collective guarantees that the status quo shall not be changed by war. That is certainly better than the system of individual defenses without precommitment, and it may represent the best that practical politics can do today. But it will not be sufficient to prevent wars that are rooted in our whole social structure. An economic organization of the world as a whole may seem Utopian, but it is no more Utopian than the abolition of war. The plain man may not like it, hut he has to face the fact that an international federation is the price we have to pay for peace if we really want peace.
Mr. Frank Simonds in his last book, “The Price of Peace,” faces the issue frankly. He sees the war danger as arising not out of peace treaties but out of the more elementary fact that the Japanese, Italian and German peoples find themselves restricted by their own economic poverty in raw materials and land resources, and by the monopolistic policies of more fortunate nations—especially the United States and Great Britain. “The price of peace is the assurance of economic security to the peoples of all of the Great Powers. Patently this price of peace must be paid by those nations, of which the United States is the most striking example, whose material resources bestow the largest measure of economic self-sufficiency.”
In this respect Mr. Simonds is certainly right, but he overstresses the matter of disparities in the material resources of the Great Powers, and leaves out of consideration the far less favored countries, India and China. These may offer no imminent war dangers today but they will not consent to remain forever at a standard of life far below that of Germany, Italy or even Japan. The nations that are not (or are not yet) Great Powers also demand consideration of their claims to justice. Mr. Simonds concentrates upon economic nationalism and its challenge, but the claim for justice made by the German people, for instance, is not only economic. And the difficulty arises of determining just what justice is. With some nations (Germany, Japan, Fascist Italy seem to belong to them), justice is a dynamic notion that from achievement to achievement grows in its claims and aspirations. To some, justice seems to imply not equality of all the nations, but superiority. Therefore, the price to be paid for peace seems to be not merely concessions to the less favored strong nations, but “some form of international agreement which will assure” equality of opportunity and standard of life to all.
Mr. Simonds makes clear how heavy is the price of peace:
It is unmistakable that a country as richly endowed materially as is the United States can, at least temporarily, achieve domestic prosperity by means of purely monopolistic economic policies. But it should be equally evident that a people which permits its government to pursue such policies deliberately bolts and bars the door to world peace. And that people, so far from expecting others to disarm in the face of such a course, must turn its attention to the multiplication of its own means of defense against the attacks that course renders inevitable.
Hans Kohn is professor of History at Smith College. Among his books are “A History of Nationalism in the East,” “Nationalism in the Soviet Union” and “Orient and Occident.”
This article originally ran in the July 17, 1935, issue of the magazine.