The High Price of World Leadership

The New Republic

You have read:

0 / 8

free articles in the past 30 days.

Already a subscriber?

Log in here

sign up for unlimited access for just $34.97Sign me up

OCTOBER 18, 1953

The High Price of World Leadership

 

To a sterner nature than mine it may be enough to know that in hard days one did one's best. But it is a lonely satisfaction and leaves the heart cold. You bring the warmth of quadruple honor—the Award of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, bearing the accolade of that great name; the fact that in following my beloved chef, President Truman, in this honor, you associate me with him once again; the presence and the kind words of my colleague of more than a decade of government service, Secretary Thomas Finletter, whose friendship now, as always, in Francis Bacon’s phrase “redoubleth joys and cutteth griefs in half”; and the attesting presence of this company of generous friends.

I accept it with a full and grateful heart. The warms of such friendship makes one stiffening from old wounds feel once again the oar in his hand, the surge of the sea under the stem and the prow pointed to seas never yet sailed. And one feels again the grim courage of that figure at the helm who brought us—not to port, for there will be no port for a long time—but through the hurricane to more navigable seas.

On Labor Day, President Truman said that one of the results of private life was that it gave a man time to think. He did not disclose whether the opportunity gives pain or pleasure. I shall not intrude where he has hesitated. But his remark raises another point illustrated by a most able statesman of one of our American neighbors, who was asked his policy and giving public expression to his thoughts: “I have two types of thoughts—one, I share with all; the other, I never think.”

Your kindness to me tonight gives me an opportunity to share with you some thoughts. Their validity you will judge.

The foreign policy of the United States is composed of two elements, object and method—to put it another way, the purpose or object to be attained, and the various acts, international, domestic, public and private, which affect our international purposes and goal.

As to the first of these—the broad purpose—I do not believe that, among Americans who are informed, there is or can be, any serious disagreement about the proper aim of our foreign policy in the national interest. We would agree, I think, that the purpose of our foreign policy is to maintain and foster an environment in which our national life and individual freedom can survive and prosper. We would believe that the Communist bloc is wholly hostile to the attainment of this purpose; desires a diametrically opposite result; and at one time came close to having the capacity to effect its desire.

We believe, I continue, that the danger does not confront us alone. It confronts all peoples who wish to pursue their own national or cultural development in their own way, and all who cherish individual liberty. The will and power of some of these nations, added to ours, can obtain the result we and they seek. The support, trust and co-operation of all is important to us and to them. The loss of certain of these nations would gravely prejudice the outcome.

Such I believe to be the situation in a nutshell. It means, as it had meant five times in the last 400 years, a coalition to resist the imposition by a powerful state of its hegemony upon others. For it had been by this means that five times a group of states have maintained their independence, their freedom to develop along their chosen paths, however diverse these may have been. A coalition defeated the attempt of Louis XIV to impose absolutism upon Europe, to make subject peoples out of independent peoples. A coalition defeated Napoleon; another defeated the Kaiser; another Hitler. And now another still has been formed to face a danger equal and greater than any of these—greater because added to the power of a great state is an international conspiratorial doctrine which is used to exascerbate [sic] and exploit all conflicts within and between the opposing states.

If, as I believe, this is the problem, let us look at the history of the postwar years. I submit that it falls into two phases: One, the creation of the coalition amid confusion and evident danger; the other, the maintenance and management of the coalition against cajolery and subversion in the face of a more hidden but perhaps greater danger.

The first phase occupied the period from shortly after the end of World War II to the Communist Party Congress in Moscow in the autumn of 1952; the second phase we are now in, and cannot foresee its end except that it will not come soon.

The problem of the past six years was to create the coalition to oppose the imposition of Communist tyranny. The need to do so came about because the collapse of Germany and Japan removed the powers which stood astride the borders to which five centuries of expansion had brought the Russian Empire. The weakness of Western Europe created a fluidity there, unparalleled in modern time. And the awakening of the peoples of Asia and Africa to a sense of their own destiny released forces of promise and of confusion.

The task of creating this coalition consisted not merely in bringing the nations concerned together in the common purpose—but almost in recreating the economic and social strength, the moral confidence, and the will to succeed of many, if not most, of the nations involved. It was a task of unprecedented magnitude and difficulty. nations broken by the war either in spirit, or in substance, or in power, or in all three—friends and former enemies alike—were restored to health and confidence and brought to seek a common purpose.

In this vast and triumphant accomplishment all those nations contributed in effort, in sacrifice, in courage. In furnishing the ways and means—and I think it fair to say, the inspiration—a major portion of the task fell to the United States.

The steps taken by our own and like-minded nations are too well known to do more than mention them—the prompt action to save Greece and Turkey; the economic restoration, including the Marshall Plan; the lifting of the siege of Berlin; the material and moral rebuilding of Germany and Japan; the North Atlantic Treaty; the creation of the unified military force in Europe and on the Atlantic; the movement for unity in Western Europe, which remains of great importance; the rearmament program; the vindication of collective security in Korea; the Pacific Treaties; and the gallant fight in Indo-China, Malaya, the Philippines against Communist-inspired attack.

During this initial postwar period of power fluidity the Russians had successes as well as great and disappointing failures. They tried to win the vital industrial centers of Europe, to complement their system—and failed. Their gain lay in another field—the undeveloped area of China. Their gain here was loss for us. That must be entered in the account. When this is done and the account of the first phase cast up, one conclusion stands out:

Much, much indeed, has been accomplished in a brief and crowded time. In a very real sense chaos was turned into substance, and substance into strength, by the common will to achieve of free, though deeply tired and tried, peoples. So much so, that last autumn even before the death of Stalin, the Communist Party Congress recognized the profound change, and, in turn, forecast a new Communist policy. No longer did the party leaders consider constant pressure, the intimidation of vast armaments, ceaseless and violent propaganda, and a hammer blow or two at weak spots, sufficient to accomplish their purpose.

The new Soviet policy was the greatest accolade of our united success. It called for the splitting up of our coalition; the checking and disintegration of our common and growing strength; the end of the United States military participation in the defense of Europe and the Middle East. All this would be accompanied by an expected economic crisis in the West—what Stalin called “the deepening of the general crisis of capitalism.” In total, it would create a situation ultimately favorable to Soviet dominance in the world.

And so with our gains and our losses, we come to the second phase. Equilibrium has been created. Strength has told. Negotiation is asked, is possible, is desirable, and may—but only may—be productive. This is one of the results we have sought. In what attitude, with what scale of values, should we approach negotiation? Here certain principles seem to me to contain the essence of salvation.

The first is that never more than at present is the preservation of the coalition so essential. To sustain it and to strengthen it must the foundation of our foreign policy. The most unforgivable of mistakes would be to falter in a policy just as developments prove its rightness and success.

Let me urge this thought upon you as we approach the negotiations of the coming months—perhaps the coming years. Whatever issues appear upon the conference agenda, whatever debates occupy the columns of the press and the news hours of the radio—the supreme issue, the central point around which all else revolves is the health and strength and cohesiveness of our coalition. Every effort will be made to divide us from our allies. Every effort will be made to sow distrust, suspicion, and to make it appear that one or the other of us is imposing upon the others. All of this brings us face to face with the fundamental principles and rules of conduct which govern the association of free peoples in a common effort.

 

The leadership of a coalition of free people requires that the purposes and policies put forward are broad enough to embrace the interests of the whole group—or, at least, the vital, essential interests of the group. This is a matter of the deepest moral responsibility. Such a leader is a trustee. His interests cannot be personal or narrow. They must encompass the interests of all for whom he assumes the responsibility of leadership. This conception is essential for the operation of a coalition.

It puts a high price upon leadership. It means that one cannot yield to the demands of domestic politics if the statesmen of the nation exercising leadership are to command the confidence of others, who, in their turn, must subordinate urgent local pressures to the wider good. It means that, in a system of states, the leader, and all others, must deal with the members as one would expect to deal with allies and friends, who have many conflicting points of view. This requires the confinement of issues to the essential and the resistance to pressures which accentuate more remote, divisive issues.

A former colleague of mine well said: “The essence of your leadership is the successful resolution of problems and the successful attainment of objectives which impress themselves as being important to those whom one is called upon to lead.”

Leadership also requires courtesy and manners. And at a time when peoples live cheek by jowl with other peoples, it requires not merely diplomatic manners, but governmental, press, radio and popular manners. Whoever, for whatever seemingly local or personal purpose, insults or denigrates our allies strikes at the heart of our policy. Whoever portrays us as the sole repository of wisdom and resistance to tyranny, and who portrays our allies as something considerably less, does the coalition a great disfavor.

The problems of this fast upsurging phase of our foreign policy are puzzling beyond measure. Those who represent us are entitled to every support. But the point remains that at the heart of our policy always, day in and day out, lies the strengthening of our coalition, of our united front.

And this, in turn, affects touchy points of domestic policy. For without strength—military strength—our own and our allies—the coalition loses its effectiveness to achieve its essential purpose. If the growth of this strength is stunted or impaired for whatever reason, the same results cannot be expected from our common policy. As a famous critic said of a great actress in the role of Chanticleer, “Charm never made a rooster.”

A military force—a unified, collective force—is not made by speeches. A strong economic system of the free world is not made by exhortation and high tariffs. These are some of the costs of responsibility. Our responses to them are tests of maturity. But for historians they will be more—they will bear upon our survival as a nation and a free people.

There is another—and even more difficult—requirement for leadership in our coalition. It is a moral requirement, for the crucial issue of the struggle of our time is a moral issue, one central to the life we have inherited, to the very air we breathe. Above and beyond the alignment of nations and the defensive power which all of us strive to create, inspiring us and uniting us, is the idea of freedom—not only national freedom, but the freedom of man. We call our civilization Graeco-Judaic-Christian. The common idea in this heritage is the notion of the dignity of man, which means, as the Age of Enlightenment unlined, the spirit of free inquiry. It is the defense of this idea against the police state, the modern form of tyranny, which unites and inspires the men and women whom our coalition represents and serves.

One of the dangers—clear and present dangers, in judicial phrase—which confronts us Americans is what this struggle may do to us. Do to us, not in the physical or material sense, but in the sense John Milton meant, when he said, “Citizens, it is of no small concern what manner of men ye are, whether to preserve or to lose your liberties.” An old French proverb tells us: Chacun prend à l’adversaire, qu’il le veuille ou non. (Everyone takes on the face of his adversary, whether he wills it or not.) 

We are in real danger of taking on the face of our adversary. We see this happening in a number of ways. Each day presents too many examples of callousness, cynicism, indifference to the values of truth, fairness, restraint, free thought, free expression, free inquiry. They occur in many ways and at many levels in our national life.

At the lowest level they appear in the use of totalitarian methods ostensibly to fight Communism. Your hear it said, “You have to use the methods of the Bolsheviks to beat the Bolsheviks,” or “These methods may be rough but so is the enemy.” In my view, these rationalizations are insidiously false and deceptive. Bolshevik methods lead to Bolshevism. One of the tragedies of all times is the self-deception of those who act upon the belief that evil can be justified by, or lead to, good ends.

At a higher and more thoughtful level, but equally dangerous, is the view that only by developing an orthodoxy of our own can we defeat the totalitarian orthodoxy. It is said that the Western World wandered from the true path at the time of the Age of Enlightenment, and that the spirit of skepticism and of free inquiry, that grew out of that inspired age, has so corroded our faith that we are easy prey to the Communists. In my belief, what we need is not less spirit of inquiry, but more. It had been the central idea of our nation, from the days of 1776 and earlier, that a free society is one in which diversity may flourish, in which the spirit of inquiry and of belief is free to explore and express. The advent of Communism has not changed this. We do not become stronger by imposing a uniformity of thinking upon ourselves; we become weaker. We lose, in fact, what we are fighting for; we take upon ourselves the face of our adversary.

The spirit of free inquiry, free thought, is the kernel of what we are defending, and it is also the strongest weapon in our arsenal. What is more, it is the principal binding force in our coalition. The tradition of 1776 is still the most powerful and attracting force in the world today; it is this that draws to our leadership people all over the world. Without this idea, we are to them just another powerful nation, bent upon interests which are not theirs. If we are narrow, dogmatic, self-centered, afraid, domineering and crabbed, we shall break apart the alliance on which our future depends. But, if we behave, in our dealings among ourselves and with our allies, as a free society should, we shall succeed in that most difficult task of leading a group of diverse peoples, doing unpleasant and burdensome things, over a long period of time, in the quiet defense of their precious liberty. It may be that this is the highest test of our American civilization which destiny has in store for us.

share this article on facebook or twitter

print this article

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

You must be a subscriber to post comments. Subscribe today.

Back to Top

SHARE HIGHLIGHT

0 CHARACTERS SELECTED

TWEET THIS

POST TO TUMBLR

SHARE ON FACEBOOK