Originally titled “America’s Role in the Peace,” the following article is based on John Foster Dulles’ address at the Cleveland Conference (January 16–19, 1945), which was called under the auspices of the Federal Council’s Commission on a Just and Durable Peace. The son of a Presbyterian minister and future secretary of State under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Dulles draws upon Christian teaching to consider geopolitical problems. Christianity and Crisis, a Christian realist publication that serves as an inspiration for Providence, originally published his remarks just over 75 years ago on January 22, 1945. In an accompanying note, the editors explain, “Mr. Dulles, in this address, charts a course for America which in a remarkable way avoids both the perils of perfectionism and the perils of expediency.”
Regular Providence should recognize this desire to balance between perils of idealism and realism. Studying how statesmen during World War II handled those difficult times while considering Christian faith can help Christians today respond to contemporary foreign policy dilemmas.
For instance, the speech mentions how the United States had multiple, imperfect options for Poland’s status after World War II. As Dulles explains, Washington chose to allow Moscow total control over the country, despite criticism from Christians and others at the time. Knowing how Soviet domination devastated the country during the Cold War, Christians today can read about the challenges the US faced in 1945 and debate whether America made the right choice. Such debates with historical perspective can help us understand not only the past, but also tough predicaments today.
The article also addresses to what extent Americans are willing to “collaborate” with other states for the global good. Specifically, Dulles references the Dumbarton Oaks Conference in Washington, DC (August 21 – October 7, 1944), which produced proposals that developed into the United Nations. Speaking of how and why the United States should collaborate with other nations, Dulles says:
The American nation has not yet adjusted itself to the working conditions of collaboration. We are hesitant about giving or accepting collaboration with reference to the hard problems that daily present themselves. We like collaboration as an idea. We fear it as a reality.
Americans still debate international collaboration, the liberal international order, America’s system of alliances, unilateralism, and the country’s overall place in the global order. Statesmen in 1945 may have expected Americans to eventually adjust to collaboration, but many voters have not.
Understanding how Christians considered these and other debates then can help Christians understand them better today.
When, in March, 1943, our Commission issued the “Six Pillars of Peace,” we said, “If the United Nations of this war are to continue to be united, the time to cement that unity is now.” That, we said, was required both to promote victory and to provide the foundation indispensable to the building of a durable peace. Accordingly, our first and basic Pillar spoke of “continuing” collaboration between the United Nations and, in due course, neutral and enemy nations. We were confident that, under the impact of common peril, a procedure for collaboration would be found so that the main problem of peace would be to perpetuate and universalize a living thing.
For a brief span, our confidence appeared to have been justified. In October 1943 from Moscow, the British, Soviet and American governments issued this official communique:
The Conference agreed to set up machinery for ensuring the closest cooperation between the three Governments in the examination of European questions arising as the war develops. For this purpose the Conference decided to establish in London an European Advisory Commission to study these questions and to make joint recommendations to the three Governments.
That decision was the prelude to the other great decision taken at Moscow, which was—as Mr. Eden put it—“to continue cooperation and collaboration after the war,” through a general international organization. Mr. Eden recognized that such continuance would not be easy to assure for, as he said, “Between nations, when the immediate common effort needed for victory is over, it is hard to hold the same unity in the years to follow.” The Moscow decision to initiate at once the “closest cooperation” was thus looked upon as the first and easier step—easier because it reflected the pressure of a common peril. The harder part would come after that peril had disappeared.
Now, it appears, we have failed to consummate that first and easier step. Even a grave common peril has not brought us to practice that collaboration which had been agreed upon at Moscow over a year ago. Instead, the effort has been suspended. In place of the “common concern” principle, there has been substituted a “sphere of influence” procedure, which obviates the need of close collaboration. The United States has not shared responsibility for the practical decisions which must be taken in the liberated areas of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, and that responsibility has been apportioned in great part to the Soviet Union and in small part to Great Britain. Thus, the three great powers which at Moscow agreed upon the “closest cooperation” about European questions have shifted to a practice of separate, regional responsibility.
That is a major setback to hopes of effective world organization. If, even when common peril exists, the leaders of the United Nations find it impracticable to practice the principle of common concern, then no realistic person will expect quickly to vitalize that practice after the peril has disappeared. The words of Dumbarton Oaks will be far ahead of any willingness to make them real.
Where lies the responsibility for this retrogression from the practice of cooperation?
One who is in a mood to be critical of Marshal Stalin will place there the blame. It would be said that he is practicing the realism which is inspired by the materialistic philosophy of the Soviet State; that he sees a great opportunity to extend Soviet influence and, having the opportunity and the power, he is not disposed to dilute them through accepting the collaboration of others, particularly others whose philosophy gives them a totally different outlook upon human affairs.
One who is in a mood to be critical of Prime Minister Churchill will place there the blame. It would be said that the present arrangement is primarily due to the fact that Mr. Churchill’s great ambition lies, not in establishing world order but in preserving an Empire which, he has asserted, will not be voluntarily liquidated so long as he is the King’s first minister.
One who is in a mood to be critical of President Roosevelt will place there the blame. It would be said that he is a man who, temperamentally, finds it difficult to organize and delegate, who dislikes to take sides on issues that passionately divide much of our electorate, and who prefers lofty generalities, such as the Four Freedoms, upon which all can agree.
Supposing all that is true, what of it? It is because such things are usual that we need organized collaboration. Collaboration is not worth much if it only works when the great powers have leaders who, with equal competence, lead their nations along parallel lines. Our purpose is to surmount differences which arise from such causes as I have suggested. Let us, therefore, look more deeply into the matter, and, above all, let us look into ourselves.
It is true, and we are proud of it, that the Christian forces of America influence the course of world affairs. The developments which we now deplore are in no small degree due to that same influence. The fact is that this nation has not yet adjusted itself to the working conditions of collaboration. A majority of our people now accept, in the abstract, the proposition that international trouble anywhere is of potential concern to us. They agree that, since this is so, it logically follows that our government ought to take a responsible part in dealing with troubles elsewhere. But, actually, they inspire our government with fears that it cannot collaborate and still retain the confidence of the people.
Such fear is not without warrant. These European problems arouse violent emotions in those of our citizens who feel a racial or ideological affinity with one or another of the factions which struggle in Europe. These blocs are very vocal and, from a voting standpoint, have a certain strategic power. But, after all, they are small minorities. The significant power lies with those who judge their government as Americans. Even they, however, are not yet in a mood to tolerate our official participation in decisions which, because they are joint decisions, will involve some compromise of our particular ideals. Many prefer to see our government stand aloof, and utter lofty pronouncements which pander to their sense of moral superiority. Under such conditions, government is not disposed to work in such mire as much of the world is today. It is afraid of the criticism which will be heaped upon it when it comes back with some of the mire adhering to its hands and feet.
Let me illustrate from two current situations.
In Poland the issues are how much of pre-war Poland will be incorporated into the Soviet Union and will the initial government of liberated Poland be the government-in-exile which we have consistently recognized or a new government made in Moscow. There is no easy or perfect solution of those issues. Any settlement in which our Government participates will attract criticism from Americans of Polish descent, because it will alienate some territory which they deem sacred Polish soil. It will attract criticism from Christians, particularly Roman Catholics, who will oppose any cession of Catholic areas to a government which espouses atheism. It will attract criticism from those who take their line from Moscow, because the settlement will not give the Soviet Union quite all it wants. It will attract criticism from the great mass of American people who believe that we must never compromise such precepts as were expressed in the Atlantic Charter. As against such criticisms, there would be some measure of approbation from those who feel that we would have discharged a painful responsibility and achieved a settlement which, though far from perfect, is at least better for the present and less irrevocable for the future, than had we held aloof.
After judging that balance of forces, our government has acquiesced in the Soviet preference that there be no serious effort to find a common program. Our contribution has been to utter unexceptionable generalities.
Apparently most of the American people are satisfied with that. Yet the part we are now playing shows little advance over what we did when we were practicing isolation. What we are doing now in relation to the Soviet-Polish boundary crisis of 1945 is reminiscent of what we did in relation to the German-Czech boundary crisis of 1938. Our Government then expressed its deep concern about the maintenance of peace. We said both to Chancellor Hitler and to President Benes that we hoped that they would find a mutually acceptable and peaceful method of composing their difficulty. We urged other governments to join with us in seeking a just settlement through peaceful means. But we told our diplomats abroad, “Please make it clear that this suggestion on our part does not in any way imply any opinion as to the points of the dispute at issue,” and we said, “The Government of the United States * * * will assume no obligation in the conduct of the present negotiations.” Thus, we stood at a safe distance and uttered splendid generalities which no one could criticize.
In Greece, the issue appears to be whether the initial government of that liberated land will stem from the pre-war monarchy or whether the armed resistance forces will be allowed to impose their will forcibly upon the Greek people. Here again there is no easy or perfect solution. The British forces are in occupation and seem to face the alternative of shooting down the leftist ELAS forces or acquiescing in that faction shooting their way to rule over other Greeks. Faced by that dilemma, they are seeking by force to disarm the ELAS. Were our Government to take part in the decisions of these matters, it would doubtless draw upon itself criticism comparable to that which descended upon Mr. Churchill.
We should not be surprised if our own Administration is glad to escape from responsibility in Greece and other Balkan states and to take refuge in generalities about “non-interference in the internal affairs of another state.” But that again shows that our practice has changed little since the days of the Civil War in Spain. Then the democracies adopted the policy of “non-intervention.” That policy may, at times, be sound. But often it is merely an excuse for abandoning a people to armed cliques or to the intervention of others. In the case of Spain, the result was to eliminate any chance of the Spanish people having a moderate, middle-of-the-road, democratic form of government. It made Spain a battleground between two extremes—the extreme right and the extreme left—one backed by foreign Fascists, the other by foreign Communists—with the assurance that any outcome would subject the Spanish people to a totalitarian government. The democracies kept their hands and feet clean, but did so at heavy cost to the Spanish people and in the long run to themselves.
Our attitude toward Poland and Greece shows aloofness toward international collaboration. There is also evidence of affirmative opposition to collaboration. The Argentine trouble has illustrated that. It is a serious matter. Diplomatic relations have ceased, economic sanctions are being applied, and political leaders of the two governments have been publicly denouncing each other. We have nearly exhausted the list of what, in diplomatic parlance, are called “measures short of war.” Yet it seems that we prefer to go on dealing in the matter alone, although it legitimately concerns many other nations than ourselves. Our government’s attitude there also seems to command popular support, for it has attracted virtually no public criticism at home.
These illustrations could be multiplied. They are, however, sufficient to show that the American nation has not yet adjusted itself to the working conditions of collaboration. We are hesitant about giving or accepting collaboration with reference to the hard problems that daily present themselves. We like collaboration as an idea. We fear it as a reality. In consequence, there has developed a sort of tacit understanding with our principal allies. They will give us world cooperation on paper—which is the way we like it. In return, we will drop out of the actual practice of collaboration, leaving each a free hand in its area of special interest. That understanding was clearly hinted at by Mr. Churchill when, speaking on last December 15th, he referred to the fact that “the government and the people of the United States have set their hearts upon world organization” and that, he said, “will be fatally ruptured by a quarrel between any of the three most powerful empires which compose the Grand Alliance of the United Nations.” Of course world organization would be fatally ruptured by a quarrel between the US, Great Britain and Russia. But also world organization will be fatally ruptured if the only way to avoid that quarrel is to abandon the practice of collaboration and divide the world into three compartments of special interest.
It is time for the American people to arouse themselves. They have become pleasurably immersed in an intellectual pastime. Throughout the nation men are devising ingenious formulae to deal with voting on a hypothetical Security Council and for dealing with the relative control of the President and the Congress over the American member on that Council. These matters may be important, but they will be important only if we first make sure that we are doing something more real than playing with words. There is much risk that, as things now stand, the Dumbarton Oaks Proposals will never be more than words. The only way to eliminate that risk is to bring our government now to practice international collaboration. It ought at once to vitalize the Moscow Agreement and use the machinery it provided “for ensuring the closest cooperation between the three governments in the examination of European questions.” Our government ought to participate actively in the decisions now being taken in Europe, decisions which, more than any Security Organization, will determine whether thereis to be a Third World War.
But, it will be asked, is this still possible? Will our collaboration be accepted? Can we now recapture the agreement of Moscow? I do not doubt that we can—under certain conditions.
One condition is that our cooperation be implemented by the most competent and experienced Americans who are available. Collaboration, to be acceptable, must be skilled. Also, that collaboration must be put on a sustained, rather than sporadic, basis. The objective is to prevent crises not merely to try to solve them.
Another condition is that our cooperation be conciliatory and understanding of the ideals and vital needs of others. We must not be dogmatic. Our particular ideals and sense of vital interest are not the only ones in the world. Also, we must recognize that, as said in the Lansing-Ishii declaration, “territorial propinquity creates social relations between countries.” Just because we reject non-cooperation we must not go to the other extreme of assuming that all nations have an equal interest everywhere.
Finally, we must make it clear that we will not be satisfied with getting a piece of paper in exchange for the living reality of collaboration. So long as Great Britain and the Soviet Union think that what our hearts are set on is merely a document which will satisfy us intellectually, then we will never get the real thing.
Under the foregoing conditions, we could confidently expect to revive the arrangement for “the closest cooperation” which was agreed to at Moscow.
The immediate difficulty is not external, but internal. We cannot expect our Government to seek to cooperate on world problems unless that is what the American people want and unless they want it sufficiently to be tolerant of results which, in themselves, will often be unsatisfactory. We must change the standard by which we will judge our Government’s performance. No administration, of whatever party, would or could do such things as are here suggested if it is going to be denounced whenever the outcome fails to satisfy wholly America’s particular ideals.
How and under what conditions will the needed tolerance be forthcoming? We do not want tolerance which is mere indifference. We do not want tolerance which reflects a conscious abandonment or lowering of ideals. We do not want tolerance which excludes the right freely to speak in aid of ideals. Collaboration must not be bought at that price.
What, then, is this “tolerance” of which we speak, and which alone can make collaboration a living thing? It is not a compromise of our ideals. Rather, it is the acceptance, provisionally, of practical situations which fall short of our ideals. The vital word in that sentence is the word “provisionally.” We cannot agree to solutions which fall short of our ideals if thereby we become morally bound to sustain and perpetuate them. That would be stultifying. It is the possibility of change which is the bridge between idealism and the practical incidents of collaboration. That possibility is an imperative for Christians who must constantly maintain tension with any worldly order. That is why our Commission, in its “Curative and Creative” statement of a year ago, emphasized that international organization must not be “designed merely to perpetuate by repression the particular structure of the world which will emerge from the war,” but that it must be “designed to seek, from time to time, the change of treaty conditions which may prove unjust.” There must be “potentialities for correcting mistakes.” Only under such conditions, as we then said, would the Christian forces of the country solidly support organized world collaboration. Also, only under such conditions can there be a popular attitude which will embolden government to share the responsibility for hard decisions.
Thus, there emerge four principles of conduct needed to bring collaboration out of the realm of theory and into that of reality.
- Our government should adopt and publicly proclaim its long-range goals. These should stem from our Christian tradition and be such as to inspire and unify us. Without such defined goals we will lack enthusiasm and sense of direction. We will not be able to measure our progress. The Atlantic Charter was ill-conceived in many respects and has thus been an occasion for much disillusionment. But it was sound instinct which led to the production of such a statement of principles.
- Our government should not merely talk about its ideals. It must get down into the arena and fearlessly and skillfully battle for them. It must do so, not merely sporadically, but steadily. It must do so even under conditions such that partial and temporary defeat is inevitable.
- Our government must, however, battle for its ideals under conditions such that no particular setback need be accepted as definitive. It must be made clear that collaboration implies not merely a spirit of compromise but equally a right on the part of every nation, to persist in efforts to realize its ideals.
- Our electorate, demanding the foregoing of its government, must judge its government accordingly. It should not judge it merely by the immediate results attained. It must rather judge it by its announced long-term objectives, by whether it works competently to achieve them and by whether it brings into actual functioning procedures of peaceful change so that the world may evolve away from present harsh necessities. If government meets those tests, then the electorate should applaud such conduct irrespective of dissatisfaction with immediate results.
As we meet here in conference, we shall be concerning ourselves much with long-range objectives. That is as it should be, for it is of those that we are best qualified to speak. Also we shall be concerning ourselves much with the plan of Dumbarton Oaks. That also is as it should be. The proposals are of first importance. Our government has asked us to discuss them and to do that is both our duty and our desire. Let us also, however, give thought to how world organization and our other long-range objectives can be made live realities. There is a dangerous gap between plans and resolutions on paper and their translation into actual practice. We ought to help to close that gap. The difficulties are many and partly beyond the range of our immediate influence. That makes it the more imperative that we exhaust the possibilities that are within ourselves. May it be that we can make more clear for ourselves and for our fellows, that idealism is not irreconcilable with the practical incidents of international collaboration? Can we do something towards removing the impression abroad that the American people are primarily interested in perfecting paper plans? Can we do something to allay our government’s obvious fear that it will be harshly and unfairly judged if it goes in for collaboration at the low level of actualities rather than the high level of theory? May it be that, in such ways, we can become a sufficiently greater force for good so that we can decisively tip the balance in favor of a better world?
I hope we shall have time to look into these matters. Christ taught that by self-development we could become channels for God’s limitless power. Let us follow that admonition.