A subscriber writes to suggest that Christianity and Crisis has become too critical of certain aspects of American policy, whether military or diplomatic and that it has, by its critical attitude tended to wipe out the distinction between its position and that of the pacifists and perfectionists.
We have of course never believed that the effort of the nation, and the total cause in which our nation is involved, should be given uncritical loyalty. We resisted those who thought our nation or other nations allied with us, were not good enough to contend against Nazi tyranny. In an absolute sense none of us was ever good enough to condemn the evils against which we had to fight. In an absolute sense all of us are covered with embarrassment by the challenge “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Yet human society achieves such justice as it has because sinful men and nations have been ready and able to overcome the worst forms of tyranny and anarchy.
But on the other hand it is equally important to recognize how easily an uncritical attitude toward our own cause may lead to a growth of those very qualities which one condemns in the enemy. A policy of “unconditional surrender” for instance means that the victors make their will and self-restraint the only basis of justice. Such a policy has a kinship with Nazi policy, however great the difference between our self-restraint and that of the Nazis may be. It is bad morals; and contemporary history proves it to be bad politics. The Germans could not fight to the last ditch with quite the power of despair which they have mustered if we had stated conditions of peace which would have held out some hope of health and security to them.
Christians should be aware, if no one else is, of the potential evil which lies in the pride of victors.
There is no greater snare and delusion than the perpetual hope that all the evil in the world is embodied in our enemy, so that the destruction of the enemy will lead to the redemption of the world from evil. It is by this very pride that we accentuate the evil in ourselves, which we have in common with the enemy.
The very fact that Nazism plumbed new depths of cruelty and inhumanity in the history of the world places us under the special temptation of making this mistake. We would like to believe, as Denis de Ruegemont has profoundly observed in his book The Devil’s Share that Hitler is what he is because he is unhuman or sub-human. This places the evil, which he embodies, completely outside ourselves, for we are certain that we are human. But the inhumanities of tyranny are human in the sense that they raise human impulses of domination to the most extravagant proportions. Our own impulses are not as extravagant as that; but they are sufficiently similar so that a discerning eye can detect the kinship. We do not see these things if we make purely external judgments. We see them only if we look into our own hearts; and if this introspection feels itself under the divine discernment from which no secrets are hid.
Any profound analysis of the problems of the peace must recognize not merely the danger of the common pride of the victors, who imagine themselves more righteous than they are, but also the danger of the particular pride of the particular victors, each of which is inclined to see the sins of the former partner, but not his own sins.
Thus Britain is more conscious of the sins of American economic power than it is of the temptation which arises from its political power and we reverse the process and condemn British political imperialism without even recognizing our temptation to the ruthless display of our economic power. Both of us in turn find Russian policy difficult but fail to recognize to what degree the insecurity of Russia, which prompts these policies, is derived from what we stood for until Munich.
The recognition of mutual guilt does not absolve us of the necessity and possibility of making discriminate judgments between allies as well as between allies and enemies. But all these judgments must know themselves to stand under a more absolute and divine judgment. If this is not the case evil multiplies anew behind the facade of a pretended virtue. It is a question whether nations as such ever have a sense of guilt or ever feel themselves under a divine judgment. But it is quite clear what the testimony of a Christian leaven in the nation ought to be.