“Mr. Wallace’s Errors,” by Reinhold Niebuhr
October 28, 1946

The confusion created by Henry Wallace’s criticisms of our foreign policy and President Truman’s obvious lack of comprehension of the significance of either the policy or the criticism, may be regarded as unfortunate in this country. Seen from the standpoint of the European scene, from which the writer has just returned, it appears to be almost catastrophic.

To explain the dismay and disappointment which the Wallace viewpoint created among the democratic forces in Europe, and particularly in Germany, it must be observed that the Russian peril is regarded with such fear that it practically obsesses the European mind. The most significant development in Germany has been, that the socialists rigorously refused to come into the so-called “Socialist Unity” party, which was to be the instrument of Russia’s ideological domination of Germany; that their opposition rose to real heights of heroism, at least in Berlin; and that Russian terror has so completely discredited communism that it can get only ten percent of the votes in all Western zones. In the Russian zone it achieves only 60% of the votes despite every chicane and oppression practiced by the Russian occupation.

Germany, in other words, believes that Russian dictatorship is little better, and may be worse than the Nazi one. This testimony is identical, whether it comes from the religious or the socialist leaders. It is felt that the only chance of peace is to resist the ideological and strategic expansion of the dictatorship, so that it will not finally have the strength to challenge the world. That is why Secretary Byrnes’ speech at Stuttgart was exceedingly popular in Germany among all classes. The most popular part of his address was his assurance that we would remain in Germany as long as any one else did. I found the popularity of this assurance somewhat pathetic in the light of the fact that our occupation is unbelievably vexatious. We have, for instance, a complete Jim Crowism in our zone. It is practically impossible for a German and an American to eat together, except in the private home of an American officer. Yet the Germans gladly bear these burdens so long as they are assured thereby, that they will not come under Russian rule. The Christian party and the socialist party feel themselves more and more as two wings of a “Christian western” tradition, seeking to preserve the remnants of a Christian civilization against a new tyranny.

The Wallace criticism of our increasing firmness misses the point completely. Our foreign policy is inadequate, but not because of its firmness. It is inadequate because it is not supported by a creative economic and political policy. The whole of Germany languishes in an economy of fantastic scarcity. Everyone is hungry, and will be more hungry before the winter is over. Moreover, everyone will be cold and overcrowded. Little can be done to rebuild the shattered cities, or to manufacture goods for export, so that food may be bought for import. It is no good to promise the Germans that they will be relieved from this situation when Germany becomes economically united. No one believes that the Russians have any inclination to allow this economic unification. The iron curtain is as consistent economically as in every other respect. It may be possible to do a little bargaining across it but not much. Every factory in the West, which requires raw material from the Russian zone, is thus put out of commission.

The division of Germany between West and East may have to be accepted for a long while to come. What is needed is the revival of industry and trade in the West by linking Germany to the economy of the whole of western Europe. Otherwise every kind of political hysteria will arise once more out of the economic misery of the people. It is on this point that democratic criticism of our foreign policy must be directed, rather than against our firmness.

There are, of course, some points of weakness in our strategic policy. The Baruch proposals for the outlawry of atomic bombs were not perfect. We were going to maintain our stockpile of bombs until the negotiations were complete. It might have been more adventurous and creative to give a proof of our trust by not holding on to this extra security. But Mr. Wallace never mentioned the fact that it never became possible to negotiate upon this point, because Russia presented the fantastic alternative to the Baruch proposals that each nation should outlaw the bomb by its own legislative action. There was, of course, no security of international authority in this alternative at all. The presentation of the alternative suggested that Russia did not seriously want to come to terms on this issue.

We are forced to face the tragic fact that there is no real peace in the world; and that the United Nations, in which we have invested so much emotional and moral capital is not able to solve any of the significant international problems which divide the world, because it presupposes a unanimity among the great powers, the very absence of which is the crux of our international problem. In this situation we must seek to preserve the peace for some decades, by a policy of both firmness and patience against the obvious intent of Russia to gain a wider and wider belt of unilateral security. We must avoid hysteria and all undue and exaggerated strategic measures. They would aggravate the situation. But we cannot, on the other hand, yield to Russian pressure point by point. To do that would once more make war the more inevitable because we tried too desperately to avert it.

The Wallace incident proves that America is not yet sufficiently mature to deal with the vast power of our nation, which impinges upon every situation in the world. What is most unfortunate is, that democratic and liberal opinion in this country is so confused on the Russian issue, while the democratic opinion upon the continent is quite clear. Democratic opinion upon the continent is, of course, not capitalist, and does not believe in free enterprise. Broadly speaking, the whole of Europe is liberal socialist; and it is squeezed between two great giants, the one of which has a communist ideology which Europe finds noxious, and the other of which presses an irrelevant doctrine of “free enterprise” upon poverty-stricken nations. A genuine democratic foreign policy will have to rise above the characteristic economic prejudices of the wealthiest nation on earth. What we regard as the substance of democracy, is regarded in Europe as a luxury which only a very wealthy nation can afford.