"ONE BITE AT A TIME"
An Address by HENRY M. WRISTON, President of Brown University, Providence, R. I.
Joint meeting with The American Men's Club of Toronto
Thursday, February 5th, 1953
CHAIRMAN: The second Vice-President, Mr. H. R. Jackman.
MR. JACKMAN: As a substitute for our President, who regretfully is absent in Chicago, I was given a biographical summary of our guest speaker today. As a result I find myself eagerly looking forward to introducing a gentleman whose intellectual qualities and capacity for leadership make this assignment both an honour and a pleasure.
Our speaker, Dr. Henry M. Wriston, the President of Brown University, is distinguished for his contributions in four fields--the academic, business, international relations and as an author.
After his academic preparation at Wesleyan University, and studying for his doctorate at Harvard, he lectured at his Alma Mater, then at Johns Hopkins and in 1925 became President of Lawrence College in Wisconsin. While there he organized and became the first director of the "Institute of Paper Chemistry", a graduate school and "research" institute supported through the co-operation of the paper industry. In 1948 he was elected the first President of the Association of American Universities. He has long been a trustee and member of the Executive Committee of the Carnegie Foundation for the advancement of Teaching.
Although I do not know whether either of our Clubs Public Relations Committees claims the credit, this week's issue of Time Magazine devotes a long write-up to our guest speaker. He is quoted as saying, "that it is high time for revolution in education". With Dr. Wriston behind it I should not be surprised if there will be a revolution!
In addition to many business administrative positions he is a trustee of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company and has served as a public governor of the New York Stock Exchange.
As an internationalist Dr. Wriston is President of the Council on Foreign Relations and a Trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In addition to serving as President of Community Chest organizations and defense committees he was an organizer and member of the Executive Committee of the National War Fund. The British Government in recognition of his services bestowed on him the Order of Commander of the British Empire.
Here Dr. Wriston's career reminds me of the story of the young American Foreign Service Officer who answered an examination question as to what were the three most important things in life by saying, "God, Love and Anglo-American Relations"!
In 1937 he was the author of "The Nature of a Liberal College" and in 1944, "The Strategy of Peace".
Dr. Wriston's career exemplifies the old saying that if you want a thing done give it to a busy man. His topic is, ONE BITE AT A TIME.
DR. WRISTON: Boswell quotes the great Samuel Johnson as saying, "A man, sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair." That is essential to everything I have to say. Ever since the Rush-Bagot agreement of 1817, Canada and the United States have had a special relationship. So long as they keep a virtually open mutual boundary, the two nations must perforce lie within a single defensive perimeter. Under those circumstances it is natural that, unless constant alertness is exercised, they will take each other for granted, and fail in those intrinsically trivial courtesies which do so much to maintain harmony in intimate associations.
It is essential also that there should be harmony in the mode and manner of approach to the great questions of our time. We must have a common strategy of peace if efforts to forestall war are to be successful. That does not mean absolute uniformity of interest or emphasis. Your position in the Commonwealth, for example, makes the distinctions between your viewpoint and ours clear enough. When genuine differences on important issues exist, they should be dispassionately resolved by the classic methods of compromise which the democratic process has brought to such a high state of development; they must not be hidden in a pile of sentimental rubbish.
Such specific questions, however important, are not our concern today. Rather I wish to direct our thought to the fundamental rhythm of our joint and separate diplomatic actions. Harmony in basic methods is as essential as agreement on common objectives; for in diplomacy, as in so many other matters, the means have profound effects upon the ends.
My thesis is that, having failed to arrive at global solutions for the major problems following the war, we should establish as many limited objectives as possible and consert our diplomacy to the achievement of those useful ends, however undramatic they may appear.
Inevitably the argument must appeal to history for justification of a suggestion so out of keeping with the great pronouncements of our times-from Woodrow Wilson to Churchill and Roosevelt. Before 1914 such a proposal for limited action would have seemed natural; now it requires a real effort to comprehend it.
The century between Waterloo and Sdrajevo saw more evidences of progress toward a peaceful world than any period in modern history. It was by no means a quiescent or stagnant era; indeed it was one of the most energetic in human history. Nor was it free from war. On the contrary hardly a year passed without some manifestation of the use of force for international purposes somewhere in the world. Progress toward the goal of peace consisted in the multiplication of devices to keep wars small, to quarantine fighting with a view to preventing its spread. The idea of limited war for limited objectives gained such headway that it came to seem normal. The first great war of the 20th century was miscalled World War I because men had forgotten that before the 19th century general wars were common; the Napoleonic Wars and earlier struggles had been as extensive as the political world. Our generation did not realize that the failure of these global struggles to produce global peace was one of the prime reasons for the reversal of emphasis during the 19th century and for the effort to limit war both in space and in objectives.
Along with those two limitations in dimension went a third--the limitation of legal action. The rights of noncombatants were expanded; humane practices regarding prisoners were developed; certain types of arms were banned. In short, the aim was to shrink strife to the least size and scope consistent with the attainment of limited objectives.
World War I represented not only an abandonment of attempts at spatial containment of fighting; it was global in its objectives, also. Woodrow Wilson, the expositor of its pholosophy, used many phrases such as a "world safe for democracy"; "not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace." At the Paris peace conference statesmen sought not only to solve all the territorial, economic, and political issues; they wrote a constitution for a world government to perpetuate their work.
The grandiose concept of global war for global settlements involved the overthrow of limitations and restraints. In contrast to long-developed practice, everything was done to bring more nations into the struggle, and the ends were held to justify almost any means. Wilson elevated the use of force to a degree that prepared the way for "total war" when he spoke of "Force, Force to the utmost, Force without stint or limit." Non-combatants lost most of their privileged status; poison gas and other inhumane weapons were used; rights which neutrals had gained in the previous century were whittled to a sliver. In short, all three of the classic 19th century efforts at containment--in space, in objectives, in methods--were abandoned.
One might suppose that, when peace was not achieved after the employment of these new concepts during the first World War, men would have been persuaded that such grandiose assumptions were incorrect. Yet despite the collapse of the structure of reparations, the failure of the prohibitions of Versailles, and the breakdown of the League of Nations, the basic notions of "total" global war and an integral world peace continued to dominate international life.
The promises of the Atlantic Charter illustrate this global perspective. The heads of two states sought to give "assurance that all the men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want," and be enabled "to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance"; they hoped to give all states "great or small, victor or vanquished . . . access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world," and to secure for all "improved labour standards, economic advancement and social security." It would be difficult to find language more sweeping.
The United Nations Conference at San Francisco likewise had a world ideal. The notion that the 19th century could teach the Atomic Age anything was rejected. Everything was "globalized"--health, welfare, nutrition, culture, economics, finance, and politics. World-embracing institutions were established to unify all problems under one aegis.
A new set of terms has been tailored to fit the new structure of ideas. They match the sweeping inclusiveness of the concepts which the 20th century substituted for 19th century experience. They are usually stated as stark absolutes. One such phrase is "total war." The slogan is characteristic of the new pattern of speech; it leaves no room for any different or competing idea. Yet even a few moments of serious reflection make it clear that history shows no instance, ancient or modern, of "total" war. Indeed, if every thought, word, and deed were completely engrossed in war, there would be no room for even thoughts of peace; thus war could never end; peace could never come.
Elementary analysis exposes the fallacy of the doctrine. How, then, could it gain wide currency? To begin with, the grain of truth which it contains makes it plausable. It reflects part of reality-namely the undoubted reversal of emphasis from war limited in space, scope, and objectives to global strife for grandiose ends, using means beyond those permitted before 1914. In short, it is a half-truth. Constant iteration inhibits the reflection which would reveal the half of the truth which the phrase suppresses. So public opinion is blinded to other significant realities. The problems before us are serious enough without having them needlessly complicated by dealing in absolutes where relatively better expresses reality.
"Unconditional surrender" was another verbal absolute which misled even those who gave it currency. It is the proper objective of the military to induce the enemy to yield with a minimum of bargaining. Civilian leaders; however, should never employ as a political concept. an idea appropriate only to the military; to do so is to lose touch with reality.
The reason for the difference in military and political expression is simple: when the armed forces have overcome the enemy, they have fulfilled their mission; emphasis must then shift from the use of force to the employment of reason. If a great power is really rendered politically impotent, the politician faces an impossible task. The truism that nature abhors a vacuum applies to politics. When a political vacuum is created, new forces will rush in to fill it. Unconditional surrender simplifies an armistice; it complicates peace-making. Instead of making peace easier of attainment, it renders it more difficult.
A third absolute also captured the public mind. Like the others, it arose from the abandonment of the 19th century limitations upon war. With advertising fanfare we were given the phrase "One World." It now seems hardly credible that so obvious a political fantasy could so long have dominated public opinion. That result was achieved by inflating one phase of reality until it looked like the whole. An admitted physical reality is the globe--one world, indeed. Another aspect of reality is the interplay of forces around the world--undoubted and deeply significant. But the neglect of racial, religious, cultural, economic, and a thousand other differences, the suppression of all inconvenient characteristics of reality, made the "one-world" dogma a mirage.
Now that the hypnotic effect of the slogan has passed, the irrationally of this absolute is starkly revealed even to the most obtuse, though a short while ago it was difficult of discernment even by the normally astute.
As a kind of reaction from one extreme we are likely to lurch toward another. The one-world concept is being superseded by a two-world dogma. Biaxiality is as false as its predecessor. Because the United States and Russia are the strongist protagonists, there is a tendency in the United States to forget that neither power dominates large sections of the world, and that they influence other sections in varying degrees. Thoughtless acceptance of the new dogma of biaxiality makes associates of the United States feel they are less than partners; it gives the Russians a propaganda opportunity to pretend that other nations are joined to the United States only as satellites.
The biaxial dogma conceives of all nations as either allies or enemies; it denies that any nation can legitimately be neutral. It refuses to admit that a nation can be at peace with both parties and not an active participant in the cold war. This is contrary to history. India stands today in somewhat the position of the United States in 1793. It is young in years of independence, it faces daunting domestic problems-economic, social, political, religious; indeed it is in more parlous condition than the United States 160 years ago. At that time Britain was engaged in a death struggle with France. Yet the United States sought to stand aside; because its own concerns were so exigent it wanted no part of the world struggle. Consequently my fellow countrymen, at least, should have some glimmer of understanding of Nehru's position, some realization that a measure of isolation from the intensity of struggle may be essential to the survival of his nation.
What is unquestionably true of India applies in greater or lesser degree to other nations. The Asian Socialists at their recent Rangoon conference emphatically opposed "polarization toward the two power blocs" and argued for a "third force" independent of both. The dogma of biaxiality would force much of Asia into a dangerous position. We should take a longer, a more patient, a wiser view.
The habit of thinking in political absolutes culminates in the incapacity to make wise political decisions. It is an established fact of political mathematics that no number of half-truths will ever add up to the whole truth.
Under absolute principles there is no way to deal with Russia except by total war. That is a simple, direct conclusion and accounts for occasional demands for a so-called "preventive war." Analysis proves such an idea to be self-defeating, for after force has been employed to the ultimate, politics must still supervene. The effort to substitute force for reason can be successful only in a transient sense; ultimately reason must be the principal implement of political action. From this hard fact there is no conceivable escape.
Right now the limits of political action in dealing with Russia are very narrow. Recent experience shows the hope that we could negotiate a general settlement with Russia to be unrealistic. But again we must beware of absolutes. Because we cannot settle all our problems with Russia, it does not follow that we can settle none. That notion is just as dangerous to sound policy-making as its opposite. It has proved possible, even during the cold war, to relieve some tensions. The Russians withdrew their threat to Iran; they were stymied in Greece, they lost control of Yugoslavia; they modified their stand in the face of the Berlin airlift.
Merely to state the proposition, "because we cannot do everything, we can do nothing," is to reveal its absurity. Yet sometimes public opinion, nurtured on false absolutes, borders upon that attitude. In fact, sentiment of that sort may prove so strong as to damn all efforts at negotiation as "appeasement" and doom them to failure at home even should they succeed abroad.
The sound immediate program is to substitute specific efforts to achieve limited goals for the ideal of global settlement. It may seem anti-climatic, after being led to the mountaintop by prophets of the new era, to come down to the grubby business of achieving niggling gains by disproportionate effort. Nevertheless the record reveals that the world-shaking ideas outran not so much our power as our spiritual energies--at least those of some of our war-time associates who now menace us so terrifyingly. I suggest that great, not to say grandiose, expectations having been defeated we attempt more modest-and perhaps more manageable-programs of advance toward peace.
I am happy to see that Mr. Anthony Eden has accepted the thesis that limited objectives are valid. With restraint and good temper, but with firmness and clarity, he has dedicated himself to the solution of as many problems as possible, leaving to time and better fortune the resolution of others that can be dealt with successfully only as tensions are relieved. Progress along even so modest a line requires action of two sorts.
First, negotiation must be undertaken wherever possible. The objective should be to nibble away at any problem for which a tolerable solution seems attainable. It may not produce dramatic headway toward a general settlement, but the useful is often not dramatic. It may be only a short step with long intervals before another step can be taken; yet every advance is worth while.
Simultaneously another sort of action is essential. The free world should be strengthened in order to extend the area of negotiation. There is ample historical evidence that negotiation from "situations of strength" is easier than from a condition of weakness.
Here we must be aware that tension between the military and the political branches of the government is normal. We are observing the troubles of NATO and the effort to construct a European army. There are acute manifestations of this inevitable tension in several countries. The military must be ready for any eventuality; that requires more preparedness than the political arm is usually willing to undertake. Partly this unwillingness arises from the necessity to sacrifice constructive programs of domestic production and social welfare, calculated to raise the standard of living. It is hard to promote a program that is a drag upon the living standard. When that standard is already low, as in parts of Europe, its further impairment is so serious a matter as to imperil the stability of the government.
There is, however, a deeper reason for the tendency of the political branch to go more slowly with rearmament than the military desires. It is the danger that, instead of producing a situation of strength as a basis for effective negotiation, too large an armament program may eventuate in an arms race, the effect of which might be to postpone negotiation until after war had come and been completed.
One group of honest people will assert that Russia is ridden by fear, and that fear leads to irrational action--war. Others claim that Russia is driven by dreams of world domination. Despite the great difference between the motives which control policy in those opposite states of mind, the results may be almost identical so far as action is concerned.
Fear, a defensive mood, easily leads to aggression, an offensive action. Russians have vivid memories of the "cordon sanitaire," a deliberate attempt to encirclement after the first World War; they recall the aid to the "Whites" and the expeditionary forces into Russian territory. If ever they conclude that "peaceful coexistence" is impossible, the Politburo could launch a "preventive war" whenever the occasion seemed most propitious.
It is essential to make the potential enemy respectful of our power, but it is unwise so to stimulate fear as to precipitate rash action. That is why it is the inescapable function of political authority to determine how much preparedness is necessary for negotiation from situations of strength, and how much more preparedness would eventuate in so sharp an arms race as to bring on war. No rule of thumb has the least utility in deciding how much is too much. The practical course is to combine rearmament with alert seizure of every opportunity for useful negotiation. If more and more irritations are ameliorated by negotiation, the evidence of adequacy in armament becomes cumulative.
The sterility of recent negotiations offers clear proof that an adequate situation of strength has not yet been attained. Meanwhile the Russian use of the veto, the abstention of the Soviet Union from many world agencies, its neglect to abide by the agreements it has made, its aggressive acts have eventuated in the Korean imbroglio. That has all but dissipated the myth of genuine global collective action. Votes are not action. The plain fact is that most of the world is neutral in action, some nations in word, others in thought. The burden in life and treasure is carried by very few and they are not in full agreement about either means or ends.
All this strongly suggests the validity of the concept of a limited war for limited objectives. For some months we have observed the tussle between those who would deal with one issue at a time and those who have fully accepted the theses of the World Wars--force without stint or limit to the point of "total war," involvement of as many nations as possible rather than as few as possible, anticipation of a general settlement rather than a modestly specific agreement on a few subjects.
The issue has seldom been sharply defined and the dilemma has rarely been clearly stated. Indeed there is evidence that most people are utterly confused. The key to the confusion is that Korea epitomizes the tension between competing concepts-the global theory on the one hand and the limited specific objective upon the other. Unhappily almost no one has been wholly consistent in supporting one view or the other. Minds have wavered between the two basic ideas as the tide of battle swayed.
Nonetheless there are definite indications of the competition of the opposing concepts. The horror of the British when President Truman in an offhand moment said "there has been active consideration" of the use of the atomic bomb, their resistance to advance beyond the narrow waist of North Korea to the Yalu, their refusal to sanction the "hot pursuit" of enemy planes into Manchuria--all suggest at least some concept of a limited war for limited objectives. On the other hand, the participation of several nations (including your own) as active combatants or by token forces, the pleas for more men from more nations are among many evidences of an effort to expand the economic as well as the military phase of the war toward the global concept.
Angry discussion of what may properly be regarded as a "satisfactory" settlement shows that many feel no confidence whatever in the validity of limited operations or limited objectives once strife has begun. Indeed they denounce those who make any such approach as though they were not merely in error, but deliberately treasonous. Their view is that any departure from "all-out" tactics and an "all-out" settlement has no justification whatever.
If Korea is one manifestation of the competition between two fundamental ideas as to proper procedure in the search for peace, we have other indications of a tendency to revive some of the 19th century concepts. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, despite its vast sweep, attempts to handle a limited range of problems in a specific area with which the United Nations could not cope effectively. In the same way the new mutual defense agreements between the United States, Australia, and New Zealand make a limited approach to a defined objective.
Those are evidences of a dawning realization that many of the world's problems are like food: they cannot be taken all at once or in too large amounts. Like the items in a well-balanced diet, it is necessary to take one bite at a time. The simple truth is that there is so much diversity of interest, even among co-operative nations, that the attempt to deal with everything at once is almost certain to break down.
History strongly suggests that limited action is more conducive to peace. Bismarck offers the classic example of a statesman who followed the doctrine of limited objectives. He abhorred "total" war not on moral grounds, nor for humanitarian reasons, much less upon sentimental bases; to him it was the height of stupidity, because it would prevent reaping the fruits of victory. "War," he said, "should be conducted in such a way as to make peace possible." We do not have to admire everything that Bismarck did to be willing to accept those of his ideas which proved sound.
The reality is that in the long run every peace is a negotiated peace. That the treaty must be acceptable to the defeated nation is re-enforced by the nature-and the cost-of modern warfare. After victory is won, the triumphant nation is virtually exhausted. For many other reasons the moment of victory is brief and the settlements made in that moment are brittle unless they are satisfactory, not superficially but fundamentally, to the defeated. For politics is continuous, while war, even a World War is episodic.
This is evidenced by the fact that nothing is writ larger upon the pages of history than the reversal of alliances. Within the few years since the last war we have seen a reversal of orientation regarding Italy, Japan, Yugoslavia, and Germany.
What of Russia? Is there no hope of attaining, if not peace, at least a mitigation of the cold war, and a tolerable modus vivendi? Is peaceful coexistence beyond the range of possibility? It will be urged that the ideological barrier is insuperable, that the contrast between the democratic West and the totalitarian East is so great that no accommodation is conceivable.
When that is said, we do well to remember that history is long and memory short. For many years Mohammedans and Christians carried on religious wars. Their enmity was so profound and so implacable that no middle ground seemed available. Now Moslems and Christians manage to live beside each other by curbing their religious intolerance. They no longer use force for purposes of proselytizing; neither vows the extinction of the other. Indeed Turkey has demonstrated its capacity for democratic government and is a member of NATO, and a valued participant in the United Nations' resistance to aggression in Korea. This is clear enough evidence that an ancient barrier has fallen; coexistence between Moslems and Christians is a modern reality.
There was a time, also, when the principles of monarchism and legitimacy were so passionately espoused in Russia and most of Europe that it seemed cordial peaceful relations with the revolutionary upstart republic in America would be impossible. Yet the time came when, during our Civil War, friendly gestures upon the part of Russia were helpful to the Union.
Today we tend to regard the Russian state as it now exists under the Bolsheviks as permanent; but it is scarcely more than thirty years old. In the course of that thirty years it has gone through several phases, during some of which it was, for a time, co-operative. The name of Litvinoff evokes memories of those hopeful days. It would be as grave a mistake to regard the current phase as ultimate as it would be to say that it is likely to pass in a brief period of time.
Of this we may be sure: the present condition of Russian policy is not permanent; it is certain to change. When and how the change will come, what will precipitate it, what direction it will then take are questions I am not called upon to answer. Only the future can resolve the riddle. But of the certainty of change, I feel deep assurance. In the light of recent assumptions of Russian permanence, it is almost amusing to go back to the early years of Bolshevik control. There was constant prediction that the Bolsheviks would promptly be driven out. There was no expectation that Russia under their leadership could ever become a dominant force over nearly half mankind. That obviously was a wrong estimate. We are likely now to make an equally wrong estimate by assuming that what has happened is permanent and that there will never be a change for the better.
In the meantime a policy of limited objectives can ease some tensions and help preserve us from all-out war which time, and a change in Russia or her satellites, may make wholly unnecessary.
There is a further overwhelming argument for limited objectives which has seldom, if ever, been mentioned: such a programme gives the smaller nations a more adequate role in international affairs. With the global mood prevailing, the "Big Four" made the grand design in 1918; only Roosevelt and Churchill drafted the Atlantic Charter; the heads of the "great powers" met at Casablanca, Cairo, Yalta, and Potsdam. In such an atmosphere it is easy to make decisions which commit the smaller powers without giving them a chance to be heard; some of their special interests may easily be submerged because there is no spokesman to call them to world attention at the decisive moment. Regarding so vast a hazard as war now implies, they want to be heard--and should be.
When the great issues are broken up into their component parts, when limited objectives are sought by limited means, the role of the small states can more readily be acknowledged and taken into account. Their interests can be more effectively protected, their participation in the search for solutions more genuinely welcomed. Such procedures would mitigate their justified resentments at being treated somewhat as satellites are handled by Russia (though for wholly different reasons).
Such considerations are re-enforced by another fact: wisdom is not distributed in the same ratio as power. If it were, peace would become synonymous with victory. Experience demonstrates that there is sometimes a negative correlation between wisdom and power. The very sense of might may lead to an act of power rather than the use of judgment; it is easier to seize the sword and cut the Gordian knot than patiently and skillfully to reduce it. On the other hand, those who are unable to make a drastic change in the situation by the use of force bring to bear patience, wisdom, and skill, if for no better reason than because they are the only instrumentalities available.
In summary: if we want to avert a third world war in a single generation, we must do three things. First and foremost: keep our friendship in a constant repair. The range, the intimacy, the effectiveness of the co-operation of your country and mine are among the wonders of the age. Like other wonders, this friendship requires persistent attention.
The second step is to postpone our global dreams. Nothing in this argument denigrates the United Nations. Indeed, if the policy here advocated is followed, that overburdened and all too frustrated body would be strengthened. Marginal issues would be decentralized and kept from needless embroilment with matters to which they have no--or very remote--relationship. We should pray and work for that golden day--when all men not only realize that they are brothers, but act upon the realization. The record reveals that the attainment of that goal in our time, if not beyond our physical power, is beyond our spiritual capacities.
Finally, we must be patient with the burdens imposed by essential rearmament until the attainment of situations of strength makes our enemy see the wisdom of negotiation upon a broader base than is now possible.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. E. W. Westrick, Vice-President, American Men's Club of Toronto.