ROADS TO THE FUTURE
AN ADDRESS BY MR. JOHN W. DAFOE
January 30, 1936
PRESIDENT BRACE: Gentlemen, one does not introduce a guest speaker to the members of The Empire Club when the speaker is making his third appearance before that body. But even so, I find some little difficulty in presenting John W. Dafoe to you today. Shall I speak of him as Mr. Dafoe, or as Dr. Dafoe?
R. T. L., in one of his inimitable biographies, which were published in MacLean's Magazine in 1933, says of him, "He is a Doctor of Laws but nobody calls him Doctor, except visiting Englishmen who imagine he likes it."
Again, if I were to refer to him as Dr. Dafoe, there might be some misunderstanding on the part of the radio audience who might think we have that other illustrious Canadian citizen with us today. In so far as I am aware, John W. Dafoe lays no claim to having any special knowledge of obstetrics, so if I refer to him as Mr. Dafoe, I hope I shall in no way detract from any honour which he has.
As Editor for thirty-five years or nearly thiry-five years of the Winnipeg Free Press, he has commanded a great influence throughout the Canadian West. He is known to some as "The prophet of the Prairies." He is recognized as one who has consistently desired diminishing tariffs, but above all he is known to all of us as a very fine Canadian citizen and one who has always upheld those things which would be of value to the people of Canada. For many years he was the close associate of Sir Clifford Sifton and Sir Clifford's biography was written by Mr. Dafoe. As well, over a long period of time, he was the confidant of Sir Wilfrid Laurier and I am sure Sir Wilfrid gained great strength and assistance through those contacts.
Mr. Dafoe will speak to us today on the subject, "Roads to the Future." (Applause.)
MB. JOHN W. DAFOE: Mr. Chairman: I should like to say first that I appreciate the compliment of being asked to speak to this organization for, as the Chairman said, the third time. Perhaps this may be a case of the third time and out.
Now, in the title of my address I was careful to include the word "future." In my knowledge of human nature I have learned that most men, whatever they may think of the present, have some hope for the future. It is a kind of instinctive faith, just as they have a belief in the fabled past. They dream that there was a time when mankind was prosperous, happy, and they dream, too, that that time may come again. It is one of the deep human instincts.
Now, we know that the idea of a fabled past was a myth. It never existed anywhere. There are people of some eminence in the world who seem to think that the golden age of England was the Middle Ages. I would say that a proper reward for them would be to submerge them for a year or so in the Middle Ages, where they would be able to have first hand knowledge of a period of violence, poverty and, I would say, of high smells.
The present is habitually lightly esteemed. We never think much of it. Our idea of good times in the present is a good deal like the distribution of jam in "Alice in Wonderland," where they had it yesterday and tomorrow but never today.
I think most of us who are pretty well along in life are apt to regard the years before the War as years of stability and order and progress; but I was interested to note, reading a book the other day, that a man who occupied a relationship to those years, comparable to that which those of us who are old occupy to this, had about as poor an opinion of those times as we have of ours. Thirty years ago Henry Adams wrote "The Education of Henry Adams," and he referred to those years which we think in retrospect were a great 'improvement on present times. He said, "The world was irritable, nervous, querulous, unreasonable and afraid." I think those are adjectives which perhaps many of us would think fitted today like a glove. And he said that chaos was the law of nature and order was the dream of man. Something we also hear today. But he looked forward to better times and he put a date. He ventured to put a date when conceivably the world would be entering upon an era such as men looked forward to. In the concluding words of his volume he expressed the hope that perhaps upon the centenary of the birth of himself and his two particular friends, John Hay and Charles King, they would be allowed to revisit the world. That was to be in 1938, two years from now. And he says, these are the concluding words of, that book: "Perhaps some day-say in 1938, their centenary - they might be allowed to return together for a holiday to see the mistakes of their own lives made clear in the light of the mistakes of their successors; and perhaps for the first time since man began his education among the carnivorous they would find a world that sensitive and timid natures could regard without a shudder."
Well, if Henry Adams were permitted to come back in 1938 he would be somewhat disappointed or we should have to do a considerable job of cleaning things up in the two years that remain.
We are now pretty much where Henry Adams was thirty years ago. Disillusioned and fearful of the chaotic conditions of the present, we look forward with desire and perhaps some measure of expectation to the future. And our faith, our vague faith, is that the improvement will come gratuitiously, that merely by the passage of time this future will arrive and many of our difficulties will be solved; and in some way the generations will enter into a better day.
Well, we simply bemuse ourselves if we cherish that idea. It would be well to bear in mind that the present of today was the future of yesterday and that it is what it is because of the human actions, the human decisions from yesterday. Therefore the future will be what we make it and it would better become us if, instead of drifting aimlessly with the tide, we put some thought, some resolution into preparation of a highway along which the future generations can go forward. That brings me to the subject of my address.
What is practicable and attainable now? Is anything practicable and attainable now which would give some slight aspect of certainty to a better future? We have had twenty-one years of almost unexampled strain; and yet it is possible for a man, so informed a man as John R. Mott, to say on the public platform„ as I have heard. him say twice in the last two months, that the world is today in a state of unprecedented danger. To say this when we recall the war and the impossible post war conditions that we have lived through sounds like an exaggeration. It seems it must be an exaggeration but yet I question whether it is not literally true, that at this moment the world and mankind, civilization, is in the most dangerous position it has ever faced.
Now, why is the danger greater, more threatening than before August, 1914? Because everything indicates that, man is in a more desperate mood than he was then. The nations, as Lloyd George has often said, stumbled or slipped into the Great War without just knowing what they were letting themselves in for. The idea was still current at that time that a war could be fought, not only for glory, but for profit. But now we know better. Mankind knows the appalling range of the destructiveness of war. Mankind knows that war settles no problems or if it settles any it creates ten problems for every one that it settles. It knows that the more victorious a country is, the greater the damage to it. Man must know, if he has any capacity for reason, that modern war doesn't come to an end, that you can't bring it to an end, in an honourable peace and make a new start. It sets going a process of destruction that goes on year after year in widening circles of damage and violence.
Now, if this be true, as it most indubitably is true, surely if we are interested in controlling the future in some measure, surely it is our first and paramount duty to recognize our responsibility to the future to stop war as an instrument of national policy, if this be possible. This obligation is the first, the foremost, the most essential for this generation, for a world fit for human beings to live in cannot be built while there is recurrent war or the possibility of it. You don't have to have actual war. If war is possible, you cannot build a world fit for human beings to live in. Until we can attain our desired end, until this generation or the next generation or the generation a hundred years from now attain it, the people who deal in futures, human futures, from the pedlar of panaceas to the wise and foresighted builders might as well take a holiday. There will, of course, be a future of sorts for man, no matter what happens. I don't suppose that man will go the way of the dinosaurs who lost out because their brain was so small that they could not adjust themselves to changing circumstances. That will probably not be the fate of the species that has been described, perhaps inaccurately, by the scientists, as Homo sapiens. In time no doubt, man will learn, but in the advertising phrase, if he is going to learn eventually, why not now?
How can something be done? Is it possible for anything to be done? Well, there is no way of stopping this march to ruin, except by reverting to the attitude and the mood of the men who founded the League of Nations in Paris in 1919. That is by collective action, by agreement among the countries to stop once and four all the waging of war by any 'individual country upon its own initiative for the furthering of its own ends and to compel it to submit its case to the judgement of the nations, acting collectively. The framers of the League came to Paris with the lesson of the war imprinted upon them. They knew that that was the first thing to do and that if it could not be done, it was useless to hope for permanent peace. They sought a way to make it impossible for any country, upon grounds which it considered good or in pursuit of its ambitions, to wage war; and thus give final and ultimate expression to the principle of collective security.
It was my good fortune as a newspaper man to see the League of Nations come into existence in the hall of the Foreign Office of the French Government. I was deeply impressed with the earnestness of the man who read the Covenant to the Assembly, Woodrow Wilson: I was asked less than a week ago whether I still thought there was any value in the League of Nations, whether its life could be continued and whether its past could be fulfilled and I said, "Well, I saw the brat born and I am going to stay with it as long as it has a bit of life in its body." (Applause.) And I think it has considerable, myself. I don't think the word, "Finis" is to be written yet to its career.
The result of those actions in Paris was the creation of the League and the writing into international law of an entirely new principle, the principle that war must not become the ultimate expression of national policy but that the keeping of the world peace was the collective responsibility of the nations of the world-later on, war was formally outlawed by resolution of the League of Nations and by the Kellogg Pact, an instrument in which great hopes were placed but which has been revealed by recent developments as a most heart-breaking disappointment.
Now the promulgation of that principle was a great conception, one of those great ideas which come to the world at intervals and influence for all time the destiny of man. It may be that the world will go through a hundred years of international gangsterism, waged by scientific savages, but that ideal will persist. You can't destroy that ideal. You can't bury it. You can't forget it. You may postpone it indefinitely or for generations but it will survive the tumult and the shouting. It will be there as long as there are stars in the Heavens, a beacon light to the generations.
Now, this question is an actual issue today, as to whether there is to be a postponement, perhaps for a long period of time, or whether this principle will be operative. Shall the League prevail and go on to greater conquests or shall it fail, in which case we shall be again at the bottom of the hill with the long ascent before us?
Canadian audiences have had a great many views on this question from distinguished visitors. I think five rather noted British publicists, all friends of mine, have been addressing audiences here, in Montreal and elsewhere and I have been interested to notice that while in past years there were great divergences of view among them, they practically all said the same thing in the enlightenment of the developments of the times. One of these five in a letter which I got from him about the end of the year put the issue in a very few words. I don't think it could be better put. He says the next few years are going to be absolutely vital in international affairs. The risks of the League system are going to be enormous, it is undoubtedly true, but the certainties which will, follow a crude return to the pre war alliance system which will be inevitable if the League fails, are far worse. That is really the issue. It is a choice between risks and certainties„ with the certainties being worse than the greatest danger of the risks.
I am extremely well aware of all the arguments against the League. I have read them and had' them dinned in my ears for years, and I think I could recite them in my sleep. If you look at them with blinkers and take a narrow view they have a certain element of validity but if you look at them in relation to the setting of the world, they are to my mind entirely fallacious. If we could contract ourselves out of the League and its obligations, and obtain a liberty of action so that we could control our own future, we would be foolish to accept the responsibility of the League, but we can't do it. No nation can do it. Canada can't do it. I, for one, and I think anybody who has been through the last twenty or twenty-five years, ought to regard as the most terrible alternative a return to the conditions of twenty years ago, multiplied and accentuated as they will be by the additional resources of science. All our great discoveries of science which are meant for the betterment of mankind are at once adapted and put to the use of war so that mankind, by its ingenuity, is in a fair way to destroy itself.
So, I say, that that is the first essential of the road to the future, to stop war; and it has to be stopped by an ad hoc process, the principle that first things have to come first and you can't do anything unless you first stop war.
But of course you can't stop there. You can't stop there or your principle of peace by collective security would become an agency of reaction by stereotyping the world in its present condition, with all its inequalities; and so you must have, you must build international machinery for something flexible, something easily adaptable which will deal with the injustices and inequalities of today and will provide for further readjustments as time goes on. Many people will say this is impossible. Well, I don't think anything is impossible if there is enough pres sure behind. There is a rule which says, what can't be endured has got to be cured. This is a case for its application. I do not think it is difficult, particularly if the instincts and ambitions for war are blocked. This is the poison root which makes these adjustments between nations impossible.
We hear a great deal now of the controversy between the `haves' and the `have-nots. A great dead of the case presented on behalf of the "have-nots' is pure humbug. It is an attempt to rationalize and justify policies which were entered upon for very different purposes; but in a world where war occurs from time to time there is a measure of possible validity behind these demands of the powers that they shall have their share of undeveloped areas in the world and their resources. However, in a world where war is a possibility, you can't keep the peace by allocating the territory and resources of supply of subject peoples among the various nations. There isn't enough of it to go around and if you made an allocation tomorrow which would be satisfactory, in ten years the shifting circumstances would make a new allocation possible.
Then there is the little difficulty which is increasing all the time, that the allocation of human beings among people who propose to control them, is more and more getting out of date. The whole conception of war is based on a salt-sufficiency of power and a self-sufficiency of resources. This couldn't be done if there were only two empires in the world in place of a multiplicity of nations. Neither individual nations nor empires can become self-sufficient, nor can their security be assured by alliances or power alignments. I do not think it is really necessary to argue this.
The results of the abolition of war in the economic world would be immense, profound, far-reaching and continuing. If you abolished war you would be surprised how much of the faith in economic nationalism which is based upon some real necessity would evaporate because the justification for it would no, longer be there. One of the first evidences would 'be a realization that dependencies, subject peoples, must be administered as trusts and that they at least must be open to something very nearly approaching free trade. That is, all the world would have access under fair terms to the common resources and supplies off the world; and I would have some hope that the advantages of that system would lead to its widening. Economic nationalism and doctrines of self-sufficiency are the children of war and they are the progenitors of war; and in my opinion, they will all die together.
Now, the third essential. The third essential is the continuance of democratic government. I don't think it is necessary to labour that point. Democracies can't exist in the world if there isn't democratic government and I think that the future may indicate very clearly that democratic government cannot continue to exist unless there is peace. War is essentially a functioning of autocratic power. Democracies may fight by reason of foolishness, but dictators must fight as a necessity of their being. Under democratic government great policies and projects for human betterment can be initiated, tested, tried out, modified, so, as the needs of the human race develop, there will be corresponding agencies for their furthering. But under dictatorship you have the imposition of policies arrived at by a process of divination, of inspiration; and if they don't work, as they never do, they can only be changed by disaster.
So, the roads to the future are clearly defined and readily available to the nations, if they will take them. First, and most essential, collective peace, from which two sequences will follow-an abatement of economic nationalism, making the resources of the world one under principles which are reasonable. And second, a continuance of democratic government.
Now, the road is there. It is not at the moment attractive to the peoples of the world or to many of them. It lies too straight to suit them. They listen to the barkers along the road who tell them that just down this byway, just a step around the corner, there is Paradise, there is Utopia, there is the fulfilling of all their desires and wishes; with the result that they turn aside and get lost in the morass, in the wilderness. I think that is the condition of the peoples of the world today; they are all more or less lost in the woods. The road is there if only they would come back to it. Perhaps we are justified in hoping that we are beginning to see the end of these ventures into the byways, that some progress may be seen by this generation toward the attainment of that future of peace, contentment, happiness and achievement which all down the ages has been the dream of the visionaries and the prophets.
Now, I have just one thing more to say. Is this a purely academic talk or has it a local application to you here in this hall and to the people of Canada? Believe me, it has a local application. I find a persistent belief in Canada that we have a safe, reserved seat and that we can look on at this bloodshed, this turmoil, this chaos. It is not so. We are in the vortex and if the world goes to hell, we will go with it. Don't make any mistake about that.
Gentlemen, these are things about which I feel strongly; and though I am not particularly fond of public speaking, I have for years never missed an opportunity to talk about them to my fellow men. I was of the generation that was too old to go to the War. I was represented by my sons. I think I have shared a feeling with everybody my own age, that in some way the generation that was too old to go to the war had a large measure of culpability for the fact that we have lost a generation of our race. Well, there is nothing much we old fellows can do but I speak to men here who have the future before them. I adjure you to see to it that we do not have another lost generation. (Hearty applause.)
PRESIDENT BRACE: I can assure the members of the Empire Club that this will not be the last time an invitation will be extended to Mr. Dafoe to be our guest speaker. (Applause.)
I think I would make a very serious mistake if I attempted to comment in any way on the serious thoughts expressed by Mr. Dafoe today. Rather, I will leave them with you, undefiled by anything that I might say. On your behalf, I extend to Mr. Dafoe our most serious and sincere thanks for coming and giving us this very stern address today. (Applause.)