An Address by CHARLES E. WILSON Former United States Secretary of Defence
Thursday, November 6, 1958
CHAIRMAN: The President, Lt.-Col. Bruce Legge.
LT. COL. LEGGE: Our speaker today, the Honourable Charles Erwin Wilson, is a wise, witty, forthright and articulate man of action. Mr. Wilson spoke to us in January, 1951, as the President of General Motors Corporation on the difficult subject, 'The Essentials for Labour Peace'. According to Mr. Wilson's well-established custom, he clearly defined his principles and then gave his prescription for labour peace. Today our speaker has chosen a similarly vital and no longer innocuous subject of 'Good Neighbours'.
In these times when all the accepted leaders of the free world are saying that survival depends not only on military might, but on helping each other in every sphere of activity, the subject becomes even more important because no two countries are more closely dependent on each other than Canada and the United States. In fact, there are even international commissions to regulate our relationships with Congressional committees to analyse our problems.
For many years our speaker has had a very real interest in Canada because of his association with the world-wide complex--The General Motors Corporation, of which he was President in the expansive and exacting years from 1940 to 1952. Then, when President Eisenhower was seeking to build a cabinet of all the talents, he prevailed upon Charles Wilson to renounce his General Motors possessions and give his services to the nation. In the words of one acute observer of the American scene, 'Of all the big businessmen recruited by Dwight Eisenhower for his first Administration, the biggest was Charles Erwin Wilson'.
But our speaker is much more than a phenomenon of successful business and mammoth government. He is a colourful, tolerant man who understands the motives of others and once attributed the dissensions in the Pentagon to the fact that 'The eager beavers are gnawing down some of the wrong trees'. He is also a practical philosopher and a blunt, direct man of affairs who has maintained his momentum in bitter times by a sparkling good humour. This allowed him to say in the midst of one crisis that, 'The price of progress is trouble--and I must be making lots of progress'.
We in The Empire Club of Canada have long admired his progress and I am honoured to introduce the Honourable Charles Wilson--a trusted friend of this country who will now deal with the lively subject, 'Good Neighbours'.
MR. WILSON: I appreciate your kind introduction, and I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak to such a distinguished group of Canadians. I have been especially interested in Canada and Canadians for more than thirty years, first in a business way while I was an executive and president of General Motors, and later in regard to our common military problems during World War II and while I was Secretary of Defense of the United States.
When I think of Canada and Canadians, I always think of my good friends, the Honourable C. D. Howe, and my close business associate of many years, Col. R. S. McLaughlin. During all these years my contacts with Canadians have been very pleasant and satisfactory. When in Canada I have always been treated with courtesy and understanding and I have tried to reciprocate, so I thought I would take as a subject today "Good Neighbours". I am sure that many of the things I will say today have been said before by people from both sides of the border.
Nevertheless, I think they will bear repeating, especially as a background for some of the other things I would like to say.
Perhaps there are no two nations in the world as close as Canada and the United States. We have thousands of miles of common border, none of which is fortified; we travel freely in each other's countries; we speak a common language; our money is very similar, both currencies being measured in dollars, and even through the stress of two world wars and a great depression, our dollars have not varied greatly in their relative purchasing power. While the organizations of our governments vary somewhat, this is much more a matter of form than it is principle. We draw our political organizations and philosophy largely from a common inheritance. Both our countries have great natural resources, fertile farm lands, and industrious people. Also, both are industrial nations and have very similar problems in commerce and industry and world trade. We even both have agricultural surpluses. Many American and Canadian corporations have plants in both countries. If one of my American business friends had a branch plant in Canada or was thinking of starting one, I would advise him to project his business policy in Canada on the basis that what was good for Canada was good for his business and vice versa.
Perhaps the most important things that draw our two nations together are a common inheritance of free institutions and our common religious background. It has been proven in many places over the world that it takes something more than a formal governmental structure to make a democracy work, and I have always thought education of all citizens and a background of common law and other types of free institutions must exist.
Several months ago in discussing this question of what really makes a democracy work, a friend of mine was reminded of a speech that the Honourable Lord Moulton made a number of years ago, and he sent me a copy of it. I was so impressed by it that I decided to read part of it to you today. The subject was "Law and Manners". To quote:
"In order to explain this extraordinary title I must ask you to follow me in examining the three great domains of human action. First comes the domain of positive law, where our actions are prescribed by laws binding upon us which must be obeyed. Next comes the domain of free choice, which includes all those actions as to which we claim and enjoy complete freedom. But between these two there is a third large and important domain in which there rules neither positive law nor absolute freedom. In that domain there is no law which inexorably determines our course of action, and yet we feel that we are not free to choose as we would. The degree of this sense of a lack of complete freedom in this domain varies in every case. It grades from a consciousness of duty nearly as strong as positive law, to a feeling that the matter is all but a question of personal choice. Some might wish to parcel out this domain into separate countries, calling one, for instance, the domain of duty, another the domain of public spirit, another the domain of good form; but I prefer to look at it as all one domain of obedience to the unenforceable. The obedience is the obedience of a man to that which he cannot be forced to obey. He is the enforcer of the law upon himself."
"All these three domains are essential to the properly organized life of the individual, and one must be on one's guard against thinking that any of them can safely be encroached upon. That law must exist needs no argument. But, on the other hand, the domain of free choice should be dear to all. This is where spontaneity, originality, and energy are born."
"The great movements which make the history of a great country start there. It covers a precious land where the actions of men are not only such as they choose, but have a right to claim freedom even from criticism. Men must keep safely guarded this right to follow the bent of their nature in proper cases and act as they would without anyone having the right to utter a word of dictation or command. This country forms the other frontier of the domain of manners and delimits it on the side farthest away from that of positive law."
"The dangers that threaten the maintenance of this domain of manners arise from its situation between the region of absolute choice and the region of positive law. There are countless supporters of the movements to enlarge the sphere of positive law. In many countries, especially in the younger nations, there is a tendency to make laws to regulate everything. On the other hand, there is a growing tendency to treat matters that are not regulated by positive law as being matters of absolute choice. Both these movements are encroachments on the middle land, and to my mind the real greatness of a nation, its true civilization, is measured by the extent of this land of obedience to the unenforceable. It measures the extent to which the nation trusts its citizens, and its existence and area testify to the way they behave in response to the trust. Mere obedience to law does not measure the greatness of a nation. It can easily be obtained by a strong executive, and most easily of all from a timorous people. Nor is the license of behaviour which so often accompanies the absence of law, and which is miscalled liberty, a proof of greatness. The true test is the extent to which the individuals composing the nation can be trusted to obey self-imposed law."
"The tendency of modern legislation is to extend the area ruled by positive law, and to diminish the area of action which is determined by the decision of the individual himself. But there is one great example in the opposite direction. In one instance the people have deliberately chosen to carve a domain out of that previously covered by positive law and to throw it into a domain where the individual can determine for himself his course of action. Take the legislation relating to trades unions and trade disputes. Limitations in the power of combination have been swept away, and to a great extent that which was previously marked out by law is now in the hands of the individuals themselves:"
"I am far from suggesting that this was a retrograde step, but to my mind the question whether it is dangerous, and whether it may and will become disastrous, depends on whether the masters of workmen who gained this freedom of action, not allowed them by common law, look upon the change as justifying their treating the matters to which it relates as belonging to the realm of absolute choice, or whether as belonging to the realm where, though not restrained by positive law, they yet recognize the duty of obedience to the unenforceable. Do they recognize that the increase of their freedom of action brings with it not unfettered choice but the corresponding responsibility of using that freedom?"
"I am not afraid to trust people; my fear is that people will not see that trust is being reposed in them. Hence I have no wish that positive law should annex this intermediate country. On the contrary, I dread it. Instead of the iron rule of law being thrown over it, I would rather see it well policed by the inhabitants. I am too well acquainted with the inadequacy of the formal language of statutes to prefer them to the living action of public and private sense of duty."
I find myself in complete agreement with Lord Moulton's analysis of the three great domains of human action, and I am certain that his analysis applies equally in Canada and the United States. In fact, the relations between Canada and the United States could be grouped in three great domains: positive law where we have formal treaties between our two great nations; complete freedom where citizens of our respective countries and our nations themselves can take completely independent action; and a third broad domain which is neither covered by formal treaty relations nor is completely independent, for we have so many common problems and our relations are so close that we must continue to be good neighbours and be governed accordingly in this third domain, which Lord Moulton called "good manners" for lack of a better word to describe the way good friends treat each other.
In a talk not so long ago, I said that people generally were interested in three things, and I am certain this applies equally on both sides of the border. These three things are: (1) his or her personal and family problems, how to make ends meet, educate the children, good health, success of a business, and continuity of a job; (2) national domestic problems, the integrity and efficiency of their government, the possible drift towards communism, civil rights, the treat of inflation, depression or unemployment; and (3) foreign affairs and international problems including foreign trade, travel and cultural exchanges, agreements with allies, and, above all else, the trend towards peace or war.
I assume that the personal interests and motivations of Canadians and Americans are the same. We have many common domestic problems as nations even though they may have somewhat different emphasis in our two countries. We have the common problem of defense of the North American continent and our close association in the United Nations, and the overhanging problem of peace or war in the conflict between the East and West. In my lifetime, Canadians and Americans have fought side by side in three wars. I hope they will never have to do it again, but the possibility cannot be ignored.
The ideological conflict between the East and West with the threat of militant communism is further complicated by the rise of nationalism in many places over the world. I subscribe to the theory that our countries must continue to be strong in a military sense during this troublesome period, but I do not believe that an all out armaments race will, in itself, underwrite peace, quite the contrary.
History shows that in the past an all out armaments race between great powers has inevitably led to war. There is reason to believe that history will repeat itself unless some important new factors have been added. In the past, new and more destructive weapons have not prevented big wars, but, in many cases, seem to have contributed to them. While weapon technology has been changing rapidly, especially during our lifetime, this in itself cannot be counted upon to result in more than a temporary stalemate, for people, basically, have changed very little through the centuries. Furthermore, as long as there are powerful dictators in the world, they must be watched. Therefore, something other than weapon technology must finally be depended upon to lay the foundation for a just and lasting peace.
In addition, it is obvious that the present challenge from the communist world is a three-pronged threat; a military one, an economic one, and a social-political one. While an all out armaments race with the Russians with the unbelievably powerful atomic weapons now available may result in an uneasy peace and give us more time to develop other methods of taking the heat out of the world, such an armaments race obviously will not counter the communist challenge in the economic and social-political areas. If the challenge in these areas is not also countered and resolved, we may lose our type of society and freedoms without a military showdown.
Nevertheless, I believe that war can be avoided due to some relatively new things in the world which, hopefully, change the conditions that have led to past catastrophic conflicts. I thought I would like to list five of them for you:
(1) I would place first technological and scientific inventions that have made available new products, better tools, and the use of mechanical horsepower and machines which clearly make possible the alleviation of abject poverty in the world; this, of course, assumes that this new knowledge will be used for peaceful purposes and not solely to build up more and more powerful military machines;
(2) What I call colonialism in reverse; some people call it assistance to backward nations; essentially, it is a recognition that if the more advanced and prosperous nations are to continue to be healthy and prosperous and peaceful, all peoples everywhere in the world must make some progress in better living, that their national aspirations, on their merits, must be recognized in the community of nations, a recognition that progress and prosperity must be shared; the best and most effective type of help is to help the people in less favoured nations to help themselves;
(3) The organization of the United Nations and the principles agreed to in its charter, including the means provided through the United Nations for airing the problems that may arise between nations and attempting to find solutions for all problems affecting peoples and nations without resort to arms;
(4) Rapid transportation and rapid communication, including radio and television as well as the press, which, in the long run, should establish a much better understanding among peoples; rapid transportation and communication were, of course, made possible by technology and scientific inventions, but I specifically list them because of their affect on people and especially on the leaders and rulers of all nations; and
(5) The broader education of the masses of people all over the world. Canada and the United States have long recognized the importance of educating all young people as an inherent right, an economic need, and a political necessity if they were to intelligently exercise the right to self government; in recent decades all nations all over the world have come to recognize more and more that all people in their countries must have all the basic education that their ambitions and environment make possible.
While I have listed technical and scientific inventions as one of the new factors that obviously should contribute to a just and lasting peace, I recognize that they are also important in a strictly military sense. While I deplore the emphasis on an arms race, or even a technological race with the communists, I recognize that our nations must keep strong in the military sense and not be left behind in any important developments. In the past, nations that thought they had new and more powerful weapons were, in many cases, unable to resist the temptation to try the weapons out on their neighbours. In my opinion, therefore, we dare not follow the precedent that our countries have set in the past of dropping down to very weak military organizations between wars. Such a policy might, in itself, precipitate a war and there would be no time to rearm.
At the same time it seems equally clear that we cannot depend on arms, and arms alone, as the basis for peace abroad and freedom at home. This raises a very difficult question in the military area, a question of how much is enough, and an equally important one of how to maintain a stable economy and at the same time capture the minds of men throughout the world by demonstrating to them the real advantages of a free society.
Besides our serious and important defense problems, this also requires that we explore all proposals for disarmament realistically, but with an open mind. President Eisenhower has pointed out that there is no alternative to peace. A sound disarmament agreement would not only reduce the military burdens of both the East and the West, but much more importantly, would be pointed towards peace.
The communist problem is further aggravated by the rise of nationalism and the collapse of colonialism in certain places over the world. Peoples that have never known freedom and prosperity under a government freely chosen by themselves are, in many cases, not in a very good position to judge the relative merits of communism as compared to our democratic and free societies based on personal rights, personal freedoms, and personal responsibilities. They have no background in what Lord Moulton calls the domain of good manners or self discipline. Nevertheless, there is some reason to believe that the rise of communism may have reached and passed its peak. There is evidence in a number of countries that people are beginning to think, and that millions and millions of them are coming to relize that international communism is not the path to security, social justice, or happiness for individuals, nor the road to independence, prosperity and peace for any nation. Communism may be an improvement over serfdom, but it does not fulfill the age old desire of men to be free.
Here is what Mahatma Gandhi wrote some years ago regarding this important matter of freedom: "Individual freedom alone can make a man voluntarily surrender himself completely to the services of society. If it is wrested from him he becomes an automaton and society is ruined. No society can possibly be built on a denial of individual freedom. It is contrary to the very nature of man, and just as a man will not grow horns or a tail, so he will not exist as man if he has no mind of his own. In reality, even those who do not believe in liberty of the individual, believe in their own."
We have other external problems resulting from restrictions on trade, the need of nations to have reasonable access to raw material and markets, and the fact that our modern means of transportation and communication have made the world so relatively much smaller. For these reasons we face many problems involving the peoples of all nations which require that we all make a great effort to better understand one another so that we may live in peace together. The organization of the United Nations is an effort to help solve these problems.
Our internal problems largely result from our desires to improve the political and social structure of our nations, while at the same time maintaining basic individual rights. Thus, the internal problems that are troubling us involve our desires to have better schools and educational facilities; to avoid inflation and maintain a stable economy; to avoid discrimination for any reason; how best to improve opportunities for all; what to do about the surplus crops being raised on our farms; how to maintain reasonably full employment and at the same time work out the proper relation between unions with responsible leadership, employers, and the equities of all the people--just to mention a few of the most important ones.
I am not proposing solutions for any of these important problems today. I do wish to point out that they can only be solved with courage based on knowledge of the facts and with an understanding of the factors involved, including an understanding of the things that motivate human beings. I do feel certain that these important problems will not be solved by adopting the theories and practices of the communists. Now I do not take the position that our countries are perfect or that our institutions cannot or should not be improved. Our mechanized industrial age, our big cities, our tremendously aggressive people, our high standard of living, have created new problems. But certainly they can be dealt with within the bounds of the principles that have made our countries great. I would not take the position that we cannot improve our society any more than I would take the position that we cannot improve our automobiles, household appliances and other machines. We always think when we bring out the new ones that they are the best ones we have ever made, and they usually are. Before very long we get some new ideas on how to make them better, and the next ones are better. But in making these improvements we do not try to violate proven engineering and mechanical principles.
I am not one that looks wistfully to any period of the past. I would not recommend that we turn the clock back even if we could. I would like to make sound progress from where we are. Much is expected of our great countries. Never have so few promised so much to so many, leaving it up to future generations to make good. And if we adhere to the principles that made our countries great, a surprising number of these promises will be fulfilled. But if we try to place ignorance and intelligence on the same basis and try to reward laziness and industry equally, we will not make good on any of our plans either at home or abroad.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. John W. Griffin, a Past President of the Club.