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Ben Hall

Books in Review

Make-Believe War?

(August 1942)

From The New International, Vol. VIII No. 7, August 1942, pp. 222–223.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

America’s Strategy in World Politics
by Nicholas J. Spykman
New York, N.Y.

According to Messrs. Roosevelt and Churchill, we are engaged in a war of liberty, equality, justice, etc., plus the Atlantic Charter. But Professor Nicholas J. Spykman, author of America’s Strategy in World Politics, knows differently and says so:

Because man loves peace, it is always the opponent who is the aggressor and, because he prefers decency it is always the enemy who fights unfairly and with cruel and dastardly means. National struggles inevitably become conflicts between good and evil, crusades against sin and the devil. Modern wars can be fought successfully only in an atmosphere of unreality and make-believe.

It is not Spykman’s aim to dispense with the jargon of jingoism, for the make-believe world is necessary for the common herd. Nor does he support the war any the less. Quite the contrary; he insists that the Axis must be defeated. He is concerned primarily with clearing away the ideological rubbish that clutters up our thinking so that the makers of imperialist policy may not stumble over their own refuse.

The merit of this book consists in a forthright and cynically truthful statement of the real political aspirations of U.S. imperialism in war and in peace. It is precisely this that is objectionable to our super-patriots in whose dream world democracy fights for justice and fascism for evil.

“... by taking for granted that our moral standards are no better than Hitler’s, we are also surrendering our ability to win the war,” writes Malcolm Cowley in the New Republic in criticism of Spykman. However true this may be, it offers no reply to the author: this and similar difficulties are not weaknesses in Spykman’s logic but are the insurmountable contradictions of democratic imperialism.

We are in this war for two related reasons, says Spykman. In the first place we must defeat the Axis in order to avoid encirclement of the Western Hemisphere and in the second place we must guarantee that in the peace that follows, the U.S. will emerge indisputably as the dominant power in the world.

The main portion of the book, obviously written before the entry of the United States into the war, is concerned with the first half of this aim and consists of a devastating reply to that isolationist mode of thought which believes that the Western Hemisphere can remain intact regardless of the outcome of wars in Europe and Asia. The conclusion that he reaches is that although the United States might be able militarily to defend the quarter sphere up to the bulge of Brazil in the event of an Axis victory, economically it would be so shut off from foreign markets and sources of raw materials that it would suffer a sharp decline in economic and military power. But it is Spykman’s line of reasoning that is of more interest to us than his conclusions.

Spykman effectively explodes the theory that events are naturally leading toward a free, democratic union of all the American states in opposition to all possible totalitarian aggressors. There are as many internal divisions among the American states as there are among the nations of Europe; dictatorship is at least as welcome as democracy; the economy of the Southern countries, especially Argentina, meshes in more closely with that of Europe; and above all the chief Latin American states hate and fear the United States as much as any of the totalitarian powers and can be expected to try to play one side off against the other.

Spykman makes clear exactly what is involved in Pan-Americanism:

Nothing short of a single hemisphere economy with centralized control of international trade could provide the possibility of defense against the economic power of a victorious Germany. No American state would, however, be willing voluntarily to make the changes necessary to create such a regional economy. It could be achieved only by the same process which is now being used to transform the national economies of Europe into a Greater Germany co-prosperity sphere. Only the conquest of the hemisphere by the United States and the ruthless destruction of existing regional economies could bring the necessary integration.

Or, “faced by the planned economies of two national socialist regimes in the continents across the ocean, there can be a chance of economic survival in the Western Hemisphere only if we surrender individual freedom of action within the state and national freedom as between the states.” Has there been a clearer statement of the rôle which a fascist United States would play on the American continents?

If Spykman discards this as a desirable line of development it is not out of any moralistic considerations but because he believes that even such a fascist Pan Americanism would be unable to cope with a victorious Germany. He implies that this tack would be unnecessary for a victorious U.S. But Spykman admits that the period of peace that follows this war will only be a temporary armistice and in any event will be the stage for warfare carried on by economic and political means. The Federation of British Industries, for example, has announced that it intends to follow the pre-war emergency trade policies, part of which was the struggle against the U.S. for the South American market through bi-lateral trade agreements. Totalitarian control by the U.S. over South America may not in itself compensate for an Axis victory but it would be a handy instrument in a post-war world of intense economic warfare.

The United States must avoid the errors of the period that followed the last war. This time is must aggressively step into foreign politics and insure a “balance of powers.” What Spykman means by a balance of powers becomes clear enough ... that no power other than the United States shall be free to exercise its strength on a world scale, thus making the United States super-arbiter of the world.

He rejects the idea of a joint British-American hegemony in the world.

It is undoubtedly true that immediately after the armistice, the United States and Great Britain could exercise great power through control of the seas, particularly if they had previously destroyed Japanese sea power. But it is highly problematical whether American-British hegemony could be translated into a permanent form of world organization and it would be a mistake to assume that this program would appeal to any but a limited number of Anglo-Saxons as an ideal substitute for German-Japanese hegemony.

Such a set-up would only throw Germany, Russia and China together, he maintains, and tend to upset the balance. Moreover, Spykman makes abundantly dear that all is not so well between the U.S. and Britain. We will take over then-possessions in the Western Hemisphere. Britain is in conflict with us in South America. Its agreement with Japan following the last war was one of the serious threats to our power in the world. Above all, the United States must oppose any form of unity in Europe.

If the peace objective of the United States is the creation of a united Europe. She is fighting on the wrong side. All out aid to Hitler would be the quickest way to achieve an integrated transatlantic zone.

The policy that Britain pursued on the continent must become the policy of the United States in the world. It must seek such a balance of power that will prevent any one or two powers from dominating either Europe or Asia. We must not err in taking the principle of self-determination too seriously, implies Spykman, and his manipulation and remanipulation of the states of Europe is a sight to behold.

In carrying out this policy his main proposals are:

  1. Protect Japan. “Twice in one generation we have come to the aid of Great Britain in order that the small off-shore island might not have to face a single gigantic military state in control of the opposite coast of the mainland. If the balance of power in the Far East is to be preserved in the future as well as in the present, the United States will have to adopt a similar protective policy toward Japan. The present inconsistency in American policy will have to be removed.”
  2. To restore Germany. The big problem on the continent of Europe will be to ward off the power that Russia will represent if the Axis is defeated. A strong Germany, plus a large buffer state between the two is the answer, says Spykman. “Strange as it may seem at this moment, it is quite conceivable that the British government would not relish the idea of a Germany so completely defeated that it could not defend itself against the invasion of victorious Russian armies. It is even conceivable that Washington might become convinced of the cogency of the British argument that asks for the continued existence of a powerful Germany. A Russian state from the Urals to the North Sea can be no great improvement over a German state from the North Sea to the Urals.”

Is this clear? Here we are at war with Japan and Germany. A Sterling professor of international relations at Yale University informs us that when the war is over we must revivify and protect our former enemies against our former friends! But, the anxious patriot may inquire, is not this more or less the policy that was followed after the last war and didn’t it lead to a bigger and better World War? Spykman, unlike Roosevelt and Churchill, who promise a period of peace and justice, replies:

Basically the new order will not differ from the old and international society will continue to operate with the same fundamental power patterns.

This program does not promise the end of international strife. It accepts the fact that there will always be conflict and that war will remain a necessary instrument in the preservation of a balance of power.

Professor Spykman has been widely commended for his “realism.” This realism foresees a drive for totalitarianism on the Western Hemisphere in the event of an Axis victory. In the event of an Axis defeat, the reconstitution of Japan and Germany and the domination of the world by the United States; continuous economic, political and finally, military warfare to maintain this “balance of power.”

What seems to be realism consists at bottom of a profound ignorance of the rôle played by the masses in the post-war period and to be played in the course of and after this war.

The United Nations have already learned to their sorrow how impotent they are in the Far East without the support of the oppressed millions. Edgar Snow, Lin Yutang and others appeal to the democratic imperialist governments to demonsrtate that they really are fighting for democracy by giving real freedom to India, Africa and China. This is to advise slave-holders to free their slaves the better to fight to keep them.

Divorced as they are from reality, however, these sentimentalists show more insight than the would-be Machiavellian adviser to imperialism. They, at least, recognize the decisive rôle of the masses today.

Not so with Spykman. In all of his book of more than 400 pages he refers not once to the possibilities of a revolution of the masses anywhere in the world and its possible effects on the balance of powers. At a time when the volcano that is India is about to explode beneath Great Britain he develops a line of thought predicated on the most abject submission on the part of the masses. Discussing the many “errors” of the democratic imperialist powers he writes:

“Equally serious had been the failure to save the Spanish Republic. Fascist Spain, which owed her victory to Germany and Italy, controls the most strategic zones on the coast line of the continental triangle.” In this simple statement one discovers the bankruptcy of his whole line of thought.

It was no more an error for the democratic camp to allow a fascist victory in Spain than it was (and will be from Spykman’s point of view) to allow post-war Germany to rise again. What was at stake for England and France was no mere strategic outpost but nothing less than the European revolution. A crushing defeat for Franco by the Spanish masses could have no other result than the completion of the Spanish Revolution – the seizure of power by the proletariat. The French working class, still marching forward, would have followed and the European revolution would have forged ahead.

Since the last war there have been no end of revolutionary movements: The Russian Revolution, the Finnish, Hungarian, Chinese and German revolutions, the mutiny in the French fleet, British shop stewards movement, etc. But our realist has literally nothing to say about these movements and those to come and how they will affect his policies, thus demonstrating that our historian does not know his history.

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