McCormick: A grown-up America faces the year of decision (1-1-44)

The New York Times (January 1, 1944)

McCormick: A grown-up America faces the year of decision

By Anne O’Hare McCormick

The year 1944 will be a year of decision and a year of test. Gen. Eisenhower predicts that it will see the end of the European war, and this means that Britain, Russia and the United States will have won from Hitler the power he aspired to when he threw down the gantlet in 1939. They will have won the power and the responsibility to reorganize Europe.

The European nations were already weak, weary and torn with internal strife when the Nazi drive began. Hitler’s plan of conquest was based on the assumption, largely justified, that all of Europe was as divided as Germany was when he took over. He thought he could ride to continental power over the same divisions, frustrations and hates he had exploited to achieve mastery in the Reich. He was the first to realize a truth that Stalin has now accepted: he saw that the old force of nationalism, harnessed to the new force of socialism would make a formidable team out of the two strongest impulses in the modern world.

Conquered never submitted

But he ignored the fact that the sense of nationhood is as intense in the smallest states as it is in Germany. Fortunately for the three great powers that slowly combined to defeat the Nazi dream of empire, this stubborn spirit of resistance of the lesser peoples held the fort until the big guns were ready to breach the walls. It is hardly too much to say that the fragmentations, the excessive nationalisms, which make it impossible for Europe to live in a world of larger units also make it impossible for Europe to die. If Hitler had been able to conquer Europe, if he had succeeded in convincing Poland or France, Yugoslavia or Holland that German hegemony was tolerable, the war would have been lost in 1940. If Europe had stood with Germany, neither Russian nor Anglo-American force could have taken the fortress.

The decisive factor in this war is not the four-power alliance, omnipotent as that combination of strength will be in the peace. The decisive factor is the crowd presently pushed into the background – the loose, amorphous federation called the United Nations.

The force of nationalism

This came together before the great powers merged. The truth is that not a single European people, and this goes for the satellites as well as the prisoners of war, accepted Hitler’s claims. Like it or not, our first line of defense was the force of European nationalism. This is a fundamental reality the victors will have to face. Stalin has faced it for Russia. He dissolved the Comintern because in twenty-five years it did not win a single nation. He has dropped “The Internationale” because he has learned that it will never have the appeal of a national anthem. This reality will have to be taken into account in the reorganization of the continent. The primary problem of victory will be to reconcile the force of nationalism – the force that won the war – with the compromises among nations and the concessions of sovereignty that will be necessary to maintain the international equilibrium that spells peace. For if it is clear that order cannot be maintained without force, it is equally clear that it can never be maintained by force alone. Except for a breathing spell, nations cannot be kept quiet unless they have an independent status and a conscious stake in the general security.

Many hardships ahead

For the United States, 1944 will be a hard year. This country will have to pour out blood, resources and energy as never before to ensure the victory Gen. Eisenhower expects. His appointment in itself signifies how large our share must be in the desperate struggle ahead. Victory, moreover, will bring burdens as onerous as the sacrifices of war. We shall have to assume a major responsibility for the future of Europe at a time when our minds and hands will not be free to concentrate on European problems. We shall be fighting with all our strength in the Pacific. We shall be distracted by a political campaign at home.

When Tobruk fell, the position of Churchill seemed much more precarious than the President’s. The Prime Minister in Washington during that crisis was strongly incline to agree with Roosevelt’s arguments that a fixed tenure of office for the Executive was safer and sounder than a system in which the government could be voted out of office any time. But as the President’s term nears an end, the advantages are all with the system that can put off a general election as long as necessary. Of the Big Three, Roosevelt is the only one who must face election in the decisive year of the conflict.

It is up to us

This decision is added to the others weighing upon the American democracy during the coming year. The judgments we are forced to make in our own affairs and the affairs of the world are new in our experience, new in the effect they will have on the course of history. The terrible burdens of maturity descend upon us while we are still hesitant and unprepared. But nations never go out to meet destiny. It always catches up with them at an unexpected turn of the road. On this grave and portentous New Year’s Day, it is well that Americans have to realize that they have passed the point where they can blame other powers for the mistakes of war or the failures of peace. The end of war is the beginning of the struggle for peace and of our inescapable responsibility for the world born in 1944.