LIFE (October 27, 1941)
Why can’t Americans believe in America?
Then the U.S. could banish war forever
By Raymond Clapper
Raymond Clapper, ace political columnist of the Scripps-Howard newspapers, recently made a four-week trip to Great Britain to find out how the British war effort was getting along. His columns written from England made one of the most distinguished pieces of journalism since the war began.
Upon his return, Mr. Clapper told how his visit abroad has also given him a better perspective on America. LIFE therefore asked him to set forth in this article his deepest convictions about this country at this moment and about its future in the world.
If Americans could only believe in America, this world could become a better place than the shambles that men have made of it twice in our lifetime. The trouble is that we do not believe in America – not as the foreigners do.
They know abroad what America can do. Why has Hitler feared to draw the United States into the war? Why does Japan edge back whenever we look stern? The British know that they are a small nation, even though their Empire is large, and that without American aid they cannot win. They stand in constant dread of offensing us, of doing something that will dampen our desire to help, because they know that to lose the help of the United States would be to lose the war. Russia, greatest in land area, vast in population, knows that without American industry she cannot stand. Such are the tributes that foreign nations pay to the might of the United States.
It is worth a trip to Europe to see more clearly the size of the United States, to see how our nation is respected and feared abroad, and to sense the truly historic opportunity that has been offered to us.
I came back from Europe the other day. As the incoming Clipper rode along the New York skyline, I saw Englishmen looking out across the harbor in pop-eyed wonder at it. Nothing in all Europe, as they so well knew, is as large as Rockefeller Center alone. From that giant cube down to the Battery, the New York skyline stands as a great fortress of American industry and commerce, to announce at once the dimensions of this land of ours which measures back across a continent as wide as the ocean which I had just crossed.
At such a moment, no returning American can escape feeling the throb of his country’s strength. Nor will the facts let him down. Steel capacity is the best yardstick of industrial strength. Ours is twice that of Germany’s, including those unhappy prisoners, the conquered countries. It is greater than that of all Europe. Rubber consumption is another index. We use half of the world’s production. Oil is a measure of war potential. Britain and her allies control 10% of the world’s production of crude oil. We control 62%. Germany and conquered territory control about 2.5%. More statistics, all well-known, could be piled on to build up the picture. American industrialists are constructing arms plants that will be the wonders of the world, although we could do much more and will find it necessary to do much more if we are to do justice to ourselves. Although time to build and produce is needed after a tardy start, American industry is preparing to demonstrate that this country can muster an armed strength the like of which has never been seen, not even in Hitler’s Germany.
We read about all of this. We see one or two of these gigantic arms plants. But we do not believe our eyes. Perhaps no single mind can see the outlines of our gathering strength. We can see our ten fingers but we cannot see a billion of anything. $60 billion for American defense can only be a vague phrase in the mind’s eye. At any rate, we are still afraid. We see only our weaknesses, not our strength. We think the world is too dangerous a place for us. We disparage ourselves. We think the British are too smart for us. We are impressed in a childish way with their propaganda, although the slickest propaganda in the world comes out of American advertising and publicity agencies. We, not the British, have developed the art of propaganda. The “Made in England” label gets us down even before we feel the goods. We are afraid of their statesmen. We do not know how high in ability, initiative, in shrewd common sense our own officials rank by comparison. We belabor our own public servants until we talk ourselves into believing that they must be the worst in the world. What we think of ours is nothing to what the British think of theirs. That’s one of the prerogatives of all democratic peoples.
We so underrate ourselves that we are awed by everything English, not realizing that they smoke pipes because their cigarettes are so bad. The American cigarette stands higher in wartime London than the American dollar. Hear their dance orchestras trying to play the new music of America and you know, more surely than statistics can tell you, that the New World has a spirit, a crisp audacity that grows out of an alert vitality such as exists nowhere in the Old World.
We swallowed the legend that Hitler is invincible. Many Americans have actually resigned themselves to the thought that he will rule the earth. They have figured out how we could settle down into the role of a second-rate nation, hemmed in on both oceans, living as an armed camp with just enough to eat. They would have this great nation act like a gibbering giant hunting pitifully for a safe cave.
Why our leadership can be unselfish
This giant has something to give to the world – surcease from war.
The so-called Pax Britannica had a fundamental defect. It had to be coupled with, and indeed was motivated by, the fact that Britain was a poor island, unable to support itself. Britain’s world order was built on the necessity of trade. We do not have to make a living off of the world to the same degree. Therefore our leadership can be a more unselfish one, and will be less subject to mistrust, because it need not be tied to a breadbasket. Our motive in constructing a new order would be to get rid of war.
Why should we bother to do that? For the reason that we can’t live our full life in the midst of the present degradation. Just as our own slums must go for the sake of society, just as yellow fever and smallpox cannot be allowed to scourge the world, so war must go. Humanity should no longer endure the brutal bombing of helpless families, the devastation of hikes, the battering of cities far from the battlefront, and the steady disintegration of the race. Are we to afford an epidemic of these murderous proportions every few years until the best of the race has been killed or bled white? Who can count the billions of dollars, the years of labor and the population of the graveyards that nations are squandering in this barbarism? Is the precious and irreplaceable oil to be burned up in this business? Is the bauxite, the copper, the zinc, the iron and the tin to be consumed entirely in the work of destruction? Shall it go on until the very bowels of the earth are drained dry?
I am simply saying that war is terrible and that we ought to do something to abolish it. We are the power that can do this. We can tip the balance. How? Come out of the cave. As we are now throwing our weight against aggression, prepare to throw our weight even more energetically against future aggression. It must be peace through strength. The military force which is being born in America can be force that will bring peace.
We need not concern ourselves now with blueprints. Mechanics are secondary. In fact, the mechanics are already in existence. No dream blueprint is needed. We do not need to gaze after far horizons. The method is already in operation. The method of lease-lend is enough in the way of machinery. Through lease-lend, we are fusing the resources of two great nations. Together with several other nations, we are working on a plan for a world wheat pool, to use wheat as well as arms as an arsenal. Peace must have its arsenal of strength no less than war. No, the mechanics offer only secondary difficulties. Once the will to do it is born, the mechanics will appear. Give us the purpose. Give us faith to do it and it shall be done. The strength of America can be thrown into the balance for peace with such overwhelming force that it will always have sufficient allies to make itself irresistible. What we are doing to preserve a free and just peace in the Western Hemisphere, we can, with other nations, do in the rest of the world.
The greatest bargain we could strike
What do we get out of it? Well, it is difficult to set a price on such a bargain as this. But as an American, I should be very proud to end my days believing that in generations to come, schoolchildren all over the globe would read in their books about the United States of America and what it did for the human race. They will read about Genghis Khan and Attila and the evil that Hitler has done to human beings. They will read also of Pasteur and Faraday and Edison and what they and others like them have done to liberate the race. I should like to have them read also of America as the nation that liberated the race from the most awful form of bondage that had inflicted it, the bondage of war. I should like to have them read of America as a nation which was unfortunate enough to have great things given to it and which used them not only to build a civilization for its own people but also to benefit all humanity. I should like to have them know America as a nation that lived on as Lincoln would have wanted it to, a nation as tender as he and yet a nation that could be as hard as he in his fight against oppression. That wouldn’t mean very much to any of us now living. Yet something tells me it would be the greatest bargain that America ever struck.
On the morning after I returned from England, I walked down in the woods by my house and sat down on my favorite rock. It is good to sit on a familiar rock. It is hard and firm and gives one a sense of security. My particular rock is like America. It is big and inert and does not know its own strength. There is not a sound of civilization except my dog, kicking through the leaves. Yes, he, my friends, is a work of civilization. The wolf has been taken out of this dog. He has been tamed to a peaceful life. What people have been unable to do for themselves they have done for dogs.
If Americans could only believe in America.