EX-AMERICA: PART THREE
"I ask you if anyone feels that this world is better after World War I and II than it was before, when the Constitution of the United States was supreme with us and the American flag occupied first place in our hearts and minds?"—Former Senator Albert W. Hawkes of New Jersey.
"The first World War and American intervention therein marked an ominous turning point in the history of the United States and the world. Unfortunately there are relatively few persons who recall the days before 1914.... All kinds of taxes were relatively low. We had only a token national debt Inflation was unheard of here There was little or no witch-hunting and few of the symptoms and operations of the police state which has been developing so rapidly here during the last decade Enlightened citizens of the Western world were then filled with buoyant hope for a bright future of humanity.... People were confident that the amazing developments of technology would soon produce abundance, security and leisure for the multitude. In this optimism no item was more potent than the assumption that war was an outmoded nightmare. . . . The great majority of Americans today have known only a world ravaged by war, depressions, international intrigue and meddling; the encroachments of the police state, vast debts and crushing taxation and the control of public opinion by ruthless propaganda."—Professor Harry Elmer Barnes.
Americans now are of three kinds, namely: those who are very unhappy about what has happened in one lifetime to their world—to its morals, principles and ways of thinking—and have intuitions of a dire sequel; those who only now begin to read the signs and are seized with premonitions of disaster; and three, those who like it. It is impossible to say what proportion any one of these three divisions bears to the total. It is impossible, furthermore, at any moment of time to say what the people want or don't want. They probably do not know. And what they say may be so like writing on the sand that a tide not of their making will wipe it out. This is riddle.
Suppose a true image of the present world had been presented to them in 1900, the future as in a crystal ball, together with the question, "Do you want it?" No one can imagine that they would have said yes—that they could have been tempted by the comforts, the gadgets, the automobiles and all the fabulous satisfactions of mid-century existence, to accept the coils of octopean government, the dim-out of the individual, the atomic bomb, a life of sickening fear, the nightmare of extinction. Their answer would have been no, terrifically. You feel very sure of that, do you? You would have said no yourself?
Then how do you account for the fact that everything that has happened to change their world from what it was to what it is has taken place with their consent? More accurately, first it happened and then they consented.
They did not vote for getting into World War I. They voted against it. The slogan that elected President Wilson in 1916 was: "He kept us out of war." Then in a little while we were in it and supporting it fanatically.
They did not vote for the New Deal. They voted against it. That is to say, they elected Mr. Roosevelt on a platform that promised less government, a balanced Federal budget, and sound money. Nevertheless, when it came, they embraced the New Deal, with all its extensions of government authority, its deficit spending and its debasement of the currency.
They did not vote for getting into World War II. So far as they could they voted against it. Annotating in 1941 the 1939 volume of his Public Papers, Mr. Roosevelt wrote: "There can be no question that the people of the United States in 1939 were determined to remain neutral in fact and deed." They believed him when he said, during the 1940 campaign, "again and again and again" that their sons would never be sent to fight in foreign wars. So he was elected a third time on his pledge to keep the country out of war.
Immediately afterward, in March 1941, came Lend-Lease. By any previous interpretation of international law, Lend-Lease was an act of war—the government of one country giving arms, ammunition, and naval vessels to a belligerent nation. Not long after that, actual shooting began in the Atlantic, but for a while its meaning was disguised. Our navy was escorting cargo trains of Lend-Lease goods across the Atlantic, under pretense of patrolling the waters, and German submarines were trying to sink the cargo vessels; the trouble was that when the protecting U.S. Navy vessels appeared the Germans would shoot only in self defense, because Hitler did not want to attack, whereas what Mr. Roosevelt needed to release him from his anti-war pledges was an attack. That went on until, in October, 1941, Admiral Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, sent a message to all fleet commanders saying: "Whether the country knows it or not we are at war."
And still there had been no attack that would release Mr. Roosevelt and unite the country for war. After a cabinet meeting on November 25,1941, Henry L. Stimson, the Secretary of War, writing in his diary, defined the problem that had been discussed that day. It was how to "maneuver" the Japanese "into the position of firing the first shot." Pearl Harbor solved the problem. But in fact we had already been in the war for at least nine months.
They never voted for the Welfare State, with its distortions of the public debt, its basic socialism, its endless vista of confiscatory taxation, its compulsions and its police-like meddling with their private lives. Certainly they never voted for it in the way the English voted for socialism. Yet step by step they accepted it and liked it.
They did not vote for the United Nations, nor for putting the United Nations flag above American troops in foreign countries, nor for the North Atlantic Pact, which may involve us in war automatically and thus voids the Constitutional safeguard which says that only the Congress can declare war. A report entitled "Powers of the President to send Armed Forces Outside of the United States," signed by the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate, says: "The use of the Congressional power to declare war has fallen into abeyance, because wars are no longer declared in advance."
And to all of this the people have consented, not beforehand but afterward.
They have never voted on a foreign policy that steered the ship from the American main at the top of the world to the international shoals of extreme danger. Whereas in 1945 the American word was law in the world and the Chief of Staff could report to the President that "the security of the United States now is in our own hands," five years later the government was telling the people they would have to fight for survival against the aggressor for whom we had swapped Hitler; and that we could save ourselves only with the aid of subsidized allies in Europe. Never having voted for it, having had in fact nothing to say about it, people nevertheless accepted it as if it had been inevitable in the pattern of American destiny.
They never voted for whittling away the restraints imposed by the Constitution on the power of executive government. They were deeply alarmed when, in a letter to the chairman of a House Committee, President Roosevelt asked why the Constitution should be permitted to stand in the way of a desirable law; and their feeling for the sanctity of the Constitution was so strong that when Mr. Roosevelt proposed to enlarge the Supreme Court in order to pack it with New Deal minds he was defeated by a spontaneous protest of extraordinary intensity.
Nevertheless, since then the mind of the Supreme Court has changed. What Mr. Roosevelt had been unable to do by onslaught was done by death and old age. As the conservative judges fell out, their seats were filled by men whose sympathies inclined to the Welfare State. By a series of reinterpretations of the Constitution, the reformed Supreme Court has so relaxed the austerities of the supreme law as to give government a new freedom. In this process it has cast itself in a social role. Formerly its business was to say what the law was, according to the Constitution; if people did not like the law they could change it, only provided they changed it in a lawful manner by amending the Constitution. Now the Supreme Court undertakes to say what is justice, what is public welfare, what is good for the people and to make suitable inflections of the Constitution. Thus law is made subordinate to the discretions and judgments of men, whereas the cornerstone of freedom was that the government should be a government of law, not of men.
They did not vote to debase the dollar. Everything that has happened to money was done to it by government, beginning with the deceptive separation of people from their own gold, then a confiscation of the gold, then making it a crime for a private citizen to own gold, together with a law forbidding contracts to be made in any kind of money but irredeemable paper currency, and finally the dishonorable repudiation of the promissory words engraved on its bonds. All of this with an air of leave-these-things-to-the-wisdom-of-government, as if people could not understand the mysteries of money. That was absurd. The controlling facts about money are not mysterious. By contrast, in 1896, there was a very grave monetary question to be settled. It was silver versus gold; or inflation versus sound money. It was taken to the people, and the people, not the government decided it. The people voted for sound money.
Enough of this history if it serves to indicate that in our time, actually in a few years, a momentous change has taken place in the relationship between government and people. It is commonplace to say that people have lost control of government. It is a thing too vast, too complex, too pervasive in all the transactions of life to be comprehended by the individual citizen. Indeed, as the Hoover Commission was able to show, the government no longer comprehends itself.
While the number of those who administer, or assist to administer, executive government has increased fivefold, and while the expenditures of Federal government have increased twenty times in twenty years, the power of the individual to resist the advance of its authority has not increased at all. In fact it has diminished. Even organized pressure groups, such as farmers and union labor, no longer resist. They ride it and use their influence to gain freer access to the illusory benefits that now flow in all directions from Washington.
Those who remember what the American world was like in the preceding generation do not need the record. The change it indicates is known to them by feeling.
Formerly it was natural for the citizen to think and speak of my government; or for an exasperated taxpayer to say to a supercilious bureaucrat, "Look. I support this government. You are working for me. Understand?"
That spirit has entirely disappeared. The taxpayer who now goes on his errand to Washington is another person. He is timorous and respectful. He does not tell the bureaucrat; the bureaucrat tells him. He has the sense of dealing with a vast impersonal power, and it is power that may legally take away his entire income. Instead of thinking and speaking of my government he now speaks of it as the government, and this almost unconscious change from the possessive my to the article the is very significant. Only recently has it occurred in common speech that the government does this or that for its people.
In the recent great debate on foreign policy, wherein the theme was the power of the President versus the constitutional prerogatives of Congress, Senator Watkins suddenly exclaimed: "Someone else seems to be speaking for the people."
Who else could be speaking for the people? Only government. And note that when now we speak of government we mean not Congress, and of course not the Supreme Court, but the executive power, seated in the White House and spread also among various administrative agencies that make and execute their own laws, thereby exercising legislative, executive, and judicial functions, all three at once.