EX-AMERICA: PART ONE
The winds that blow our billions away return burdened with themes of scorn and dispraise. There is a little brat wind that keeps saying: "But you are absurd, you Americans, like the rich, fat boy from the big house who is tolerated while he spends his money at the drugstore and then gets chased home with mud on his clothes. He is bewildered and hurt, and yet he wants so much to be liked that he does it again the next day. But this is parable and you are probably too stupid to get it. If you do you won't believe it, and so no harm is done. You will come again tomorrow."
Another wind says: "You worship success, you Americans. You have thereby ruined all your spiritual and moral values, such as they were. Your controlling idea is Babylon for the masses. Since success is your idol you are unable to understand the souls of other people or that they have souls. You are unable to comprehend the spiritual content of communism and are deluded to think you can shoot it out of the world."
How shall one answer insulting winds? You do not assert your possession of spiritual values. But as for, success, we may be sure that if it seems to be acclaimed here more than anywhere else that is only because it is magnificent here and multiplies the satisfactions of common life in a manner that is the envy of the whole world.
Having lived the most fabulous success story in the history of the human race we are rich—so rich that the next-richest country is by comparison poor. In a world where one-third of humanity barely subsists on the poverty level, this is a fact that cannot be forgiven. Yet one may be permitted to suggest that its magnitude is not the only unique fact about American wealth.
Firstly, we made it all for ourselves, the hard way, by our own free labor, and the ground of it was a life of Puritan thrift, self-discipline and austerity, while the rich in Europe, exploiting their own and their colonial labor, lived in dazzling luxury.
Secondly, American wealth has been shared with the world.
That idea is still so strange that the meaning of simple words needs to be emphasized. Never before in the history of mankind has one rich nation literally shared its wealth with others. In World War I we made very large loans to our associates, which afterward we expected them to repay only in part, but which they nevertheless repudiated, not because they couldn't pay but because it was too hard to pay and because the Americans were already too rich. And this was the beginning of capitalism's fatal leukemia in Europe, especially in Great Britain, where the movement to repudiate war debts to America originated—fatal because capitalism is founded on the inviolability of contract.
Then came World War II, and remembering the humiliation of being called Shylock for expecting to get anything back on account of Europe's war debts in the first case, we said, "This time we erase the dollar mark." That was the meaning of Lend-Lease. After the war our allies would owe us nothing. All the dollars did was to measure the quantity of things they required of us—not a debt to be repaid.
During the years of war and postwar time, what with Lend-Lease, global emergency relief, the fourbillion-dollar loan to Great Britain, the Marshall Plan, military aid, the North Atlantic Pact and all, the amount of American wealth distributed through the world was roughly equal to the total national wealth of the next-richest nation, namely, Great Britain.
The postwar Marshall Plan was pure giving. We said to the nations of Europe, all of them at first, including Russia: "Estimate what your deficits will be for several years, count it all up, and send us the bill." Russia and her satellites declined. All of western Europe accepted with expressions of affection and gratitude. Winston Churchill called it the most unselfish act in the history of the world. In that spirit we sent them food, fuel, raw materials, machines, and even money to pay their debts. We built new factories for them, and power houses, and restored their railroads, besides irrigation works, modern roads, and agricultural projects in their colonies. Roughly, they used two-thirds of our Marshall Plan money for restoration and the other third for expansion on lines competitive with American industry, so that they might be able to compete with us in the markets of the world to better advantage; and by the end of 1950 western Europe's productive power not only had been fully restored; it was 30 per cent greater than before the war. That was sharing. Never had such a thing happened or been imagined before in this world.
Nevertheless, a shrill Socialist wind from Great Britain says: "Now you are guilty of hypocrisy. It is not for the sake of the world you do it. It is for your own sake. You have had a surplus you could neither consume yourselves nor sell to others, and to get rid of it you were obliged to give it away, for if you did not somehow get rid of it you would drown in it. Such is the riddle of your capitalism. Therefore, instead of taking merit for giving your surplus away you should be grateful to other people for receiving it."
This hurts, coming from the British, who have been the principal beneficiaries of our sharing. And there was no surplus. It was not surplus we gave away. It was wealth; and it is nonsense to say we could not have used it ourselves, if not in the same forms in which it was distributed abroad, then in other forms, since wealth is a thing that may assume any form. It is true that our standard of living went on rising, but that is not to say it might not have advanced much more if we had employed here the wealth we gave away. Could we not use the dams and power plants we built in western Europe? Or the roads we built for Europe's colonial dependencies in places we almost never heard of before? Could we not have used our money to reduce our own public debt, instead of giving it to Great Britain to reduce her public debt on the ground that it would improve her credit? What an odd paragraph this will make in history, if it is remembered, that we increased our national debt to enable Great Britain to reduce hers.
There is a cruel wind saying: "But you are dangerous, you hair-trigger Americans. You brandish your weapons in a reckless manner. You are too ready to use the atomic bomb."
The British say that. A rift in Anglo-American policy toward Asia was so explained. While saying for themselves that they could hope for a diplomatic settlement with Red China, the British made the rash Americans appear to prefer a military solution. Soviet Russia's propaganda, aiming to fix upon us the guilt of warmongering, was thereby strengthened, and in the whole world the question began to be asked: "For all they say, are the Americans really a peace-loving people? Even though they think they mean what they say, is it not possible that their insatiable economy, to go on expanding, demands the military stimulus?"
That question may give Americans a good deal of prayerful thought. As a peace-loving people we do have a terrific war history—one world war to make the world safe for democracy, soon another one much more terrible to kill the aggressor everywhere forever, and now a defense of the whole free world, which makes it impossible for us to stay out of war anywhere, the bones of Nevada cracking under the stress of experimental atomic bomb explosions—and the economy expanding all the time.
But there is another history that belongs to us too, and it is more significant because it represents the activity of our own free will.
After World War I we had incomparably the greatest navy in the world. What any other country might have done with it need not be suggested. What did we do with it? We called the Washington Conference on naval disarmament and made there the only forthright proposal for real disarmament that was ever heard.
We said to the other naval powers of the world: "Look, ours is by far the longest sword. Measure it. This is what we propose. We will break our sword to the length of the next longest one, if everybody will agree to stop there. That will end the mad armament race, in which as you well know we have the unlimited advantage. None of you can hope to overtake us. We can build a navy twice as big, three times as big, and we will do it if necessary."
Was that the voice of a peace-loving people? The other naval powers, principally Great Britain, France, and Japan were stunned. They could hardly believe it. A treaty was signed accordingly. We towed our ships out to sea and sank enough of them to give Great Britain parity with the American navy.
The sequel was that no other signatory power absolutely kept faith. Great Britain increased the range of her guns. Ultimately Japan denounced the treaty.
But the story of America at war is perhaps too fantastic, so that a suspicious world walks round and round it saying it cannot be true as it looks; there must be something very wrong with it, a global gimmick, a secret forethought, since people are born selfish and really cannot behave like that. If in all history there is such a thing as a nation engaging in two world wars and renouncing beforehand any material gain or advantage whatever, and meaning it, where is it? We have done it twice. We have helped the other victors to divide the loot among them, taking nothing for ourselves, and then we have shared our wealth with the victors and vanquished alike to restore their lives.
Yet there is a chill sardonic wind rising in France that says: "You are imperialistic all the same, whether you realize it or not. Call it moral imperialism if you like, and so beguile yourselves. You are trying to make the kind of world you want. You are trying to impose the American way of life on other people, whether they want it or not. Suppose they don't want it. Will you oblige them to choose between two forms of coercion—one way to embrace communism and the other to accept the American way of life? Are you not saying to other people, 'You can have any kind of government you want, provided it is anticommunist'? And morally wherein does this differ from what the Russians are saying—that people can have any kind of government they want provided it is anticapitalist and anti-American?"
An Arab philosopher rises to tell us that our sin is to put our trust ". . . far more in gadgets and in the manipulation of emotions than in the truth and potency of ideas. The idea of taking a college degree, getting married and settled, rearing a family, having a dependable job, making lots of money and having a solid and ever-expanding bank account—this ideal, conceived purely in those terms, is not good enough." We are so chagrined by this description of the futility and boredom of the life we live as to forget that what the East desperately wants and thinks we should help her to achieve is a higher standard of material living.
The Arab says we shall be like that until we learn to go out of ourselves to a region of joy ". . . where it is more blessed to give than to receive."
This to a nation that has never had a chance to receive, only to give; to a nation that is, incredibly, for all the rest of the world, a charitable organization. This we forget and say instead, "Hear! Hear! It is wisdom from the East."
The Arab continues that as it contemplates the values of the West"... Asia—if I must be frank with you—is not impressed. In fact, despite all her darkness and misery, Asia can still do better."
Well, these Americans have not swallowed the sun. The Asians have exactly as much of it as we have. If they can do better, why don't they do it? Why do they demand our help? With our share of the sun we have aimed only to make the kind of life we wanted, and we did it all on our own. Why haven't the Asians made the kind of life they want? The wealth of Asia once dazzled a barbarian Western world. What became of it? What became of the genius and will that built palaces and temples that are still wonderful as relics in the pages of the National Geographic Magazine? What became of the science and technology that made the first paper, the first gunpowder, the first mariner's compass, did the first printing, and first clothed the body in silk? By now making a virtue of poverty and preferring its miseries to the boredom of good living, the Asians may have saved their souls. If they think so it is not arguable. But for them now to be saying that to receive American wealth to improve their standard of living will not hurt their souls, whereas the giving of it may save the American soul, is too much of a strain on their garment of spiritual superiority. It rips in the critical seams. As philosophy, these winds from Asia are punk; as propaganda they appeal to the softness of American character.