The Determining Forces

Dorothy Thompson

St. Louis Post-Dispatch/March 24, 1936

Behind the discussions going on in London, the statements of rights, the appeals to reason, the proposal for a new arms and economic conference, are certain implacable facts, certain inexorable forces, which in the end will determine Europe’s destiny.

The first is that should the German proposals be accepted, and Europe reconstructed with practically everything in the Treaty of Versailles eliminated except its territorial provisions, Germany would soon by sheer force of disciplined numbers, dominate the Continent, both as a military and as a political power. There are twice as many Germans in Europe as there are Frenchmen. This, and not any immediate fear that her eastern frontier will be violated, is the basis of French apprehension. 

The second is that Great Britain, both by treaty and by the most positive self-interest, is committed to maintaining the territorial integrity of France, even by war if necessary. This was a fact in 1914, as the war proved, but it had not been openly affirmed. Today it is. 

But, and this is the third fact, Great Britain is not willing to commit herself to maintaining by force of her arms, and for eternity, the position which France has held on the Continent since the war. Public opinion in England is not willing, and it would be impossible to commit the British Dominions to such purpose. 

Fourth: The Germans are perfectly aware of the exact limits of British enthusiasm for France, and it is Hitler’s primary policy to exploit them for all they are worth. Collaboration with Britain is the first article in his foreign policy. In this he is absolutely consistent. Twelve years ago, when he first published “Mein Kampf,” he excoriated prewar German diplomacy for bringing about a break with Britain by its colonial policy and naval race; he advocated relinquishing Alsace Lorraine forever and forcing an eventual settlement with France, peaceably if possible, by war if necessary, only for the purpose of winning for Germany a free hand in the East. He said that Germany could only choose between Britain and Russia, and that prewar Germany had managed to alienate both. It is clear that Hitler does not intend to choose Russia. On the contrary, he has openly advocated bringing down Bolshevism in Russia, has predicted that its collapse would be the end of Russia as a unified state, and that Germany would be its chief heir. 

Such a program, of course, is one of long range. Germany has no border on Russia, and the first step would have to be to divorce the small Eastern and Central European countries, the Baltic States, Austria, Czechoslovakia, etc., from their close alliance with France, and bring them under German influence. The German proposals in London are a first step in this direction. 

But the hope of winning Great Britain to a tolerant neutrality toward such a program is counteracted by other facts and forces which Mr. Hitler has apparently not considered so carefully. Until the League of Nations plebiscite, shortly before the Ethiopian affair, England was holding herself increasingly aloof from the Continent, and the League’s prestige was declining in official British circles. England could afford this attitude because of her friendship with Italy which, resting upon long tradition and the historic strength of the British fleet assured her security in the Mediterranean. This traditional friendship went so far that when the Ethiopian affair became acute and the Foreign Office queried the Admiralty as to what plans it had in case of a British-Italian conflict, it was discovered that the Admiralty had none at all. The whole action of the British fleet was therefore improvised. In the Ethiopian conflict England learned, first, that the Italian power in the Mediterranean was more formidable than she had supposed, and second, that unless she stuck very close to France and the League she might have to fear an alliance between these two, who could between them control Gibraltar and the Suez Canal. France is essential to Great Britain. Germany is not. And this fact is seen most clearly by those men in England like Winston Churchill, who are experts on military and naval matters. 

Public opinion in England is not clear, and public opinion in these days when every Englishman with radio can hear the case of France or Germany or Italy presented to his own ear in his own language is very powerful. There are a large number of liberals of whom Lord Lothian is perhaps typical, who have always felt that Germany was not given a square deal, and that there will be no peace in Europe until some of her demands are met. But the pacifist opinion is also divided since Hitler came into power, because in liberal minds the large question looms as to whether any concessions should be made to Hitler’s Germany, and what a further extension of Nazi power would mean to European civilization. On the other side there are die-hards who think it might even be desirable to let Germany “clean up” Russia.

But the French have no such idea at all. France could purchase from Germany right now a guarantee of security which, with British collaboration, would probably secure her peace for generations. But in doing so she would consent to retire as a first-class power and pass that role over to her late enemy. France has a whole network of allies in Central and Eastern Europe, and upon them her prestige rests. It was shaken when she allowed Germany to begin rearming without more than formal protest. That resulted in Poland’s making a settlement with Germany and drifting somewhat away from French control. If France now gives in on the matter of the Rhineland there will be only one course open to Austria, Czechoslovakia and the other small Eastern nations, and that will be either to draw closer to Russia or to make their peace with Germany on the best terms they can. The Poles, Czechs and Austrians are bound to believe that if France will not act to prevent German guns being set up at her own border she will hardly act in behalf of outraged Czechs or Austrians in some distant future. The French peasant might fight today for a menaced Strassbourg, but hardly tomorrow for a menaced Prague.

If France would resign herself to a secondary role, in exchange for security, war would perhaps not be immediate or necessary, provided that the rest of Europe, and especially Great Britain, collaborated to assist German economic reconstruction. That is another big factor. The Nazi system depends upon rearmament and public works, vast sacrifices from the population, prompted by periodic patriotic saturnalias. Experts believe that the Nazi financial situation is very serious, and that without assistance from outside it may crack. Does the rest of Europe want to keep it from cracking? And if it cracks, what will Germany do? Break out somewhere else? 

There is not yet a clear line-up. Britain has not yet chosen. Meanwhile, she will play for time, first because that is her habitual technique, and second, because she feels herself to be inadequately armed. Some weeks ago the Government suddenly ordered 100 bombing planes from the Fairey Company. The manufacturers asked for nine months in which to complete experiments designed to improve the plane. The Government replied: “We have not nine months to wait.”

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