Pittman Neutrality Bill is Rigged in Favor of the Great Monopolies and Banking Houses

Dorothy Thompson

Chattanooga News/February 27, 1937

It is expected that the Pittman resolution soon will be favorably reported out of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate. Under its terms war-time commerce is rigged in favor of the great monopolies and international banking houses, as against the smaller manufacturer, who keeps his capital and employs his labor at home. The bill also will extend to the President the very great power of deciding what, anywhere in the world, constitutes a state of war, whether international or civil, thereupon giving him enormous controls over our entire foreign trade.

The bill, furthermore, definitely favors, in war time, that country or those countries which can control the seas, extending to it or to them special privileges which other belligerents cannot enjoy. It also extends special privileges to those nations or their nationals who hold credits in this country, or operate industries or exploit natural resources here.

The bill is called a Neutrality law and is designed to keep us out of war. This column submits that its measures have nothing to do with neutrality, and that it is extremely likely to serve exactly the opposite purpose from that for which it is designed.

The bill contains four major provisions: (1) In case the President decides that a state of war, international or civil exists anywhere, he may forbid the shipment of arms or implements of war from this country, and prevent loans of money to either belligerent; (2) He may extend the embargo to any other articles or materials considered essential to the conduct of war, such as cotton, steel, copper, or, presumably, even food, except as they are paid for in this country and all right and interest in them transferred from an American to other nationals. This is the so-called “cash and carry” clause; (3) Anything which the President may define as contraband can be banned from American ships, during war; and finally, (4) American nationals cannot depend upon the protection of the United States government if they travel in danger zones.

Now, what does this bill actually mean in practice? First of all, it means that we are flagrantly reversing the attitude expressed in the Kellogg Pact, which denounces aggression. We, the greatest, strongest single nation on earth, announce by inference, that there is no such thing as “right” or “wrong” and no such thing as international morality.

In advance of all possible hostilities, we perform the greatest Pontius Pilate act in history. We say by inference that morally speaking, it is a matter of complete indifference to this country whether a large and strong nation deliberately overruns a weak one; the attacked is a belligerent as well as the attacker, and we shall furnish arms to neither of them, and possibly no food or basic raw materials either.

But then we qualify that stand of dubious morality. We say that we will sell goods to anybody who can come and get them. That will mean in practice that we will sell goods to anybody who can control the high seas. That means, in the field of realistic politics that as matters stand today, we will sell goods to Great Britain. Tomorrow, perhaps, Germany and Russia will make a great combination, build tremendous navies, and set out to conquer the world; anything at all is possible. And in that case, it will mean that we will sell goods to them. Or it may mean that two warring countries, let us say, Great Britain and Germany, are contending for the control of the high seas, and both buying goods in our ports. That will mean that they may be blowing up each other’s ships just outside our harbors—or inside them!

The President may forbid American nationals to engage in almost any form of trade from this country, but the bill exempts non-Americans doing business in this country. This means that although we may embargo oil to any belligerent, British companies who own oil fields here or cotton plantations can sell oil or cotton to anyone they choose. It will also, in all probability, mean that Germans, French, and others will set about purchasing oil fields here, as well as other sources of necessary raw materials.

The possible complications arising from this baffle the imagination. Great Britain can have here a Rio Tinto as she has in Spain, or Germany a Mannesmann works, as she has in Morocco, and in time of war both of them can be furnishing their own countries from our soil. And if we confiscate their holdings, what then? Will that help to make everything hotsy totsy?

The President can forbid any American national to lend money to any belligerent Government or person, but he cannot prevent foreign nationals with money in this country from spending it here to help their own side. And there are billions of foreign money here at this moment.

Under this bill the President can prevent John Smith, who has a single oil well in Texas, from selling oil to Spain, or Russia, or Great Britain, or any other country which happens to be engaged at any moment in war, but he cannot prevent the great American oil companies, with fields and refineries all over the world—in Persia, Mexico, Venezuela, the Dutch East Indies or Romania—from selling oil to anyone they please, and making tremendous profits, with which to come home from the wars and force the little fellows, whom the war has impoverished, into bankruptcy.

Under this bill International Nickel, which is incorporated in Canada, but has a huge majority of American capital, can do all the business it likes. So, for instance, can Anaconda Copper. General Motors, which owns a majority of the stock in the German Opel works, can go on manufacturing trucks for the German Army, as it is doing at this moment, not in Detroit, but in Germany.

The bill is an invitation to American capital to distribute itself around the world. If one grants the thesis that our entrance into the last war was exclusively caused by American financial interests—a thesis which is a great deal too simple except for the simpleminded—how is this bill going to prevent American capital from having an interest in the next war as well?

The bill is in direct contradiction to the policy of Mr. Cordell Hull, who is doing everything in his power to foster normal international trade, and is opposing the self-sufficiency program of Germany, on the ground that economic self-sufficiency encourages war! But if other countries adopted bills similar to this, what would be left for countries poor in raw materials and foreign exchange except to copy and extend the German program!

We can tie up our hands all we please in an attempt to predicate the next war on the history of the last, a history, incidentally, which recently interpretations have both clarified and befuddled. But whatever we do will generate counter-policies in other countries. They are not altogether stupid; they are also motivated by self-interest. I have suggested what some of their counter-policies may be. And there will be others, such as the storage of vast amounts of food and materials, with resultant economic dislocations, and the opening up of new sources of raw materials, which will militate against our interests.

The bill is badly named. It should be called: An act to encourage autarchy, declare our alliance with whomever at the moment has the biggest navy, and foster international finance capitalism at the cost of the small fellows at home.

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