Will America Ever Speak Out?

Dorothy Thompson

Chattanooga News/February 26, 1937

Dorothy Thompson Bemoans Isolationism While the World Prepares for the Greatest of Great Wars –Once Before America Cast the Deciding Vote, and Cast It Too Late, After the Catastrophe Had Arrived

The announcement that England is about to spend $7,500,000,000 for rearmament purposes, hardly less, according to Neville Chamberlain, and possibly more; the estimate of “The London Banker” that Germany’s military expenditures in the past four years have been 31,000,000,000 marks—$12,000,000,000; the course of steel, copper, lead, zinc, and other such stocks on the American stock market; the revelation that our government is concerned with whether it can get steel from our own industries under the Walsh-Healey Act—all these are only straws indicating the outstanding and most important fact in the world today, namely that an armaments race is on which has no parallel in history, and, very importantly, that the whole process of industrial recovery is bound up in this race.

Two facts: First, the nations indulging in this orgy of armaments have not yet paid for the last war; second, the effort comes at a time when the nations are slowly recovering from the most violent depression of modern times, and when there is enormous pressure upon them for large expenditures for social services.

Modern armies are the most expensive in history. They are mechanized. This means huge capital outlays for trucks, tractors and tanks. The air arm is all important. Airplanes have an especially high rate of obsolesence, because of hard use, crack-ups, and changes in design. Not only must there be tremendous numbers of planes on hand, but also factories capable of turning out thousands of machines during war. Military experts agree that the first line air personnel and machines are likely to be annihilated at the very outset of hostilities.

Modern expenditure for war has taken a new turn in that all the nations are storing gigantic reserves of food and essential raw materials. In so doing, some of the countries, such as England, are vitally influenced by America’s neutrality policy. They fear that in war-time they could not buy from us. Other countries, such as Germany, remembering the experience of the Great War, when the blockade cut off their overseas supplies, are taking no chances, and also laying in huge supplies. Vast amounts of capital and goods, therefore, are being frozen.

In London recently as a direct result of England’s vast rearmament program government bonds have fallen sharply in price, and armament shares have risen proportionately. Holders of bonds have sold them in order to buy shares in companies that will benefit from the arms program. Because of the pressure on the money market, arising from governmental needs, private industry will have to pay higher rates of interest, and higher rates for raw materials. This will tend to handicap the export industries of England and thereby retard all recovery based on normal business activities. Moreover, London is the money market of the world. Borrowers find it increasingly difficult to obtain money there, because the money will be needed at home. They cannot obtain it in New York because the Johnson Act prohibits our lending to nations in default to us, and that includes most of the Great Powers.

The point that I am trying to make is that the armaments race is disrupting all normal business activities, and concentrating an enormous proportion of the entire wealth of the world into a single channel. Our naval policy is to build up to England, and the British have just announced that they will spend $3,000,000,000 on their navy, build twenty-five new battleships and put a squadron into the Pacific. The Japanese in turn have announced that they will try, at least, to build up to each of us. Under these conditions, it is impossible to see how one can bring about a balanced economy in any country, with or without complete dictatorial control over it. Furthermore, this kind of race is impossible to stop once it gets well under way. So vast a number of workmen, such prodigious amounts of basic materials and industries will eventually be involved in it, that its sudden liquidation, even in universal disarmament, would bring about a general economic collapse.

It is at such a moment that the United States, in its foreign policy, is carrying water on both shoulders. The policy of Mr. Cordell Hull, backed by the President and the Congress, is economic internationalism. The policy of a large body in Congress is political isolationism. The two are incompatible. The translation of political isolationism into economic isolationism would mean economic dictatorship. If the people of America want that, they ought to get it perfectly clear in their minds that that is what they are heading for. The translation of economic internationalism into political internationalism would mean that we would have to take a stand in the world. For if the present situation drifts, war or world economic collapse are the only two alternatives, and we shall certainly share in the latter, whether or not we share in the former.

The armaments race was started by Germany, Italy and Japan. Japan has seized China, and threatens the English, Dutch and French possessions in the Pacific; Italy has seized Ethiopia and has forced British rearmament by her policy in the Mediterranean. Hitler has put all of Germany upon a war basis, with the avowed intention of expansion, exactly where and exactly how not being indicated, England and France have repeatedly offered Germany and Italy to negotiate economic readjustments in return for a halt in armaments, and the offers have been ignored or refused. The rearmament of the democratic countries follows because of those refusals, and because it has become quite clear that negotiations will only be possible at all if the democratic countries stand with swords in their hands. These are the unhappy international realities. If within the next few months the nations prepare to seek their aims by negotiation, with the inexorable realization that the alternative will be war, catastrophe may be averted. That is the only hope. And that hope is forlorn as long as the United States, the greatest single power in the world, clings to a totally unreal theory of isolationism.

Once before in history we cast the deciding vote. And cast it too late, after the catastrophe was upon us.

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