PEACE AlsIt) QUIET—II.
By EDWARD MONTGOMERY New York.
IT SAID in my last week's article that what I felt the majority of Americans wanted, at this particular moment in their evolution, is "a little peace and quiet "—a spell of respite from international alarums and domestic political turbulence alike ; a breathing-space in which people can get on with their private business unhampered either by fears of the future or too much governmental interference and nurse-maiding. Rarely, I think, in their history can the great heterogeneous mass of the American people have been so unanimous in their general attitudes towards the great world issues and their own domestic problems. Save for the single issue of civil rights for the negroes—whose explosive potentialities are still happily latent —there is no domestic problem which seems capable of becoming the source of any very violent political controversy. There is one major and general discontent which afflicts almost everyone, the high cost of living, of which more later. And there are some minor dis- contents, such as the shortage of housing, the inadequacy of educa- tional facilities, and so on. But these affect specific individuals of all classes, rather than whole classes or groups, and therefore seem unlikely to excite any organised political, feeling.
But as regards his prospects of achieving that interlude of peace and quiet I think he so ardently wants, the Amerkan has one deep-. set and abiding fear and one major worry. His fear is of a new - depression ; his worry is over the possibility of another war. I use the distinction between " fear " and " worry " with intent. The American is worried over the possibility of another war. But he is not afraid of it. Whereas he lives in the most profound and mortal terror of a new depression. The depression of the 'thirties was the nearest thing to economic, political, social and psychological disaster America as a nation or the Americans as a people have ever known. With the exception of a few aged Southerners no American has ever experienced the soul-searing anguish of military defeat, of abject surrender to superior armed forces, of occupation by hostile troops. No American for a hundred and thirty-four years has ever known such things at the hands of foreign enemies. The American knows, and can know, nothing of the memories that burn the French- man, the Belgian, the Dutchman, the Czech, the Norwegian, the Yugoslav, the Ukrainian, the Greek. What he can and does
remember are the able-bodied men, skilled workers and white- collar executives selling apples on street corners for nickels to buy food for their children. He remembers when self-respecting families who had never taken charity from anyone had to line up at soup kitchens or starve ; when big and little business-men went crazy and jumped out of their 'office windows if they were high enough or off the nearest bridge or wharf if they weren't ; when banks all across the country went broke and closed their doors and everybody lived by taking in everybody else's washing on credit ; when nobody could make any money producing or selling anything because nobody had any money to buy anything ; when Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Franklin D. Roosevelt was right, as he presently demonstrated, but no American who lived through it ever has forgotten, or ever will, that stomach-churning, mind-chilling fear he endured for the five years the depression lasted.
And that fear is perhaps the main reason why no one in this country, in his heart of hearts, really wants to see anything drastic done about inflation and the high cost of living that is its uncom- fortable corollary. Everyone, theoretically, would like to see the cost of living go down, or at least steady itself, but, practically, nobody wants anything done which might run the slightest risk of upsetting the economic and financial apple-cart, for fear that it might bring on the very deflation and depression that everyone dreads so deeply. The American reckons that steak, even at $1.50 (7s. 6(L) a pound, is better than soup at a charity kitchen.
The American feeling about the possibility of another war is quite different from that with which he regards the menace of a new depression. It is, as I have said, a worry rather than a fear. The American is reasonably, but not uncalculatingly, confident that America can eventually win a war with Russia—it is always, and only, of Russia as the enemy that the American thinks nowadays— if shooting war should break out within the next few months or years. He has by now learned to discount the scare stories so pre- valent a year or so ago—of Russian atomic super-rockets making Hiroshimas of New York, Washington, Detroit, Chicago and 'San Francisco in a night ; of hordes of Russian parachutists hurtling across the North Pole to invade Canada ; of Communist saboteurs knocking out all of America's key industries on a bright Monday morning with atomic bombs brought ashore in suitcases. Ha knows that a war with Russia would be a long war and a tough one. But that is not what bothers him. What really gets him down, in his present mood, is the knowledge, gained by most recent experi- ence, that modern war, total war, means total disruption of all peaceful pursuits and activities. In means conscription, and ration- ing, and shortages ; it means the break-up of families, the utter disorganisation of private life, Government control and regulation of everything down to the length of the socks he wears and the number of pockets he can have in a suit. And he loathes the whole idea of it with a deep and deadly loathing. It is the discomfort and the disturbance of war, rather than the suffering and the horror of it, that appal him.
If, at any time in the near future, America has to go to war, it will be in the mood of : "Oh, for God's sake let's get on with it and get it over if we have to. Then maybe we can have some peace." For the American, seeing Russia as the only possible disturber of the peace which in the next twenty-five years is likely to be strong enough to challenge America, argues—over-simply, perhaps, but none the less logically—that if only Russia could be well and pro- perly licked, once and for all, we might really have some "peace, in our time" at last. There is, however, much less talk now than there was a few months ago of a " preventive " war with Russia. The American has come to See the good sense of avoiding war as long as possible in the hope that somehow, some way, the Russians can be convinced that aggression does not pay, and change their policy accordingly. All the same, the American—or all but a small fraction of him—is not,. today prepared to make a single concession, either of American principle or of American interest, to buy a few, more months or years of peace from the Russians. There will be no Munichs in the present diplomatic struggle if the vast majority of the American people have their say in it. Almost all of them today would echo Patrick Henry—with the appropriate inflationary paraphrasing: "Billions for defence, but not one cent for tribute I"
All the public-opinion polls agree that with the exception of a very small minority—varying between 6 and 8 per cent, of the total— the American people are solidly united in support of the present foreign policy of firmness towards Russia and resistance to further expansion of Russian (and Communist) power by every means avail- able, even at the risk of war. Indeed, as reflected in the polls, most Americans seem to be worried, not over whether their Government's policy towards Russia is too firm, but whether it is firm enough. Barring two possible catastrophes, the onset of a new depression or the outbreak of another world war, this mood of seeking a period of tranquillity and stability, rather than excitement and adventures, seems to me likely to persist in the American people for some time to come. Politically it expresses itself in a general tendency towards conservatism, and is, therefore, likely to favour the Republican as against the Democratic Party at the forthcoming Presidential and Congressional elections. What people want is an Administration and Congress in Washington that will conduct the nation's affairs quietly and efficiently, with a minimum of political controversy and a maximum of common-sense ; that will mind its public business and let the public mind its private business ; that will build up America's defences and America's armed strength ; that will engage in no rash diplomatic ventures abroad, but will hold the line firmly against the Russians and against Communism everywhere.
All this spells, to me, a Republican victory in November. I doubt very much whether the failure of the Republican-controlled Congress to do anything of consequence about Mr. Truman's anti-inflation programme will operate to the disfavour of the Republican Party at the elections. Except in the eyes of Mr. Truman's most rabid sup- porters—if he has any—the very " do-nothingness " of the Repub- licans in the special session of Congress is likely to stand to their eventual credit at the polls. Nobody wants any monkeying with the economic machinery—at least as long as it is running as smoothly (if expensively) as it is at the moment. "America is doing all right. Let's leave well enough alone." That is the American attitude today. Any sensible prophet, however, keeps his fingers crossed when he talks of tomorrow.