SELFISHNESS AND SHORTSIGHTEDNESS
"One of the weaknesses of a democracy . . . is that until it is right up against it, it will never face the truth."--STANLEY BALDWIN, 1935
THE IRON LAW of national interest or self-interest governs the foreign affairs of all powers, great or small. In this respect we are probably no better and no worse than other peoples. We may not have pursued our national interest with as much success as other countries, but no one can accuse us of not having tried.
One qualification must be entered. The Man in the Street aims at what he conceives to be the best interests of his country, but often his judgment is faulty. The neutrality legislation of the 1930's, which gave substantial aid and comfort to the rising Hitler and Mussolini, was enacted in response to what the American people thought was to their advantage, but with the wisdom of hindsight we may conclude that storm-cellar neutrality was shortsighted folly.
Another qualification must be made. In pursuit of national interest we sometimes bark up the wrong tree. The German declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917 was of epochal significance, but at first certain sections of the country were more deeply aroused over the rather ridiculous Zimmermann note. Walter Lippmann has observed that the true interests of the people are not always the things that interest the people most.
The good Christian is no doubt shocked to hear that our national policy is, has been, and must be conceived in selfishness. Recent events provide ample proof of the tendency in international relations for moral standards to be dragged down to the level of the lowest. Before Pearl Harbor we were horrified to learn that merchantmen were being sunk by submarines without warning and without regard for the lives of innocent noncombatants. We declared war on the Germans in 1917, among other reasons, for starting and persisting in this inhumane practice. Yet after Pearl Harbor we were faced with the necessity of fighting the devil with fire, and rather than lose the war we torpedoed scores of Japanese ships without warning, and within a few years were dumping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If a statesman insisted on pursuing in undiluted form the ethics of Jesus, if he turned the other cheek and refused to match the weapons of his adversary, he would not only have to abandon the aspirations of his nation, but he might even sacrifice the nation itself, in which case he would go down in history as a simpleton rather than as a statesman. These unfortunately are the realities of international life, and will continue to be until a better day dawns.