World Problems in Review: Tumbling into War
EARLY in August, with our attention turned principally to the coming sessions of the Interparliamentary Union at Oslo, we should have said there would be no war. The failures of innumerable so-called "incidents" to bring on a European war, any one of which would have meant such a war twenty-five years ago, we thought to be the focal tact of modern history. Reasons for those fortunate failures seemed to be many. There was the human instinct of self-preservation, the new consciousness of the uncertainties of the outcome of any war, the realization by the Central Powers that France and England were at last now prepared for any emergency. There was an apparent consciousness by the Axis Powers that they could not win a war. All the Powers remembered the experiences of the World War. There was a weariness of the war psychology, a longing for better trade relations and calmer, happier international relationships. It appears that there was a growing belief in the mind of Herr Hitler that America was in sympathy with France and England with its direct bearing upon the limited reserves within the Axis Powers. There was a great popular resistance to the whole theory of war. Those were some of the reasons why so many serious "incidents" had not brought about a general European debacle. Due mainly to the radio and the press, men and women everywhere knew that the increasing costs of armaments were tending toward the actual starvation of men, women and children, in the lower income groups. As Mr. John G. Winant, Director of the International Labor Organization, had said, "these costs are added to every loaf of bread we buy, to every acre of land we cultivate, and to the length of the day we labor to earn a living." Thus we dared to trust early in August in the reluctance of governments to bring on a war. On August 7 both Mr. Chamberlain and Lord Halifax were hopeful. Parliament did not hesitate to recess. We believed there would be no war.
And yet, on the morning of August 15 Representative Hamilton Fish, President of the United States Group of the Interparliamentary Union, reported to our delegates in Oslo that he had conferred with Mr. De Valera in Ireland, Lord Halifax in London, M. Daladier in Paris, and Herr von Ribbentrop in Berlin, and that he had been led to believe that a European war was imminent. We all found it difficult to believe that that could be true. When the Conference adjourned August 19, the delegates generally believed, at least hoped of course, that peace would be maintained.
Evidently they were mistaken, for soon dispatches began to fly. On August 23 King Leopold of Belgium felt moved to broadcast from his Royal Palace a stirring appeal for peace, speaking in behalf of the heads of the seven neutral states whose representatives had been meeting in Brussels. The King pointed out that armies were gathering for a horrible struggle which could benefit neither victors nor vanquished. He called attention to the fact that public opinion in all countries was alarmed, that lack of confidence reigned everywhere, that there was a prevailing fear of a conflict into which all might be directed in spite of their will to maintain their neutrality and their independence. He went on to say that there is no people which wants to send its children to their untimely death, that all the states have the same interests, but that time was getting short. The King added:
"We want peace with respect for the rights of all nations. It is our wish that the differences between nations should be submitted to conciliation in a spirit of good will. Tomorrow hundreds of millions of people will be hoping that the differences which separate heads of States may be settled by means of conciliation. Let those in whose hands rests the destiny of the peoples apply themselves to settle peacefully the differences which separate them."
On August 24 President Roosevelt was led to propose both to Germany and to Poland that they enter into direct discussions with a view to a specific solution of their disputes; that in the event of the failure of direct discussions they submit their differences to arbitration by a third and disinterested party. …