THE SHOOTING came to an end months ago and today the guns are quiet on all the fronts of the Second World War. But we are not yet back to the ways of peace and we all know that there is a difficult road ahead.
The ending of this war, it seems to me, has been profoundly different from the ending of the First World War. This time we have our earlier experience to look back upon. We are made uneasy and thoughtful as we recall how last time the peace miscarried.
Some of us remember the warning that James Harvey Robinson gave us twenty years ago in his The Mind in the Making: “There can be no secure peace except of the whole world; no prosperity but a general prosperity, and this for the simple reason that we are all now brought so near together and are so pathetically and intricately interdependent, that the old notions of noble isolation and national sovereignty are magnificently criminal.”
Robinsons was not the only voice. Many another cried a similar warning after the last war. But those warnings went unheeded, and so we and all the other great nations drifted into the Great Depression, and out of that depression came the forces which made the Second World War. Had we and the other great nations solved our postwar problems wisely then, World War II could have, and would have, been averted.
On V-J Day we knew we were at the crossroads again. Largely for this reason, I thought, our reactions on V-J Day differed from those on November 11,1918. We rejoiced and celebrated, but it was only the celebration that comes when a long strain is ended and a great danger is finally past. Our rejoicing in 1945 was not as full as it had been in 1918. For not one of us but wondered what lay ahead and whether this time we would succeed in building a prosperous and lasting peace.
Added to the feeling that “we have been here before” was the realization that, while we faced the same problems again, there was one tremendous difference. No one could fully weigh the meaning of atomic energy, but we all knew that in wresting this secret from nature we had assumed the most awful responsibility ever carried by the race of man. And everyone wondered whether the advances in the Bretton Woods Agreements and the United Nations Conference, great though they were, had not suddenly been dwarfed by this new development, so rich in creative promise, yet so dreadful in destruction.
This soberness, although increased by the use of the atomic bomb, was evident long before even V-E or V-J Day. It was evident throughout the war. It was evident, I think, in the way the general storekeeper in Maine, the miner in West Virginia, the dentist in Dubuque, accepted wartime controls such as had never been attempted in the earlier war—controls that went against every American grain.
In our whole handling of the war, in both its military and its civilian aspects, we proved that we could learn from our own experience and avoid repeating the mistakes we once had made. This same attitude led to the proposals finally agreed on at Bretton Woods, Dumbarton Oaks, and San Francisco—all of them completed before the end of the war.
Nor were government proposals the only ones advanced and discussed. Both industry and labor, not to mention countless letters-to-the-editor, put forth plans to guide us in the postwar period. For many months the Committee for Economic Development, a group of forward-looking business leaders, made surveys and published results of careful studies in preparation for war’s end. Both the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations likewise drew up co-ordinated programs for a prosperous postwar America.
For months we were flooded with designs for tomorrow’s world and road maps of the routes America should travel. In books and pamphlets, in newspapers and magazines, and over all the major radio forums we read and heard the numerous plans for postwar America. We had “reconversion” plans by the dozen. Able and concerned economists told us over and over again how necessary it was that we think in terms of abundant production and consumption and that we plan for that abundance.
“Jobs for all” have been discussed under crystal chandeliers at august conventions, and just as earnestly by men with their feet on brass rails in Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and Detroit. Plans were advanced by industrial leaders. Plans were advanced by farmers. Plans were advanced by labor. We had enough proposals, plans, programs, and blueprints for postwar America to fill a good-sized library.
There are, it seems to me, two important observations to be made about virtually all of these plans and proposals.
First, the fact that they flourished and still thrive means that we are deeply interested in our economic future. If all of us were not interested in these plans we certainly wouldn’t wade through pages of type to read them or drive down to the high-school auditorium on a stormy night to hear some economic expert expound his theories.
Second, that the one point of agreement among all these programs is the view they take of the grave risk of flying blind into tomorrow. What underlies every one of them is recognition of the need for a program, a plan, for administrative machinery. They recognize that having “no policy” is, whether we like it or not, itself a policy and indeed the worst of all policies – the policy of drifting into disaster with our eyes closed.
This search for an answer is, to me, a good omen. It means that as a nation we are aware that we have reached a forking of the roads and that choosing the road to follow in the next few years is the most momentous decision in our history. We know that we are confronted with very grave problems. We know quite clearly that on the way we solve these problems depends our future for generations to come. In this we are far ahead of where we stood at the end of the last war, when it was thought that our only problem was how quickly we could get back to a condition vaguely described as “normalcy.”
The central problem we face today may be stated simply enough:
As a consequence of two world wars in a quarter of a century we find ourselves faced with the possibility of another world conflict from which civilized humanity is not likely to recover.
At the same time we see just as clearly that if we work with all the other nations of the earth and exert as much effort for peace as we expended for war-as much sacrifice of energy, of pride and personal privilege—we can wipe out the very causes of war and look toward the future with confidence.
The problem, then, is to find unifying forces in peace as powerful as those which in war made us a mighty and irresistible coalition.
In unifying for war, we and our Allies worked toward the common objective of defeating the forces of military aggression which threatened the national existence of all our countries. Out of this objective developed a joint program, each country contributing as it most effectively could. In unifying for peace all the nations of the world, including our former enemies, must pursue a similar course. And our objective must be the elimination of economic insecurity and of its Siamese twin, political insecurity.
The world must move forward toward greater and greater economic security because without it there can be no durable peace. When unemployment is widespread at home, even the most peace-loving countries feel themselves forced to cut down on purchases abroad. That is what we ourselves did in the Tariff Act of 1930, and we were not alone.
It is difficult at best to bring proud, sovereign nations into close and continuous political teamwork. If each suffers the burden and fears that unemployment and economic insecurity create, it is impossible. If all nations are forced to compete ever more bitterly for shrinking world markets, then war itself becomes finally unavoidable.
But if we in America set our domestic house in order, if at home we move confidently from one achievement to another, with our full productive power harnessed and used to the benefit of all, then we shall be both able and eager to provide the markets as well as the goods which other nations require. Then we shall not hesitate to provide by loan the machines which will speed up the productivity of all the world, and later to accept the goods which will repay these loans. World prosperity can be built only on the basis of give-and-take. The experience of centuries teaches us that this is possible only when each nation is itself prosperous and secure.
How to shake off economic insecurity is a question which each nation will approach differently, just as each had its own approach to the objective of defeating the military forces of Fascism.
There is much room for controversy—and I am sure it will be filled—among people who prefer the Russian way, the British way, the French way, or the American way of getting to where the people of the world want to arrive. But about the objective itself there can be no dispute. Economic security, based on abundant production, fairly shared, is our goal-whether we live on the Rue Saint-Jacques or on Main Street, U.S.A., whether we farm in a giant collective in the Ukraine or till the black soil of Iowa.
In building the economic foundations of world peace, America has the largest single contribution to make, for ours is the most powerful economy. The economic decisions which we make have a greater effect, for good or for ill, upon the economic lives of the people in other countries than the decisions of the British or the Russians or the Chinese can have on us. None of the world powers can escape a heavy responsibility in this postwar period, but ours is the heaviest share of all.
We may not have sought this responsibility. Indeed, we did not know how great was this strength of ours which makes the responsibility inescapable. But the war opened our eyes.
We discovered that, while our economy had indeed been stagnant for a decade, stagnation was not inevitable. We learned that there still lay within us the sources of strength, the drive and perseverance, the ingenuity, and, above all, the vision and the ability to work together, which had made our country great.
By the end of the war we had used those resources and that strength so boldly and so effectively that the economic goals which in 1940 had made us gasp were left far behind. The American people must never again jeer at the boldness of their leadership, nor must any of us ever again hold at a discount the tremendous potential of this mighty nation.
Today, at a time when the destiny of the world will be determined by the use to which men and nations put their productive power, we stand the strongest and most productive nation on earth. Nothing is more important than how we use our strength.
On the pages that follow I want to take a quick inventory of our economy, of the potential that is ours, and of what we have done with that potential. I want to trace how our economic system has worked and how it periodically has failed to work. I want to take apart our ups and downs—the ups which have brought prosperity to many of us, and the downs which have brought hardship to all.
I want to see, if possible, what economic lessons there are for us in the greatest of all depressions and the greatest of all wars. When we have looked honestly and critically back at our past, then, it seems to me, we shall be in better position to judge realistically what is called for in the period ahead.