Honorable Mention, 1929
Public opinion is the mainspring of national life
During a recent debate in the British Parliament a prominent member urged that “a hundred years of propaganda would be undone” unless the pending measure for new naval construction was adopted. There was no sinister implication in his use of the word “propaganda.” Doubtless the more palatable term “indoctrination” would have served his meaning equally well. Neither was there any suggestion of irregularity in the remark, but rather an assumption of normality.
The average American may be somewhat surprised in these days when propaganda is growing to be regarded with scorn and supposed to be tinctured with iniquity, to learn that apparently for a century there has been a strong and probably well-organized effort in England to influence public opinion in favor of a large navy. But let us remember that the motive of propaganda is not necessarily ulterior or bad, and let us reflect that large masses of people cannot come to a sound and reasonably unified opinion except by some sort of indoctrinating process. How else could British subjects, almost to a man, strongly and continuously hold the view that British dominance on the sea is essential to their “trade protection,” prosperity, and to national, as well as empire, “security”? The fact that such has been the attitude of British people over many decades is in itself sufficient evidence of long-continued propaganda to that end.
When we turn back the pages of British history for one hundred years and survey the unparalleled growth, “under the Navy’s shield,” from humble beginnings to marvellous wealth and power, we begin to realize the potency of the indoctrination, and to recognize the skill and wisdom of the leadership which gave it to the nation.
Naturally there were many elements other than naval involved in the rapid evolution of Britain into the greatest of world states. A century ago the long Napoleonic wars were recent history, and had left England’s commercial rivals in poor economic circumstances compared with herself. Also she had already attained the position of the world’s principal marine “carrier,” together with that of the strongest naval power. Above all, her industrial revolution had gained such headway, under the impulse of mechanical invention, the utilization of steam power, and the development of the factory system, that industrial capacity far exceeded home needs and urgently pressed for foreign markets.
Yet all of this progress fell very short of meeting the potentialities of the case, and in 1820 the London merchants, stimulated by newly developed political economy, sponsored some very drastic commercial reforms, of which free trade was the underlying principle. The matter was made the subject of study by a committee of the House of Commons and subsequently by a royal commission. It was found that nearly a thousand laws were in force “hindering trade in every direction.” Within a few years sweeping, fundamental changes were made in the whole commercial system, the most important among which had in view the removal of all restraints upon maritime intercourse with the outside world, and hence the promotion of further industrial development at home.
To the writer’s knowledge it has never been pointed out that this step marked an entirely new relationship between maritime power and national economics. From the Dutch back to the Phoenicians the marine carrying trade was engaged in and fought for principally on account of the profits to be derived from transportation as a business within itself, and from the very lucrative bartering of goods collected in cheap, and distributed in dear, markets. As inherited by England, the carrying trade was thus merely one among many businesses, and the numerous restraints against other nations engaging in it were imposed with a view to making its own shipping business prosperous. As transformed by England after 1820, the carrying trade became an adjunct of British business in general, a promoter of prosperity for all other business and for the nation as a whole.
In taking this course of removing the old navigational restrictions there were some fears as to the fate of the British merchant marine. But it was very strongly intrenched, and it was argued that increased trade incident to the stimulation of general business would enable it to withstand foreign competition. Greater fears were entertained for the fate of the Royal Navy, upon whose protection the whole new economic plan vitally rested, and whose maintenance had been derived from various tariffs and trade restrictions which were to be abolished. It is always difficult to support a navy out of funds derived from more direct taxation unless the need of a navy is clearly recognized by the taxpayer, among whom some propaganda may, therefore, be necessary.
Public indoctrination in the need of naval maintenance became of still greater importance in England after 1832, with the passage of the Reform Bill and subsequent similar measures enfranchising a large electorate. Previous to that time control had been exercised by a small group of aristocrats. Thereafter Britain became democratized, and public opinion more and more governed public expenditure.
Here we see the origin of the “one hundred years of propaganda” referred to in the opening paragraph. Its aim was to assure public support of a navy adequate to protect the economic needs of an empire—a navy that would take its place as one essential element in a vast national commercial enterprise, in which the other major factors were (1) rapidly expanding industrial production, (2) preeminence in the world’s water transport, and (3) colonial dependencies and free access to other markets and sources of raw materials. Thus was the huge wealth cycle to be completed by naval supremacy. Thus has Britain developed wealth, territory, and power far exceeding the dreams of even those men of genius who laid the great foundations.
It would be difficult to refute the thesis that freedom of ocean transport is essential to the prosperity of most nations—especially those which are largely industrialized. If the factory cannot be supplied with all necessary raw materials, or its products cannot be marketed, both of which must follow a serious interference with sea-borne trade, the factory must close down. Then follows a cycle of distress which involves not only the factory employees themselves, and their immediate dependents, but also many other persons occupied in producing and selling goods to them. An era of idleness in the factory automatically brings “hard times” to the country at large.
While such a doctrine is readily understood by students and men of wide affairs, it may often seem intricate and doubtful to persons of little education, especially if their daily pursuits are more manual than mental in nature. To the wage-worker strenuously occupied during six long days of each week with the load of a wheelbarrow, the clinkers on the grate, or “tolerances” of a thousandth of an inch, there must seem little relation between his job and the deep blue sea’s path to foreign ports. Yet it was upon the votes of such men that funds for the Royal Navy more and more depended after the passage of the English Reform Bill in 1832. So it must of necessity be in every industrialized democracy.
The very foundations of democratic government obviously rest upon the ability of the electorate to make sound decisions, which presupposes a sufficiency of not only intelligence but information also. Herein lies the complete justification of education, publicity, propaganda, indoctrination, or whatever we may choose to call the awakening of large masses of people to an understanding of their own legitimate needs. This applies particularly to those aspects of national life which are at once of fundamental importance and also normally difficult for the average citizen to comprehend. One of these aspects is the inherent need of maritime strength in order that industry may survive and national prosperity continue.
No one could deny the great honor and credit which is due to those farsighted leaders of British opinion who have kept their people in the van of wealth and progress in every form for one hundred years. The necessary indoctrination has covered all essential phases of national life, but in none has it been so earnest, so persistent, nor so successful, as in that of supremacy on the sea—including both the naval and merchant marine elements.
“Trade protection” has been the keynote of the naval indoctrination of the British public from the beginning and so continues to the present day. Trade protection was the main justification advanced for naval appropriations in 1832. Trade protection was the principal reason given by the British government in 1927 for their unwillingness to accept parity with the United States at Geneva. The pleas of security against invasion and general preparation for war have naturally been invoked also, but more as collateral reasons for maintaining a navy, the prime function of which was steadily represented as the protection of ocean trade routes against interruption in any form. Let us not quarrel with this doctrine, which is entirely sound as measured by the principles of both economic and naval strategy. Both in peace and war the navy’s cardinal mission is the adequate control of sea communications.
The task of putting and keeping in the minds of the British public the basic close relation between national economic welfare and the maintenance of naval power had to be performed by the intellectuals. Originally they had at hand the pioneer studies of such master minds as that of Adam Smith in the realm of political economy. Their start was further favored by the extraordinary national economic structure which the administrative genius of Mr. Huskisson had erected before 1830 in every commercial field. Space forbids considering the publicity leadership of more than two men, who may be taken as representative of a large group spanning nearly a century.
Outstanding among the early propagandists was Cobden. Himself a successful manufacturer, and an occasional member of Parliament, after 1835 he devoted most of his time and effort to indoctrinating the country. He considered that it was “natural” for Great Britain “to manufacture for the world in exchange for her free admission” of the agricultural products and raw materials from other nations. Free trade was the cardinal principle of his doctrine, and he was ardent in urging that the “logical complement of free trade” was the “promotion of peace and the (international) reduction of naval and military armaments.” But mark well that at the same time he was an “outspoken advocate of an irresistible British Navy” as a shield to commerce.
To these ends, in 1846, he went on what he himself characterized as “an agitating tour” through the continent of Europe, which met with extraordinary success everywhere. He made several other extended visits to Europe and two to the United States, and at the time of his death in 1865 was among the best-known and most highly esteemed men in the world. In 1866 his friends founded the Cobden Club in London as “a center for political propaganda to promote free-trade economics.” Its great influence and activity continue to the present day.
The miracle of “Little England” transforming herself within a generation into an immense industrial center “under the Navy’s shield” was the main impulse behind the movement which began in about 1870 for modified “Cobdenism” through a closely knit empire. Markets and raw materials had to be more positively assured if England’s extraordinary industrial development was to further advance and become stabilized. The leadership in this was taken up by the elder Chamberlain, more of a politician but not less a propagandist than Cob- den, to whose mantle he succeeded. His doctrine was well summed up by himself in 1886 when responding to the toast, “Commerce and the Empire.” Praising the ability of the toastmaster to compress such a wealth of meaning into virtually two words, he suggested that even greater brevity was possible, and that a single word would suffice, since “Commerce is the Empire.” The great influence of Chamberlain continued until his death in 1914, and one of his ablest seconds has been Rudyard Kipling.
In retrospect one is compelled to marvel at the sagacity of those British leaders who formulated the gospel of Production, Ocean Transport, Foreign Markets, Irresistible Navy, which so quickly brought undreamt wealth to their people. Not less astonishing is their skill in grappling with the new problem of indoctrinating millions of slow-thinking, skeptical voters with what then seemed to be such a radical gospel. Who is there to question the ethics of resorting to such propaganda among people in their own interests?
Their doctrine of a supreme navy, not to make war but to preserve peace, not to be predatory but to shield the free development of commerce, not to unsettle the world but to stabilize it through the promotion of law and order, has been demonstrated as sound. Britain has given us outstanding proof of the fallacy that armaments are necessarily provocative of war. For virtually one hundred years, while possessing much the strongest navy in the world, her government kept free from major wars and used her dominant naval power primarily as a commercial shield, in accordance with the doctrine of “trade protection” so wisely propagated. On many critical occasions during this period the mere strength of the Royal Navy was sufficient to deter other nations from undertaking war against her. That she was almost inevitably drawn into the maelstrom of the general European war in 1914 fails to invalidate the principle, or to lend color to a possible charge of broken faith.
We may think of propaganda as not only justified and ethical but actually necessary and beneficial, when conducted by earnest and public-spirited apostles within their own country. What about propaganda carried on in foreign countries? There is no denying that the family of nations has many common interests; that general prosperity and culture thrive best under conditions of stabilized peace; and that good will and cooperation cannot be substituted for suspicion and conflict except through mutual understanding and sympathy. Is not world-indoctrination through international propaganda therefore ethical and praiseworthy?
Such was the view of Cobden on his “agitating tours” throughout the civilized world between 1846 and 1865. Such doubtless was the belief of the Cobden Club which has carried on his work since his death. Such are the arguments advanced in justification of the foreign propaganda now being conducted in this country and elsewhere, on a scale beyond anything the world has seen before, aided by the extraordinary modern expansion of communication facilities.
As an example of the scope of this work the following extracts are quoted from an article published in the July 4, 1919, issue of the London Times, written by a regular correspondent of that paper. Its significance is heightened by a supporting editorial in the same issue, and by the great influence of that journal, which was then one of a chain of nearly eighty papers controlled by Lord Northcliffe. It will be recalled that the latter had succeeded Sir Gilbert Parker in charge of British propaganda in the United States, and had been in supreme control of British propaganda in enemy countries during the war, with a staff composed largely of his press associates.
Nothing else is so urgently required as a complete British-American understanding. Only good will that will stand any strain that may be put upon such an understanding will insure world peace…Existing good will…has not the strength of fiber to stand heavy strain…Our two great democracies reflect in their legislation the common thought of the common people. The political leaders in both countries remain leaders only so long as they keep an ear to the ground to discover the direction in which the public is marching…It is the mass-mind of the British and American democracies that will determine if we shall march together…Any enduring good will between the two countries must be rooted in the hearts and minds of all the people.
By efficient propaganda, carried out by those trained in the arts of creating public good will and of swaying public opinion towards a definite purpose…the natural and proper competition of interest between the two countries will be robbed of the poison of ignorant resentment.
What is now needed—urgently needed—is to make a beginning. Efficiently organized propaganda should mobilize the press, the church, the stage and the cinema; press into active service the whole educational systems of both countries, and root the spirit of good will in the homes, the universities, public and high schools and primary schools. It should also provide for subsidizing the best men to write books and articles on special subjects…authoritative opinion upon current controversial topics should be prepared both for the daily press and for magazines; histories and text books upon literature should be revised. New books should be added, particularly in the primary schools. Hundreds of exchange university scholarships should be provided. Local societies should be formed in every center to foster British-American good will, in close cooperation with an administrative committee…
This work cannot be efficiently done by individuals or by small independent societies. It must all be coordinated into one great, steady, efficient effort, and the execution of it be under the direction of men in both countries who are qualified by capacity and experience to sound exactly the right note and to employ the right media to interest the section of the public to which any particular appeal is made…Ambassadors of good will should be exchanged, to meet the public in our pulpits, on our lecture platforms, and to preside in the lecture rooms of our colleges.
For anyone so inclined it is a simple matter to find striking evidence of this sort of work in progress on a great scale in this country today, in all of the various fields mentioned. Pause for a moment and consider what this means. It is a frank effort to control the “mass-mind” that is “continually shaping the destiny” of the country, through influencing the opinion of legislators and political leaders, who remain in office only so long as they “reflect in their legislation (or executive acts) the common thought of the common people.” In other words it aims at governing the country, especially in matters affecting foreign affairs, through propaganda in which foreigners have a large share.
There is no alibi in the above-quoted advocacy of a fair exchange of propagandists between the two countries. The war trained many Englishmen “in the arts of creating public good will” in America, and in “swaying public opinion towards a definite purpose.” Sir Gilbert Parker tells us in Harpers Magazine (March, 1918, number) that “Practically since the day the war broke out between England and the Central Powers I became responsible for American publicity. I need hardly say that the scope of my department was very extensive and its activities widely ranged.” On the other hand the number of Americans familiar with British psychology who are trained in the propaganda art must be extremely small. Even if we would we could not possibly do in England what is being done here. The fact that we are making no parallel effort is conclusively shown by the inconsiderable number of Americans in England who are on newspaper staffs, in pulpits, in professorial chairs, in peace societies, radio broadcasting, etc., compared with the numerous Englishmen so employed here. Moreover the few Americans engaged in such work in England seem to be of a type who feel it necessary to apologize constantly for America. A large reward could safely be offered for the discovery of a British propagandist, or an American employed in British propaganda in this country, who apologizes for Britain. The net result of all that is being done is extremely one-sided.
Anything approaching a complete discussion of the various American peace and other organizations in which foreign influence plays a prominent part would be impossible, within the scope of this essay. Many of them are affiliated with, and some contribute funds to, the “Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America,” which is probably the most powerful propaganda organ in the country. It comprises twenty-eight Protestant denominations, whose members are said to number twenty millions, and about eighteen other societies. Its annual expenditures have been estimated to be in excess of half a million dollars, of which a considerable part comes from an endowment reported by the press to have been made in 1926 by Sir Henry Lunn, a wealthy Englishman.
The organization of this “Council of Churches,” is very loose except as to the central control. The general council of about five hundred representatives meets but once every four years to pass on broad policies. A smaller, so-called executive committee meets annually. The actual control of current activities is vested in a small group, a large proportion being appointees of its president, in whom the real power thus lies to speak and act for the vast organization. According to Who’s Who in America, this powerful person is an Englishman by birth and education, who came to this country when about thirty-one years old; and another member of the small control group emigrated from England in 1891 at the age of eighteen.
This is the organization which led the successful movement through nation-wide propaganda to defeat the Coolidge program for large new construction of cruisers and other naval auxiliaries, following the breakdown of the 1927 Geneva Naval Conference. That such propaganda was the principal influence in the defeat of that program is the boast of the “Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America,” and the considered opinion of nearly all members of Congress. President Coolidge himself has emphatically expressed the same opinion.
From what has been set forth it is clearly indicated that large sums of money are being spent by many powerful organizations in which foreigners play a prominent role, to propagandize the country through the press, the church, the stage, the movie, the schools and colleges, the lecture platforms, and virtually every agency of communication. The declared object is the promotion of international good will and of world peace, by controlling the United States government through the control of American public opinion.
Few people who have given this subject much study will question the great susceptibility of the public to propaganda, because most people believe what they see, read, and hear, and support what they believe to be true, without much analytical effort. In the following section we will examine some specific instances of the potency of foreign propaganda, with a view to estimating whether the arguments which have been advanced in its behalf are justified by its accomplishments.
In a recent conversation with an ardent pacifist the writer called attention to the extensive foreign propaganda now so prevalent in this country, and dwelt upon the consequent jeopardy to the United States in matters involving a conflict of legitimate international interests—such as foreign trade, merchant marine, and navy. The pacifist’s reply was to the effect that “the cause of world peace is sufficient justification for the foreign propaganda and that the proverbial good sense of the American public affords ample protection against our being imposed upon.” The pacifist was ready to retract this opinion when reminded of the tremendous foreign propaganda effort from 1914 to 1917, which was largely responsible for our entry into the World War.
That the same influences have been at work on a great scale to get us into the League of Nations and the World Court, and to have us cancel debts incurred since the war, but misrepresented as war debts, is too obvious to require elaboration. The fact that the propaganda failed in its ends regarding the League and the Court does not alter the principle involved in its use. As to the debts no one could say how great a sum Europe has been, and will be, saved from paying through manufactured American opinion. We have also the example of a steady and long-standing foreign propaganda against our merchant marine, which reached such lengths during President Harding’s efforts to obtain a subsidy that he was constrained to make a vigorous public protest against it.
The most striking example of foreign propaganda conducted in foreign interests at the expense of America is given by the Washington Conference of 1921-22 on Limitation of Naval Armaments. Of all the delegates to the conference the British alone had provided a large publicity staff. Perhaps on this account the American presiding officer turned over to the British the control of all publicity connected with the conference. According to Mr. Wickham Steed, editor of the London Times:
The American delegates refused to give out any news during the Conference. They left this whole matter with the British publicity agent, Lord Riddell, and I am not giving away any state secrets when I say that when Lord Riddell left Washington there was general lamentation among the American and other correspondents, who wondered where they would proceed to get the real news. That may have been quixotic on the part of the Americans, but rather than be under any suspicion of using their press to turn public opinion against nations with whom they may have had differences, they did this and the American delegates were absolutely and honorably silent.
These facts were not generally known at the time nor have they been since. The British publicity staff, especially attached to their delegation, were thus in complete control of the color of the news which emanated from the conference, and in addition had a tremendous asset in the enthusiastic support of the large semi-British propaganda organizations referred to in a previous section as at work in the United States.
We should not forget the further fact that the issues under negotiation involved an inherent conflict of national interests, since they affected future relative naval strength together with the trade-protecting power which such strength assures. Thus it is apparent that the whole setting served as a rather crucial test of the theories which have been advanced in justification of conducting propaganda in foreign countries, nominally for the promotion of international good will and concord.
If one’s recollection be cloudy, the following conclusions as to the Washington Conference propaganda may be readily substantiated by reference to the press of that time. The American public was very successfully led firmly to believe:
- That the sacrifices entailed in our battleship scrapping program were paralleled by the battleship scrapping of other powers.
- That the failure to limit auxiliary tonnage, whereby Great Britain retained her huge cruiser preponderance, did not involve any unfairness to this country and bore no essential relation to battleship scrapping.
- That the failure to limit auxiliaries did not materially affect the value of the treaty in preventing future competitive building and excessive expenditures.
- That the effort of France to retain sufficient submarine force to safeguard her sea communications against overwhelming British naval dominance was reprehensible in the extreme, and made it impossible to limit cruisers and other auxiliaries.
The American public was strongly indoctrinated with these and other similarly fallacious beliefs, all favorable to the British, whereas not a single point even slightly unfavorable to their case received any attention. American sentiment as a whole was swung to an enthusiastic support of the whole proceedings and conclusions of the conference, without the slightest inference that America was the only participant that had made any substantial sacrifice.
This has been characteristic of the foreign propaganda on naval questions during the six years which have intervened since the conference. Not only have the original misrepresentations as to the conference itself been strongly sustained, but American naval and national interests in general have been consistently opposed. The most striking example of this, and the only one which need be dwelt upon here, relates to naval construction since the conference.
Within five years after the conference the following numbers of ocean-going combat ships had been laid down or appropriated for by the respective signatory powers:
United States......................... 13
Great Britain........................... 54
Japan ................................... 117
France ................................... 99
Italy ....................................... 57
The effort of the United States to keep within the spirit of the treaty by refraining from entering a new competition is obvious. Equally clear is the fact that by thus playing fair we were rapidly becoming an inferior naval power. In these circumstances President Coolidge called the Geneva Conference of 1927, where an earnest but vain attempt was made by the American delegation to extend the principles of limitation to naval auxiliaries on a moderate and equitable basis.
The failure at Geneva left us little choice but to proceed with naval construction on a scale commensurate with our ocean trade and with what had been going on abroad for several years. A building program entirely in harmony with the 5-5-3 ratio was therefore presented to Congress with the warm endorsement of the President. Unquestionably a great majority of Congress was also strongly in favor of the measure until the forces of propaganda were let loose on a scale never before experienced on Capitol Hill. Every member of Congress was literally submerged with written and telegraphic protests over a period of several months. Before the bill could get out of the committee it was emasculated by a reduction from seventy-one to sixteen ships. Even this did not appease the Federal Council of Churches, which continued to lead the propaganda and finally succeeded in defeating even this small increase in the American Navy.
As has been stated before, in the minds of a great majority of Congress, and of the President, there is no question but that this propaganda was primarily responsible for the defeat of the naval program of 1927. Here is a striking example of the power of propaganda and of the power of foreign influence in this country. Against a proposal very clearly and most justly in American interests, a public opinion has been created by an organization working under the almost exclusive control of an Englishman, sufficient to defeat the intentions and efforts of the Congress and the President.
This case is all the more extraordinary from the fact that when a similar British program was proposed in 1924—the program which now is mainly responsible for the necessity we are under of building cruisers—there was virtually no opposition to it in the press of either this country or Great Britain. On the contrary there was much propaganda in its favor in both countries—this notwithstanding the fact that Britain was then superlatively strong in cruisers. The question naturally arises, why did not the British head of the National Council of Churches of Christ in America, in the interest of world peace, work as strenuously against the British cruiser program of 1924, and the French, Japanese, and Italian programs of about the same period, as he did against the American program of 1927?
The foreign propagandists are rapidly building up an inferiority complex among us. We are the horrible example of the country which habitually “does those things which it ought not to do” and has “left undone those things which it ought to do.” We are the only country whose trade needs no protection except such as will be given us by other navies; the only country which should not trust itself with armaments and whose armaments are mistrusted by others; and, therefore, the only country whose armaments require crippling in order to promote world peace.
I think it can be fairly said that foreign propaganda is inherently detrimental to the country in which it is conducted, because of the virtual impossibility of the average propagandist being able to remain neutral- minded in matters which involve the interests of his own country. Moreover, in the long run, such propaganda seems certain to be very harmful, rather than helpful, to the cause of international good will and world peace, especially when its source is generally unknown to the people of the country concerned, as is the case in America today. When the realization of what is transpiring comes to the people of the country, as ultimately it must come, a strong revulsion of their feeling would seem to be inevitable. From every point of view, therefore, foreign propaganda appears to be questionable if not pernicious.
We have examined the innate need of naval power, not merely for security, but also as a cardinal agency of national prosperity—as a foundation stone of that national wealth without which culture cannot flower. We have concluded that some indoctrinating process is necessary, especially in a democracy, if great masses of landsmen are to comprehend the fundamental relationships between maritime affairs and their own well-being, and are to act according to their own legitimate interests. We have surveyed the omnipotent propaganda, largely foreign guided, now bending American public opinion with subtle fallacy against worthy American interests, and actually controlling Capitol Hill.
Truly the time has come for American education and indoctrination in maritime matters, both for constructive and for protective purposes. The time has come for a national awakening in the major play of national economic forces which inevitably link up production, sea transportation, foreign markets, and sources of materials with naval power. The time has come for a new Declaration of Independence and a new freedom—an independence and a freedom of opinion. Only thus may we retrieve for ourselves the ability to make decisions based on reality and truth, as to how we shall promote the peace of the world while at the same time preserving justice and equality of opportunity for America.
The intellectuals of the country must as ever furnish the principal leadership in such an awakening. It is, therefore, all the more unfortunate that in the situation confronting us, we find such a great proportion of the intellectuals themselves taken in by the arts and deceptions of intellectual foreign propagandists. The writer recently attended a lecture given by an eminent British naval historian at an American university. While the lecturer was a civilian his written works amply testify to an excellent understanding of naval technology. Yet in sustaining the theme before an American college audience that navies are unnecessary and obsolete, his remarks were filled with fundamentally erroneous technical assumptions, which very evidently were not apparent to the students and professors present. He spread the same fallacies through many American schools and colleges during a lecture tour of several months.
This is but one example of the need of technical assistance being given to American intellectuals if they are to do their part in creating a correctly and rationally informed American opinion. Further proof of this may be had by reading, almost at random, any article by a college professor upon a naval topic. They were easy to find in our newspapers and magazines during the Washington and Geneva naval conferences.
There are many reasons, in the present instance, why the government’s technical agencies should share in the national maritime indoctrination so urgently called for. The government is inherently responsible that its citizens are duly informed upon matters which affect broader interests, and which in the final analysis they must decide. Manifestly this governmental responsibility becomes very much greater when the citizens are being subjected to indoctrination from foreign sources along lines which tend to infringe their own, to the advantage of foreign interests. Our people have a right to be protected against such false and injurious propaganda at this time, and it is the clear duty of the government to give them that protection.
Within the last few years we have seen splendid examples of a recognition of this duty, and a meeting of this responsibility, on the part of the Shipping Board and of the Department of Commerce. Faced with foreign propaganda detrimental to American interests these two branches of our government have courageously gone before the country in open campaigns of truthful education and indoctrination and furthermore have been successful in making their issues clear to the people, and consequently in winning their cases. Why should the Navy fear to follow?
It is true that there are some severe limitations upon the ability of the Navy Department to give the country that leadership in maritime thought which is called for; notably the absence of appropriations for such a purpose. On the other hand there are very powerful patriotic organizations, such as the D.A.R. and the American Legion, which unquestionably would be glad to serve the country in this way if their cooperation were sought on the basis of the Navy furnishing technical advice. Similarly there are many business agencies of great influence, such as the numerous chambers of commerce, which, on being indoctrinated with the close relation between business and maritime affairs, could be counted upon to support the merchant marine and the Navy.
Whatever may be the limitations of the Navy Department in this matter of publicity, there are many opportunities for officers as individuals, too frequently avoided, for direct contact with the people through the press and platform. The country has some reason to expect that its own technicians, educated and trained out of public funds, shall inform and advise it on technical questions, and furnish it with some defense against propagandists preaching the viewpoint of foreign naval technicians.
At this point it seems pertinent to discuss some aspects of a sound national naval indoctrination, by whatever agencies it may be undertaken.
The fundamentally sound doctrine of a navy for “trade defense” should be the keynote. The function of defense against invasion, or other forms of territorial aggression, is secondary to that of trade protection in the broad sense—the safeguarding of the national sea communications during peace or war. We will do well to follow the British lead in this, both because of the facts in the case and because it has a better public appeal. Material welfare is a matter of such deep and continuous public interest that anything which can be shown to promote it meets with ready support.
The appeal for war preparations, on the other hand, is saddled with an instinctive dread and abhorrence of war. It presupposes the approach of war, and the advocates of a strong navy who rest their case principally upon military-naval grounds are constantly in the position of predicting war and raising “war alarums.” This is unpalatable to the average person, unsettling to general business, and provocative to foreign peoples and governments. Moreover, it builds up the suspicion, however unjust, that the proponents of preparedness actually desire war—a favorite pacifist charge easily propagated. The foreign propagandists have consistently drawn the “red herring” of war across the trail of every legitimate argument for a strong American Navy.
The contention that strong armaments serve to prevent war, and hence to promote peace, has undeniable merit when governments so armed are bent principally upon the general economic welfare of their people. As previously noted Britain has given us an outstanding example of the use of a strong navy in promoting wealth with peace, over a period of a century. Shall we deny equally worthy motives in America’s heart, and equal ability to make them effective? As with Britain, so with ourselves, who are rapidly supplanting her as the world’s leading trader, a strong navy is needed for trade protection, not only when we may possibly be at war, but also more probably and more often when we are a peaceful neutral.
The history of nearly every war proves that the commerce of the weak neutrals almost invariably suffers badly. In the late war much neutral shipping was seized by the Allies and employed for their own uses, while it was destroyed wholesale by the Central Powers. Let us not forget that the decision of the German High Command to adopt ruthless submarining—the decision which forced hostilities upon us—-was predicated upon the supposed weakness of this country in combating submarines. The weak neutral invites such depredation again her interests as constantly to persuade her to fight. If she wishes to avoid war it is better for her to arm herself.
Such reasons as these are the true justification of the demand for naval parity with Great Britain, without any implication of a war with that country, as has been so assiduously charged by foreign propagandists. It is easily demonstrable that the most certain guaranty of peace between these two principal trade competitors is an equality of their respective naval forces, since under that condition there will be a minimum tendency for one to impose upon the other. As Mr. Hoover has pointed out, “In the large view, our exports are not based on the destruction of our competitors but on the insistence that we shall participate with them in the growth of the world demand.” Such insistence will come from both countries and is less apt to lead to friction if naval parity exists between them.
He who would successfully indoctrinate the country along sound naval lines must above all make clear that he stands for the promotion of “world peace” and that a rational reduction of armaments on an equitable basis by international agreement, together with various forms of diplomatic commitments respecting war, are the most effective form of promoting peace. “World peace” has been the catchword of the foreign propagandist, by means of which many very earnest persons have been unwittingly converted into a menace to the country. “World peace” has been used to carry on its back numerous fallacious proposals detrimental to American interests and calculated to further foreign interests. We should deny the “little navy” party any monopoly of world-peace doctrine, and should advocate the promotion of world peace along sane and just lines. We should also admit that the ultimate attainment of world peace is probable, since human evolution is limited only by apparently unlimited time. Once this position is taken there will be found few honest persons to quarrel with; not even many pacifists.
It is the writer’s view that the over-maligned pacifist is entitled to much respect and consideration. Let us remember that American citizens have a constitutional guaranty of free speech and that there can be no iniquity in firmly holding to an honest opinion. If we are unable to controvert their arguments, logic must force us to the conclusion that perhaps they are right. The issues involved in the national maritime interests are far above personalities. Let us meet the issues or confess our error.
The country needs competent and honest guidance towards a sound maritime indoctrination, in order that it may decide upon national policies affecting its prosperity and security, in harmony with its own legitimate interests. Without such guidance it is at the mercy of subversive foreign propaganda now successfully at work. Active naval participation in public indoctrination is thus not only fully justified but actually demanded by the needs of national defense.
Until the World War came upon us, native American intelligence together with the indoctrination normally carried on in every country by earnest, unselfish, and honest leaders of opinion, was sufficient to safeguard American interests. But within the last few years such leaders have been made impotent—have been submerged—by organizations and money in the hands of radicals, internationalists, and foreigners. For them the churches and a great body of idealists have become as putty, until the very foundations of our internal government, as well as every external American interest, are in growing jeopardy.
There is no country in the world where the government is so much under the control of public opinion as our own. In no other country are the rank and file of the people so ready to play fair with the rest of the world, or so eager to be world-helpful. They are not only receptive to new ideas but responsive to all suggestions for constructive action. These facts, combined with the highly developed means of quickly communicating with them as a whole, make them an easy prey to uncontested ulterior propaganda, which inevitably finds a ready reaction in governmental circles. But let us remember also that the same conditions make for a ready response to sound leadership—a leadership urgently required to transpose the status of American interests from that of a stepchild to a true kinship with world interests—a leadership which will insure due protection with a minimum danger of war to the ocean-going trade so essential to America’s well-being.