I chanced upon the two books that are key to this piece while exploring the stacks of Memorial Library at the University of Wisconsin. One is the comparatively obscure work by Lentin: “Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson and the Guilt of Germany”, and the other is the historically extremely famous work by Keynes: The Economic Consequences of the Peace.
This piece impressed on me how important it is to know history. If my own individual spiritual story is developmental, so is the human race’s. And so it is really not possible to understand Jesus, for instance, if you do not understand his times, our times, and the time in between. The twentieth century in particular has been a period of dramatic spiritual unfolding. It is ridiculous for any one pretending to have spiritual insight to operate in ignorance of that history.
“If what we change does not change us,
we are playing with blocks.”
If we’re so smart, how come we need all these weapons?
Some day the performances of the twentieth century superpowers in places like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Honduras-Nicaragua will look as barbaric and primitive as Roman crucifixion and Elizabethan hanging, drawing and quartering.
There are these two global political-economic systems. One is called capitalism, or “the free enterprise system”. The other is the communist-socialist-marxist system. They are hostile towards each other. (There are other hostile systems in the world, but the linchpin of global hostility is the over-arching conflict between the two systems with global reach.) Their hostility has reached a level of expense and danger that is a threat to civilization.
The arrangement has aspects of a symbiotic relationship. Sometimes it looks like a conscious partnership of elites. The two systems use each other as scapegoats. Each elite uses fear of the other to help them stay in power.
But there is also a learning process. Each system corrects itself, albeit slowly, under pressure from the criticisms of the other. But it is a very circuitous mechanism for progress.
And there is always the violence. The tension can get very intense. The people in charge get worn down emotionally, spiritually. They have primitive instruments of defense to fall back on. So, there is bloodshed, other cruelties, and now the bomb.
It’s a very high-risk symbiosis.
Here’s the betting line from Vegas: the system with the better self-criticism wins.
1. Self-criticism: the feedback loop that carries information from failure back to the source of behavior, and adjusts it.
2. System, human: a pattern of activity guided by two data bases, one conscious, the other unconscious. There is a complex membrane between these two data-bases. The feedback loop in question must pass through this membrane.
But it’s not a question of winning in the destructive sense of winning versus losing; it’s a question winning in the life-enhancing sense of getting out of the game. We should put it this way: the system with the better self-criticism takes the lead in re-defining the relationship between the two systems.
But self-criticism is the key. Only self-criticism can end the division of the “world” into two hostile parts.
The argument is (a) that the polarized-rejecting view of the world is a “structure of experience”, i.e., a head-set prior to any geopolitical event. Whatever happens, people who have it will always find two hostile parts to the world.
The argument is (b) that this structure of experience can, in the present period of history, change.
Consider the following discussion by the Swiss psychiatrist, Alice Miller.
Splitting the human being into two parts, one that is good, meek, conforming and obedient and the other that is diametrically opposite is perhaps as old as the human race, and one could simply say that it is part of “human nature”.
Yet it has been my experience that when people have had the opportunity to seek and live out their true self … this split disappears of itself. They perceive both sides, the conforming as well as the so-called obscene, as two extremes of the false self, which they now no longer need.
How can it have come about that the split I have just described is attributed to human nature as a matter of course even though there is evidence that it can be overcome without any great effort of will and without legislating morality? The only explanation I can find is that these two sides are perpetuated in the way children are raised and treated at a very early age, and the accompanying split between them is therefore regarded as “human nature.” The “good” false self is regarded as the result of what is called socialization, of adapting to society’s norms, consciously and intentionally passed on by the parents; the “bad”, equally false self is rooted in the child’s earliest experiences of parental behavior, visible only to the child who is used as an outlet. 192-193.
The danger perceived in dispensing with the split is the destruction of one’s internalized parents, and so of oneself.
The advice regularly given in the old pedagogical manuals was to “break” the child’s will at as early an age as possible, to combat his “obstinacy,” and always to impart to him the feeling that he is guilty and bad; they stressed that one should never allow the impression to arise that an adult might be wrong or make a mistake, should never give the child an opportunity to discover adult limitations, but that the adult should, on the contrary, conceal his or her weaknesses from the child and pretend to divine authority. … This is a form of psychological castration… 218-219.
…many parents felt I was attacking them personally… without realizing that I was only pointing to a system of which they too were victims and will continue to be until they see the system for what it really is. 219.
[THOU SHALT NOT BE AWARE: Society’s Betrayal of the Child, by Alice Miller. NY, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984.]
Back in the dark ages there were systems that won without any self-criticism to speak of. The Mongols, the Huns, the Goths did it by sheer numbers and horses. It was a case of superior animal vitality. By Charlemagne’s time, mind was beginning to get hegemony over matter. It was left-brain mind: superior organization, superior administration. Charlemagne’s bureaucracy ended the dominance of tribal movement. Then Innocent III brought that left-brain system to its peak, and we had the Middle Ages.
But Christendom broke up, under the pressure for the organism to diversify, specialize, evolve. Islam exerted pressure from the outside (a different system, with its own left-brain virtuosity), nationalisms and science from the inside. The long view may look peaceful, but the day-to-day experience of the process was tough and bloody: wars, controversies, cruelties and barbarisms, but all somehow in a slowly upward push of human achievement and dignity.
By the early twentieth century, still not much self-criticism. Dominance is still by better left-brain achievement: organization, administration, science, technology. Changes in dominance are by succession, not by self-correcting change. Somebody comes along with a better system, puts it into practice with vigor, then gets lazy and fails to make adjustments. The younger leader watches, forms a better concept, takes over, puts it into practice with vigor, and the cycle repeats.
But, then comes Europe after Versailles. Organization, administration, science, technology become an apocalyptic monster. End of epoch of left-brain superiority as vehicle of progress. Enter right-brain. Enter the Asians. Enter Mao.
THE MARXIST MODEL
It’s kind of fashionable these days to dump on Mao. He does not owe much to the West. But his merger of Daoism and Marxism is one of the great innovations of the twentieth century. For the forty-five years between 1933 and 1978 he was the chief executive of an organization and a movement that brought centuries of change to China. He must have been doing something right.
He was human, not a god. They oversold him. He oversold himself. He made mistakes. So? The reputations of the great always go through phases. But that’s our problem. We tend to oscillate between worship and rejection. It takes us time to get large things into balance.
Mao Tse Tung always told his cadres they would win because they practiced self-criticism better than anybody else. He seems to have been right. They sure ran the Kuomintang right off the continent in short order. Just blew them away.
Mao seems to have been the first head of state to make self-criticism central to the workings of a national political system.
THE JUDAEO-CHRISTIAN MODEL
But in the West we have a tradition of self-criticism too. We have not practiced it consistently and certainly not put it in the headlines the way Mao did. But it has always been around, here and there, spasmodically, imperfectly, especially in monasticisms, lately in processes called “therapy”, but not formally in the halls of worldly power.
And it goes ‘way back.
At the center of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, we find Jesus: a mystic figure, still a sign of contradiction to many, a heady mystery not easily provocative of consensus among us. But Jesus was of “the house and family of David.” David is also pivotal, exemplary, holy. He is also earthier than Jesus, and so in some simple psychological sense, closer to us.
David was athlete, beauty, poet, soldier, stud, king. He was also not perfect. The mother of his son King Solomon was an adulteress, with David, who used his divinely-given regal power to have her husband Uriah the Hittite killed. He laid the lady and murdered the man. Not nice. This was an open secret in Jerusalem, but who was going to tell him? Ah, well, you see, they had provided for that. There was Nathan. Nathan spoke the word to David’s face.
And here is where it gets really interesting. Did David call a press conference and talk about his Bar Mitzvah? Did he have Nathan charged with activity endangering the national security? Did he arrest the leaders of all opposition parties?
He did something unheard of for a king with absolute power. (No civil power is ever absolute. There is always competition.)
The King confessed. One old word for it used to be “compunction”. Carl Rogers would call it just “acceptance.” It is different than guilt, but in a funny sort of way. Both guilt and acceptance presume a wrongful act. But guilt is sick and sneaky. Acceptance is healthy, clear and clean. It is a subtle psychic move that puts together in one package acceptance of the self and rejection of self’s action. It takes a very sharp edge of self-awareness to bring it off, and not many people have it. For example, Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George, and George Clemenceau did not have it. And so we got Versailles.
But David had it.
Then, Bathsheba had the baby. The child was sick. David fasted. The child died. David took a bath and had a dinner. Courtiers made comments. David explained the way the world works: “When the child was alive, I fasted and wept because I kept thinking, `Who knows? Perhaps Yahweh will take pity on me and the child will live.’ But now he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him but he cannot come back to me.” (2 Samuel 12, 22-23.)
Oh, yes, there’s one more point. David and Bathsheba continued to sleep together, and they produced Solomon the second time around. So much for divine retribution. You think you know how God works? Well, figure that one.
So, that stands at the headwaters of our cultural heritage.
Mao and David, archetypes, in the same breath. Interesting. They have their resource, we have ours. But, as the computer people like to say: the moment of truth is an up and running program.
There is one more wrinkle. One can do it better, while both do it badly. Then everybody can still lose. The one who does it better can say that the other guy pushed the button first, so he is not responsible for the end of the world, so there!
If one does it very well, and the other does it very badly, then system A blows away system B. The Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang.
If both do it well, the systems sort of merge. It’s dialectical. Sodium, chlorine, table salt.
Self-criticism in the commumist-socialist-marxist world seems to be very uneven. It seems to be well developed in China. They have shown a lot of flexibility, especially recently. They don’t seem to be very dogmatic about their dogmas. They seem to have a kind of basic self-confidence about their identity, their vitality, their future. And who wouldn’t, with the amount of history and the number of people they have? They think they will be the leaders of the next great age. I wouldn’t be quick to bet against that.
The Russians, however, are another matter. Soviet Communism has had a pronounced tendency to retain the political practices of the nineteenth century, aided by twentieth century technology. The nature of Russian history, geography, climate and ecology (Eur-Asian, and white folks never got a chance to wipe out the traditional inhabitants) all help explain Bolshevik authoritarianism and rigidity. But now, at the end of the twentieth century, modern technology may be having its softening effect on them too. Gorbachev might see that the solutions to their problems are different than what their official ideology calls for. We’ll have to watch and see.
China and Russia are just the two leading protagonists of that system. There are lots of little guys too, and they are all over the map in terms of self-criticism. We’ve got governments around the world living in every century from the eleventh to the twentieth.
But of all the political systems in the world, the one we know most about and have best access to is of course our own. So, how are we doing? And, let’s not be glib.
There are a lot of different things going on in the “democratic”, “free enterprise “system. For instance, Japanese business management has shown a clear superiority over American management in its ability to self-correct a production process. Also, among American corporations, different industries have shown very different capacities for self-criticism. Then, there is the difference between the private sector and the public sector. In the public sector, there is the difference between domestic policies and foreign policy. In foreign policy, there is, specifically, the capacity for self-correction in dealing with the communism-socialist-marxist system.
American policy towards the Soviet Union was laid down in 1947 in “the Truman Doctrine” and the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan was in turn the work, mainly, of a single foreign service professional, George F. Kennan. America’s “Russian strategy” has not changed substantially since Kennan’s formulation. It has gone through hot and cold, loose and tight phases in the past forty years, but no fundamental change.
Kennan’s entry into the policy arena from an obscure post in the American embassy in Moscow is a dramatic and fascinating story in itself. But his formulation of geopolitical polarization — in force in the West today — was the successor to one that had been formulated in 1919 and had led to World War II and the Holocaust. Kennan’s formulation is softer than what Versailles produced, but it has the same structure: a split world of two enemies who each see each other in the same way that adults view children in Miller’s work:
… one should never allow the impression to arise that one might be wrong or make a mistake, should never give the other an opportunity to discover one’s own limitations, but that one should, on the contrary, conceal his or her weaknesses from the other and pretend to divine authority.
In order to understand Kennan’s polarity, we must go back to 1919.
The Allies designed their treaty with Germany to end World War I during four months of meetings in Paris (January-April, 1919). They signed it in the famous Palace of Versailles in June. The terms were the result of the interplay among the three Allied heads of state: David Lloyd George, George Clemenceau, and Woodrow Wilson. These men all brought strong feelings to the process.
John Maynard Keynes called the treaty “The Carthaginian Peace”, because it was so harsh towards Germany. Keynes left the Paris Conference in dark despair at its outcome, and went home to write a book that came out the following December. He called it The Economic Consequences of the Peace, and it was a bestseller in Europe and America. In the book he predicted that the treaty would give rise to the darkest demagoguery in Germany.
Economic privation proceeds by easy stages, and so long as men suffer it patiently the outside world cares little. Physical efficiency and resistance to disease slowly diminish, but life proceeds somehow, until the limit of human endurance is reached at last and counsels of despair and madness stir the sufferers from the lethargy which precedes the crisis. Then man shakes himself and the bonds of custom are loosed. The power of ideas is sovereign, and he listens to whatever instruction of hope, illusion, or revenge is carried to him on the air. (pp. 250-251)
Keynes, John Maynard, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, (New York, Harcourt, Brace and Howe, 1920.)
History seems to say that he was wrong on the exact mechanism of disaster, but correct about the final outcome. Economic privation alone did not do the damage, but economics plus the political intentions: revenge, the imputation of guilt, the public blame and shame. German financiers evaded most reparations payments, but German consciousness did not evade the psychic consequences.
The violent polarity coming out of World War I set up the emotional framework for World War II and the Holocaust. In regard to the two systems under discussion, Versailles was not the work of godless communism, but of God-fearing Christianity.
Some people learned from it. The political leaders who ended World War II — people like Eisenhower, Marshall, Harriman — had been present in Paris in 1919. In 1946 they resolved the German hostility. But the polarized structure of experience shifted to a new global field.
They weren’t bad people; they were primitive times. You had to be there to understand.
When the fighting ended in 1918, Britain was in bad shape.
“The country was indeed at this time swept by a sudden, vehement cry for revenge. ……The war had brought suffering of a scale and intensity which the harshest pessimist could not have prophesied, and for which Britain, after a century of peace and progress, was, psychologically speaking, peculiarly unprepared. The interminable casualty lists, the row upon row of beardless faces in the `Roll of Honour’, the rattle through a thousand letter-boxes of the same War Office telegram — all this produced a stunned sense of disbelief at the annihilation of so much youth and promise. When, with the peace, people began to come to terms with what had happened, it was not to be expected that they would rise overnight to the serenity of saints or sages. Even if they wished to forget, the press would not let them. As a Cambridge newspaper put it, `Somebody has got to be hanged.’
(A. Lentin, Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson and the Guilt of Germany, Leicester University Press, 1984, pp 25-26.)
The Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918 ended actual fighting. None of it had taken place on German soil, and the country was never occupied. Lloyd George was the most skilful maneuverer of the three leaders who met in Paris, and he brought the feelings of his country with him.
Historian Lentin observes:
It was borne in upon me that the essence of what happened at Paris …… was — despite the by-play of time and chance — `acts or omissions thoroughly expressive of the doer’ in the words of A.C. Bradley (Shakespearean Tragedy, 1904), `characteristic deeds’; and that `the centre of the tragedy, therefore, may be said with equal truth to lie in action issuing from character, or in character issuing from action.’
The negotiations were labyrinthine exchanges of layers and layers of feeling, conducted under severe pressures of time. Only six months transpired between the armistice and the treaty’s signing.
Here is the scenario:
January, 1918: Woodrow Wilson proclaims before Congress the morally high-sounding “14 Points” as the basis for the coming peace.
October, 1918: The German government sues unilaterally to Wilson (by-passing the British and the French) for an armistice.
Nov. 4, 1918: British, French and U.S. representatives sign a pre-Armistice agreement with the Germans. Drafted by U.S. Secretary of State Lansing, it is referred to as “the Lansing note”. On monetary reparations, it stipulates that “compensation will be paid by Germany for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allies by land, by sea and from the air.”
Nov. 11, 1918: The Armistice is signed.
Nov. 12, 1918: Lloyd George addresses a pre-election gathering in London, where he says: “There will be vigorous attempts to hector and bully and stimulate, to induce and cajole the Government to here
and there depart from the strict principles of right, in order to satisfy some base and some sordid, and if I may say squalid, principles of either revenge or avarice. We must [he concluded to loud applause] relentlessly set our faces against that; and if we go to the country, it will be the business of every candidate to have regard to that.”
Nov. 13, 1918: Prime Minister William Hughes of Australia and press baron Lord Northcliffe start to raise a hue and cry about getting large war indemnities from Germany.
Nov. 26, 1918: Lloyd George forms the Indemnity Committee as a special sub-committee of the British cabinet to recommend a policy on the matter. He makes Hughes its Chairman, includes two notoriously narrow-minded bankers (Herbert Gibbs and Lord Cunliffe), and leaves off the British treasury’s chief economist, John Maynard Keynes.
Nov. 28, 1918: After a few hours of its very first meeting the Indemnity Committee produces the sum of 24 billion pounds as the amount to be sought from Germany, a figure 12 times higher than the estimate by the British treasury. Gibbs’ and Cunfliffe’s reason for the sum is on record: British trade would be “completely ruined by American competition” unless the burden is shifted onto the Germans. As Cunfliffe put it, “It is rather a choice of who is to be ruined, we or they. On the whole, I think we had better ruin them.” No economic analysis is offered. Hughes says, “Everything is practicable to the man who has the strength to enforce his views, and we have that strength.”
Dec. 11, 1918: Lloyd George goes along with the 24 billion
figure. In his re-election campaign he starts to sound the theme, “We have a right to demand the whole cost of the war from Germany.”
January, 1919: In Paris, Wilson and the American delegation flatly oppose the war indemnity as illegal breaching of the Lansing note.
January-March 1919: The British, French and American leaders and delegations argue, bicker and intrigue back and forth over the various terms of the Armistice. Woodrow Wilson gets worn down.
March 30: Lloyd George gets Jan Christian Smuts, the highly respected leader of South Africa, to write a legal brief interpreting the Lansing note to George’s liking. Smuts turns Wilson around.
April 3: Woodrow Wilson becomes bedridden with physical and emotional exhaustion.
April 5: The “war-guilt clause” is added to the treaty draft. George Clemenceau erases Wilson’s opposition to it by offering French support for the League of Nations, an institution Clemenceau despises and that Wilson ardently believes in.
May 7: The draft is submitted to the Germans.
May 7-June 16, 1919: Back in England, faced with the actual language of the draft, public opinion and Lloyd George shift away from support for the treaty’s harshness. But Clemenceau is unyielding, and Wilson, having compromised himself, now digs in also.
June 16: Faced with the German answer to the draft, all the Allies self-justify.
June 28th: The Treaty of Versailles is signed, with the war-guilt clause and an extremely large indemnity provision whose exact sum is to be established by an ongoing commission.
December, 1919: John Maynard Keynes publishes The Economic Consequences of the Peace. The book is an immediate and immense publishing success in England and the U.S.A. and on the continent. It eloquently vilifies the Treaty of Versailles, becomes a factor in the defeat of Woodrow Wilson in the election of 1920, and crystallizes the guilt-feelings of the British for many years to come.
1936: The British give away the Sudetenland to Hitler at Munich, perceived by historians as the final attempt at expiation of guilt by the British for their part in the treaty of Versailles.
Historian Lentin chooses `character’ as the key element. But there is also Zeitgeist. Politicians can channel the feelings of the people. They cannot create them. There is always a `spirit of the times’. This is some tide of emotion that politicians do not control.
In 1919, England had experienced a lot of death. France had had three generations of war with Germany, and the desire to possess the industrial resources on the Franco-German border. Germany felt a sense of conspiracy between France and England over colonial expansion.
There was also widespread ignorance of anything resembling modern economics. Keynes did not publish The General Theory until 1932, and even top bankers had primitive ideas about the world economy. Their business sense bordered on the mentality of street gangs. When it came time to actually pay reparations, Germany rather easily evaded them with inflated currency, bonds, debentures and other modern fiscal instruments that completely thwarted a process which had been absurd in its conception from the start. All that was left of it by 1932 was the original high insult.
Then there were the perennial populist stirrings: “…that native, xenophobic and thoroughly honest toryism” whose “ideas of reparation were crude to the point of fantasy” and who simply “felt in common justice that Germany should pay for her misdeeds and be rendered harmless to repeat them.” But after Zeitgeist has its say, then the character of politicians does enter in.
Woodrow Wilson is regarded as the `tragic hero’ of the piece. But, following the structure of Greek tragedy, he contributed his fatal flaw. His high-sounding principles of the 14 Points were in no way connected to the practical realities of power politics. He did not in fact know how to use his power. He had the only sure supply of food for Europe, its largest intact standing army, and a treasury with money in the bank. He opposed England’s desire for indemnity, but never thought to issue better terms for the 4 billion she owed to U.S. banks. When his idealistic wishes were confronted by the realities of his and Europe’s real political passions, his “principles” collapsed into a wisp of smoke, leaving a disillusioned professor to sail home to electoral defeat.
George Clemenceau was the nineteenth century soldier. His world was in fact a jungle. Might makes right and winner takes all. The purpose of war is to destroy the enemy.
David Lloyd George was the Gamesman. Lentin says of him that it was not so much that the end justified the means but that the means justified the means. He loved the play, and he loved to get his way. When he sensed the swell of popular passions, he thought not for a moment to oppose them, to moderate them, to bend them in some nobler direction. He just rode them as far as they would go, and then forgot. In a war he was an energetic and ingenious commander. But in decisions of history where ethics really mattered, he was entirely out of his depth.
As for the diplomats, they almost universally left the Paris of 1919 chastened and discouraged. John Maynard Keynes wrote his famous book. John Foster Dulles, who headed Wilson’s staff (his uncle was Secretary Lansing), went on to other things. But their inputs as economists, as lawyers, as historians, as technicians of all sorts, were never really used at Paris, except to rationalize the illogic and absurdity of the feelings of the politicians.
Some participants knew this. “We are going into these negotiations with our mouths full of fine phrases and our brains seething with dark thoughts.” (Edwin Montagu to Balfour, 20 Dec 1918.) But they were powerless to stop the marriage of Zeitgeist and the personalities of politicians. It would have taken “the serenity of saints or sages” to untrack the dark, unconscious forces that move people and politicians in a time of crisis, and such was not available in 1919.
In 1947, the Allies were back in Paris faced with a very different Europe. Fifty million people had died in the previous ten years. The economy of Europe was in total ruin. Old European hostilities still persisted, and so monetary reparations were claimed. But the devastation was so complete, and ideas of economics had so far advanced, that getting the defeated countries to pay the victors never emerged as a serious proposition. Germany was completely occupied. Its war-time political leaders were either dead or in prison. America was not in any mood to let Europeans call the shots. While conscious of the need to let their allies preserve their dignity, American leaders were quite willing to in fact impose a re-structuring of Europe on them.
Another s difference between 1947 and 1919 is that while the diplomats were mere underlings the first time. The second time around they were practically the whole show. The Second World War had been so impressively deadly that politicians recognized that recovery demanded intensely practical inputs. Truman knew this. The men who had run the war were given the job of administering the peace. Douglas MacArthur took Japan. Lucius Clay was in charge in Germany. The American Secretary of State was Gen. George C. Marshall. Marshall had been an aide-de-campe to Gen. John J. Pershing in Paris in 1919. In the State Department under Marshall, technicians the likes of their forebears Keynes and Dulles played a crucial part. Names that were then or later famous had important roles: Dean Acheson, Averill Harriman, James Forrestal, Clark Clifford, W. W. Rostow. The essence of the process in 1947, as distinct from the essence at Versailles, was in the teams of technicians who staffed the State Department.
Two of the obstacles to the recovery of Europe at the time were Russia on the one hand, and on the other, the fiscal conservatism and isolationism of Congress, the mid-west press, and the American people. In 1947, the politicians sided with their diplomats to bend the tide of popular sentiment into channels the technicians wanted. The Zeitgeist was different than before. The suffering of World War Two so far outstripped the pain of World War One, that the main stream of popular passion was channeled into deep sobriety. There was no vehement outcry for revenge. There was just the comprehensive, cold, and clear demand to set things right again, with justice and with vision.
Immediately after the war, things did not go well in Europe. Communist insurgents were strong in places such as Greece and Turkey. The British did not have the resources to continue their traditional support there. American money was needed. Truman and Acheson took in hand the problem, and succeeded in selling “the Truman doctrine”: Truman to Congress in an address to a Joint Session on March 12, 1947, Acheson to the press. The preliminary price tag was a mere 400 million dollars.
The price tag was peanuts. What was all the fuss? The fuss was that “the Truman Doctrine” was the first coupling of America’s “national security” with the threat of Communism. It was the first public announcement of the division of the world into two opposing camps. Although the outlines of the situation were clear to the politicians, there was much uncertainty as to the details, and the details were everything. George Kennan was able to supply those details.
In May of 1947, Truman had Dean Acheson intone the outlines of the Marshall Plan in a speech in Cleveland, Mississippi. It was America in contest with the Russians for the future of the world. This would cost money, but it was worth it. The speech was hardly noticed in the Press. Then, with special briefings to foreign diplomats and key journalists, Marshall unveiled the new American policy for Europe in full solemnity at the Harvard Commencement, June 5, 1947. The U.S. would put up the money, and her Allies would formulate the plan to use it.
In July the representatives of sixteen Allied countries met in Paris. For two months they negotiated. Some progress was made, but old hostilities still persisted. Late in August Kennan went to Paris. In September, behind the scenes, Marshall played hardball and laid down the law on priorities and cooperation. The Allies fell into line.
Late in September, the Russians assembled the European Communist parties at a country estate in Poland. There was to be no compromise with capitalism. Czechoslovakia tried to sit on the fence. They asked for grain from America. But it would not be given to socialists. The Czech government collapsed in the spring of 1948 and the country’s Communist Party took over. Jan Masaryk committed suicide, or was murdered. The division of Europe was complete.
George Kennan’s view of Soviet Communism was sombre, but it was not simplistic. It was rooted in a deep appreciation of the causes of Russian insecurity. He viewed the Russian leadership,
not as potential objects of a holy war, but as explainable if dangerous human beings. He saw them as men whose history and culture gave them a traditional and “instinctive” sense of insecurity and self-doubt. He saw their dogmatic Marxism as a device whose lofty altruism supported their fear of the rest of the world, enabled them to justify a dictatorship “without which they did not know how to rule”, and the cruelties and sacrifices they felt were needed to make progress. He noted their belief that no permanent modus vivendi was possible with America or capitalism, and that they would use systematic tactics of social subversion to oppose that form of political economy. And Kennan also knew that the Russian leadership had something in common with the West: a belief that the world is governed by the will to power. Clemenceau would have understood.
Here is how Kennan came into the picture.
In the winter of 1946, the Treasury Department sent a cable to the American embassy in Moscow asking whether they could explain why the Russians were refusing to join the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The boss was away that day, and responsibility for answering the cable fell to an obscure junior staffer, the 41-year-old Kennan. He had been thinking about this matter for about twenty years, so he was ready. He had grown up in Wisconsin, but had gone to college at Princeton. In 1946 he was already a veteran of twenty years in Eastern Europe. He knew and loved the Russian language, and had a mature and subtle view of Russian policy.
One historian says of him:
The only difficulty with Kennan’s view was that it lacked a certain excitement. Calm, reasoned, evenhanded, expressed in superbly balanced, exquisitely honed, pellucid prose, his view was destined to ensure its author’s continued obscurity as a valued junior Foreign Service officer who would never be invited into the innermost councils of state. His advice might be good, but it was not useful. It did not provide the rationale for dynamic political expansion; it did not offer a framework and rationalization for terrific economic expansion; it did not place America at the head of a great moral crusade. It was an admirable view, but it did not have any zip. (Mee, 83.)
But in his memoirs Kennan recalls that he knew that this was `it.’ “They had asked for it.” he wrote; “Now, by God, they would have it: the whole truth.” He sat down and penned an 8,000-word reply: “The political personality of Soviet power as we know it today is the product of ideology and circumstances…”
The original inquiry was from Treasury, but Kennan gave a copy to the Naval Attach in Moscow, who sent it to Forrestal, who in turn ran off several hundred copies and made it required reading in his department. Within two months Kennan was at work for Forrestal, and shortly after that, for George C. Marshall at State. When Marshall returned from his meeting with Stalin in Moscow, he put Kennan in charge of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff. He told him to develop a Russian strategy with the terse advice, “Avoid trivia.” Kennan did so, and the wheels went into motion.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The Moscow cable is a very impressive piece of work. Its influence has lasted for forty years. So, let’s look at it from the point of view of self-criticism. How good is it?
On a zero to ten scale, for criticism of the opponent, nine; for self-criticism, one.
On criticism of the opponent, he makes five key points:
(1) “…Stalin and those whom he led in the struggle for succession to Lenin’s position of leadership were not the men to tolerate rival political forces in the sphere of power which they coveted. Their sense of insecurity was too great.”
(2) “…the men in the Kremlin have continued to be predominantly absorbed with the struggle to secure and make absolute the power which they seized in November 1917.”
(3) their deep sense of the “the innate antagonism between capitalism and Socialism.”
(4) their unchangeableness: “When there is something the Russians want from us, one or other of these features of their policy may be thrust temporarily into the background; and when that happens there will always be Americans who will leap forward with gleeful announcements that `the Russians have changed’…”
(5) their commitment to the long term: “There is no trace of any feeling in soviet psychology that their goals must be reached at any given time.”
As policy advice, he gives his two famous principles of response:
(1) “a long-term, patient, but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.”
(2) “the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points.”
Why not a “ten” for criticism of the opponent?
The roots of #1 in the actual shortcomings of capitalism are not adequately explored, and #4 is cast too deeply in concrete. But “nine” from forty years downstream is very good.
The Moscow cable employs a double standard:
“Frustrated, discontented, hopeless of finding self-expression — or too impatient to seek it –in the confining limits of the Tsarist political system……these revolutionists found in Marxist theory a highly convenient rationalization for their own instinctive desires.”
The Bolsheviks were not patient with the Tsar. But that is standard in dynastic changes. Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington were not patient with King George. How bad was he compared to the final Romanovs? They had long since ceased to govern. Their human vitality was so far gone that they were easy pickings for a psychotic cleric. Lenin, not famous for his modesty, would not take credit for seizing power; he reported honestly that he found it lying in the streets.
The final Bolshevik solution for the Romanovs was harsh and grim, and no one will excuse it. But that does not make the Bolsheviks exceptional, outstanding, or alone in the annals of dynastic change. The Romanovs are just one more grisly entry in our common human catalogue of past excesses. That catalogue contains the names of persons and places enshrined in our own Judaeo-Christian heritage of freedom and democracy: from countless unknown incinerated women, through the people who roamed this North American land before we came, to the children of My Lai.
It was as much the time as the person and the system. For, just a few months after Lenin took power in Moscow, the democratic and free nations of Europe forged an instrument of dark revenge in Paris. They did not directly shoot anybody in the head. All they did was set the wheels in motion. In 1919 no head of nation-state came off that well.
So, Kennan’s complaint about Bolshevik impatience manifests that familiar olfactory occlusion on account of which one’s own offal has no odor. It is one-half of a double standard: ignore one’s own faults, speak loudly about the other’s. We ignore our own when a certain central American peasant’s brother’s body is found in a ditch beside the road missing its ears and its genitals, and we tell the survivor he might have to put up with a certain amount of repression. Some voices among us even say that any self-criticism is disloyalty.
In the Moscow cable a whole series of faults are cited as if Bolsheviks were the only ones who had them, or that they invented them, or that they make them morally inferior to us. E.g., (a small point) deviousness. Why, one would almost say they are Machiavellian. (Oops! Niccolo is one of ours.) Also, “innate opposition”. It’s an old phenomenon in realpolitik. Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George and Clemenceau (especially Clemenceau) were sure it existed between Germany and them in 1918.
But the big gap in the Moscow cable is a realistic appraisal of the dark side of our own system. Kennan was aware of the complex, subtle symbiosis of the systems, but the Zeitgeist did not let him go into much detail. In self-criticism, the details are everything. At the end of the Moscow cable, he says as much as the traffic would allow:
The issue of Soviet-American relations is in essence a test of the over-all worth of the United States as a nation among nations. To avoid destruction it need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation. Surely, there was never a fairer test of national quality than this. …the thoughtful observer will find no cause for complaint in the Kremlin’s challenge to American society.
But the Zeitgeist was not as emotionally mature. In the same issue of Foreign Affairs as the one in which the Moscow cable appears, there is an article by Professor Lindsay Rogers of Columbia University. Rogers published his article anonymously, under the pseudonym `R’. It is called “The Beam and the Mote”.
In it the author says:
Rogers then recites the list: from the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, through Edmund Burke and many other noble spokesmen, as if those documents were somehow proof that the dark side of the system did not exist. It’s classic double-standardism. Every culture has noble sentiments in its archives. But there is also practice.
Kennan’s Moscow cable was extended and refined by the State Department in 1947. Its orientation became national policy. A central feature of the position was that the restoration of economic vigor, an end to national enmities in Europe, and the recovery of Germany were all integral and essential parts of the response to Communism. Kennan understood that capitalism and communism were not just military systems, but comprehensive social philosophies. If capitalism was to win, it would do so by giving people what they wanted: prosperity, opportunity, peace, freedom.
But other forces were in motion too. When the Truman administration tried to sell the Marshall Plan to Congress with its 5 billion dollar annual cost, they found that “European cooperation” was awfully abstract, and boring, on the Hill. Building an integrated European market for American goods also lacked fire. The words that were really electrifying were “Communist threat”.
It would appear that Russian politicians were not the only ones easily moved by fear.
There seems to have been a difference between the people and the politicians. Historian Mee reports that in a 1948 public opinion survey, 56 percent of Americans thought that the Marshall Plan was best considered an act of charity, and only 8 percent thought it would “curb communism”. “…Americans were by and large still an astonishingly generous people: they were, in fact, prepared to support the Marshall Plan, and to support it for largely humanitarian reasons.”(241)
But politicians and the press were not content with this. This Zeitgeist was too gentle. They wanted politically more reliable emotions, ones that were simpler, even primitive. Fear and patriotism were the ticket. So publicity campaigns of patriotism and anti-communism were mounted.
Kennan’s complex and subtle understanding of Russian insecurity was simplified into its crassest behavioral implications. The word “containment” came to stand for all of it in popular political debate, and the reason for the Marshall Plan boiled down to the threat of Communism. At this time too, the House Unamerican Activities Committee was holding its hearings. The fall of the Czech government in the spring of 1948 coincided with Congressional deliberations on the Marshall Plan appropriations. When Kennan responded to the anger and surprise over the Czech debacle by observing that it was only the logical outcome of Russia’s consolidation of its sphere of influence, his voice was removed again from the center of power. Once more he had no zip. He returned to the status of outsider. His day in the limelight had been short, but it had had an indelible effect on history.
Congress approved the Marshall Plan, and it worked. Its premises are still national policy. In 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea, and America was at war again. Cold War became a fixture in Amer- ican consciousness. The enmity towards Communism overstepped the bounds in McCarthyism, and it drew back.
On the Marxist side, Yugoslavia broke away from Moscow. The immense expanse of China, after starting with the help and blessing of the Russians, became a completely different Marxist entity than Russia. But, preoccupied with the internal problems of one-fourth of the world’s population, it did not get involved in Western machinations.
And in “the third world” too, the two systems clashed. American political and economic ideals got enmeshed with old and punitive oligarchies. Holding to a course of gradual change proved difficult. The Vietnam War cruelly and traumatically set some limits.
Which brings us back to now.
So, how much self-criticism are we really capable of? Your estimate has serious implications. If it is low (around one), then you reasonably fill the universe with weapons. But if it is high (around six or seven), then you do a comparative cost study, and you find that self-criticism is cheaper. It doesn’t replace weapons, but it keeps them in their place.
If “one” is in fact as good as we can do, then the other system is probably near zero, and we are in big trouble. We will have to crank both world-systems up to at least a three if we are going to turn the present corner.
There are broadly speaking two different kinds of information in the unconscious. One is the highly complex but essentially routine information for running psycho-biological sub-systems. The other is the repressed pain of early trauma.
Biofeedback techniques have shown, for instance, that a person can differentially control bleeding from superficial cuts an inch apart on the back of a hand. This is the degree of
precision of unconscious sub-systems. The example also shows that the present level of access to these sub-systems is primitive. They usually show up in complex stimulus-response mechanisms. They by-pass conscious control. Language is a good example. If we tried to choose words and phrases consciously, we would not be able to conduct a routine conversation. Any one who has learned a foreign language is aware of this.
But the unconscious mind also contains information that has been put there to get it out of the way. We have memories of too-deep or too-complicated pain. Self-criticism of any social behavior involves scrutiny of this information pool. So there is a barrier to “going inside” to correct assumptions. But the experience of those who have done it shows that once the barrier is negotiated, self-knowledge and self-correction are natural, and satisfying.
There are these two world-systems.
The bottom line is food and jobs and progress. All the theories, ideologies and rhetorical claptrap are only means to an end. Both systems want to see their children healthy and pursue the open-endedness of the human condition to a better way of living.
But they have different theories of social control. Marxism does not trust private ownership. This has produced some good results and some bad results. A good result is that the have-nots get included in the system faster. But, on the other hand, the system as a whole moves slowly, so that everybody becomes to some degree have-nots. Also, privilege re-appears, not in the form of private wealth, but in the perquisites of bureaucrats. Then too, there is the bureaucracy itself: a degree of centralization that is just too cumbersome to work. And finally, there is a preoccupation with conformity, an intolerance of dissent.
On the other side, we free enterprisers take a chance on ownership. We say that we can harness selfishness. This has had some good results and some bad results. The good results are inventiveness and productivity. The bad results are uneven distribution, disruptive economic cycles, and a steady background hum of violence.
If we put it in terms of headline evils, their system produces repressive conformity (Gulag). Our system produces break-downs (1929). Each system tolerates these extremes, because they are the trade-offs of a fundamental logic they believe in. They have made a fetish of evenness. We have made a fetish of autonomy.
In the economic symbiosis, capitalism is still ecologically dominant. It has the initiative in material productivity and the evolution of technology. It also has greater social flexibility. We clearly have the more open society. This article, for instance, will probably not land me in jail or get me assassinated.
The logic of symbiosis is as follows:
Granted that there are other factors feeding into the formation of that system, the imperfections of this system are a big contribution. So, to modify that system, modify this system. But this system is “ours”. It is in fact us. So we have more power over it than we have over the other system.
This is true if and only if self-criticism and self-correction are really possible.
We want to shut off the source in us that feeds the hostility of the other system. To do that, we have to ask the question:
“What defects, exactly, of the capitalist, free enterprise system feed the hostility of the communist-socialist-marxist system towards it?”
I have two suggestions.
First, the unchangeability premise.
Let’s go back to Kennan’s conclusion #4: “When there is something the Russians want from us, one or other of these features of their policy may be thrust temporarily into the background; and when that happens there will always be Americans who will leap forward with gleeful announcements that `the Russians have changed’…”
Well, without leaping or glee, I beg to differ. Everything in nature changes. It’s just that some things change more slowly than others.
Kennan urges caution. The point is well taken. But a prescription for slow and careful change must not be used as a cover for a rigidly polarized world view which does not allow for any change, except perhaps revenge. In the view of Solzhenitsyn:
Communism develops in a straight line and as a single entity without altering as people now like to say……what’s worst in the world communist system is its unity, its cohesion. The sun of the Comintern today spreads its energy everywhere in the form of high voltage electricity. …… All the seeming differences among the Communist parties of the world are imaginary.
The victim of the gulag is the reductio ad extremum. His position is factually incorrect. Pain clouds his judgment. Give refuge to the persecuted but do not necessarily follow their counsel.
Seventy years is a puny amount of time in human history. That system is just getting started. It is now in only its fourth generation of leadership (Lenin, Stalin, post-Stalin, and now). Everything in nature changes.
So, unchangeability is simply a conclusion too quickly come to. Besides being bad physics and bad biology, it is also a self-fulfilling prophecy. The two systems are locked in symbiosis. The opinion that the other cannot change is a commitment to being unchanging oneself.
Second, the domination premise.
We talk free enterprise, democracy and the market mechanism, but that is not the whole story. There is also a domination premise in our practice. Sometimes a member of the ruling elite just comes right out and says it:
To end the war against progress once and for all, we will need to mount a counterattack that is broadly based, carefully co-ordinated, and clearly articulated ……. we will need to do three things: First, we will need to adopt a set of sharp and sometimes brutal tactics for defeating the enemies of progress whenever and wherever they fight to delay or force the abandonment of construction projects that are necessary to make progress. Second…generate widespread public support……And finally, …put our state and local governments — and especially the federal government –back on sensible courses. (Herbert E. Meyer, The War Against Progress, pp. 138 & 158. Middleton, NY, Storm King Press, 1980.)
This makes for a great slogan: Libert , Egalit , Brutalit . It is pretty primitive stuff, but consensual in certain circles. Its author moves in good company: editorial staff of Fortune, Council on Foreign Relations, National Intelligence Council. The stance is more right-wing than centrist, but the question is, how far into the center does the right wing reach? Sometimes what appears to be the center is just a masked extreme. They would never come right out and say it, but the premise is there.
The domination premise bears a striking resemblance to the parental rigidity of the old pedagogical manuals that Dr. Miller describes: to “break” the other system, to combat its “obstinacy”, to impart to it the feeling that it is guilty and bad, never to allow the impression that one’s own system might be wrong or make a mistake, never give anyone the opportunity to discover one’s own limitations, to conceal one’s own weaknesses, and pretend to absolute perfection.
To continue the parallel, For one sitting on the receiving end of the domination premise, its behavior threaten not only the body but the soul. Contempt supported by economic and military power appears as a threat of complete extinction. In the face of that, anything would be a preferable alternative: Marxism, Bolshevism, eleventh-century Islamic fundamentalism, witchcraft, whatever.
Under the domination premise, there is no middle ground between the two systems. In third-world areas we have historically shown a tendency to kill off the political middle and leave ourselves only extremes to work with. Iran was a good example. And we wonder why people hate us.
Two candidates for central contradiction should suffice for the purpose of this modest exercise. The actual full-blown, real life process of self-criticism would be a public and national debate. It would have to be performed by people in actual possession of state power. That is, it would have to be self-criticism. When done by others, it doesn’t work. Only self has that full and nuanced access to the data that permits a thorough performance: There is something in me that is standing in the way of what I want, something out of tune with the onward flow of history. It’s not a defect that guilt has anything to say about. It just has to with time, and change, and ignorance and incompletion.
I wonder what the impact on international relations would be if there were a State of the Union message or an inaugural address with a section of self-criticism:
“In this contradictory age that offers so much hope and yet so much anxiety, the free world must recognize that our system is not perfect. We who believe in the superiority of capitalism must admit that we have made some cruel trade-offs that are not forever necessary. But while we recognize our own defects, we also observe the faults of others. And as we would not claim infallibility for ourselves, so do we not recognize it in them. These are complicated times; no one has all the answers. We want to sit down with our sometimes adversaries, not in a spirit of defensiveness and false perfection, but in a spirit of healthy self-criticism which alone leads to constant progress. We want to discuss our common concerns about violence, injustice, disease, hunger and the other evils that we all oppose…….”
Or something of the sort.
Do I hear you say that this is an impossible scenario? Maybe. But there is a certain surprising indeterminacy in the universe, especially in its conscious part.
COPYRIGHT, Michael H. Ducey, 2253 E. Washington Ave., Madison, WI, 53704.
Versions: 2-3-86, 11-04-86, 9-21-87