Miss Dorothy Thompson yesterday told her readers that "The Government of the United States, whose head is the President, is charged by the people of this country to accomplish two things: to see to it that the British Empire and Commonwealth are not defeated and destroyed, and to keep us out of participation in the war as active belligerents." This is a concise and accurate statement of the basic formula of foreign policy summed up by the popular phrase "all-out aid short of war."
Today Congress has before it a bill designed to implement that policy. Commonly known as the "Lease-Lend Bill," this document gives to the Chief Executive wide powers to aid Britain. It empowers him to disregard the Johnson Act and the Neutrality Act. It gives him sole authority over the terms of the transactions whereby American war material of all kinds is to be manufactured and transferred to the British. It grants him the authority to sell, exchange, lease, or lend guns, munitions, aircraft, vessels, machinery, tools, supplies, and military information.
This sweeping grant of powers is under fire from two sides in Congress and in the nation--from those who hold that it is a further step toward New Deal totalitarianism, and from those who hold that it is a declaration of war not labelled as such. But the great body of middle-roaders in Congress-those who call for "all aid short of war" and mean it--are in a quandary. They realize that a policy of giving all material aid to Britain can effectively be implemented only by a delegation of broad powers in the interests of speed and efficiency. They recognize that the terms of the transactions are relatively unimportant--that in effect whatever we do will be giving goods to Britain. And they are generally aware that international law, murdered by Germany and by our own destroyer deal, is not to be considered a limiting factor on our aid program, since Germany already has ample technical cause for declaring war. But these middle-roaders have a feeling that through this grant of power, this country may land in war--war in the sense of direct military participation--without a vote of Congress.
What can these middle-roaders do? They can vote certain restrictions on the bill. They can demand that the delegation of power be limited to one of two years. They can insist that a clause be written into the bill forbidding the sending of American armed forces into war zones. But these restrictions have little meaning, since in his role of commander-in-chief the President can send armed forces wherever he will, subject only to how much money he can get from Congress for the purpose. In fact, concessions of this nature were probably anticipated by the Administration, since they will save the opposition's face by giving them something to show for their efforts without altering the substance of the bill, Essentially our present policy places the question of war or peace--in the sense of military combat or no military combat--in the hands of the President.
Washington today leads the country in belligerent talk. By many officials the invasion of Europe by joint Anglo-American forces is regarded as necessary and inevitable if Hitler is to be beaten. To the historian of the future, the passing of the lend-lease bill will be recorded as one of the last steps in the steady progression of events by which America moved from neutrality into full participation in another war to make the world safe for capitalism.
He will record it this way unless the millions of Americans who want to help England, but who draw the line between guns and lives, call a half. These aid-short-of-war people are now exposed to the ultimate dangers of that policy; the difficulty of trying to go to the brink of Niagara Falls, and then to stop without going over the edge. Today these people must serve notice on the President that the bill now before Congress is not a mandate for leasing, lending, or transferring lives.