"Americans are all horribly afraid; they've seen what the bomb can do and they've read the stories. They're scared. But they can't articulate this fear. They know what to say about the new school they want, or lower taxes, but they can't express their fear of atomic war. They're even a little afraid of trying to. And they don't want to look silly."
After a summer and autumn of gloom and despair, the ugly American has almost completely lost confidence in his ability to distill meaning from world affairs. His nation stumbles through the wilderness to cope with crisis succeeding crisis, to preserve a makeshift peace. It is no wonder then, that he has become disenchanted with the symbols that have traditionally expressed his unspoiled optimism: tolerance, dignity of man, democracy.
For the past several days we have been listening to a man whose words echo the idealism of a milder world where, if anything, people believed that they could solve their problems if they were reasonable, patient, and candid.
A guest of Winthrop House by the grace of a Ford Foundation donation, Chester Bowles brought to many undergratuates an optimism and intelligence uncommon today among America's spokesmen. But Bowles would undoubtedly be the first to prick this balloon we have inflated in his honor, for his is a quiet humility which understands that being human means being imperfect.
Since he entered public life, Governor Bowles has been a Democrat. His public service has been exceptional, and as ambassador to India during the waning years of the Fair Deal, he established so impressive a record for administration tempered by wisdom and humanity that, it is said, even the most rabid anti-American would vote for him should he run for office in that country.
But partisan preoccupations have not blinded Governor Bowles to his own party's shortcomings. In an age which he characterizes as one of "peace by terror," Bowles condemns the Democrats' negative approach to foreign affairs, particularly during the long period of silence when the party failed to articulate its opposition to the Administration's Formosa policy.
It is a truism of liberal democracy that a minority party should play the critic for the political drama. Yet even gadflies lose their sting when they run away from politics, sit dumbly as the majority perpetrates folly, or cry wolf long after the sheep have been killed. From now until 1960, Bowles maintains, the Deemocrats must persistently repudiate the Administration's blunders in foreign and domestic affairs with eloquence and determination, yet at the same time set forth constructive, intelligent, and fore-sighted alternatives.
The reign of "peace by terror," however, Bowles views as the fault of both parties. Democrats failed to adapt their foreign policy to the fact that European balances of power no longer guaranteed stability in the remainder of the world. And the Republicans, their presidential hopes shattered by the 1948 elections, grew tired of cooperating with Democrats in conducting a bipartisan foreign policy.
Yet if the Democrats erred in viewing the world through "European eyes," the Republicans, while they correctly recognized the importance of Asia as a unique political area, made the mistake of regarding foreign policy as essentially military policy. Thus the fiasco of unleashing Chiang ("In an effort to create a world balance of power, we upset the local balance of power"), thus the Baghdad Pact ("Just because NATO worked in Europe, people thought the idea best for every region"), thus the utopian SEATO pipe dream ("We've armed an awful lot of people in Asia who would never think of firing a gun, not even at a Chinese communist").
When Governor Bowles talks about what should be done to construct an intelligent approach to world affairs, the words "dynamic" and "creative" are used with much frequency. Such words tend to be bandied about with too much ease today, so much so that they have lost almost all meaning. But Bowles is not proposing verbal solutions built on cliches. He is not playing the Madison Avenue word game, but engaging in an old American activity of saying what you mean.
"Dynamic" and "creative" are adjectives describing Bowles's own tentative solutions to the dilemma of foreign policy. For the Governor brings to a discussion of international affairs two ideas which have fallen into disrepute of late, and whose revival at this time makes them "dynamic" and "creative" in comparison to the glib panaceas currently in circulation.
In the power game, Bowles believes that a nation must acknowledge its own limitations to exert power and recognize that firmness is not in itself a policy but a part of a policy. Expending force in a moral vacuum is like chasing butteries in the jungle: you soon stumble in your haste to capture an ever elusive object. In the power game, furthermore, the rules require those players whose stakes are only power to play with partners who likewise seek or possess power. And this leads to the United States' forming alliances with reactionary, undemocratic governments whose position of authority is supported by instruments of force and oppression. Foreign relations then becomes a game in which America, spouting liberal slogans, is forced to play footsie with governments that would enter even the Middle Ages kicking and screaming.
The "something else" of power politics which Governor Bowles offers is the view that man possesses a very human dignity that must be recognized, praised, and encouraged. "Have some faith in people who want to fix things for themselves," Bowles warns us. The underdeveloped nations are not necessarily nations incapable of acting responsibly. India, Pakistan, Burma--the list is much longer--are not children of the new world, but adults seeking to find their destinies unaided by mawkish pampering and baby-talk admonitions.
Economic aid, to be sure, is necessary, but as Bowles observes, "Revolutions don't come out of poverty; they come out of injustice and frustration." The dream which Americans have lived on and with which they currently seem to be disenchanted is also the dream of those nations occupying the grey land stretching from Iran to Korea. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are attributes of the good life in Backwash, U.S.A., as well as in Cairo and Rangoon.
What happens, however, when Americans take their dreams abroad is that ideals become dogma, and heralds of freedom turn into prophets spouting the froth of revelation. What Americans have lost sight of both at home and in their foreign relations is an ingredient of liberalism which Bowles repeatedly stresses: seeing the other person's point of view, tolerating minority opinion, allowing for differences of perspective. "This cold war," Bowles points out, "is hardly the one-sided affair some people would have us believe."
Failure to adopt an open-ended approach in our edalings with Russia, as well as other nations, has resulted in a national blindness that accounts for so much of our failure to act with initiative and purpose of direction. "Dynamic" and "creative" foreign policy, however, is policy that does not dictate from a fixed position, but discusses from a variety of approaches.
By some grotesque twist of logic, peace today is understood to mean a limbo land where there is no war; truth becomes the latest Administration pronouncement. And by an equally grotesque twist of history, liberalism in America has become an almost irrational attachment to a semi-religious doctrine. In his genial, quietly direct, and assuring way, Bowles has reminded us that our success in building a peaceful world depends on our faith in our principles of justice and humanity, on our truthful regard for the dictates of a procedural, not substantive, liberalism which encompasses a multitude of people whose dream, like ours, is to be at peace with each other.