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With a bill to be titled "The Peace Act of 1937" the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last Saturday clearly indicated that the United States will no longer float about in a non-existent sea of neutrality, cringing at every warlike move, and yapping whenever its long commercial toes are tread upon. The new neutrality proposal is so positive and direct in its method that it practically bares its fangs and curls its lips to maintain peace in face of a foreign war, In the plain words of its author, Senator Pittman, the bill does "not attempt to construe, determine, or deal with the controversial and mythical question of so-called neutrality."
There has been much carping criticism of the new bill attacks hurled at it on the grounds that the measure is dangerously supercharged. Senator Johnson, the only member of the Foreign Relations Committee who objected to the Pittman Resolution, described the plan as a "shotgun measure to keep us out of war, and it won't do anything of the sort. It would take us into war rather than keep us out." Opponents of the bill have in mind the narrow range of discretion which the President is allowed and the possible repercussions which might result from a vigorous application of the proposed laws. As soon as the President declares a state of war or civil strife to exist a number of very definite commercial and financial drawbridges are raised: an automatic embargo on exports of arms, ammunition and "implements of war"; curtailment of all loans to belligerents; prohibition of any Americans to travel on the vessels or aircraft of warring nations; and perhaps most important, the provision that all American claims to any materials whatsoever, intended for a belligerent country, must be relinquished before they leave an American port. The neutrality bill fits the pressing demand for a strictly defined policy, permitting the President to stick his finger in the stew only to proclaim a "state of war" and possibly add to the embargo list.
Perhaps the sharpest criticism of the new bill comes from Senator Johnson who believes it to be unnecessarily rigid with its signal avoidance of giving the President very much discretionary power. The automatic operation of such a severe law might conceivably result in stirring up retaliatory measures or vene war with us, if the belligerent were seriously compromised by stringent trade regulations. Nevertheless, it is hard to see how any extension of the President's influence could mollify this objection if neutrality legislation is to have any teeth at all. A neutrality law on the books before war looms on the horizon certainly retains more of the essence of neutrality than a presidential policy formulated during the course of a conflict.
The Pittman Resolution doubtless is a twoedged weapon, but it is folly to seek a one-edgged neutrality. Neutrality will always be regarded by injured belligerents as unfair and menacing. If we are to have teeth, we must always run the risk of biting our own tongues. On the whole, the Resolution should find its way to the Congressional Record without very much opposition. The "Peace Act of 1937" deserves to become a reality.
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