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With the announcement that Italy will not let herself be outdistanced by Great Britain's vast rearmament program comes the realization that the "armament race" is on in earnest. Mussolini is going to try to equal the preparations made by his chief rival in the Mediterranean, and a hint that this will prove no easy task appears in the warning of the Fascist Grand Council that this army mean a "total sacrifice of civil to military needs."
It has long been the custom of liberals the world over to shudder at the thought of that military competition between nations known as an "armament race". However, with world conditions as they are today, exactly the opposite view should be taken of the phenomenon. For the cause of democracy in general nothing could be of greater advantage than an arms race. The major countries upholding popular government are Great Britain, France, the United States, and, if one is charitable, Russia. At any rate, the first three named are in the vanguard, and, by a coincidence lucky for democracy, are the three countries able to stand comfortably the strain of an arms race. During the next year, for instance, the United States and Great Britain are each to spend a half billion dollars in naval building. The sums to be expended by the European democracies for armies will exceed even these impressive figures. To a certain extent the countries ruled by dictators can match their rivals dollar for dollar, but not in the long run. As long as the democracies remained content with third-rate military machines, the dictators, with their limited resources, could still surpass them and make a good pretense at ruling the world. With the recent awakening of Great Britain the situation has shifted, and that empire has shown that it is willing to use its unparalleled wealth to protect its challenged interests.
Although it is as true as it ever was that the hope of civilization lies in universal disarmament, it must be admitted that the present international alignment relegates such a program to the realm of pleasant dreams. The alternative is an arms race, and in such a contest the democratic powers not only have a head start as far as resources are concerned, but also have the stamina that will count as the marathon progresses. Italy and Germany have the unpleasant choice of falling behind or of exerting such efforts that will cause their already overburdened social and economic systems to cave in.
During the past few years international relations have been thought of as a great game of chess, played in well-planned manicures and for gigantic stakes. Recent events have made it a different picture. Now it is a huge game of strip poker, in which France, Great Britain, and the United States have entered wearing winter underwear, chinchilla ulsters, and heavy overshoes. Hitler and Mussolini were already shivering when they sat down at the table, and there is a question as to how much stripping they can indulge in before catching pneumonia.
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