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One of the most perplexing features of the United States Neutrality Act comes from the difficulty of deciding what is a war and what is not one. To the liberals who felt that after the bombing of Almeria President Roosevelt should have invoked the Act against Germany the news from Washington that Secretary Hull and Norman Davis dissuaded the executive from this course shows the extreme caution of the State Department.
Although the attack on this Spanish town was not followed by further hostilities, it is hard to call the bombardment by an pleasanter name than an act of war. If it was this, President Roosevelt was bound to apply the Neutrality Act against the attacking power. Such action on his part would have dealt a heavy blow at German transatlantic shipping, and Mr. Hull evidently feared to go this far. He preferred to regard it as an international "spanking" similar to a naval attack on Venezuela by Britain, Germany, and Italy in 1902.
In saying that it would be inadvisable for this government to do anything that did not follow the lead of London, Mr. Hull faced the dilemma of our neutrality legislation. If we follow London we are the tail-end of the League of Nations; if not, we may suffer embarrassment as in the Ethiopian affair. If the United States labels Valencia as a "belligerent" without treating Germany and Italy similarly, it appears to be discriminating against the Loyalist government of Spain.
If Germany is to be believed, which is doubtful, that the bombing of Almeria "closes the incident," then it is just as well that the President has not ventured into deep waters by declaring her a belligerent. Too much caution is better than too little in international affairs. Another such incident will make the situation clearer, and then will be the time to reverse Mr. Hull's present decision.
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