If consistency is a hobgoblin of little minds, President Roosevelt has amply demonstrated in the past eight years that his is an intellect of no little capacity. Consequently the American people might have been guilty of a slight touch of skepticism when he spoke last October of keeping American boys out of the war and, more specifically, of prohibiting ships carrying the American flag to enter war zones. From all indications of the past few days that skepticism was justified.
As yet the President has made no statements concerning conveys, but the rest of his Administration machine has been buzzing with talk of the necessity of making American aid effective. Until the final O.K. is given by the Chief Executive, however, the convey machinery, which stands ready to roll, cannot be set into motion. And with a flat 67 per cent of the nation opposed to the scheme (Gallup poll figures yesterday), the able politician in the White House doesn't dare to change his mind in public.
But the 27 per cent of the nation which does favor using American ships and sailors to protect goods going to Britain is the militant quarter of the population, and that quarter is in control of the Government. An Administration majority for convoys could certainly be obtained in the Congress, or, with the facile Mr. Jackson explaining legal points, the Administration might initiate protection service by executive decree. With congressional elections a good year and a half away and Presidential voting two long years after that, the temptation to go ahead and take action must be tremendous.
No matter how you look at it any such action would be government by minority. Almost always when the President has changed his mind before, on the questions of economy, relief, and the gold standard for instance, he had a majority of the citizenry standing behind him approving any shift he might make. This time he obviously does not, and it appears that all the powers of press and publicity will not sway that vital two-thirds. We have seen government by militant authority before and we have labelled it fascism.
As Roosevelt has admitted, convoys mean shooting and shooting means war. In a democratic country the will of a majority of the people to fight is necessary before war can be declared, and only 17 per cent (yesterday's Gallup figures again) are in favor of entering an armed conflict. Once a war has been declared a totalitarian form of government is necessary in any country, but the United States is still at peace and four out of five Americans are in favor of staying there.
If the President and his advisers decide to scrap public opinion entirely and to go ahead on their deliberate course of action, this country is going to find itself in a war it doesn't want to be in, fighting, hypocritically enough, for democracy, a cause which its own government has eschewed.