The Stakes of Diplomacyby Walter Lippmann
An Antarctic explorer once told me that while he was in the polar regions his dreams by night and his fancies by day were concerned almost exclusively with the dinner he would order at his club in London. His mind reached out lovingly for complicated meals, polished silverware, and fine linen, for
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An Antarctic explorer once told me that while he was in the polar regions his dreams by night and his fancies by day were concerned almost exclusively with the dinner he would order at his club in London. His mind reached out lovingly for complicated meals, polished silverware, and fine linen, for large high-ceilinged rooms, thick soft carpets, and the shining shirt-fronts of perfectly ordered men. That for the time being had been his notion of paradise, and I dare say the vision was what all true visions are. They tell us what we should like to have but haven't, what we should have liked to do but didn't, what we intend to do but can't.
In all the diplomatic dispatches which preceded the war, there is nothing more pathetic than Sir Edward Grey's despairing effort at the very last moment to picture a better European system. With great caution, while the armies were mobilizing, he suggested a European concert, " some more definite rapprochement between the Powers," a plan " hitherto too utopian to form the subject of definite proposals." What was it that had made a plan " hitherto utopian " suddenly commend itself to this diplomat? It was the immediate prospect of a war which every well-informed person has been expecting for a decade. But so long as the war was not an immediate menace, the diplomatic imagination regarded its thin vision of a concert as utopian. It was only when the chancelleries were refusing to agree at all that the idea of agreement seemed a practical vision. It was as if the emotion which had formerly animated the intricate game of diplomacy, and had starved the vision of another and better game, was suddenly deflected from all its other preoccupations into the more single idea of European harmony.
But the fact is that the European concert was more utopian when Sir Edward Grey embraced it than " hitherto " when he had rejected it. In the last days of July it was indeed a half-baked scheme. Why was it a half-baked scheme? What do we mean by " half-baked " ? We mean, it seems to me, that the idea has never grown in the warmth of our interest. It is an idea, rather cold and a little stale, because it has lain neglected upon the top layers of the mind. A really mature idea is saturated with our experience; it is an idea which we have lived with, our love and fear have wrought it. Around it have clustered great strains of association; it has been weathered by time. But Sir Edward Grey's plan was the mere ghost of an idea, conjured up by despair.
The war has produced many such visions, which when analyzed turn out to be, like the Antarctic explorer's dinner, a pathetic feeling that what we haven't got is what we most need. Of course, there was this much obvious truth in it: Europe at war most needed peace. But the feeling that the opposite was desirable went further than that. It dominated the thoughts of liberals and gave life to a number of plans for permanent peace.
I was in Europe when the war broke out, and I can recall vividly that two of the outstanding impressions of the last days of negotiation were the secrecy of the diplomats and the swiftness of events. It all seemed like a terrific plunge, let loose by a few men who consulted nobody. On top of that came the sense that Germany was the aggressor against small nations like Belgium and against the French Republic. In the heart of Europe lay democratic Switzerland at peace. Beyond the ocean men saw America outside the broil. Was it any wonder that liberals jumped to the conclusion that the enemy of peace was secret diplomacy, the refusal to arbitrate, and that the remedy for war was the preservation of small nations, the downfall of dynasties, and the spread of democracies? Those were the opposites of the forces which seemed to have precipitated Europe into war, and liberal emotion flowed to them. Europe was fighting; fighting is monstrous. Europe was armed; let us work for disarmament. Europe was undemocratic; let us insist on democracy. Small nations were trampled; they must be pre* served. One nation refused to arbitrate; arbitration should be made compulsory. The peace programmes most current in England and America to-day were the inevitable reaction to what the lovers of peace knew and felt in the early days of August. They were born of that pain which is at once their honor and their bias.
As the war has dragged on, other ideas have made themselves felt. There has been a vague but grudging recognition that trade and finance are involved in diplomacy, and there has appeared a mass of literature interested not so much in the machinery of peace as in dealing with the provocations to war. But the chief effect of strain has been the eruption of a great uncertainty within the minds of men, followed by a rushing to cover. I do not refer alone to the agitation for " preparedness." I refer to the renascence of very old...
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