We Must -- Like William Tell -- Aim High
|O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!|
would God I had died for thee
O Absalom, my son, my son! -- II Samuel 18:33
This feat of Tell, the archer, will be told|
mountains stand upon their base
By Heaven! the apple's cleft right through
Schiller, William Tell, Act III, Scene 3
Two chronic blunders have contributed heavily to past failures to unite the
Atlantic community effectively enough. One is that its leaders have either
failed to keep their eye on the target, or have expected to hit it while
manifestly aiming under it. The other is that they have persistently tackled the
problem piecemeal, never as the whole it is. Few Atlanticans would deny that
their true target is:
To unite the Atlantic community soon enough, effectively enough and
economically enough to save freedom -- for once in our time -- without another
World War or another Depression ... and lead the world to the new era which
scientific, industrial, political and moral development make possible now.
Would you not agree that this is the target the people want their leaders to
hit, and that they are not likely to hit it -- unless they keep aiming clearly
For years they have undershot the target with tragic consequences, and
constancy. But still we do not yet even make sure that those who fill our front
pages with their proposals and policies are so much as looking at the
bull's-eye. Nor do we yet ask them the commonsense question: Have you raised
your sights enough to correct the previous miss?
The disconcerting fact is that our leaders have never really aimed at
hitting our true Atlantic target. They have aimed instead at not disturbing the
habits and prejudices of those who depend on leadership to keep them from war
and depression -- and not keep them forever on some brink, or facing "long
years of tension." When failures have disturbed the people, leadership has
lured them back to a fool's paradise by piping that old, old tune -- the shot
was aimed "in the right direction."
The Apple -- or Our Sons?
The fallacy that it suffices to aim in the right direction did not fool
William Tell. He aimed straight enough and high enough to hit the apple, not the
son -- and he hit it, even with bow and arrow.
If we are to save our own sons (instead of the apple of Atlantic discord we
seem often to treasure more), it can not be said too often that we must raise
our sights. True, this involves doing something that no Madison Avenue
flannel-suiter would dare risk: Aiming over the head of a boy. Even so, wise
citizens will henceforth subject every proposal to this practical test: Is it
likely to hit the apple? Or is it just another of those shots "in the right
direction" that have been killing our sons? The Atlantic Convention is a
good occasion to begin applying this test.
Contrast the present spirit with that of the Founding Fathers when they
tackled the problem of uniting Thirteen States effectively. If the United States
is freedom's citadel today, it is because a few leading citizens had the vision
at the dawn of the steam age to aim explicitly at giving the people what they
really wanted, a free "government intended to last for ages" (to quote
James Madison at the 1787 Convention), and to build it on lines great enough to
permit their infant federal union to grow in 170 years to one of fifty states
and 180,000,000 citizens, drawn from all races and nations of men.
Is it realistic and practical, after all, for the Atlantic Convention to
allow its vision to be limited to half-measures now, when men in other fields
are preparing to circumnavigate the moon as boldly as Magellan prepared more
than 400 years ago to girdle the Earth?
The Trees, Not the Forest
Had William Tell been able to use a shotgun instead of an arrow, there would
have been less doubt of his hitting the apple -- but his son would have faced
another danger our sons do, as does also the Atlantic Convention. The fashion in
such meetings today is to center attention on the trees, not the forest. They
divide the delegates into a number of committees and subcommittees, each of
which will discuss some pine, oak, thorn, apple or nut tree. That was what
happened at the Atlantic Congress in London in 1958. It made no provision for
any discussion of the Atlantic problem as a whole. True, it had a "Declaration
Committee," but it was composed of committee officers rather than delegates
and its duty was to nail together their separate findings. This amounts to
building a house of lumber sawed from pine, oak and other trees -- doing a
useful thing but hardly providing the view that sees the living forest despite
The Atlantic Congress set-up was, of course, the one that has been followed
for fifty years. It seems a very practical approach to a complex problem....
Until one recalls how often it has failed, how illusory its successes have been.
The Atlantic Convention will be under heavy pressure to devote its attention
to current problems; it needs to keep in mind that its true task is not to
tackle such problems, but to work out machinery that will tackle them
If we liken current affairs to rocks and agree that we need something better
than the hammer we are now using to break them with, then the function of this
Convention should be, not to hammer at any rocks nor bother the diplomats who
are hammering at them, but to confine itself strictly to devising a better
implement -- a rock-crusher that will break rocks with less effort and cost, and
crush even those that our hammers now are unable to break.
Put in other terms, the task is to find how to make the Atlantic body
politic healthy enough to meet growing demands, dangers, opportunities. As I
pointed out in testifying in favor of calling this Convention at the hearing
which the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held on this proposal on May 17,
NATO is filled with specialists on the muscular, or military, side of the
Atlantic problem. Recent plans for organization of Atlantic economic cooperation
show that the specialists on its digestive ills are not idle. There is obvious
need for these and other specialists -- but it is no less obvious that the
military, economic, monetary and political parts of the Atlantic community are
as intricately inter-related as are the muscles, stomach, heart and brain of
each of us. Good health requires us to keep always in mind the body they
together form. But we have been so concerned with the various parts of the
Atlantic man that we have neglected completely to provide him with a family
doctor -- or even a college to educate some general practitioners to treat this
body politic as a living whole.
As The New York Times correspondent covering the League of Nations
from 1929 to 1939 I had to report all kinds of conferences that tackled its
problem piecemeal -- none that tackled it as a whole. This piecemeal approach
gave the illusion then, as it still does, that it simplified the problem, was
more "practical." In reality, this illusion gave a false sense of
security, wasted the time in which realistic remedial action was still possible,
led to World War II.
The ten-year course I had in this school of experience led me to appreciate
what I fear is still very little understood in our country today -- the
superiority of the Convention method by which our Founding Fathers tackled the
problem of getting their thirteen nation-states to work together effectively yet
democratically. Their Convention set up no committee of military specialists, no
political committee, no economic committee. It had only one committee
(apart from drafting committees) -- a Committee of the Whole through which it
wrestled from beginning to end with the problem as a whole.
Compare the common sense of their approach with the complications of the "functional"
approach. When you look at where the Atlantic community stands today after
eleven years of this piecemeal approach and think of the enduring contribution
to freedom our Founding Fathers made in only three months with their Convention
approach-do you wonder that I feel that any patriot should support this
resolution which would at least tackle the problem now by a method that makes
sense? Certainly I do not wonder that two [of the Committee] sponsors of this
wise approach are experienced family doctors, general practitioners -- Dr.
Morgan and Dr. Judd.1
Why the Federal Package Is Practical
The overall approach is, of course, a federal unionist one. But most
non-federalists would agree that the political, moral, cultural, military,
economic and other questions before the Atlantic Convention are, in fact,
closely inter-related -- so much so that to tackle them as a whole is at least
as practical -- if not more so -- than the piecemeal method.
The federal union approach is concerned with each of the major problems
facing the Atlantic Convention -- and Community -- but with each as a part
of the whole, not as something to be considered without relation to the
rest. It offers an answer to them all together, which is also an answer to them
each. Nor is this a theoretical approach, or solution.
Ever since the 1787 Convention stumbled onto the overall approach and
answer, every one of the federations now existing in the world has been created
by this same basic technique: Delegates who centered on the overall problem put
together in one package, called a constitution, a political, economic, monetary,
military, cultural and moral union, combined with free federal legislative,
executive and judicial machinery to handle what remained of these problems in
Some fear that this method endangers progress that might be made on a small
scale -- that it risks the bird in hand for two in the bush. But the Convention
has no bird in hand; at most it risks losing only a few feathers. And history
makes the risk seem even less. The fact is that Thirteen States which were never
able to agree even on a mild treaty to regulate trade between them, did accept
not only this regulation but full economic union when it was wrapped up
inseparably with an effective federal government and an organic political
military, monetary, moral and citizens union. No single item in this impressive
package would probably have been accepted had it been offered separately.
Certainly none ever has been.
Truth Is Stranger -- and Stronger
That the greater overall answer should be accepted where the smaller step
failed may seem paradoxical, even incredible. But truth is proverbially stranger
-- and stronger -- than fiction, and to succeed, the Atlantic Convention needs
to hear and follow truth.
To affect reality, the Convention must reflect it, at least to the point of
adequately confronting the piecemeal with the overall approach, the
functionalist with the federalist answer, "gradualism" with "do-it-in-time."
If it confronts these opposites strongly enough, it may not merely blow away the
cobwebs that now entrap Atlantic thinking, but generate the power and vision
that peace requires and that full and free debate of great issues gives.
Why Union Wins Approval Where Half-Measures Lose
How can the same people who have rejected this or that piecemeal proposal
paradoxically accept the full federal answer? Because it faces them with
down-to-earth reality, yet high inspiration. A tariff is part-and-parcel of the
depression-dictatorship-war complex, but when the only thing in this complex
that the people are called on to decide is a tariff question, they tend to think
of it only in terms of dollars, cents and their most selfish economic interests;
they become very narrow-minded and short-sighted indeed. When the federal answer
is submitted to them, they have to face their problem as a whole. Instead of
thinking that they live by bread alone, they see that life requires much more
than that. The broader picture broadens their thinking, improves their vision,
develops their judgment, inspires their souls. So many elements in it are
important to them that they have to decide which are the more important.
Instead of calculating only in dollars, they have to weigh intangibles, too.
Where the trade issue directly interests only a part of the people, federal
union presents an issue with something in it to interest deeply every citizen,
the politically-minded as well as the economic-minded, the intellectual, the
churchman, the parent, the student, the scientist -- all matter of minds and
men. Instead of a picture that seems all loss to these, all gain to those, and a
matter of indifference to the rest, Atlantic Union has something to interest
each directly. It presents so many possibilities as both to defy and invigorate
the imagination; no one can feel that he is a total loser, everyone sees some
gain in it to compensate for whatever loss he may fear it will cause him. Each
has to decide which are his higher values.
What happens in such circumstances? True values assert themselves with most
men. And so, when the people of the Thirteen States, who had refused to enter
into even a mild degree of economic union, had to decide on the Federal
Constitution, the fact that it created a full economic and monetary union played
a very minor role in the discussion that followed. The great debate -- and it
was a great debate indeed in Virginia and New York2
-- centered on the moral and political issues that the Constitution raised.
Despite Shays's Rebellion, resulting from the fact that economic depression
and monetary depreciation had led a reluctant Congress to call the Federal
Convention, the debate on ratifying the Constitution gave scant attention to the
subjects that engrossed the United States in the days of the New Deal. The
classic book which it produced, The Federalist, is no treatise on trade,
economics, finance, or military defense. Although its editor and chief author,
Alexander Hamilton, prided himself on his war record, and was a genius in the
economic and financial field, it is concerned almost exclusively with political
and moral questions.
This will surprise many today -- so widely have we unconsciously accepted
the Marxist view that man lives by bread alone. (This at a time when no people
on earth devotes so small a fraction of their daily work to satisfying the
body's needs, and so much to the moral -- or immoral -- business of "keeping
up with the Joneses," as do we Americans, and Atlanticans.) Yet I feel sure
that, if we put people to the test, we shall find that they still have today the
same values as the generation that centered attention on the political and moral
issues that the Federal Constitution raised. To think otherwise is to believe
that all the sacrifices made since then to preserve and advance the moral and
political principles of liberty-and-union were made in vain.
After all, when men (and now also women, who then had no vote) face an
Atlantic Federal Constitution and have to consider not merely what its effect
will be on the price of wool, automobiles, chemical products, perfume or cheese,
but which is more important to them: The value of this or that alias for bread,
or the value of their own dignity, liberty and life -- and that of their sons,
daughters, grandchildren. When they have to face this issue, there can be but
When the issue is full federation, the great moral as well as material and
military advantages that its economic and monetary side would bring will shine
forth -- not be hidden by the smoke-screens of selfishness which economic union
would face if presented alone. Only by presenting to the people of Atlantica a
full Federal Constitution for them to ratify, or reject, can one put before them
this realistic yet idealistic choice -- and give them a chance to show their
"Everyone knows that we would make this Atlantic Union if we got into
another World War -- and still could -- and so it seems common sense to me to
try to make it in time to prevent such war." A Southern United States
Senator once said this to me, and it set me thinking:
The Founding Fathers sacrificed 4,435 sons in the Revolutionary War before
the Thirteen States "would sacrifice their sovereignty" enough to
ratify the Articles of Confederation. Thanks to the fact that the William Tells
at the Philadelphia Convention courageously aimed high enough to hit the target
which the Declaration of Independence had set up, the people took the still more
revolutionary step from confederation to Federal Union without a single family
sacrificing a single son.
It took the sacrifice of 53,403 sons to bring the League of Nations Covenant
before the Senate, but this was not enough to get it ratified.
When 293,986 more sons of American families had been sacrificed, the Senate
ratified the United Nations Charter, 89 to 2.
There is no question that we must, sooner or later, take the step from
Atlantic alliance to Atlantic Federal Union. The only question is: How much
sacrifice of life will it cost?
Shall we continue to aim so low as to sacrifice millions of sons before we
take this step? Or shall Atlantic Union come without the killing of a single boy
-- because the members of the Atlantic Convention prove to be a composite
William Tell? It is for them to answer -- and for you.
- Dr. Thomas E. Morgan (Democrat,
Pennsylvania), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Dr. Walter Judd
- See "When Patrick Henry Fought
the Federal Constitution," by Jonathan Elliot, "How Virginia Came to
Vote for Federal Union," by Albert J. Beveridge, and "How Hamilton Won
New York for Federal Union," by Bower Aly, $0.20 each, Freedom & Union
Press, Washington 9, D.C.
Contents -- Chapter 10
-- Chapter 12