(Felix Frankfurter of the Harvard Law School answers his colleague, Manley Hudson, whose article, The Liberals and the League, was printed in The Nation of April 4.)
To THE EDITOR OF THE NATION:
SIR- The alluring simplicity of the slogan “Join the League” furnishes a deceptively simple answer to the profound yearning for a world without war. But, of course, “joining the League” is not like joining the Racquet Club. The simple formula of the proposal hides vastly complicated implications: Nothing less is involved than loosing incalculably new forces in Europe and incalculably new forces in the United States. Therefore, neither abhorrence of war, nor devotion to the impulses and ideas behind the League necessarily leads to support of America’s adhesion to the League, with its present structure and its associations, emotional more than legal, with the war-fraught treaties of peace of 1919.
Mr. Philip Kerr stated one aspect of the problem in his reminder that the United States is part of the world, but not part of Europe. Therefore it is important not to talk at large about “America’s participation in European reconstruction,” but to be concerned about the precise conditions and form of our relationship to Europe. It is important not to minimize the implications of the existing League of Nations in the light of the Covenant, the interpretations placed upon that Covenant by its authors, the geographic, intellectual, and emotional factors of American life as compared with European life, and human political experience such as lies behind the policy of fait accompli. It will not do to give a factitious simplicity to the complexities behind adhesion to the League of Nations by summing up the case of the League as does my friend Professor Hudson: “I want to talk with them [the Powers] about their policies around a table instead of over the wire.” If that were all there were to the League of Nations, then Professor Hudson would be content with a permanent, official round-table of discussion–a means for generating world opinion, with none of the elaborateness and rigidity of the Covenant, and none of its present emotional ties with the discredited treaties of peace.
In other words, the simplicity of the slogan “Join the League” to some of us calls for particularization. How shall we join? What are to be the conditions–legal, moral, intellectual, and emotional–under which we shall participate? What are the responsibilities we think we assume? What are the risks involved, not as a matter of law, but as a matter of human probability, in view of the circumstances in which political affairs are conducted? What is the equipment of wisdom and will which we bring to the solution of the terribly difficult European problems?
Behind all the propaganda for joining the League is a wholly untested assumption that America would contribute to the forces of appeasement. Whence do we derive our confidence in the possession of exportable men and measures for the solution of Europe’s difficulties, when we are making such n dreadfully bad fist of most of our own national problems?