Freda Utley, America First member and ex-Communist, argues the isolationist case against US involvement in WWII
Freda Utley is one of those writers who was incredibly popular during their day, but whose relevance and name recognition has largely faded as the decades have passed. This is somewhat unfortunate in Utley’s case, because her life was varied and fascinating, and she wrote a number of significant works on Asia, communism, and fascism which deserve to be remembered. Utley’s early background was progressive, middle-class, and solidly English. The financial difficulties the family experienced after her father passed away in 1918 helped lead Utley, already an idealistic young woman, into socialism – first as a member of the Independent Labour Party, then from 1927 as a passionate activist for the British Communist Party, and eventually as a paid employee of the Comintern. In 1930 she and her husband (Arcadi Berdichevsky, a Russian Jew and Soviet functionary), moved to Moscow permanently, and it was here that Utley’s slowly-blooming disillusionment with Communism became overwhelming. Utley’s firsthand experiences of Soviet poverty, corruption, inefficiency, and ultimately terror (her husband was arrested and sent to Siberia in 1936) led her to leave the USSR, eventually settling in America, where her reputation as a writer saw her become something of a minor celebrity for a time, rubbing shoulders with figures like Eleanor Roosevelt and Cornelius Starr. Yet Utley’s reawakened liberal principles, fostered via direct experience under totalitarianism, led her down some controversial avenues as WWII commenced. Utley’s view at that time was that the Soviet Union was the most totalizing dictatorship in existence, and therefore stood as the greatest enemy to human liberty. Hitlerism, while still villainous, was also clearly the lesser of two evils, and a negotiated peace with Germany was thus essential in order to save Britain from destruction and to prevent Europe’s domination under a “monolithic Communist empire.” This stance naturally brought Utley into the isolationist camp, and thereby under the wing of the America First Committee; articles like the one transcribed below, from October 1941, provide a good summation of her position during this period (although perhaps some of the arguments are not quite so convincing with the benefit of hindsight). This particular article was distributed in hundreds of thousands of copies by America First, and helped make Utley’s name as an anti-war campaigner. It also caused her considerable trouble in trying to attain American citizenship, being directly cited by US authorities (along with Utley’s Communist past) as evidence that the author was a hostile enemy alien.
An Englishwoman Pleads:
Must the World Destroy Itself?
First published in Common Sense, August, 1941, under the title “God Save England From Her Friends.” This revised version was transcribed from the The Reader’s Digest of October, 1941, vol.39, no.234.
FREDA UTLEY, well known as an author and lecturer on three continents, has firsthand knowledge of the world’s present battlefronts. As correspondent for the London News Chronicle she covered Japan’s war against China. For six years she lived in Russia, a convinced believer in the Soviet experiment, and labored as a government official in the Comintern, the Commissariat of Foreign Trade and the Institute of World Economy and Politics. Her resulting complete disillusionment with the Communist Utopia is graphically described in her recent book, The Dream We Lost. Coming to America, Miss Utley has devoted herself to publicizing the truth about Communism as it was revealed to her in Moscow. Among her other books are Japan’s Feet of Clay, Lancashire and the Far East and China at War. Miss Utley was born in The Temple, London. Her father came from the little village of Utley, in Yorkshire, named for the family. He was able to trace his ancestry back to the conquest of Britain by the Vikings. The author asked to revise and expand this article for The Reader’s Digest.
A year hence it may seem to most English people that England’s friends in the United States were more dangerous to her than those Americans called isolationists. For too many American friends of Britain, swayed entirely by their emotions, refuse to consider England’s present situation realistically. They speak as if the defeat of Germany were a foregone conclusion, simply because the Americans have decided upon it. Would-be saviors, not only of Britain and her Empire, but of the whole world, they exhort the British not to give up the fight “until Hitlerism is destroyed,” although by now it should be obvious to any keen observer that England cannot reconquer the Continent of Europe. Yet anyone who dares to face such facts is denounced as an appeaser, or worse.
In England, forums of intelligent citizens debate the terms of the eventual compromise peace. Yet so fearful are Americans of being called defeatists or appeasers that hardly anyone in this country will admit that the best chance of saving both England and some democracy in the world is for the United States to back England at the proper moment in a negotiated peace, before the balance of forces turns itself yet more heavily in Germany’s favor.
Being an Englishwoman, I hope fervently, of course, that the United States will continue all-out aid to England. For the defeat of England would be a catastrophic disaster for America. But I hope Americans will realize that in due season the United States must be prepared to back England in negotiating peace. It is time that Americans of good will and intelligence discuss realistically the pros and cons of a not too distant peace without letting wishful thinking obscure their judgement.
Take first the question of war supplies. Many people imagine that Britain, by her stupendous efforts since Dunkirk, is catching up with Germany in armament production, and that the mighty industrial power of the United States will soon enable her to achieve decisive superiority. Yet it seems more probable that Germany has actually been getting about twice as much in the way of war material out of occupied France as Britain has been getting from the United States; while, as regards British production, it is manifestly incapable of matching Germany’s. Because of Germany’s tremendous head start – by many years – not even the thousands of planes to come from American factories in 1942 and 1943 can give England enough superiority to win the war. And after all, what sense does it make for nations to concentrate all their power on the single aim of destroying each other when neither side can win complete victory?
Next, consider the question of manpower. “The Germans,” General Sir Archibald Wavell said recently, “must be beaten on their own soil, exactly the way Napoleon was beaten. And if that is the way it is to turn out, we certainly are going to need American manpower, just as we did in the last war.” The other outstanding British general in this war, Auchinleck, has similarly stated that American manpower is essential. General de Gaulle has publicly given an identical opinion. Competent military authority attests that at least six or seven million American soldiers would be needed for the job. But is there any evidence to support the supposition that the American people would submit voluntarily to a sufficiently drastic curtailment of their standard of living to make possible the equipment of such a gigantic expeditionary force, and the building of the huge quantity of ship-tonnage necessary to transport it across the Atlantic and supply it, while also keeping England going with war supplies until the war is fought to a finish?
If Americans felt that their own country were to be invaded, they would no doubt make every necessary sacrifice; but no amount of propaganda and exhortation has so far been able to convince them that such is the case. The interventionists have proceeded on the assumption – without seeming to note the obvious contradiction – that England cannot be invaded by Germany across 2 miles of water, but that the United States can be invaded by Germany across 3000 miles of ocean; and that the United States can conquer Hitler now if she declares war, but that she can’t defend herself against him if she doesn’t.
The great majority of Americans, however, remain skeptical of the proposition. They ask this embarrassing question: If Hitler can invade America across 3000 miles of ocean – should she be able to capture the British navy as the interventionists insist – why cannot England, which already has the British navy, and boasts of 3,000,000 men under arms, invade the Continent of Europe across 22 miles of channel?
Germany is engaged in a desperate struggle with Russia on her other frontier; yet England does not move. What is the answer? Simply this: If this war has proved anything, it has established the fact that no naval power, however strong, can force a landing on a hostile shore adequately defended by armies, guns, and land-based air-power. Knowing this, the American people have not been taken in. Instead, the most recent Gallup poll (August 17) shows that 83 percent are opposed to the sending of an American expeditionary force to Europe.
But even if we assume that the American people will eventually be persuaded to attempt the conquest of Europe, what prospect is there that such full-scale participation would defeat Germany? Russia had millions of fully-trained soldiers right on the German borders – they did not have to be transported or supplied by ships. Russia had more planes, more tanks, more big guns than the United States will have by 1943. For 12 years the U.S.S.R. had concentrated the whole of her economy on armaments, her people forced to endure the hardest privations by a dictator using the most ruthless methods of compulsion. Yet all this gigantic armament, all these millions of men, all this aid flung in on Britain’s side at the scene of conflict, is not proving sufficient to open the way for a British invasion of the Continent. If England and Russia together thus make no important impression on the Nazi military machine, how can we assume that England and America together – the latter 3000 miles away from Europe – will be able to put troops ashore in Europe and defeat Hitler?
Wishful thinkers will reply that an American expeditionary force will not be needed, that Germany can be defeated by unlimited bombing, until civilian morale is shattered. The answer to this was recently supplied by Bernard Shaw when he pointed out that the wholesale bombing of cities, whether in Germany or Britain, does not destroy morale but instead improves it, for it makes a people fighting mad. The German bombing of England, as we all know, has made Englishmen more determined than ever to carry on; and nothing in history justifies the assumption that the German people are less tough than the British. Even the poor, unwarlike Chinese, without airplanes or anti-aircraft guns to protect them, have not been bombed into submission by Japan. Nor were the Spanish driven to surrender in bomb-torn Barcelona. Recently Lord Beaverbrook himself stated emphatically that he did not believe the British could count upon victory simply by air attack.
As for those who imagine that, merely by offering the German people vague promises and platitudes of a better world after the war, Hitler can be overthrown by a revolution of dissidents from within, let them remember that the German people down to the last man believe that they are fighting for their very existence. Moreover, they remember that after 1918, when the Germans were disarmed and helpless, their conquerors did not live up to solemn promises. The German people today fear a vengeful super-Versailles as the penalty of defeat, and even Hitler’s bitterest enemies in Germany will fight to prevent that.
The stubborn nature of Russia’s current defense is in itself proof that hatred of a tyranny which rules a people does not stop them from fighting for their country; for certainly Stalin is no less hated than Hitler, the Russian people having suffered an even worse fate at Stalin’s hands than have the Germans under Nazidom.
Again, we are told that, if Europe is hermetically blockaded, starvation and distress will cause Hitler’s victims in the occupied countries to rise up against the Nazis and to fight them with their bare hands. Unfortunately this is not the lesson of history. When the conquered starve they do not become heroes, especially in the face of modern weapons of war. Men who see their children dying of hunger are more likely to accept slavery for bread than to rise in rebellion.
Finally, it may be well to recollect that the wishful thinkers, who now tell us that Germany can be conquered by these other-than-orthodox military means, have been proved tragically wrong in their past judgements. When the war began, they were certain that Germany would soon collapse from within on account of the hatred of the people for the Nazi regime. They insisted the Maginot Line was impregnable, that the German army lacked trained officers, that Germany lacked oil, iron and supplies, and today they are confident that Russia will fight on indefinitely. They must learn before it is too late that this war cannot be won by words, or economic blockades, or the building of unlimited numbers of bombing planes; only superior armed might, on the actual field of battle, can overcome the German war machine.
Most certainly England will never be able to do the job alone. Is England, then, to fight on, at the risk of losing all without hope of total victory? Or should those Americans who wish to save her face the facts and, at a favourable moment, seek a peace which would salvage from the ruins of Europe as much as may be possible under existing circumstances? Are not Americans doing an incalculable harm not only to Britain but also to themselves by refusing to face these grim realities of the situation? Remember that if England is encouraged by her friends to reject any thought of peace until Germany is destroyed, and to risk defeat without hope of victory, she may yet find herself in France’s position – forced to turn against her friends in order to exist. Is not the surest guarantee of America’s future safety to be found in a peace which would preserve England’s sovereignty and that of her Dominions?
To those who reply to every rational argument for a negotiated peace with the phrase that “You can’t trust Hitler,” I say: “Granted – and a thousand times so!” Instead, we must rely upon our own strength and upon the superiority of our own social and economic systems. A fully armed America and a reformed and rejuvenated British Empire would be strong enough to maintain the integrity of our territories and spheres of influence. If we can keep better than half the world free from Hitler, we shall in the future be more than a match for a German Empire wasting its strength on the gigantic task of making slaves productive.
For America and Britain to remain two out of four great powers would seem far easier and surer of attainment than for America and Britain to destroy Germany and Japan and to make themselves the sole two great powers in the world. To say that Britain and America can remain great powers only if they make themselves the sole two great powers in the world is to argue against all the precedents and experience of the past. If America and Britain cannot hold their own as equals of Germany and Japan in the future, they certainly cannot defeat Germany and Japan at present.
And what peace terms can we have? Although the United States is not in a position to give victory to England, her potential influence is so enormous that by placing herself unequivocally behind Britain, but not insisting on the impossible aim of freeing the Continent of Europe by war, she could in all probability force Germany to make a peace of equals with Britain.
The common idea that the fear of America is so great in Germany that an American declaration of war would lead to an internal German collapse is of course fantastic; but it would seem true that the Germans are sufficiently doubtful of their ability to win a war against the United States – as distinct from their fear of losing it – as to make it almost certain that an American offer to mediate peace on the basis of hands-off-Britain-and-her-Empire would have such an effect in Germany as to force Hitler to negotiate. The desire for peace with England which exists even in the ranks of the Nazi party was strikingly proved by Hess’s spectacular flight to England. As William Shirer shows in his Berlin Diary, written on the spot, so long as the Nazis can say that the war goes on because England refuses to make peace, and that Germans are fighting for their very lives, their hold on the people cannot be weakened.
But unfortunately for England, and for the whole world, most Americans have not realized how great is their influence. Half in and half out of Europe, they have been saying that they shouldn’t be compelled to fight again in Europe’s wars, and yet insist that Europeans should continue to fight among themselves even at the cost of the ruin of both Europe and England. Hence, Britain is today in a position in which she is not only practically compelled by American interventionist opinion to continue indefinitely “fighting for the right” – and to the bitter end – against unsurmountable odds, but is also still told by the overwhelming majority of the American people that no American blood is to be shed on European battlefields. And since only wholehearted American support can enable Britain to survive, she cannot afford to alienate American opinion by any suggestion that she may eventually be compelled to make a peace which, although it would leave the Continent of Europe under German domination, would at least save Britain and her Empire. Only an Englishwoman like myself dares make this statement.
As an Englishwoman, I hope that the United States will not unwittingly play toward England the same role that England found herself playing toward Poland and Norway, Greece, and Jugoslavia. I hope that America. will not promise aid which she will not be in a position to give for years, and bring England into a position in which all is lost when much might have been saved. There are times when there is only a choice of evils, and today the evil of accepting the fact of Nazi domination of continental Europe is less than the evil which is likely to result from encouraging England to continue indefinitely a hopeless fight until English liberties also are destroyed – either from without from within.
If English policy is to be as realistic and intelligent and as free from outside interference as it was in the days of Napoleon, Britain will eventually compromise with Hitler, just as she compromised with the “Corsican ogre” in 1802.
For what will it profit England to have held but against Hitler, and to be able to inflict upon the Germans the same sufferings she herself is enduring, if all her sacrifices cannot give her victory, and if in the meantime her trade, her productive plant, her very lifeblood have been destroyed? Wishful thinkers may reply that she will at least have preserved her freedom. But is even this sure? Is it likely that an England suffering the universal impoverishment brought about by total war would escape the fate of Germany after the last war? It is hard to see how our liberal and humanitarian values can survive the aftermath of a long and increasingly bitter war.
Can we expect that there is some peculiar virtue in the Anglo-Saxon peoples which will prevent them from reacting from great feat, misery and privation differently from other people? Tolerance and moderation, respect for law and the rights of individuals – these qualities cannot long survive a war which demands the same regimentation of men’s bodies and minds as has been instituted in Nazi Germany, nor are they likely to survive even a victory which had bled Britain white, destroyed her cities, and created economic problems insoluble by democratic means.
Britain is less a part of Europe than a great world Empire, and is not necessarily doomed if she cuts herself off from the Continent of Europe as a few men like Lord Lothian and Lord Beaverbrook wished her to do before the war began.
Out of universal war on the total scale no good can come, only perhaps an even worse, or a more universal, evil than Hitlerism. But there is at least some hope that, with peace, the foundations of Hitler’s tyranny may be destroyed. The German people are of the same flesh and blood as ourselves and must yearn for something else in life besides sacrifices and death, bloody glory, and the hatred of their neighbors. The universal testimony is that the older Nazi soldiers – the married men – in the occupied countries are restless and want peace. German morale, which alone can preserve the German Reich, will not endure if Hitler’s promise of a peaceful, prosperous and better-ordered world fails to materialize.
It is possible to hope that, after her victories have wiped out the memory of past defeats, national humiliation, and the material privations of the past quarter of a century, and once she has no cause to envy the great territorial possessions of Britain and France, Germany may rid herself of the gangsters who now rule her, and revert to the civilized values which alone can give a people permanent satisfaction. The prospect is less hopeless than continuation of the war until there is universal wretchedness and despair.
While the disarmed millions in the occupied countries cannot revolt, the German people may find means of changing their government. There is the reasonable hope that her leaders, bloody-minded men, may divide. In war the Nazis go from strength to strength, for their power is founded upon the emotions which war breeds. Peace might give a chance to other elements in Germany to assert themselves. The army may transfer its allegiance to new leaders when peace shall have brought the Germans to think as citizens rather than as soldiers. This happened in both Germany and Russia after the last war.
Perhaps it is an unconscious realization of all these real factors which is keeping the American people from participation in the war as belligerents. The last war having resulted in the destruction of democracy over all Europe east of the Rhine, there is now an underlying distrust among Americans as to the possibility of saving democracy by once again sacrificing millions of young men in Europe’s wars. The idea was well expressed by the late Lord Lothian: “The lesson of the last war is that we get neither democracy, nor liberty, nor peace out of a world war, however noble the end for which it is fought.”