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
While yonder mountains stand upon their base
By Heaven! the apple's cleft right through the core.
           -- 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 at it?

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 trees.

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 effectively.

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, 1960:

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 future.

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 one answer.

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 mettle.

"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.


  1. Dr. Thomas E. Morgan (Democrat, Pennsylvania), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Dr. Walter Judd (Republican, Minnesota).
  2. 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