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January 9, 1937
Vol. 144, No. 2, P. 33-34
A major sensation was created this past week by the "discovery" that the Neutrality Act had no bearing on the Spanish conflict. Although this fact was pointed out last August by the State Department itself, some of the sensational newspapers have sought to give the impression that the crafty Robert Cusealleged to be a Soviet agent because he once made sales to Russiahad ferreted out a "loophole" in the existing neutrality legislation and through it was planning to dispatch a lot of airplane parts to the Spanish government. The result has been a veritable clamor from the reactionary papers, supported we regret to say by Mr. Roosevelt himself, for a broadening of the act to include civil conflicts. Suggestions have also been made that all Americans who participate in the Spanish struggle be deprived of their citizenship, and that the law be strengthened to include raw materials and other potential war supplies.
To much in the argument of the neutrality advocates we can give unqualified support. We agree, of course, that America's commercial and financial relationships led it into the last war and are likely to lead it into the next one. We agree as to the necessity for adding raw materials and other war supplies to the list of articles to be embargoed in the event of war. We would give full support to Senator Vandenberg's contention that the rules of neutrality must be laid down in advance of a war because "the exercise of discretion after a war has started inevitably invites an unneutral interpretation by any belligerent which is curtailed or offended by the decision."
Unfortunately, neither the President nor Senator Vandenberg appears to have noted the pertinence to the Spanish situation of this last argument. Here is a war already in existence. Under international law American citizens are prohibited from aiding the military clique which has risen up against the duly elected government of Spain. In the past the United States has never challenged this law. On the contrary, we were insistent, at the time of our own Civil War, on the scrupulous observance of the rule; and have repeatedly hidden behind it when supporting puppet Latin American dictatorships of our own choosing. To take action now in denying supplies to the Spanish government in its hour of need would be a deliberately unfriendly act. It would be worse than merely to accord the rebels belligerent rights to which they are not entitled. With Hitler openly aiding the insurgents, a general embargo by the United States, like the European non-intervention agreement, would be denying the government the resources of which the rebels are actually availing themselves. An embargo against Spain and Germany would be as bad, since no munitions are normally shipped to the Reich. The United States would in effect be taking sides in the Spanish conflict, and taking the side of the Spanish militarists, Hitler, and Mussolini against the government chosen by the Spanish people. Nor could there be any pretext that Congress was merely enforcing a principle agreed upon in pre-war days. There was never any intention of applying the Neutrality Act to civil war. In acting in the midst of the battle Congress is responding to the passions of the moment. And we need not look very far to find what interests in America are anxious for a fascist victory in Spain.
Much the same indictment can be made of the movement to enact neutrality legislation which would be mandatory in its application. We have already moved past the point where neutrality can be considered in terms of a hypothetical next war. The next war is upon us, and it is almost certain that it will be a war of aggression precipitated by Hitler with or without the aid of Mussolini. Ranged against the fascist powers will be France, the Soviet Union, and almost as surely England. It happens that England and France are much more dependent on supplies from the United States than Germany. Any announcement by the United States that it will not under any circumstances furnish the belligerent countries with the sinews of war is an open invitation to Hitler to launch his attack. Supplies that are denied the democratic countries would be just as useful to Hitler as the same amount of supplies sealed and delivered to Nazi Germany. Neutrality regulations which could be lifted in case the League found a certain country to be the innocent victim of aggression would not be open to this objection. If this country is to depart from traditional neutrality, let it at least be sure that it is not actively supporting fascism.