Refugees and American Defenseby JAY ALLEN
No one has any right to talk about the refugees at all unless he can bring forth some suggestions capable of practical and speedy realization. Good will is not so plentiful in this land that we can afford to waste it over the sluice gates of the impossible. And what's more, no one has any justification in conscience or in wisdom, especially in wisdom, for asking that anything be done about the refugees that is not in line with this nation's newfound determination to stand up at long last to the Thing that is loose on the world. No one has any justification in wisdom for the simple reason that the conscience of this nation, which alone can be appealed to, is already enlisted in the will at least to resist. And this nation's conscience is grim and wants tangible results in terms of weapons. A good deal of the distrust of the moral and what used to be called the humanitarian may well be due to the fact that both appeals have been heavily worked with something less than tangible results.
This, therefore, is an appeal for serious attention to the refugees, not to the old "refugee problem" on which we have all worked our hearts out to futility, but to the refugees, the earlier victims of the Thing, the fugitive democrats of Europe wherever they can be reachedfor selfish reasons, not humanitarian reasons. This is an appeal for consideration of measures to save certain refugees for our sake, as an indispensable part of any program of national defense that takes into accountas it mustall of the lessons of the collapse in France and the miraculous and heartening birth of morale in England.
SOMETHING EFFECTIVE CAN BE DONE WITH THE REFUGEES to be more precise, the fugitive democrats. That it can done now, with the barbed wire of the Nazis-and of devicesin full flower on every westward-facing bead one of the bitter paradoxes of our times. A companion phenomenonno less a paradox and no less bitteris in fact that nations seem unable really to fight the go fight any more for the old ideals of nationhood until after they have been betrayed and abandoned by their nationalists and patriots. Now, in September 1940, we can with some hope of success attempt what we never really tried, as a nation, to do before. No, as a nation, we never read tried to do anything about the refugees. We did not face up to it any more than we faced up to the problem defense, in the years when it too might have been solved so cheaply. I mean in the years when the Thing and its allies were finding the going roughin Spain and in China.
Now we have waked upon defense. And on the refugees? Britain has had a wider-eyed awakening. Britain is tryingin her wayto make amends to the refugees whom she had treated none too kindly. She needs them and knows it. How this came about and why is terribly relevant.
But before recounting the startling change of heart in Britain re refugees it would be well to present, in all sty, a refugee plan that should stand with the other musts on our national defense program.
HERE ISROUGHLY DIVIDED INTO THREE PARTSA JOB TO BE in the interests of our national defense and capable of quick and fruitful realization. First, thousands of fugitive democrats can be snatched from behind that long line of Nazi barbed wire. They can be snatched. They are being snatched by an emergency rescue technique of rare multiplicity. Second, those for whom there is no chance of escape can, in tens of thousands of cases, be kept where they are, saved from starvation and from the lethal malady of alldespair.
The third part of this program calls for immediate measures to make this country and that part of the New World which we think we can defend, safe for the fugitive democrats of Europe, for those already here, and those to come. Perhaps no one should speak in this slogan-shy era of making anything "safe." If so, then the third part of this program should call for measures to make this nation and its better neighbors somewhat less ominously unsafe for the fugitives who are our allies, always have been, and will be as long as we have a hope of success against the Thing. That is what Britain has found out under the bombs, what we could find out less painfully, with fewer brutal implications and perhaps in time.
IF WE ARE GIVEN TIME AND REALLY WAKE UP, THE REFUGEES should and doubtless will become a consideration for our Defense Council for these reasons: First, that in defense plans against Hitlerism and its international allies, we are preparing to fight for something. That the defeat of Nazi-Fascism is not itself a sufficient objectivethough a roughly laudable onewe must know. Surely the on of the last twenty years is that democracy has to be for the world if the world is to be safe for democracy. this writing neither seems safe for the other. The refugees are for the most part convinced and proved democrats. If we are lucky enough to survive a war as democrats ourselves, it is to be supposed that we will not want deny the right of resurgence to the now submerged democracies of Europe. To achieve that resurgence we e the obligation and the privilege of keeping their democrats alive. And there will be competition. There of course the communists. They will have something say. The democrats should have something to say, first and most affirmatively.
The second reason why a Defense Council should be interested in the fugitive democrats of Europe is that here the United States and in some of the countries of Latin America they canif allowed and helpedcollaborate mightily in resisting Nazi-Fascist-Falangist advances in e cultural and political lives of those countries. If those advances are not resisted, Spanish America will not be safe for democracy either, safe for whatever democracy is to be found there, whatever hope there is of development in that direction, nor safe for us.
And the third reason is one, if you like, of morale. We know now from the lesson of Franceand of Britain to some extent, in the early monthsthat there can be no true fighting morale in an army that is not convinced of its leaders' determination to tight for the best in the societies for which they, the soldiers, are expected to die. There is a tendency on the part of many liberals in this land to think, "Isn't it enough of a war aim to want to survive?" In a sense, it is; but the lesson of Britain and France, above all, of France. is that in order to survive your army has got to be convinced that it is fighting for the principles that they most cherish, the principles that the enemy has challenged.
The Nazi-Fascists say they are fighting capitalist imperialism. They arein an attempt to impose a vicious imperialism of their own, which classes as subject races even the people of the European continent. In truth, the Nazi-Fascists and some others are challenging the essential liberties, the basic principles of western democratic society. Men will fight for principles. Britons are fighting for those principles and those liberties, make no mistake. It should be to the interest of our War Department and of the nation as a whole, of course, that they fight in the best American tradition. And for it, too. A guarantee that if we fight we are fighting only for the best in our society would be, of course, the acceptance of large numbers of refugee democrats as our honored guests and valued allies. Again, we must fight for the best; only the best can be saved. Happily, perhaps, those who stand for and profit by the worst in our society are not in a mood to defend, really defend, what they have, except on the domestic political front and, as they have fondly and stupidly imagined, on the once distant front where world fascism was fighting what theyour own Paladins of the Worstthought was their battle. We can propagandize the army. Of course. We should. The simple truth is the only effective propaganda. For we must remember that there are others at work propagandizing, too. And in France, the others-working in their separate ways on classes high and lowdid a stupendous job. No one was prepared or willing, it seems, to propagandize the essential truths of the war orand perhaps here is the secretto turn that war into a defense of the best traditions of French democracy.
OUR NATIONAL DEFENSE COUNCIL, IN CONSIDERING THE refugee question, should realize that refugees are not merely an indulgence for humanitarians, a cause for practical people in wartime. The refugees are already a subject of interest to some of our social-defense-organisms like the FBI. One can only hope that the FBI is given the best information possible about the refugees and does not accept the views of many good, not to say holy, citizens who seem to think that refugees from all lands that have resisted fascism are "reds." The Defense Council should take this over. And then of course the Defense Council should realize that our enemies are deeply interested in the refugees: they are killing or hoping to kill the best among them; they are trying to use the others. They will not be able to use them unless we, by our blindness, turn them, as The New Statesman not long ago warned the British government that it was doing, into a Fifth Column where there was none before.
Some of them are communists? Very true. It is undeniably in our interests to keep that number down. Democrats often turn to the communists when they believe that there is no longer hope for democracyfor the ideals for which democracy stands. This is well known. Is it known in the right places? There were no communists in Spain until the western democracies abandoned her to the fascists and forced her to look for comfort in the arms of the Soviet Union. In England it has been suggested that boards be set up among the refugees to investigate themselves. They know better than anyone else the hopes and beliefs of their compatriots. They are rarely fooled. But if such boards are set up, there should be no attempt to impose upon the refugees the old line politicians of their lands who failed them and the cause for which they fought, or were denied the right to fight.
THE PROGRAM I HAVE SUGGESTED IS VERY MODEST. IT IS PITIFULLY modest compared with the brave things we all, we civilized nations that met in conference at Evian in 1933, said we wanted to do. At Evian we talked of not ten but hundreds of thousands and even millions of fellow believers to be salvaged. There was little talk; at Evian of despair and the hideous threat of it, although that was in the autumn of Munich. No one was supposed to despair then. And the truth is that very few did except some unstable souls with imaginations (some were poets), who did not have to wait actually to see great western nations come apart like a watch that is dropped on a stone floor and all the works roll out-or who did not want to wait. People like Toller and before him a Czech newspaperman in Geneva away back in the last weeks of June 1936, before Spain, before Austria. One afternoon he heard a British statesman ask for the raising of sanctions which, it seems, had been "midsummer madness." And in the press box he calmed his premonitions by blowing them out the other side of his temple. "This is the end," he said. Few people knew what he was talking about.
And as for making North and South America less unsafe for democrats: this point wasn't raised at Evian because we had not (officially) discovered that they were unsafe. When General Franco got through saving Spain from "communism" many people thought that many things, including Latin America, always would be safe. They were wrong then and they still are wrong. Some know it.
SINCE THE SHATTERING DEVELOPMENTS IN MAY AND JUNE, there has been a mood in many quarters to write off the refugees. Quick to reconcile themselves to this were many men who had been deeply involved in the "refugee problem." Some had gotten themselves into this work in order to make sure that it never was exploited effectively as it could have been to discredit "appeasement" or to disseminate "radicals" over the face of the earth. Others sincerely believed this by-product of the rise of fascism in the world and of democratic apathy could and should be treated as a purely "human" problem. Others were on the great committees innocently to burn an occasional candle to the angels.
Other men of different stripe were willing to write off the refugees because they honestly thought that there was a bigger job to be done, a job that required peace and harmony among the citizens of this land, some of whom were still very touchy about refugees. And still others have cried "Fifth Column," some out of frivolity or bad information and others out of wicked design.
There were black, black weeks after the French collapse when it looked for a time as if the only interest in refugees by men at key levers was to preserve us from the "radicals" among them at whatever cost to the "good" refugees. There was a dreadful business in July when the American ship McKeesport, on an errand of mercy to unoccupied France, left Marseilles with scores of the noblest democrats in Europe standing on the quais, the breath of the Gestapo hot on their necks. "No passengers" was the word passed out. "Regulations" was the exploitation. There even have been incredible delays in the matter of the British children.
There is another and brighter side to the picture. voted men have labored to soften the "regulations,' break log jams here and there. Now emergency committees have gone to work with fierce energy to find what it was possible to do. And now, in the middle of September 1940, four months after the Great Collapse against terrible but not hopeless odds, these efforts beginning to bear some fruit.
BRITAIN, IN HER DESPERATE HOUR, ACKNOWLEDGES THAT wrong has been done. Britain will try henceforth to consider the fugitive democrats as allies in a great effort, not merely of retribution but of salvation.
When Britain made up her mind as to who was enemy Number One, she was able to identify his agents and sympathizers, in time, only just in time, when their counterparts in France had already given the coup de grace towards which they had been maneuvering. Having recognized her enemies, Britain began to be able to recognize her humbler friends.
This belated recognition came about only after a row in Parliament and in the public press touched off by the revelation that on the torpedoed Arandora Star carrying "enemy prisoners" to Canada, Nazis and anti-Nazis, fascists and anti-fascists had been herded indiscriminately and drowned so. According to the New Statesman and Nation, 25,000 of the total of 60,000 enemies and victims of Britain's enemies transported or interned were classed indiscriminately as "enemies." Czech and Polish pilots have been quarantined. Spanish Republicans who had fought with the French in a Spanish volunteer unit on the Somme were arrested when they reached the shores of England.
The savage indignation of British liberals over the "refugee scandal" is heartening to contemplate. They were apparently not of the opinion that the truth can best be served by silence, that mistakes are less dangerous uncorrected, or that appeasement which had not worked with the fascists abroad would work any better with their friends and admirers at home. And they took risks. They won-for a time at least. Others took up the clamor. Lord Beaverbrook's Evening Standard said: "It is worse than folly. It is sabotage against our war effort...." The Home Office exploded the canard of "Fifth Column 'refugees'," stating that apart from petty incidents, "no serious acts hostile to the state can be attributed to these people."
Cannot we at once profit by Britain's awakening? Must we go through it all, our Norway, if not our Dunkirk, before we learn our lesson? Or is there some deep fatality which would not have such societies as ours to learn as man is supposed to learnby the experience of others? If none of this is "written," as the Arabs say; then why shouldn't we at once skip a couple of grades and catch up?
WE CAN LOOK NOT ONLY TO BRITAIN'S AWAKENING BUT TO OUR own past for an example of the positive appeal of democracy. We can recall Mr. Wilson's burning appeal to consciences in the camp of the enemy. The enemy believed him. This time we would do well to believe our own line ourselves. For surely if anything at all in these past two decades is clear, this is clear: that we came very close to making the world safe for democracy and that we failed and are now beginning all over again.
We have just made a bold and imaginative movethe destroyers and the bases. But compared with Britain we are still back along about the period of the guarantee to Poland in the spring of 1939. More and bolder moves should be possible, for courage breeds courage and the bold embolden by their example.
If we boldly take the short cut now, we will have to make no brutal about-face. We have never interned any Nazis. We have no Chamberlain to pry loose; no accredited leaders of ours ever condoned the betrayals though they were often criminally advised so that they did, in effect, follow a course parallel to that of the appeasers. Therefore, only the advisers need go and probably should go since, even if repentant they can hardly be expected to wear sack cloth, much less forgive the peoples whom they, by their acts of omission if nothing more, helped betray to the Thing that we now must prepare to resist ourselves. There must be men equally competent who were also right who could replace them.
By taking such a short cut we would offend no one abroad whom we have not already offended. All the great voices of our own land have spoken more or less well of democracy and more or less ill of the dictators against whom we are preparing. Many of them would prefer some other kind of war against people they hate more. But Britain finally found, after much make-believe, that she had to take the war as offered to her, and fight it accordingly. The war imposed its own definitions on Britain and the patrioteers could no longer cling to theirs. Either they were for Britain or for Hitler. That cleared the air a lot, but the new clarity can't be enjoyed because it came so late in the day and falling bombs occupy the foreground.
So, unless we wait too long, the war will impose its definition on us. Then, like the British, we shall see the enemy at home more clearly and we shall, if we have been bold and wise in time, grow to like the refugees better for understanding them better. What more moving embodiment of the essentials for which this democracy always stands in crisis can be found than the anti-fascists who fought against the arch-enemy of those ideals, who were betrayed by the "democracies," who after betrayal were imprisoned by the peoples they had fought to save, and now today still believe in those essential principles? Sold short by the democracies, they are unwilling to sell the democracies short.
It all comes down to this, that we cannot win alone and that when we seek allies this time, it being so very late in the day, we can win only for and by virtue of principles that are indivisible. We have lost so far in this Second World War because we let the vitality go from the most potent internationale of them allthe democratic internationale.
NO, THE TIME HAS NOT COME TO WRITE OFF THE REFUGEES. Write off only the "refugee problem" and scrap some of the expensive and unused machinery set up to handle that problem. For machinery that was too delicate to navigate in that last year of grace from Munich to "the war" in September 1939, can hardly be the right thing for this moment in history. In that last year of grace, scores of thousands could have been brought to safety if the governments had been willing to translate into action only one percent of the brave words spoken at Evian. And in those not very different months after the war began, when it was a "phony war" as some may remember, tens of thousands, if no longer scores of thousands, could have been brought to a new world in which they could at least have carried on the battle when they were needed and not just have been left for the trap to be sprung.
People speak of the collapse in May and June as a disaster to France and to Britain, her ally. So it was! And disaster too this collapse for Poland, for Spain, for Czechoslovakia, for all the democracies in exile who thought, wanted to think, that for France there would swarm a second army of liberation to destroy forever the massed armies of the Rhine. And now, in one short year, "Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité" have been scraped from the walls of France herselfby Frenchmen.
How many were there of the fugitive democrats in France? Counting the Czech and Polish legions, the Spaniards who numbered 150,000 on the eve of the collapse, some say six hundred thousand. Some say hundreds of thousands more if there were counted the non-political Jews and the other exiles who, not branded anti-fascist and so suspect, had more or less merged with French society.
Of these, some 50,000 were the sinew and the hope of the submerged democracies. They had fought too long and too well not to inspire distrust in men like Daladier and Bonnet, the extent of whose devotion to democratic faith we now know.
How many got away before the collapse? No one knows the figures. The only mass emigration was of the 15,000 Spaniards to Mexico and other Spanish American countries, notably Chile, Venezuela, and Santo Domingo. And they got across through the energy and foresight of their own government in exile, helped by unofficial refugee organizations.
And since the collapse, one can only guess from scraps of information that have come through. As to the number of legionnaires, Czech, Polish, Spanish, Italian, Germankilled or captured in volunteer battalions or in labor corpsthere are no estimates at all. There was a Spanish battalion on the Somme. A half dozen of its survivors reached England. . . .
As to the percentage of refugees caught by the Nazis in "occupied France" one can make a rough guess. Some of those in concentration camps fared better than others, it would seem. Many of them were released in time by friendly French officials and told to run for it. Many hundreds reached England. Among them were Dr. Negrin and several Ministers of the Spanish Republican Government, who escaped on a Greek freighter from Bayonne.
To imagine the fate of refugees for whose physical selves the police files in Berlin, Rome, and Madrid have lusted, is all too easy. Spanish Republicans are being rounded up by an obliging Gestapo and taken to Franco's border and on to Madrid.
IN "OCCUPIED FRANCE" THERE IS LITTLE OR NOTHING TO BE done with the refugees. In "unoccupied France" there is much to do. There is first of all a most delicate rescue job. That it should have been attempted at all proves that there is vitality yet in the democratic idea. Much more can be done. How much more depends now entirely on what funds are made available. Some anti-fascist refugees have reached this country by clipper or by Greek steamerthe only means of transportation between Lisbon and New York. Through the efforts of American democrats some chance of escape is being given others who haven't the price of a clipper seat nor the claim to evacuation on an American cruiser, and quite often no passports, but do have the honor of being wanted by Hitler's, Mussolini's and Franco's secret police. As yet only a thin trickle of anti-Nazis and anti-fascists has reached Lisbon and the ports of French Morocco where the Nazis have not yet asserted themselves. They can get through only on their own wits. All that can be done for them is to see that they are given funds with which to supplement their ingenuity. There is plenty of evidence that with adequate funds hundreds could slip out in various ways; "free France," under the terms of the Armistice, gives no exit visas to anyone in whom the Gestapo and presumably the OVRA is interested.
Most of then manage somehow to cross at least part of Spain. Thus this way of escape is not open to Spaniards from "unoccupied France." Another way must be found for them. President Cardenas of Mexico has offered to take them all at his expense. He is supposedly counting on Spanish Republican funds held in Mexico.
Either ships will have to be sent with guarantees from belligerents to Marseilles or else Franco will have to be prevailed upon to let sealed Red Cross trains cross his territory. There is a precedent, for under international guarantees, thousands of Franco sympathizers who took refuge in the Embassies and Legations in Madrid in 1936 were eventually evacuated. Franco, of course, scorns such "liberal softness." Yet he might have a price. Only Washington and London could tempt him, if they chose to do it. The evacuation job is not as huge as the newspapers have suggested. There were fewer than 150,000 Spanish refugees in all France in May. Probably not more than 15,000 to 20,000 are of enough interest to Franco for us to put them in the class of the sorely endangered.
FOR THOSE FUGITIVES WHO CANNOT ESCAPE, OUR ALLIES OF tomorrow, our allies in fact all these years without our grasping that fact, there is the very important job to be done of keeping them alive in body and spirit. Reports from Marseilles indicate that the mere fact that American committees are known to be trying to help has caused rejoicing beyond justification. There had previously been reports of suicides among those who felt themselves utterly and finally trapped. Here again their distress can be alleviated to the committees who have undertaken to do what they can.
If these committees must continue to depend wholly on private contributions, their work will hardly go beyond the limits of the symbolic, as far as the major issue is concerned. No public money seems possible as yet. There are of course millions of dollars in American investments in both parts of France that might be utilized for this American defense job in a distant front. This could be done only if the United States Government were willing to reimburse American investors in dollars in this country for large holdings turned over to refugee agencies. This would serve a double defense purpose: first, to keep up the spirits of our hapless allies during the dark days; second, to diminish the appeasement mood of investors who naturally enough allow their investments to color their thinking. This is not offered as an immediate practicable idea.
To make the Americas as safe for the democrats who, by the accident of birth, happened to be the first in the path of the Thing ought to be easy and doubtless would be, but for two obstacles not wholly unrelated to each other or to our defense problem.
One is the fact that the powerful elements that are still, for one reason or another, speculating on a Nazi victory find it safer and more effective to hammer away with the old "red menace" left over from the days when they had such notable success in branding as "communist" any and all resistance to the earlier and stealthier advance of the Axisor even disapproval thereof. That this should still prove effective seems miraculous a year after the Nazi-Soviet Pact by virtue of which the Bolsheviki have made their considerable "frontier adjustments"their first expansions in their line although obviously not their last.
The other obstacle to the safety of democrats of all kinds in the New World is the immunity enjoyed by the Spanish Falange and the friends and supporters of Generalissimo Franco's Spain in the fulfillment of its mission as spearhead for Nazi-Fascist penetration in the New World. Though nearer to belligerency on the side of the Axis than ever Mussolini was in the months when he too was posing as "non-belligerent," Fascist Spain still enjoys immunity in its New World activities pushing its own imperial projects on behalf of its principles in spite of great official wariness in Washington and "disappointment" shown by some of the Generalissimo's loudest champions in this country. Until his superiors actually order him into war against Gibraltar, French Morocco, or Portugal, it seems that Franco will enjoy special favor and maybe even afterwards. That Franco's friends and the powerful international organization which, from the beginning, has been his most effective support should be working hand and glove to promote an Almazan rebellion in Mexico, in their own interests, and should be smearing the Chilean Popular Front in preparation for future developments, seems natural enough. That the same propagandists are saying the same things about the Mexico of Cardenas and Avila Camacho that they used to say about the Spanish Republic shows either limited imagination or complete confidence in the efficacy of a tried technique.
Some idea of the power of this combination which fronts for Franco and his masters can be found in the fact that at the Havana Conference the Spanish Falange was not included in the discussion of the Fifth Column perils, in spite of the fact that the American delegation was keenly aware of the Falange's zeal in performing its many functions in Cuba and supposedly knows what everybody else knows about its strength in Puerto Rico, our "Gibraltar."
Nor at Havana was there any interest in the Mexican proposal to rescue the anti-fascist refugees, particularly the Spaniards, from France. Nor, as far as anyone can discover, is there any official or foundational interest being shown in this country in the Spanish colleges, schools, and publishing houses that, passionately democratic in the best liberal Spanish tradition, are struggling against fascist, anti-democratic and anti-American propaganda in Spanish America. It would be incorrect to say that our abler diplomats and State Department officials do not fully appreciate the situation. There seems no longer any uncharitableness toward Spanish Republicans and the fact that 90 percent of them remain convinced democrats in spite of the betrayal of their Republic by those who should have been its friends, seems now better understood.
ONE CAN ONLY HOPE THAT BEFORE LONG OUR DEFENSE PROGRAM will provide some gauge, like the modest plan I have proposed, by which we can recognize the Nazi-Fascists and any occasional allies they might have on all fronts, here, at home and in Spanish America, as well as abroad. Unless we get some very lucky breaks we may have to do some of the fightingand on this side. It would be a waste of time and energy to be fighting the Nazi-Fascism of the Rome-Berlin Axis on some fronts while embracing it under a transparent disguise on others, as was the curious ease of the French Republic, which at this writing seems to have suffered irreparable of not mortal damage from the confusion.