12 APRIL 1940, Page 8



THE most ancient sport in the American Republic is twisting the lion's tail. We began before the American Revolution, and we continue to this day. On the whole, it is flattering to Great Britain. On the whole, we have been most impelled to twist the lion's tail when the lion was strongest and best able to take care of himself. No mori- bund lion ever had his tail twisted.

Most intelligent Americans know that not British propa- ganda but the force of events—and the activities of Americans themselves—will lead the United States to participation in this war, if that moment is ever reached. Nevertheless, it is surprising how many self-serving isolationists now find it necessary to play Paul Revere and seek to rouse the domestic countryside with cries of: "The British are corning! "

Over my desk in the past week there has flowed the most amazing series of such clarion-calls. First, there was an accumulation of broadsheets, much like the " letters " sent out by some publicists in Britain, prepared by a man in Boston who conducts an educational agency and has an ex- tensive mailing list among educators. He pretend$ to be fully persuaded that America is about to be inundated by a wave of British propagandists. He points with a trembling finger of alarm at Lord Lothian, in Washington. He culls from the American Press every stray favourable reference to the Allied cause, and finds in it some sinister inspiration. He does not despise Hitler less, but loves isolationism more.

Next was a new weekly magazine, of Liberal tinge, which seeks mass circulation and devotes its first spread to another exposé of Lord Lothian—who is taking on all the attributes of the Admirable Crichton and Machiavelli—and includes a formidable list of British lecturers about to descend, it says, on these shores. I have no evidence that anybody is very much influenced by these loud cries of "Propaganda, Propa- ganda! " There is even some sign that the public is beginning to suspect those who come around pointing with alarm at somebody else's propaganda. We have had a good deal of experience of pickpockets who warn us of pick- pockets.

Then there were two other ad hoc publications, one called Uncensored and the other Over Here. Both of these have discovered Lord Lothian, and the list of British lecturers. Both are published by pretty intelligent Liberals, who ought to know better. But they are not quite them- selves, for their thinking is actuated by dismay at domestic events. They are intensely interested in the continuance of internal reform in the United States. Above all else, in the old phrase of one of them, they want to "roll up my sleeves, and make America over." And in the last months these zealous reformers have seen President Roosevelt virtually place the New Deal on the shelf while he devoted himself to the problems produced by the war. So the Liberals are worried. Since they have long been critical of British Con- servative leadership, and were infuriated by Munich, they naturally, and sometimes intelligently, fear the effects of the war on American internal development. They are honestly convinced of the possibility of "America, self-contained," no • By Air-Mail matter what happens in Europe. They are almost ready to regard President Roosevelt as a deserter from their cause.

The more seasoned Liberals have not gone so far towards isolationism. They are just as interested as anybody else in "making America over," but they know the architectural process cannot be undertaken in a world in which totali- tarianism triumphs. They are well aware that not Europeans but Americans will involve the United States in war if that stage comes. The Nation quotes a current, apt if apocryphal, story of a British representative reporting to his chief of his difficulties with a prominent American: "I had great trouble in persuading him that it would be a mistake for the United States to declare war on Russia and Germany imme- diately."

Numerous important publicists are actively squabbling in the ultra-isolationist and ultra-interventionist groups.

Norman Thomas, intelligent if perennial Socialist candidate for the Presidency, is an outstanding isolationist ; Dorothy Thompson, the prominent newspaper columnist, is an earnest interventionist. The average Congressman naturally feels that isolationism and twisting the lion's tail are more familiar political behaviourism, yet he is afraid of the extremes, for he senses that the American public itself wander., somewhere near the middle of the road.

It would, of course, be a great mistake for the British Ministry of Information to try to enlighten the American people in any way whatsoever save to give the fullest facili- ties for the established means of news-gathering and inter- pretation. A tide of British lecturers would be a hopeless blunder, although there are doubtless some people like the lady who wrote me—after a daily newspaper article I had written much along the lines of the foregoing—to ask: "Where are these British lecturers you write about? I agree with them, and I'd just like to hear a good British lecturer again."

No, the basic requirement is for Britain to stick to its knitting in Europe. Nothing will make so great an impres- sion on the United States as firm and forthright prosecution of the war. It is a mistake to assume that the United States seriously objects to British tampering with neutral rights, particularly of the smaller neutrals. One British visitor, for instance, recently told me that his Government was fearful of the American reaction to the_' Altreark ' affair. There was no need for the least apprehension. Americans applauded that action warmly.

Similarly, British efforts to halt German ore shipments from Sweden will be followed with nothing but approving interest, so long as they are vigorous and capable. Of course, interference with American-flag ships is a somewhat different question, but difficulties on that score now seem to have been entirely removed. Even British action in the western- hemisphere "neutrality belt" is not likely to stir objections in popular opinion here, so long as German shipping is hampered thereby. The neutrality belt, anyway, was recog- nised by sensible people here as little more than an admonitory fiction.

There seems to be only one major source of serious mis- understanding between Britain and America, and that is in the field of commercial policy. Notification that Britain is cutting down severely on its purchases of American cotton came over the same weekend when President Roosevelt announced that latest types of American aircraft would be made available to the Allies, even ahead of some army pur- chases. Meantime, exporters are beginning to find that the exchange agreements worked out with neutrals by Britain are cutting into American trade. It is too early to tell whether the effects will be either serious or irksome. Perhaps they will be counterbalanced entirely by increased Allied purchases of war-supplies here. But the outlook is not greatly promising for commercial understanding between Washington and London, and the consequences may make 2 good deal of trouble.

Whenever a display of Allied determination comes along— and here action in the military and political fields is meant— American opinion reacts favourably. Whenever one more concession is marked, as in Finland, the United States with- draws perceptibly from Europe and the forces of isolationism gain. It is almost true to say that not Allied difficulties— once assumed to be the condition on which the U.S. would intervene—but Allied triumphs are now most likely to elicit American co-operation. America will certainly applaud any kind of forward policy in the democracies. Action will be the most powerful form of propaganda.