Volume 1 Number 9
Forgiveness in World Affairs
01 May 1988
More than the interplay of politics and national self-interest shaped the post-war world, argues Allan Griffith, for 31 years foreign affairs adviser to Australian Prime Ministers.By Allan Griffith
The Harvard commencement speech was generally acknowledged to be a dreary occasion for both orator and audience. When Secretary of State George Marshall accepted the task in 1947, he told President Truman, `I've got to make this damn speech. You know how I hate to make speeches and I don't know what to talk about.'
Truman's reply ensured the speech a place in the history books. `I want you to spell out the details of this plan that's being worked out over in the State Department to save Europe from going under,' he said. `This plan is going down in history as the Marshall Plan and that's the way I want it.'
Marshall's speech commissioned a strategy to rebuild Europe after the ravages of World War II. `Political passion and prejudice should have no part,' he told his audience, in the tradition of President Lincoln, who just before the end of the Civil War had initiated a national process of reconciliation and reconstruction with `malice toward none, with charity for all'.
The Marshall Plan was a sharp break with the punitive approach of Roosevelt's Treasury Secretary, Henry Morgenthau. His plan aimed to pastoralize Germany, depriving her of all her industry - an approach strongly backed by Russia, and briefly by Britain.
In the interwar years high hopes of peace and disarmament had fallen foul of economic nationalism. Narrow and hardheaded attitudes undermined political cooperation. As a result the economic policies of the victors in World War I had propelled Europe into stagnation. Britain and France made excessive demands on Germany for compensation for war damages - so that they in their turn could repay their own war debts to the USA. The world economy collapsed. Truman and Marshall - both men of remarkable insight - were determined to avoid a repetition of this disastrous cycle of economic vengeance.
Russia rejected the offer of American help, dubbing it an act of imperialism. But Ernest Bevin, the trade unionist who was British Foreign Secretary, heard the speech on radio with excitement. Within weeks he had convinced all the states of Western Europe to grasp the hand which offered them the way out of division and economic collapse.
In America, however, Marshall's speech was at first largely ignored. Would the Plan - which was already being worked out in Europe - pass Congress in time to save the continent? All the powers of the Presidency were exerted to awaken American opinion.
Meanwhile the first shoots of reconciliation were appearing in Europe - though not without contention. Bitter memories abounded amid the ruins on both sides. The awful facts of the German death camps and the Holocaust numbed perspectives.
In 1938 Frank Buchman had initiated the programme of Moral Re-Armament -based on the idea that personal change through God's power could infuse a new dimension into national policies and international relationships. In the summer of 1947 150 leading Germans had come to the new MRA centre in Caux, Switzerland, to meet their former enemies. An alchemy of honesty and forgiveness had been at work. In October a group from Europe carried news of change and reconciliation when they accompanied Buchman to the United States.
Characteristically Buchman and his colleagues used a play - seen in December by a third of all Senators and Congressmen - and innumerable personal interviews to put across the message that a new Europe worth backing was coming to birth. This coincided with the Administration's action to secure Congressional support for Marshall's European Recovery Plan with an appropriation of $17 billion.
Across the Atlantic, men who had witnessed the vengefulness of the Europeans after World War I emerged from the ruins of World War II to create political organizations and policy which would take Europe away from the mistakes of the past. Among them, Adenauer of Germany, Schuman and Monnet of France, and de Gasperi of Italy were prominent.
In 1933, as Mayor of Cologne, Adenauer had removed the Nazi flags celebrating Hitler's visit to the city. Under constant threat of death, he had survived the war - to challenge a confused and reluctant British administration in post-war Cologne. He was dismissed as Mayor for refusing to cut down trees for fuel while stocks of coal remained unused and threw himself into the organization of the Christian Democratic Party. He became one of the main building blocks of the reconstruction of Europe through the Marshall Plan.
Struggle with hatred
For many Germans the years immediately after the war were black with despair and starvation, and the future was overshadowed by the suspicion of their European neighbours. Between 1948 and 1951, with the help of the Allied authorities, more than 4000 Germans went to Caux in search of a fresh basis for rebuilding Germany and her relations with the world community.
The Minister Presidents of most of the new German provinces, as well as prominent figures from industry, education, government and the press participated in the Caux discussions. Adenauer himself went in September 1948 and said: `I consider it a notable deed that at times when evil so openly rules the world people have the courage to stand for good, for God, and that each one begins with himself.'
Typical of the reconciliations at Caux was that between Hans Bockler, President of the German trade unions, and Georges Villiers, President of the French Employers' Federation. One evening they found themselves sitting next to each other at dinner. `We ought to be enemies on two counts,' said Bockler. `I am German, you are French; you are head of the employers, I am a trade union leader.'
`Yes,' replied Villiers, `and there's a third count. Your countrymen condemned me to death. I was in a concentration camp and saw most of my comrades die around me. But that is all past. We must forget it. And personally, I would like to shake your hand.'
Equally striking was the change of Irene Laure, who had led a medical team in the Resistance in Marseilles. A few days at Caux confronted her with her hate of the Germans. After three days' struggle she moved to a decision for a life without personal hatred. Her first taste of a new world was the care of a German widow, whose husband, Adam von Trott, had been executed for his resistance to the Nazis.
Determined to architect a new international framework based on forgiveness, she went up and down Germany meeting and speaking to people. In Berlin, her heart was overwhelmed by the sight of bucket brigades of German women, young and old, sorting rubble. One day she drove past a signpost to Ravensbruck, the camp where so many French women had died. `The question in my mind was, "Are you betraying your friends of the Resistance?" We had now passed through the town and the car was travelling fast. A great sense of inner peace possessed me. They seemed to speak to me, "No, we did not die that hate should live on, our bodies do not cry out for revenge. We died martyrs that the world might find unity." I arrived at my destination in peace because I knew that, no matter what might be said, the world must find this unity.'
The thinking of Villiers and Laure was shared by such compatriots of distinction as Robert Schuman, industrialist Robert Tilge and trade unionist Maurice Mercier. French social and political culture was crucially influenced at a time when the country was facing up to the problems of decolonization in northern Africa. Changes of attitude in both colonialists and nationalists played a constructive role in the independence of first Tunisia and then Morocco.
US policy towards Japan - which, unlike Germany, had inflicted a crushing attack on America - was spontaneously forgiving. Nowhere was this demonstrated more clearly than in the decision to retain the Japanese Emperor as the foundation for restructuring Japanese national institutions.
During the war a debate over the role of the Emperor had blown up in Australia, where General McArthur, the future head of the occupation in Japan, was stationed. Its spark was the refusal of Ivan Menzies, the Gilbert and Sullivan star, to play in The Mikado, for fear that the musical might be misconstrued by the Japanese as an insult to the Emperor and lead to repercussions for Allied prisoners of war. Few would agree with Menzies' decision - but it unintentionally served to highlight an issue crucial to the post-war reconstruction of Japan.
In the mid-Fifties amazing scenes of reconciliation between Japan and her enemies in the Pacific took place in the wake of the tour of the MRA musical The Vanishing Island, which satirized the competitiveness of the major powers and pointed to a role for reconciliation.
After visiting Japan, where it drew vast audiences, the play went on to the Philippines. The evidence of war was visible on every hand. Bitterness ran deep. At the premiere Niro Hoshijima, a senior Japanese parliamentarian who later became Speaker, apologized on behalf of the Prime Minister to the Filipino nation for the wrongs Japan had committed. As he rose to speak, recalls one of those present, `You could almost hear the hiss of hatred. Suddenly a radiance seemed to descend and hover over people. The tautness vanished from faces.'
This spirit swept through the politics of the region. Australian Labor MP Gilbert Duthie joined forces with Liberal Les Norman to visit Japan and the widows of Japanese servicemen. Norman had been a prisoner of war and Duthie had lost his brother in a prison camp. They had both been intensely bitter, but now wanted to rebuild relations with Japan on a basis of forgiveness. Among the results was the decision of the Australian ex-servicemen's association to endorse a visit to Australia by Prime Minister Kishi of Japan.
At the state luncheon, given by Prime Minister Menzies, Kishi expressed his sorrow at the war and asked for forgiveness. This healing put the two nations on the path of a vital relationship which is a mutual strength today.
In the post-war world, forgiveness has proved to be a force for stabilization. It is too often assumed that the compassionate outcome, so different from the aftermath of World War I, was the result of the ordinary interplay of politics and national selfinterest. In fact, it was the result of conscious decision - both on the part of ordinary people and of statesmen - to enlarge the frame of forgiveness, without which durable peace is impossible.
More recently, in Africa, Zimbabwe's independence has confounded predictions that the white minority would become the victims of avenging hatred.
For over 14 years a few hundred thousand white citizens, with deep roots in the nation, resisted the demands of the black majority for a constitutional settlement. As the armed struggle intensified in its cruelty, the war seemed interminable.
Zimbabwe eight years on
Change came in a dynamic way through many sources. It is hard to think of a settlement without the skill and ,fairness of British Foreign Secretary Carrington, the thrust of Australian Prime Minister Fraser, the sensitive statesmanship of such African leaders as Zambia's Kaunda, or the imagination of the last Governor, Lord Soames.
But equally, there were in Salisbury (now Harare) the indigenous elements who practised the art of reconciliation and trust which was to prove so crucial.
For instance Alec Smith, the son of Prime Minister Ian Smith, decided to identify with the issue of settlement. The sincerity of his change - which encompassed his personal lifestyle as well as his political approach - won him many African friends. It turned the bitter African nationalist, Arthur Kanodereka, into a man with a passion for peaceful change.
Smith and an African colleague arranged the historic meeting between Ian Smith and Robert Mugabe on the eve of the announcement of the election results which brought Mugabe to power. Many whites felt themselves duped and reserved judgement when the new Prime Minister said, `Let us beat our swords into ploughshares, forgive others and forget.' But the degree of reconciliation, looking back over eight years of independence, has been remarkable.
The conflict between African leaders and parties has proved slower to resolve. But last February Joshua Nkomo in a measured decision signed a unity agreement with Robert Mugabe, closing the gate against political tribalism. He told the Washington Post that he should have made peace with Mugabe years earlier. `It was a waste of time, of lives and resources. We were stupid.' There is good reason to believe that this action, like the story of Zimbabwe itself, will live to encourage ventures in reconciliation in Africa.
Frank Buchman shaped the linkage between personal change and its outreach into the domain of national and international change. It is an enduring contribution to the history of the twentieth century.
With all the challenges which face us we have, more than any other generation, great achievements in the recent past to inspire us. The lesson is clear. To be valid in a divided world, foreign policy must contain a realistic element of conciliation and compassion. It remains to sustain and quicken the momentum of changed motives at a time when the Marxist world is casting about for new answers.