Origin and Object of the Interviews

  1. Introduction
  2. World Chancelleries

By Edward Price Bell

Public spirit, whether of local or of general application, was one of the most pronounced and constant characteristics of Victor Fremont Lawson. He was a living, a dynamic citizen, and he knew that the rational interest of the citizen was limited only by the limits of the world.

To be of service to statesmanship in the peaceful ordering of human affairs was among Mr. Lawson’s instinctive desires. It entered into his purpose—embodied, indeed, the chief moral element of his purpose—in founding, more than a quarter of a century ago, the Special Foreign Service of The Chicago Daily News.

In founding this service, to be sure, Mr. Lawson was after the news; all journalists are after that: it is their elixir of life. But he also was after, and he was determined to get, a reflection of those qualities, idiosyncrasies, customs, and institutions which placed different peoples and civilizations in a light at once true and favorable.

“All nations, rightly studied, are likable,” was one of Mr. Lawson’s sayings.

Appreciation of this fact, he held, must be driven home to peoples as vital to that condition of world sentiment without which there could be no solidly-based world peace. Correspondents, therefore, who did what lay in their power legitimately to spread respect, admiration, and warmth of feeling among nations were doing their part to simply the problems of statesmanship and promote the welfare of their fellow-men. Out of this impulse of the great editor grew a school of foreign correspondents who understood, and who understand, the international opportunities and obligations of twentieth century journalism.

In the library of Mr. Lawson’s home in Chicago a large window looked through a group of trees upon a beautiful bit of Lake Michigan. It was one of Mr. Lawson’s occasional pleasures to sit at that window and watch the never-resting water. I found him there, on a brilliant mid-winter morning in 1924, his expression uncommonly grave.

“May I ask what is on your mind, Mr. Lawson?”

He was sitting in a straight-lined chair, legs crossed, right arm caught over the back of the chair, hands clasped, eyes fixed upon mine.

“I am thinking of Europe,” said he.

“Of the chaos there?”

“Yes. Apparently, it is chaos, material and mental. I can make out no coherence of thought anywhere. Unless the leaders pull themselves together, I am afraid the consequences of the war are going to be even worse than the war itself.”

Two days later, in a written communication, I proposed to Mr. Lawson that we attempt to get from each of the most responsible officials of Europe a carefully reasoned statement designed to correct existing misunderstanding, allay inflammation, point the way to reconstruction, and define the principles of an established international accord. It was suggested that such statements, published throughout the world, might prove of real service toward a restoration of constructive mental processes.

Mr. Lawson gave instant approval to the proposal, and the result was the series of interviews in this volume with Judge Marx, Signor Mussolini, Monsieur Poincaré, and Mr. MacDonald, each of whom at that time was the minister of prime responsibility of a great Power in the vortex of the vast European imbroglio. Never before did statesmen in such circumstances, or any circumstances, give so much time, thought, and energy to an effort to make journalism the handmaiden of statecraft in the cause of humanity.

Europe is a mighty center of human life. All the world feels the throb of its heart. But it is not all the world. Of this fact I had a sharp reminder in Rome, just after finishing the interview with Signor Mussolini, in the first week of May, 1924. American legislators were hurtling forward with an immigration bill containing a clause painful to Asiatic, especially Japanese, susceptibilities. American naval authorities were evolving plans for elaborate fleet maneuvers in the Pacific. There was talk of the extensive fortification of Hawaii. One particularly capacious American political brain was incubating a scheme for a White League of Nations in the Pacific!

Japan’s reaction to all this was reflected in the Italian press. Japanese statesmen were calm, but certain ardent Japanese patriots were far from calm, and a perceptible wave of surprise and uneasiness was passing over the whole of Japanese society.

On the “train de luxe” between Rome and Paris on May 7, 1924, I wrote Mr. Lawson as follows:

“All sorts of perilous possibilities seem to me to inhere in the Japano-American situation. Unless some agency mediates between the opposing racial forces, clears up the cloudy zone between them, sets them seriously and temperately to investigating and discussing their mutual standpoints, makes them keenly conscious of whither they are tending, I have little doubt it is only a question of time until we shall have a color-conflict that will deluge the world with blood. I propose that The Chicago Daily News do what it can to fulfill this task of mediation.”

Immediately on receipt of this letter, Mr. Lawson cabled:

“Your Pacific proposal very attractive. We shall act when you reach home.”

Six months later, the Coolidge contribution to this symposium having been added to those from Europe, I left Chicago for Canada to ask Premier Mackenzie King to give us the opening interview of the Pacific series. From Ottawa I traveled to British Columbia, pursued our racial investigations along the Pacific coast of the United States to San Francisco, sailed thence to Hawaii, to Japan, to China, and finally to the Philippines, ever seeking light upon the question of how warlike tendencies in the Pacific might be reversed, and an era of growing general confidence opened in that stupendous theatre of human activity. My work finished, and the ship on which I was returning home touching at dawn on August 31, 1925, at the port of Victoria, a newspaper friend entered my cabin and told me Mr. Lawson was dead.

“Our Great Adventure” was Mr. Lawson’s term for this extensive journalistic endeavor to set the tides of influential world opinion toward sanity, reconstruction, and peace. Though he lived to read all the interviews but two—that of Governor-General Wood of the Philippines and that of Dr. Tang Shao-yi of China—he did not live to know their full effect, nor can this be known; it must belong permanently to the imponderables of the interracial and international situation. But Mr. Lawson knew that a great amount of moral and intellectual vigor had been released in a good and urgent cause, and he was too profound a psychologist to require tangible proofs of what that meant.

Tangible proofs, however, that substantial good had been done were appearing before Mr. Lawson died. The European interviews were read with care in the European Chancelleries, and especially in those of the Great Powers. That they can have been without beneficial effect upon the official mind of Europe, that they can have failed to contribute something to the amicable and rational spirit which ran through the London and Paris Conferences and culminated in Locarno, does not stand to reason, and is known to be contrary to fact. Marx, Mussolini, Poincaré, and MacDonald expected results from what they did, and it is no secret in the diplomatic world that they were not disappointed.

As to the Pacific Ocean, The Daily News found it enveloped in war-fog and left it clear. All the interviews were published in Hawaii, Japan, China, the Philippines, and throughout the East. They powerfully struck a new note. It was a note of reality. It was a note of friendship. It was a note of peace. All at once no more was heard of a warlike threat in the American naval maneuvers. People smiled at the talk of a “new Hawaiian Gibraltar in the Pacific.” Japan was not creeping up on the Philippines and Guam. She was not crouching for a leap on Australia. There was no nascent, secret, formidable Japano-Chino-Russian anti-Occidental bloc. It all had been a dyspeptic dream!

Ambassador Matsudaira, a fine specimen of his race, has testified to his high opinion of the work of The Chicago Daily News in the Pacific. He has done so privately and publicly. He said to me in Washington that the interviews had “impressed thinking minds deeply,” that they had “greatly aided in creating mutual confidence between the peoples of Japan and the United States,” and that they had “pleased the whole East.” Alfred Sze, the experienced and sagacious Chinese Minster in Washington, declared: “The tranquillizing effect from Governor-General Wood shows him in accord with the view, not only that the situation in the Pacific—at all events, for the present—has been tranquillized, but that the cause of law, order, and progress has been strengthened in the Philippines.

So much for the practical issue of the idea which won the support of Mr. Lawson’s sympathy, prestige, money, and machinery. The interviews have been published in newspaper and in reprint form. They now take their place, as Mr. Lawson wished they should, in book form for free circulation among leaders of thought in all civilized countries, their sole object to go some way toward producing that “right feeling” which President Coolidge accounts indispensable to the solution of the problem of world peace.

Constituting, according to the President, “a peculiarly suggestive and important achievement in the field of international conciliation,” the interviews represent 36,000 miles of travel, from sub-arctic blizzards to tropical typhoons, and almost two years of intensive labor. One speaks with moderation, I think, in terming them unique; in declaring them without prototypes in breadth of conception and thoroughness of execution; in claiming for them as a whole the double character of a landmark in journalistic pioneering and an addition to the historical resources of international thought.

Imprimaturs are an original feature of the interviews. These authorizations mean that the matter covered by them was carefully read and formally approved for publication by the officials interviewed. Also, in most instances, the statements were sanctioned by the Cabinets concerned, thus acquiring the literal authenticity and moral authority of great State papers. It is true, therefore, that when we listen to the voices in these pages we hear the messages, not only of individual heads of Governments, but of Governments in their collective quality.

Another unprecedented mark of the interviews is that of the commendatory seal of the President of the United States. High politics and a comparatively new branch of journalism unite in a common service. It is a principle, to my mind, capable of useful application over a wide area. Not only statesmen, but specialists and thinkers of every calling, have a natural allegiance with the interviewer for the education of mankind. Fame is power. Fame is responsibility. Names with hypnotic properties are obligated to kindle, enlighten, and direct an attentive world. To do something in this way is the object alike of the conversations in this book, and of the foreword of the President.

With what care the interviewees spoke, and how faithful they were to the determining elements of the various situations discussed, we learn from the fact that no essential of any one of the interviews has been discredited by the march of events. We see that in all substantial particulars Marx voiced the spirit of Germany, Mussolini that of Italy, Poincaré that of France, MacDonald that of Britain, Coolidge that of the United States, Mackenzie King that of Canada, Kato and Shidehara that of Japan, Quezon and Osmeña that of the independence-seeking Filipinos, Wood that of the Coolidge Administration relative to the Philippines, and Tang Shao-yi that of the Federalists of China.

Mr. Lawson’s last words relative to the interviews, written when he learned by cable that the series had been completed in the talk with Tang Shao-yi, were these:

“The end crowns the work, and a great work it has been.”

If it was a great work, many minds aside from the eminent men interviewed are entitled to thanks for a part in it, Victor Fremont Lawson first of all, for without his breadth of vision and international neighborliness it could not have been done. Thanks are due also to a group of enlightened diplomats—Wiedfeldt of Germany, Caetani of Italy, Jusserand of France, Howard of Britain, Matsudaira of Japan, Sze of China—and to a long list of obliging experts in the Chancelleries of three Continents. I would make grateful acknowledgment, too, to Miss Jane Addams, Judge Jesse Holdom, and William K. Pattison of Chicago, who coöperated with me in persuading Premier Mackenzie King of Canada to give the first interview on the complex of delicate problems centering in the Pacific.

Finally, I cannot say how much I owe to the steady encouragement and splendid editorial coöperation of Charles Henry Dennis, long Mr. Lawson’s chief editor, and to such colleagues in The Chicago Daily News Service as Leroy T. Vernon of Washington, Edgar Ansel Mowrer of Berlin, Hiram Kelly Moderwell of Rome, Paul Scott Mowrer of Paris, Constantine Brown of Paris, Hal O’Flaherty of London, John Russell Kennedy of Tokyo, James Butts of Peking, and Walter Robb of Manila, members of a faithful and brilliant organization that has made The Chicago Daily News known and respected in foreign political and commercial centers as it is in those of the United States.

  1. Introduction
  2. World Chancelleries