• U.S.

Foreign News: All This War Talk

3 minute read

Representative Hamilton (“Ham”) Fish Jr. stands six feet three in his stocking feet but prefers to measure his stature by inches of newsprint. Last week, by his own standard, he grew wonderfully tall.

Ham Fish was captain of his Harvard football team. During the War his horse was blown up in a stable behind the lines in France, and he wrote an angry letter to his father about “the maggots of pacifism.” Twenty minutes after he first arrived in Congress in 1920 he introduced a resolution providing for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He saw to it that nine towns near his New York State home were provided with captured cannon. He helped organize the American Legion.

After all this drumbeating, Ham turned pacifistic. Last spring he proposed a National Committee to Keep America Out of Foreign Wars “to counteract the inspired propaganda which has created mass war hysteria throughout the Nation by inflaming the fears and passions of our people.” In April, on a nationwide radio hookup, he begged “an end to all this war talk.” In May his committee was offering $100 prizes for essays on “Why America Should Keep Out of Foreign Wars,” and Congressmen were beginning to refer to their alarmed colleague as a “Leader of the Ostrich Bloc.”

Month ago, bristling with optimism about the chances of no war, Ham Fish sailed (as leader of the U. S. delegation of four Senators and 24 Representatives) for the annual meeting of the Interparliamentary Union at Oslo (TIME, Sept. 13, 1937). By the time he reached Berlin, he had to admit having talked with some people (including British Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax and French Premier Edouard Daladier) who thought there might be a war. “I myself,” he said, “do not believe it, or my family would not be here.” If invited to arbitrate the Danzig dispute, he said, he would gladly accept.

But then he had a talk with German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop about “fateful problems,” from which he came away “very depressed.” By the time he had reached Oslo, he was in a towering funk. “My impressions of Europe are terrifying. . . . Europe is drifting toward war. . . . America will go to war … if the British Fleet is defeated. . . . I believe we can expect war at any moment. . . . August 20. . . .”

Two days later—three days before his deadline—he rose before the Interparliamentarians and, with a wild look in his eye, proposed a 30-day moratorium during which Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy would talk things over; if the four powers failed, said Ham Fish, the problem should be refered to the Kings of Norway and of the Belgians and the President of Switzerland.

The Union gave the U. S. contribution to the War of Nerves a day to cool off, then rejected his proposal. Said Ham Fish, who had in a big way filled the role of U. S. political tout-tourer of the summer to Europe: “I wash my hands of the whole thing.”

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