Walter Lippmann and the Geopolitical Genesis of the Atlantic Community and the Issue of Poland
The term “Atlantic Community” was introduced by Lippmann in 1917 in The New Republic. At that time, he served as the “shadow advisor” to Colonel House and President Wilson, actively involved in Wilson’s presidential campaign in 1916. Among all the Anglo-Saxon scholars attempting to grasp the historical and biographical determinants of Lippmann’s thought in his works during the World War periods, there is a consensus that in 1916 and 1917, a crucial moment in the history of politics and science, Lippmann was consciously engaged in convincing the nation and President Wilson to join the war on the side of the Allies. This was done openly through his role as a journalist and public figure, and behind the scenes as the “shadow advisor” to Colonel House and President Wilson, as well as a participant in secret government organizations.
In his public activities, he utilized Lippmann’s “symbolic images” or “great symbols” and persuasive argumentation, which serves as a heuristic reference point in contemporary analysis, providing a different perspective on propaganda than the pejorative understanding, to which we will return later. In 1915, he published the book “The Stakes of Diplomacy,” inspired by the thought of the American naval power apostle Alfred Thayer Mahan. The book “combines analyses of imperialism and power rivalry with an entry into the psychological aspects of nationalism,” focusing on backward areas. Lippmann outlined solutions for non-self-governing territories, considered the basis for the UN trusteeship system. Observing the German “unrestricted submarine warfare” – attacks on merchant and passenger ships, including the sinking of the Lusitania – through the prism of Mahan’s thought, Lippmann saw a serious geopolitical problem arising from the dominant paradigm of isolationism in American foreign policy. He became a pioneer in persuasively influencing the pacifist American public opinion, contributing historically as one of the first to decomposing isolationism, which he continued in his works during World War II – “U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic” (1943) and “U.S. War Aims” (1944). Using terminology from “Public Opinion,” the decomposition of isolationism involved changing the images in the minds of politicians and public opinion.
In the same week as the incident of the torpedoing of the Sussex (March 24, 1916), Lippmann published an article titled “An Appeal to the President” in The New Republic, discussing the possibility of changing the neutral status of the USA in the war against the German aggressor. He argued for the moral conclusion of the war, stating that America should abandon its “hypocritical neutrality.” In April 1916, he argued geopolitically at a gathering of academics and businessmen, stating that “America’s safety and the triumph of liberal values in the world depend on the ‘unity and supremacy of sea power’ in the hands of the Anglo-Americans.” However, at that time, “isolationist sentiment was very strong, and public suspicion of Allied imperialism was too great.”
In February 1917, Lippmann published two key articles in The New Republic: “America’s Part in the War” and “The Defense of the Atlantic World.” According to R. Steel, the latter was one of the most important articles ever written by him, managing his views on foreign policy throughout his life. In it, Lippmann introduced the term, and following his theoretical reasoning from “Public Opinion,” simultaneously a “great symbol” that continues to function to this day – the Atlantic Community. The argument for American entry into the war, according to Lippmann, did not rely on visions of international community but on the struggle for mastery of the seas. In “America’s Part in the War,” Lippmann argued, “our own existence and the world order depend on overcoming the anarchy that the Germans wrongly called ‘freedom of the seas.’ We should maintain dominance over the ocean highway.” In “The Defense of the Atlantic World,” Lippmann wrote that America is an integral part of the community of nations with an Atlantic coastline. An attack on this community is a threat to America’s security, and Germany’s war against Britain and France is a war against the “civilization of which we are a part.” By cutting the “vital highways of our world” through submarine warfare, Germany threatened the existence of the “Atlantic Community.” He included in the Atlantic Community: Great Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Scandinavian countries, and Pan-American countries. As the “war born of the disputes of imperialisms turned into the ‘war of peoples,'” diplomacy’s stake no longer lies in the struggle outlined in “The Stakes of Diplomacy” for “markets and influences in backward areas.” The goal is the “union of liberal people committed to cooperating in settling all unresolved issues, sworn to stand against the aggressor, determined to elevate a broader and more modern system of international law based on the federation of the world.” These words reflected Wilson’s idealism, and in 1943, while criticizing idealism, Lippmann stated that when writing these words, he knew how Wilson and his advisors thought, and his personal involvement in idealism was a youthful mistake.
Lippmann considered the issue of Poland and its presence in the Atlantic Community during his work in the Inquiry in the fall of 1917 and spring of 1918. The key problem from the Polish perspective was that the Inquiry, primarily through Lippmann’s eyes, not only did not see a place for Poland in the Lippmannian Atlantic Community but also did not see any place for a sovereign and independent Polish state at all. The recommendation of the team was a form of an autonomous state within democratic Russia or liberal Austria-Hungary. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, Lippmann himself regarded the Poles’ demands for the inclusion of Lithuanian and Ukrainian territories in the “return of the past, if not forgotten kingdom” as “geographic fantasies.” The second reason was related to Poland’s access to the “oceanic boundaries,” namely the coast of the Baltic Sea – as understood by the author of the term Atlantic Community. This conflicted with the principle of ethnic self-determination, one of the fundamental principles of Wilson’s idealism, as it would involve Poland taking control of areas mainly inhabited by Germans.
It was thanks to the efforts of the prominent pianist and cosmopolitan Polish leader, the founding father of the Second Polish Republic, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, and his position in the highest social sphere (the social sphere where cosmopolitans are positioned at the top is an interesting sociological dimension of Lippmann’s communication theory), that a free Poland with access to the sea was included in the thirteenth point of Wilson’s message. It is essential to remember that Paderewski met with Lippmann, yet the position of the Inquiry did not take into account Polish demands. However, his position and the ability to influence President Wilson directly resulted in the creation of an independent and sovereign Poland. First as an image on the mental map, and then as a state on the political map.
Upon returning to America after his episode in military intelligence, Lippmann began criticizing the fruits of the Treaty of Versailles, including the Polish Corridor, and also predicted that “the burden of reparations threatened to overwhelm the struggling German republic and provoke a spirit of revenge.” According to him, such a peace could not be sustained. The idea of the Atlantic Community died with America’s withdrawal from Europe and the shift from Atlanticism to renewed isolationism. Lippmann abandoned the concept of the Atlantic Community in his public activities, including its author.
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