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Psychological Problems in Winning the Peace

by Ralph B. Spence - 1942

We have become so accustomed to miracles in our economy that we are in danger from a psychological point of view of lapsing into a fairy-tale state once more. We are inclined to believe that if we wish for things hard enough, they will be provided for us.

I SHOULD like to remind you, first, that I speak as an individual and not as a representative of any agency or institution. I happen at the moment to be in the employ of a governmental agency but the arrangements to address this group were made some time before I accepted this position.1 I am not purporting to represent the views of any of my colleagues in Teachers College. The responsibility for what I say is wholly my own.

I should like to make clear, secondly, that I shall talk in terms of a peace based upon an Allied victory. I shall also talk in terms of a peace which will be a total peace in the same sense that we are now engaged in a total war. This peace is assumed to be one in which the United States will accept responsibilities commensurate with its status in the world of today. There may be other possible bases on which to deal with the problem, but I do not intend to discuss them here.

Try to imagine yourself sitting down with someone from the Argentine or African Congo or Andalusia or any of the other places that you may have wished to visit. Suppose now that it were your task merely to agree with your friend as to what would be the terms of an equitable peace between your two countries. What are the kinds of information that you would need? What would be necessary for the two of you to understand each other? How long would it take just to be clear about the meaning each of you gives to words, assuming both were using the same language? Now complicate this picture by adding scores of other persons representing the major groups of the world and you have some conception of the problems the. world will face in winning the peace.


"In time of war, prepare for peace." This reversal of the old adage is an important axiom for our day. Sweat and tears and possibly even blood are as necessary in winning the peace as in winning the war. We have become so accustomed to miracles in our economy that we are in danger from a psychological point of view of lapsing into a fairy-tale state once more. (I mean on a broad scale. Obviously no groups have ever gotten completely away from such a state.) We are inclined to believe that if we wish for things hard enough, they will be provided for us. The rubber situation is a good illustration. When the rubber problem was first announced, many persons believed that this was simply the alarm of an overcautious government official preparing for an unlikely worst. It was assumed that news would soon be released that some hidden supply or some new artificial product would more than adequately replace what we formerly got from the East. The country as a whole still has not adjusted itself realistically to the actual situation.

The excessive centralization of activities in Washington has tended further to foster this belief in magic. When most of the governmental activities were carried on by local units and supported by money which these units raised there was less chance to be unrealistic. Now there is a tendency to have great faith in an act of Congress or of the President without any clear realization of the concomitants.


Psychology has no magic formula for dealing with these problems. There has been, however, an accumulation of scientific information relating to human behavior which can help to point the way. If we take account of these suggestions, it will be possible to deal more effectively with the problems which we face. We can learn to choose more adequately between the impossible or less probable behaviors and those which are highly probable. The premises which I use as the bases for my comments come from the various branches of science which have contributed to our knowledge of social behavior. These include, among others, psychology, anthropology, biology, philosophy, and sociology.

Human behavior is a natural phenomenon which can be studied and in which certain problems can be formulated and tested. The behavior of any single individual is highly complex but it is not chaotic and completely unpredictable. The behavior of groups of persons is of course still more complex, but it too can be accurately described in some of its aspects. Each person and each situation will have aspects which are unique. At the same time it will be possible to compare some aspects with similar aspects of other persons or other situations and to define certain generalizations that will indicate something of what may be expected in related cases and something of the likelihood of occurrence.

The present emphasis in social psychology stresses the importance of the organism-environment continuum. To say this in more ordinary terms it means that what one does is always the result of a particular person (a Mr. Jones or a Miss Smith) acting in a particular set of surroundings. The particular behavior which results can be accounted for partly because the nature of the biological organism sets certain limits to possible behaviors and partly because under particular conditions most organisms will operate in those specific ways. If, therefore, we want certain kinds of behavior in preference to certain other kinds of behavior when we think about the problems of peace, we can achieve these by providing those total conditions which will be most likely to make the persons with whom we deal act as we would like to see them act.

Put another way this means that what people do, they learn to do by living under certain kinds of conditions. By changing the conditions we can change the behavior, not to the extent we might hope for but nevertheless in very considerable amounts. If the society in which a certain group lived was one which stressed arrogance and aggressiveness, a great many members of that society would be arrogant and aggressive. Some would be more arrogant and aggressive than others and there would be some who probably could not be classified as arrogant and aggressive at all, but the general trend would be evident. (Incidentally those who were not arrogant and aggressive would be the neurotics of that society.) In another society which stressed cooperation and concern for others, persons biologically identical with the first group would tend on the whole to be cooperative and sensitive to the rights of others. They could even be pure Nordics and develop this kind of behavior!

The characteristics of social groups are learned. If they are learned, they should be capable of being taught. If conditions are carefully planned to favor the results desired, these results should be learned more rapidly and more surely than if we did nothing at all to insure the outcomes.

These statements are simple enough and seem to be ones which no reasonable person would deny. In the abstract we do not reject them, but when it comes to the various choices which we have to make, we forget them and lapse into the fairy-tale stage mentioned above. Instead of making definite provisions for increasing the likelihood of certain behavings, we hope that "good" people will take care of us and that everything will turn out all right. If we are a little doubtful about our "good" people, we may supply some incantations or prayers in the hopes that we may hereby increase their goodness but we do little toward arranging the conditions that will make it easier for them to achieve the results we hope for.

Herbert Hoover in a recent address stated:

We went to the Peace Conference in 1919 animated by the loftiest and most disinterested ideals but were totally unprepared for the gigantic actualities which had to be met at the peace table. In result we secured neither freedom, nor prosperity, nor justice, nor peace.

Today again we have just such high aims expressed in the Atlantic Charter but these aims bear about the same relation to the problems of the actual peace as the Declaration of Independence bore to the Constitution.


We stress, therefore, the need for thoughtful analysis translated into action as rapidly as possible. "Too little and too late" is just as applicable to peace as to war. We must strive for "intelligent acting" in contrast to either "action" or "intelligence" alone.

In recent years there has been a good deal of discussion about the so-called basic urges, and various individuals have suggested different classifications of these urges. Apparently- if we had a complete index, we could control and direct behavior with more exactness. In another area of psychology there has been extended discussion of intelligence. It has been pointed out that man possesses capacity along this line far in excess of other animals and that the primary task of civilization is to develop more intelligence.

Both of these emphases are correct. The difficulty is that there has been too little attempt to integrate them. We still have operated under the old fallacy of reification in which we tend to take a particular aspect of a functioning complex and make something concrete out of it. We talk about urges as though they were separate identifiable entities which function in toto. We deal with intelligence in the same way. Actually what we have is a living organism—in this case a person-behaving in a complex environment. Under certain conditions this behavior may tend to emphasize one aspect of the total complex more than others. If an individual is thwarted in a situation where he has few skills to deal with the problem he faces, the result will be a behavior which has a considerable amount of "urge" to it and relatively little intellectual acuity. In certain other baffling situations, individuals not unknown to all of us will tend to shy away from a direct attack upon the situation and will postpone forever an actual decision while expounding theories at great length showing how the situation should be handled. In this situation more "visceral urge" might make a good deal of difference.

The basic point which I want to make in regard to the problems of winning the peace is that we have got to start immediately to secure intelligent action. We must constantly strive for the maximum of visceral behavior but this must be done under conditions which will make it intellectually acute behavior at the same time. We must reject any tendency to be satisfied solely with the "will to do." Any such urge is a useful beginning but unless it is guided by wise analysis it will be hopelessly inadequate. There may be a few persons in the world who once having made a firm resolve (for example, to establish peace on earth) will stick to this resolve come what may and will be able to work to achieve this end and in an effective manner. Certainly such persons are not typical. Even for them, however, there is no reason for not doing everything to assist their firm resolve.

Slogans and paper agreements are, therefore, to be used sparingly. We are all familiar with the results of certain previous attempts to outlaw war. The unfortunate thing was not the agreement of high-minded men to create such pacts. It was in our failure and in their failure to set up those conditions which would make that agreement effective. Our search, therefore, is for a combination of knowing and feeling which will enable us to steer a firm middle course between ineffectual moral enthusiasm on the one hand and intellectual ivory-towerism on the other. What we want from people in this country and those that we can get to work with us may be put in the baldest terms in the phrase "intellectual guts."


I wish to turn now from the general psychological analysis to some specific illustrations from our present situation. It will be important to have this basic analysis made more detailed and complete in the general program for winning the peace but I shall not go further at this time. I should like to indicate very broadly some of the kinds of behavior problems we must take into account.

The first problem in the United States in winning the peace is to win the war. This is so obvious that you probably wonder why I mention it. I mention it because it affords an illustration of the failure to achieve the integration between intellectual awareness and overt behaving which I discussed. Psychologically it means the development of the fullest realization that we are in the war. All of us here have no difficulty on the intellectual side in knowing that we are in the war. All of us could answer correctly a great many questions concerning dates, names, and broad characteristics of our enemy, limitations that we can expect, and so forth. Very few of us realize what these limitations would mean in our lives to the extent that we are ready to throw our energies as strongly in the direction of achieving certain results as eventually we shall have to do to win the war.

To say this is not in any way to belittle achievements already accomplished. The induction and training of millions of men in the armed forces has been accomplished smoothly and efficiently. The change over to the production of war materials has been stupendous and could only have been achieved through the cooperation of labor and industry to a very high degree. Other illustrations of concrete achievements could be given. The fact that we have accomplished these things should not blind us to the many other ways in which we are woefully short of what is needed. The administration tends to temporize even where there is clear evidence that the majority of people are behind the proposed policies. Contradictory reports come from various agencies and there is too little coordination among the groups set up to carry out various aspects of the total program.

We still are unable to realize in the deepest sense that we are in the war. England went through the same period of gradual adjustment and it took Dunkirk and the bombing of its cities to bring about the full-scale realization of the problem. Our problem is to see if we can find ways to achieve a realization in advance of the brutal realities that will come with personal losses and the defeats of allied forces. Donald Nelson was correct in his phrase that we had not yet even got to the foothills of knowing what the war effort means. Instead of waiting to see whether these other persons or this other group is going to contribute we must all do the maximum possible amount with maximum speed and with minimum regard for what others are doing.


I turn now to certain problems of the postwar period. I should like to suggest first certain legacies which it seems reasonable to expect we may have at the end of the war. Some of these are assets and some are liabilities. Some will be mutually contradictory, as, for example, the legacy of knowledge and the legacy of ignorance. This simply means that in our complex life there are certain aspects in which we have increased insights and there will be certain others in which we will still be woefully ignorant. It is only with a realistic balance sheet of assets and liabilities that we can hope to move wisely into an attack on the problems of the postwar period.

First, I shall list the positive legacies we may expect.

The legacy of peace. We already have and shall continue to have at the end of this war a very deep-seated and widespread desire on the part of most people throughout the world to work and to work earnestly for those conditions which will create a more permanent peace than, we have ever had before. The value of this asset is enormous if it is properly utilized.

The legacy of an economic system geared to production at a very high level. It is true that this legacy will fall only to certain parts of the world and it will also be true that we shall have used up a great many important natural resources. Nevertheless we will have a system which can, through process of transformation comparable to the one which we have just achieved, accomplish miracles in producing basic necessities for peoples of the world. More than ever before there is an awareness that our productive capacity can and must serve man.

The legacy of respect for the individual. We hear frequent mention that this is "the people's war." The seeds which were sown centuries ago in the Hebraic-Christian tradition and in Chinese culture and which have been nurtured by many forces are bearing fruit. If we can prevent the Nazi fury from destroying this legacy, it will be a powerful force for the ends we seek. It is closely allied with the first legacy.

The legacy of cooperation. This legacy is not quite as easy to assess as the other two but it seems reasonable to assume that among the allied groups we will have by the end of the war a definite basis for working together. This basis will, through the inclusion of allies like Russia and China encompass a number of groups that differ in racial, national, and religious backgrounds. If wisely used this experience can be of enormous importance in moving into the problems of peace. Incidentally the question of how India is handled will make a good deal of difference in this respect.

The legacy of knowledge. Out of our efforts over the period of the war years should come a great deal of important systematic information. The specific expectations can be predicted with more clarity .in the realm of physical sciences than anywhere else. We shall know how to produce many materials in new ways far in excess of anything we have previously had. We are already on the way toward the development of aluminum and magnesium to replace the role of iron in many aspects of our economy. If we proceed wisely we should also have a legacy of knowledge in other areas as in the physical sciences.

On the debit side it seems to me we must face the following results at the end of the war.

The legacy of hatred and fear. The amount of hatred which has already been created in the world up to the present time is enormous. By the time the war has continued another year— two years, three years, four years, whatever it will take—the amount of this hatred will greatly increase. Fear, too, is rampant. It is difficult for us who have yet had no direct initiation into the horrors of war to know how widespread this fear is. To endeavor to work out a reasonable and equitable solution in a world as full of hatred and fear as ours shall be at the end of the war is going to require the utmost in statesmanship. I have no assurance that we are capable of doing it. I only know that our chances of success will be increased if we plan definitely to meet this problem and take steps to carry out our plans.

The legacy of exhaustion. At the end of a long war such as this one is certain to be there will be an inevitable reaction. It is impossible for any individual to remain keyed up for long periods of time without suffering a let down at the end. When pressure is released, there is an inevitable relapse. We have given up so much that there will be many who may well be expected to say that nothing much matters now. The problem of arranging the necessary activities to relieve the exhaustion and to avoid crucial decisions during this period again requires wise action on our part.

The legacy of nationalism. We are in our present state of international turmoil to a considerable extent because of the results of strong nationalistic feeling developed during the past. In our own country this feeling has tended to take the form of isolationism. With the developments since Pearl Harbor there are many who have pronounced the death of isolationism in the United States. Isolation has been dead for many years as far as the actual conditions of the world are concerned but it has been a live ghost during all this period. To assume that the habits of large sections of our population are going to change completely especially when we add to the picture the legacy of hatred and the legacy of exhaustion is to expect too easy a solution. We shall have to be ready to combat this particular factor. The cry of the critics when anyone endeavors to indicate the modification of boundary lines other than to reduce those of our avowed enemies is fair warning of the kind of problems which we are going to face in creating a world pattern in accord with the realities of modern industrialism. We must keep the critics busy suggesting better alternatives rather than creating the impressions that the chance lines of past nationalistic struggles are to be the sacred marks of the future.

The legacy of ignorance. In a world of interdependence we have failed to keep step in providing the necessary knowledge. I shall presently turn to an analysis of our own knowledge about the rest of the world which will illustrate this particular problem so I shall not deal with it further at this point.

In order to illustrate the kind of problems we shall face in winning the peace, I should like to have you test yourselves on some simple questions relating to our world. It seems to me that we are committed to the peace program which will be a concrete program for the world that is—its peoples with their established ways of living. My questions are related to the nature of the world population:

1. What percentage of the world population lives in the U. S. A.?

2. What percentage lives in Asia?

3. What percentage lives in Africa?

4. What percentage lives in the American Continents south of the U. S. A.?

5. What percentage of Mexico is Indian or of Indian extraction?

6. What percentage of the world population is at least nominally of some other faith than Christian?

7. What percentage of the world population is Jewish?

8. What percentage of the world population is Mohammedan?

These are very simple questions dealing with broad population distributions and the answers are readily available. We have in the United States about 6 ½ per cent of the total population of the world. This leaves 93 per cent for the rest of the world. We have rejected the conception of the rule of the favored few extolled in Germany. We must be careful to see that we do not turn about and use it ourselves. Our problem will not be in terms of the dogmatic overt announcements which characterize the Nazis. It will come when we try to provide opportunities for the other 93 per cent of the world to share in the important decisions.

Somewhat over 50 per cent of the world population lives in Asia. This means that the majority of the world's population has a background of customs and habits considerably different from ours. The adjustments which will conserve the maximum values from each of the different groups is going to require some very careful preparation.

About 8 per cent, or somewhat more than the total population of the United States, lives in Africa. The population of the American Continents south of the United States is about 6 per cent, or roughly about the same number of peoples as we have. Eighty per cent of Mexico is either Indian or of Indian extraction. About two-thirds of the world is not of the Hebraic-Christian tradition. Less than one per cent is Jewish and about n per cent is Mohammedan. We are so accustomed to thinking in terms of western industrial civilization that it is very hard for us to realize what a large percentage of the world's population is still only slightly, if at all, touched by such developments. We have not only the task of helping people realize deeply what is involved in the war, but we have also a similar psychological problem of helping them realize adequately what it means to have grown up in an entirely different culture.


We turn now to the more difficult questions, but questions which have to be answered to achieve a just peace. We must have information about the percentage of the total world that is illiterate and we must break that down into those who are illiterate when we mean reading and writing; those who are illiterate when we mean knowing how to keep themselves healthy; those who are illiterate when we mean knowing how to get along in the present economic world; and those who are illiterate when we mean able to operate effectively politically. Definite knowledge along these lines is difficult but important.

These illustrations are only samples of the extensive knowledge which we need to win the peace. If we are sincere in our assertions that the peace is to recognize the rights of all peoples and is not to be a set of terms dictated by the few, we shall have to work with other nations to increase mutual understanding.

There is no sense in assuming that mutual good will and the regrets for past errors will carry us through the problems of the peace. We have to start immediately to build the programs to meet them. We shall have to prepare people who are competent to deal with the various specialized aspects of the problem and we shall have to educate our total population to support the broad characteristics of the peace program. The details we cannot predict. They must be developed through mutual bargaining in which all the interested people participate. But we can prepare our people along many lines which can be predicted now.

Specifically we shall have to be prepared to deal immediately and rapidly at the end of the war with four emergency needs:

1. We need to develop a careful plan for policing the world during the period while new arrangements are being developed.

2. We need a plan for feeding the world during this period.

3. We need a plan for providing adequate health protection.

4. We need (and this is not very widely realized) a plan for providing useful work activities during the interim period so that no large groups develop feelings of frustration.

When, under each of the above, I stated that we need a plan, I am assuming that this will include steps for making each plan an actuality at appropriate times.

Having taken care of these immediate needs we must work as rapidly as possible for an economic political system which will provide a reasonable share for all and which will utilize the world's resources in some kind of balanced program.

Two aspects of this educational program can be mentioned here. On the one hand we must prepare the whole of our people to understand the problems of the peace and to be prepared to express themselves on such problems. This will require careful attitude analysis on the one hand and broad educational programs on the other. Our adult education opportunities for study, for forums, and for other related activities must be expanded so as to deal with the problems of the peace immediately. Our program for the men in the armed forces must include it. Our public schools and our colleges must deal with it. We need more emphasis on education in these times, not less emphasis.

The other aspect is the preparation of qualified liaison persons to deal specifically with the problems of working out with other countries the postwar problems. We should start preparing at once groups of men and women who will make the problems of specific countries their specialty at the same time that they are given a broad background in the social foundations of the New Peace. For example, there should be a group selected now who will prepare to deal with the peoples of the world in the general area represented by country "R." (What the exact political boundaries would be eventually would remain to be determined of course.) Each of these persons would have some specialty in which he was particularly well prepared. For example, one or more persons might be specialists in agricultural problems of country "R." Others might deal with health problems, problems of money and banking, mining, transportation, education, political arrangements, and so forth. The whole group concerned with this particular country would meet together to discuss the common problems of language and customs which would hold regardless of one specialty. Similarly, all might meet with representatives preparing to be helpful in other countries in order to agree upon the general approaches which would characterize all groups in dealing with problems of the peace.

Concretely and immediately it means that we must go to work on- this now. Some may say, "All of our energies are now engaged in winning the war. We cannot spare anything for this particular problem." Such an attitude would be suicidal. My whole contention has been that unless we prepare for the problems of peace we can be certain we will get an inadequate peace. We can be sure that we will get merely cessation of overt hostilities while the world lines up for a new conflict. It is necessary, therefore, that various groups cooperate in developing what might be called a V. M. program. We had the "M" program for mobilization for the war. What we must begin now to build is a "Victory Mobilization" program, a plan for utilization of resources and for training qualified experts for the various tasks which the cessation of hostilities will set for us.

1 Address delivered before the All-College Conferences on Education, held during the Summer Session of 1942 at Teachers College.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 44 Number 2, 1942, p. 100-109
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 9227, Date Accessed: 12/6/2021 4:33:27 PM

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About the Author
  • Ralph Spence
    Professor of Education, Teachers College
    Professor RALPH B. SPENCE, the author of "Psychological Problems in Winning the Peace," is also on leave from the College. He is in Washington, serving in the capacity of assistant to the Director of the National War Labor Board.
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