ESSAY: The War Aims of World War I and World War II and Their Relations to the Darker Peoples of the World, Merze Tate, 1943
A 1943 Merze Tate essay provides a trenchant critique of the false hope of peace offered by the white west to “the darker peoples” of the world.
Merze Tate is among the most prolific scholars of the so-called “Howard School of International Relations” (IR) while at the same time the most egregiously underappreciated. From the 1920s to the 1950s, the Howard School offered a maverick critique of the liberal orthodoxies of mainstream international relations, showing how, in theory, IR was based on ideas of racial hierarchy, and in practice IR was used to justify colonialism and racism. It was dominated by men; Ralph Bunche, Alain Locke, E. Franklin Frazier, Rayford Logan, and Eric Williams have all been associated with the Howard School. Tate was the lone woman. While her male contemporaries reluctantly accepted the seriousness and rigor of her research, throughout her thirty-five years at Howard, they also besmirched her character, blocked promotions, and complained about her personality. Tate felt she was underpaid during her time at Howard and in death, the university has been slow to recognize her.
Yet Tate’s contribution to international relations is remarkable. She published extensively, writing pioneering books on disarmament and on diplomatic relations in the Pacific region that found an audience with the public at large – and in the State Department. Indeed, Tate was a “realist,” to use the parlance of IR, not a radical. Although her work meticulously documented the racism in the history of international diplomacy, they contained a conservative strain that restrained her from leftist critiques of empire.
Tate’s essay “The War Aims of World War I and World War II and Their Relation to the Darker Peoples of the World,” published in the Journal of Negro Education, provides an exception. Written in 1943 -- near the end of World War II and, significantly, before the dawn of the Cold War -- the essay provides a trenchant critique of the false hope of peace offered by the white west to “the darker peoples” of the world. Tate not only enumerates the cynical and violent colonial practices enacted by Europe and the US on Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, but she warns of the possibility of global race war if the political demands of the darker peoples are not met. The essay, according to political scientist Robert Vitalis, anticipated a book examining the impact of imperialism on the white race tentatively titled The White Man’s Blunders. That book was never published, but the extract below from Tate’s Journal of Negro Education essay provides an excellent introduction to Tate’s critique of race and imperialism in international relations, while providing a glimpse of a project that might have been.
The War Aims of World War I and World War II and Their Relations to the Darker Peoples of the World
Merze Tate, 1943
What is meant when one refers to the darker peoples of the world? Such a reference is not confined to the nearly thirteen million Negroes in the United States, who so far as war aims are concerned are hardly taken into consideration, nor to the millions of colored in the Caribbean and in Central and South America. Rather, in addition to these groups, the term must comprehend most of the inhabitants of Africa, including those Islamic peoples of the Mediterranean littoral and those natives south of the Sahara Desert; the 400,000,000 or more of India and Burma; the Malaysians who inhabit the Malay peninsula and ar- chipelago, including the former Netherlands East Indies; the Chinese; the Japanese; and, finally, the Polynesians of Oceania and the Melanesians, those Negroid inhabitants of the is- lands of the Central and Western Pacific, including the Solomon Islands. All over the world the peoples of color are aroused, although in varying degrees, to the Imperium of the white nations. They are no longer willing to accept the white man's exalted view of trusteeship; they no longer quake at the teachings of the white man's missionaries, who bring them the white man's God but a God in whom the white man does not believe; no longer are glass beads and trinkets marvelous to them; they are much more inter- ested in the marvels of the white man's guns. Once the colored races feared the white man; today that fear has turned to secret contempt. Once they were filled with terror at the white man's power; today they know that they themselves are power. Their past weakness has not been due to their lack of numbers nor to inferior physical stamina but to the fact that the white man had guns, cared little for God and much for his guns. Today the yellow, brown, black peoples know that the whites are in a minority with no special “capacities” which mean “innate superiority”; moreover, that minority is divided and is slaughtering itself. The white man's culture has gradually become familiar to the man of color, who is capable of analyzing and evaluating it according to the limits of its efficiency. He has participated in the wars and revolutions of the ruling nations and perforce has been initiated into the former dark mysteries of their armaments, economics and diplomacy, and has thus come to question the reality of the white man's superiority and to contemplate the possibilities of attack and victories for himself. Oswald Spengler observes: “It was not Germany that lost the World War; the West lost it when it lost the respect of the coloured races.” How did the darker peoples figure in the aims of World War I and what gains did they make as a result of that war? Woodrow Wilson proclaimed that we were fighting the World War to “make not only the liberties of America secure but the liberties of every other peoples as well.” “Peoples and provinces are not to be bartered about from sovereignty to sovereignty as if they were mere chattels and pawns in a game...Every territorial settlement involved in this war must be made in the in- terest of the populations concerned.”
Yet, in the final settlement the wishes of colonial peoples were not consulted; the colonies and possessions of the victorious states remained in the same status, and those of the defeated powers were not, as Wilson proposed, declared the common property of the League of Nations to be administered in the interest of the peoples concerned by smaller nations, but were parcelled out for the benefit of the mandatory powers -- Great Britain, France, Japan, the Union of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The mandate system and its idea of trusteeship, which represented a compromise between the new and old colonial ideas, soon became an “obvious sham and hollow pretense.” At the outbreak of the present war there was no outward evidence of any intention on the part of Great Britain, France and Holland to permit their black and brown wards to share in the responsibilities of government. Throughout native Africa, Indonesia and Malaya the imperialist mentality was that of master and subject peoples. The forces of government had come to serve primarily as a repressive agency holding back the progressive development of peoples whom it had introduced to Western civilization. Thus, “imperialism appears always to be committed to perpetuating its own rule unless it is challenged by a force which makes it necessary or expedient for it to withdraw.”
World War II, when considered realistically, is not fought for the Four Freedoms everywhere. It is a militarist and imperialist struggle for freedom and power -- power for some at the expense of others. The Eight Points of the Atlantic Charter and the Four Freedoms may have been intended to serve as idealistic platitudes for Europe but we cannot foresee their voluntary application to areas outside that continent.
Just across the Mediterranean from the liberty-loving French, for whose liberation we are pouring out our blood, are the peoples of North Africa. We have said much about freedom for the French and the final right that they will have to choose the type of government they wish, but we have remained silent on the question of freedom for the peoples of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. These Berbers are fierce fighters, tenacious of their liberties, and bound to France and formerly in the case of Libya to Italy not by choice but by force of arms. The native people of all North Africa are highly critical of French suzerainty. Can they look forward to choosing in the near future their form of government? Would the Fighting French collaborate with the United Nations if they thought there would be no North African Empire after the war? Across the Sahara in the Belgian Congo, throughout British Africa, and in the Union of South Africa, is the policy of trusteeship to be regarded as a permanent relation? Must the wards always remain wards and is the trustee entitled in perpetuity to special benefits and high returns for his self- imposed burden and his civilizing mission? A full democratic program for Africa has nowhere been evolved. There is some token recognition on legislative councils as in Nigeria where, with a native population of 21,000,000 and fewer than 4,000 resident Europeans, there are four Europeans to each African Council member. In South Africa, six million Bantus are represented by three white members of the Capetown House of Assembly. Here and there are hand-picked native councils and the recognition of native chieftain's authority by indirect rule, but native share in self-government remains little more than nominal.
The problems of land distribution and of labor are the worst features of the African colonial regime. Although conditions vary from colony to colony and from mandate to mandate, they are generally bad in both these matters. Wherever there is a considerable resident white population, the natives have been forced off the most productive lands and restricted to areas disproportionate to their relative numbers. In the Union of South Africa, Africans are prohibited from purchasing or renting from non-Africans any land outside areas specifically scheduled for them in the Native Land Act of 1913 unless its acquisition is especially sanctioned by the Governor-General. Even with the supplementary areas designated in 1936 but not yet purchased, the total lands set aside for the natives will not exceed one-eighth of the area of South Africa for a population three times the size of the whites. In Southern Rhodesia, 95 per cent of the population is allowed 18 percent of the poorest land for sustenance. The allotments made are too small to permit self-sufficiency and their limited size has prevented the growth of large scale farming. Speaking generally, native locations and reserves are congested, denuded, eroded, and for the most part in a deplorable condition. The cry, "Give us back our land," has become the national slogan of the blacks throughout Africa.
Everywhere there prevails the color differential in wages. Not only are natives restricted to certain levels of employment, but where they perform the same menial work as the whites, they are paid on a widely different wage scale. In South Africa natives do not choose whether they will work or not work or what type of work they shall do or where they shall do it. The white man, through the native reserve, the employers associations, the hut tax, the poll tax, the labor tax and the court system provides a “gentle stimu- lant" which, as described by Cecil Rhodes, would remove the Africans "from that life of sloth and laziness and teach them the dignity of labour and make them contribute to the prosperity of the State, and make them give some return” for Britain's wise and beneficent government. Wages are determined by a deliberate policy on the part of the government and employers associations. Only on the question of color do Boers and Britons see eye to eye and unite to keep the Union a white man's country. The two million white men, from the President of the Chamber of Mines to the meanest poor white, are determined to keep the six million Bantus without rights. Miss Van der Horst, in her study, Native Labour in South Africa, finds that mine owners pay African labor one-seventh of the wage paid the Europeans. Oswald Spengler states that in the South African mines, white and Kaffirs work side-by-side, the white for eight hours at the rate of two shillings per hour, the Kaffirs for twelve hours at the rate of one shilling a day. Selwyn James reports that men employed on state-owned railroads to replace dismissed Bantus were paid a minimum wage of what amounted to 200 per cent above that paid to the Bantus. This grotesque disproportion is maintained by the white trade unions, which veto any attempt of the colored workers to organize and bring pressure to bear to improve their conditions. In Kenya, where the public attitude to the native approaches that of the Union of South Africa, the colonial administration has been charged with cruelty to native strikers.
Even in the distant Solomon Islands, where there are no white laborers to compete with natives for employment, the right to organize, to bargain collectively and to strike is carefully suppressed. Here, too, as throughout all imperialist regions, the master- servant relationship is preserved. Caroline Mytinger, recently returned from headhunting in the Solomon Islands, describes a strike of some 3,200 natives which took place in Rabaul on the island of New Britain. The conservative government, she reports, "ran down the native ring leaders of the strike (after all strikers had been put quietly back to work without the wage raise) and gave them jail sentences." But the anti-administration group who were exponents of “knocking-off-their-bloody-heads-before-they do-it-to-us” wanted harsher punish- ment meted out in the form of public floggings.
These short-sighted restrictive measures in both Africa and the Pacific based on a "pigmentation Herrenvolk myth" involve the creation and maintenance of a caste system dependent upon authoritarian action. In the economic environment of the twentieth century such a master-servant economy can be maintained only by the exercise of force. “It is a highly unstable condition, promising racial and social strife. It is based on a short view of European advantage, preferring the convenience of the present generation of the European population for prosperity and peace of their descendants.”
The fact that 96 per cent of Africa is partitioned among the European powers and that the entrenched idea in the minds and habits of the rulers is the thought of Africans as the servants of European civilization does not mean that Africans have no expectations beyond the servant status. They have been required to make much sacrifice and to undergo hardships for the freedom of others, all of which implies the warrant of freedom for themselves. “Subjection under present rulers is not sweeter because subjection under Japan or Germany would be even more bitter.” Africans trust peace will truly afford to all the men in all the lands assurance that they "may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.” Will freedom from fear and freedom from want be realized for the Bantus, whose total child mortality during the first four years of life is about 64 per cent? Will Union statesmen continue to refuse Rockefeller offers of money for medical schools for natives on the ground that it is not government policy to grant such facilities to natives? Are Bantus to be considered in the basic human right--the right to live? Under the rule of the European powers and the Union of South Africa, millions of natives have never had a square meal in their lives and have never even been promised one. Africans accept whole-heartedly and without reservation the cause and the ideals of the United Nations since these stand for what they most desire to achieve. They hope that the Fourth Point of the Atlantic Charter shall be interpreted to include the increased enjoyment by Africans of access to the trade and resources of their own country and to a larger measure of free trade between different parts of the continent. They assumed that Africa was included in the Roosevelt- Churchill declaration of “the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live.”
But less than a month after the historic Atlantic meeting, Africans were grievously shocked by Mr. Churchill's statement in the House of Commons which distinguished between the application of the Atlantic Charter as designed “primarily for the restoration of the sovereignty, self-government and national life of states and nations of Europe now under the Nazi yoke" and the “separate problem” of the “progressive evolution of self-govern- ing institutions in the regions and peoples which owe allegiance to the British crown.”
To thinking Africans no consistent democracy and no stable and fruitful peace can be realized so long as imperialism--so long as rivalry over political and economic spheres of influence--continues. Nor should Africa become the scene of a large-scale economic partition which would repeat the evils of political partition. Natives see their interests best safeguarded in the free access clauses of the Atlantic Charter with its reciprocal guarantee that consideration will be given to native rights in land and mineral resources. Thoughtful Africans hold that Africa has a definite world position to assume above that of being merely an exploited vineyard of the world's raw materials. They are also convinced that the war aims of the United Nations will remain confused until the outlines of a definite colonial policy have been worked out and adopted.
Tate, Merze, “The American Negro in World War I and World War II,” (Summer, 1943). The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 12, No. 3, , pp. 521-532