In the short run, as in Poland, nothing controls like armed force. But, by its very nature, armed force is a temporary expedient. For permanent effect, it is necessary to win men's minds. The United States was put together with considerable bloodshed, but it has endured on the strength of an ever-widening national consensus, and it will stand or fall thereon.
This lesson is hard to learn. We disregarded it in the Bay of Pigs. We came to greater appreciation of it in Vietnam. But now there is a trend in Washington toward brushing Arab concerns aside and trying to enlist them in the design of military positions to protect US interests in the Middle East.
If armed force were always the answer, we would already have applied it to more immediate problems here at home. People in the US are justifiably concerned about the flood of illegals from Central and South America, spilling over our southern borders, straining schools and welfare facilities, and putting an alien imprint on communities in the South and West.
It would be sorely tempting to take a draconian line, issue identity cards nationwide, and evict the intruders from our territory. It would devastate our relations with Latin America, and it would probably fail anyway.
Fortunately, this deplored denaturing of our cultural traditions works both ways. Our neighbors south and north sit well within the US sphere of economic and cultural influence. For every illegal immigrant who makes it across the Rio Grande, another US-trained surgeon sets up a practice in Lima, or another McDonald's springs up in a Mexican suburb - or another US television program captures a Canadian audience. The US outcry against infiltration from the south is matched in vehemence by our neighbors' outcry against fast-food imperialism and the gradual Americanization of their own societies.
However traumatic this process of cultural exchange and change may be, the outcome should do us all good. As thoughtful students of international affairs have been pointing out of late, there is a dangerous illusion on the part of many statesmen, here and abroad, that they can continue to practice traditional power politics in the nuclear age. All policymakers must come to realize that mankind's newfound ability to obliterate itself imposes on him the absolute obligation to start subordinating national rivalries to the universal interest in survival.
''International cooperation'' is no longer just a pious phrase; it is the only alternative to walking on the brink of nuclear holocaust.
Efforts to promote international cooperation from the top down are not encouraging. The United Nations is a pale shadow of the international balance of power. The Arab League has been riven by factionalism ever since it was founded. Even the European Community inches along with more fits than starts.
Take comfort, then, in the glacial emergence in the western hemisphere of a new supranational culture. Deplore its meretricious aspects if you will, but note that this profane quest for a better life for all leads to enlightened pursuits like mass education, family planning, and saner integration of the human animal into his environment. Above all, note its universality. Neither American nor Canadian nor Latin, it is an eclectic blend that slips across national boundaries like the mists of an April morning.
Tell the Poles to be patient. The basic human impulses that unite them against Soviet autocracy are working in Russia, too.