Chili And The World War

By William Spense Robertson

[The Nation; March 15, 1917]

At the outbreak of the war Chili suffered severely; her saltpetre industry was injured; her currency fluctuated abnormally; the currents of trade flowing to and from her ports were disturbed and deflected. But during the past six or seven months a great change has occurred. In the main, Chili has overcome the effects of the war and promises to learn profitable lessons from her trying experiences. This promise of better times is in large part due to the character of the people. Of Chili it may truthfully be said that her people constitute a nation. The casual visitor to Santiago is impressed by the prevalence of a type: the descendants of Spaniards, with an occasional dash of Araucanian blood in their veins.

Animated by a strong nationalistic spirit, Chilian statesmen have often striven to make their state economically independent. Since August, 1914, that high purpose has been particularly noticeable among business men. The production of Chilian concrete has increased greatly; the increased output of Chilian leather has almost excluded the American article from the market; the production of copper and wool has been stimulated. Finally, an impetus has in the long run been given to the peculiarly Chilian industry in saltpetre, with the result that in the deserts of northern Chili there are now in operation about one hundred and forty saltpetre establishments. During the last six months the rate of exchange has gradually improved, the Chilian paper peso being now reckoned at about its normal value. Chilian leaders, like those of Argentina and Brazil, are contemplating the promotion of new industries. In an editorial the leading newspaper of Santiago., El Mercurio, recently said that "in this manner the detrimental results produced in the country by the European war may be amply compensated for by the encouragement of new industries which will fully supply the needs of the nation and emancipate her from dependence upon foreign nations."

What of Chilian, opinion concerning the war? To the writer it seems clear that when the war began there was a strong feeling in Chili in favor of Germany, if indeed a large majority of the people were not Germanophiles. This pro-German sentiment was partly due to the fact that there are many Germans and Germain-Chilians in Chili, who, while cherishing a pride in German culture, have to an extent become incorporated in the Chilian nation. As in Brazil, so also in Chili there are found some Germanophiles who have not scrupled to furnish surreptitious aid to the German cause. Germany has exerted considerable influence in educational circles: some of the professors in institutions of learning have been Germans, while many Chilian teachers have completed their education at German universities. A current mode of estimating Chilian opinion in regard to the war has been to say that the navy, trained according to English ideals, favors the cause of the Allies, while the army, trained by German officers, favors that of Germany.

The friends of Germany were not satisfied with expressing their views in such newspapers as the Deutsche Zeitung für Chile. After the outbreak of the war they founded at Santiago a Germanophile organ, El Tiempo Nuevo. The number of that newspaper issued on the birthday of the Emperor of Germany contained an editorial on "William II" which began with these words:

Only God knows the definitive solution to the colossal war which is taking place upon the European continent—a war which shakes to its foundations the entire world. But whatever be the solution that the future reserves for Germany, there will always emerge in history as a gigantic personage who overshadows at many points the greatest monarchs of history, the figure of William II, Emperor of the Germans.... In particular; we wish, to render homage to the Germans of Chili and to the German-Chilians who with a holy, filial love pray fervently for the success of the fatherland.... For his grandeur and personal glory, and to win an honorable place in history, it was not necessary for William II to inflict mortal anguish upon himself. Enough for him were the gifts which he had displayed as a wise and prudent ruler; as a social organizer who had gained the prestige of a great monarch. But he fixed his guise upon the future and accepted the bitter ordeal; for he aspired to clear from obstacles the road along which future generations of Germans might travel in pursuit of progress.

In literary circles the most important product of the war has been the European correspondence of the prominent Chilian journalist, Carlos Silva Vildôsola, which has been printed in El Mercurio of Santiago. In a series of brilliant letters written from European capitals that journalist described the war as observed by a Chilian. Perhaps the most interesting features of his letters were their suggestions in regard to Chili's responsibilities. In one written from London he declared that the rigorous action of Chili in regard to the preservation of her neutrality had partly destroyed the suspicions of the English, which had been provoked by stories concerning the coal and provisions and intelligence furnished to German raiders by Chilian sympathizers. "I had the conviction," said Silva, "that both the Government and the public wished to banish from the coasts of Chili the belligerent operations which disturb our commerce and impose new sacrifices upon us." The fearless letters of this journalist, recently collected and published in a volume entitled "Del Dolor y de la Muerte," have undoubtedly promoted sentiment in favor of the Allies.

Another influence which has been recently felt in Chili is the tendency to view the United States as the chosen leader of the neutral and especially of the American nations. On February 3 the Mercurio contained an editorial entitled "The United States, Germany, and the Rights of Neutrals." This article declared that the "diplomatic question" which had been agitated for two years between the United States and Germany concerning the maritime war and the rights of neutrals was again a subject for "exciting speculation." It expressed the opinion that a careful study of the '"antecedents of the question demonstrated that the illustrious President of the United States had contended for "the maintenance of indisputable principles" guaranteeing "the liberty of neutrals in maritime traffic" and fixing "the rules of equity, civilization, and humanity which modern criterions consider obligatory in war upon the seas." The Writer continues: "From an impartial point of view the entire polemic shows that Germany has pursued a policy of making promises which she has never fulfilled. In the meantime the undeniable rights of neutrals have been restricted little by little until they have reached the point of annihilation." On February 5, the day following that on which the announcement was made that diplomatic relations between the United States and Germany had been broken off, the Mercurio declared that for all neutral nations the principles supported by the United States were of "vital importance" and that these nations cannot quietly witness the employment of barbarous and inhumane modes of warfare— "The nations of South America, bound to the United States by historic bonds, and by the intellectual relations which are daily being perfected, are to-day more than ever obliged to sustain the cause which President Wilson defend." Two professors of international law in the University of Chili, Montaner and Guerra, publicly and privately expressed their opinion that Germany's submarine policy was a monstrous violation of international law.

The concise and vigorous reply of Chili on February 8 to Germany's announcement of a new submarine campaign is what might have been expected from a Government whose chancery has always maintained an independent and patriotic attitude towards European interference with the rights of South American nations. The Chilian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Huidobow, declared to the German Chargé, von Erckert, that Germany's announcement constituted a restriction of the rights of neutrals which Chili could not endure: "The acceptance by Chili of the measures, adopted by Germany would furthermore be a departure from the course of strict neutrality which she has followed during the actual European conflict. Hence, in regard to all her rights Chili reserves the liberty to claim respect for them at whatever moment an act of hostility is performed against her vessels." Chile's note replying to Ambassador Shea's announcement of the action of the United States in regard to Germany has just been published: it reenunciates the views set forth in her note of February 8 and adds that the Chilian Government considers its actions as being in harmony with the juridical objects sought by the United States in support of the general rights of neutrality and of the high ideals of world peace. Those persons who have declared that the Chilian Government was afraid to take any action that might offend "the German colony" have been rebuked and that Government has virtually given its moral support to the champion of the neutral nations.

The possibility that the United States may enter the war has provoked conjectures concerning the effects upon Chili of such an enlargement of the sphere of operations. Some Chilian business men believe that such an event would only benefit Chili; for the consumption of saltpetre would increase enormously; and there would also be an increased production of copper and other metals. They believe that Chilian maritime commerce will be safer than that of Brazil or Argentina, and that, if necessary, the warships of the Allies will escort the vessels laden with the precious saltpetre. Already calculations are made concerning the fresh profits that will accrue to Chili because of the increased need of ammunition. Some Chilian manufacturers—alarmed at the possible results of a war between the United States and Germany—are frantically purchasing American machinery and supplies. Far-sighted Chilians apprehend as the result of a serious rupture between Germany and the United States grave commercial consequences to South American countries. For in case of a German-American war these countries would be threatened with commercial and financial isolation.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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