America and a New World State
How the United States May Take the Lead in the Formation of a World Confederation for the Preservation of Future Wars
By Norman Angell
[The New York Times; February 28, March 7, March 14, 1915]
The object of this article is to show that however much America may attempt to hold herself free in Europe she will very deeply feel the effects, both material and moral, of upheavals like that which is now shaking the old Continent ; that even though there be no aggressive action against her, the militarization of Europe will force upon America also a militarist development; and that she can best avoid these dangers and secure her own safety and free development by taking the lead in a new world policy which is briefly this:
To use her position to initiate and guide a grouping of all the civilized powers having as its object the protection of any one of its members that is the victim of aggression. The aid to be given for such an object should not be, in the case of the United States, military but economic, by means of the definite organization of non-intercourse against the recalcitrant power. America's position of geographical and historical remoteness from European quarrels places her in a particularly favorable position to direct this world organization, and the fact of undertaking it would give her in some sense the moral leadership of the western world, and make her the centre of the World State, of the future.
In the discussion of America's relation to the rest of the world we have always assumed almost as an axiom that America has nothing to do with Europe, is only in the faintest degree concerned with its politics and developments, that by happy circumstance of geography and history we are isolated and self-sufficing, able to look with calm detachment upon the antics of the distant Europeans. When a European landed on these shores we were pretty certain that he left Europe behind him; only quite recently, indeed, have we realized that we were affected by what he brought with him in the way of morals and traditions, and only now are we beginning dimly to realize that what goes on the other side of the world can be any affair of ours. The famous query of a certain American statesmen, "What has America to do with abroad?" probably represented at bottom the feelings of most of us.
In so far as we established commercial relations with Europe at all, we felt and still feel probably that they were relations of hostility, that we were one commercial unit, Europe another, and that the two were in competition. In thinking thus, of course, we merely accepted the view of international politics common in Europe itself, the view, namely, that nations are necessarily trade rivals—the commercial rivalry of Britain and Germany is presumed to be one of the factors explaining the outbreak of the present war. The idea that nations do thus compete together for the world's trade is one of the axioms of all discussion in the field of international politics. Well, both these assumptions in the form in which we make them involve very grave fallacies, the realization of which will shortly become essential to the wise direction of this country's policy. If our policy, in other words, is to be shrewd and enlightened, we must realize just how both the views of international relationship that I have indicated are wrong.
I will take first the more special one—that of the assumed necessary rivalry of nations in trade—as its clearer understanding will help in what is for us the larger problem of the general relationship of this country to other civilized powers. I will therefore try and establish first this proposition—that nations are not and can not be trade rivals in the sense usually accepted; that, in other words, there is a fundamental misconception in the prevailing picture of nations as trading units—one might as well talk of red-haired people being the trade rivals of black-haired people.
And I will then try and establish a second proposition, namely, that we are intimately concerned with the condition of Europe, and are daily becoming more so, owing to processes which have become an integral part of our fight against nature, of the feeding and clothing of the world; that we cannot much longer ignore the effects of those tendencies which bind us to our neighbors; that the elementary consideration of self-protection will sooner or later compel us to accept the facts and recognize our part and lot in the struggles of Christendom; and that if we are wise, we shall not take our part therein reluctantly, dragged at the heels of forces we cannot resist, but will do so consciously, anticipating events. In other words, we shall take advantage of such measure of detachment as we do possess, to take the lead in a saner organization of western civilization; we shall become the pivot and centre of a new world State.
There is not the faintest hope of America taking this lead unless a push or impetus is given to her action by a widespread public feeling, based on the recognition of the fallacy of the two assumptions with which I began this article. For if America really is independent of the rest of the world, little concerned with what goes on therein, if she is in a position to build a sort of Chinese wall about herself, and, secure in her own strength, to develop a civilization and future of her own, still more if the weakness and disintegration of foreign nations, however unfortunate for them, is for America an opportunity of expanding trade and opportunities, why then, of course, it would be the height of folly for the United States to incur all the risks and uncertainties of an adventure into the sea of foreign politics.
What as a matter of simple fact is the real nature of trade between nations? If we are to have any clear notion at all as to just what truth there is in the notion of the necessary commercial rivalry of States, we must have some fairly clear notion of how the commercial relationship of nations works. And that can best be illustrated by a supposititious example. At the present time we are talking, for instance, of "capturing" German or British or French trade.
Now, when we talk thus of "German" trade in the international field, what do we mean? Here is the ironmaster in Essen making locomotives for a light railway in an Argentine province, (the capital for which has been subscribed in Paris)—which has become necessary because of the export of wool to Bradford, where the trade has developed owing to sales in the United States, due to high prices produced by the destruction of sheep runs, owing to the agricultural development of the West. But for the money found in Paris, (due, perhaps, to good crops in wine and olives, sold mainly in London and New York,) and the wool needed by the Bradford manufacturer, (who has found a market for blankets among miners in Montana, who are smelting copper for a cable to China, which is needed because the encouragement given to education by the Chinese Republic has caused Chinese newspapers to print cable news from Europe)—but for such factors as these, and a whole chain of equally interdependent ones throughout the world, the ironmaster in Essen would not have been able to sell his locomotives.
How, therefore, can you describe it as part of the trade of "Germany" which is in competition with the trade of "Britain" or "France" or "America"? But for the British, French, and American trade, it could not have existed at all. You may say that if the Essen ironmaster could have been prevented from selling his locomotives the order would have gone to an American one.
But this community of German workmen, called into existence by the Argentina trade, maintains by its consumption of coffee a plantation in Brazil, which buys its machinery in Chicago. The destruction, therefore, of the Essen trade, while it might have given business to the American locomotive maker, would have taken it from, say, an American agricultural implement maker. The economic interests involved sort themselves, irrespective of the national groupings. I have summarized the whole process as follows, and the need for getting some of these simple things straight is my excuse for quoting myself:
Co-operation between nations has become essential for the very life of their peoples. But that co-operation does not take place as between States at all. A trading corporation, "Britain" does not buy cotton from another corporation, "America." A manufacturer in Manchester strikes a bargain with a merchant in Louisiana in order to keep a bargain with a dyer in Germany, and three or a much larger number of parties enter into virtual, or, perhaps, actual, contract, and form a mutually dependent economic community, (numbering, it may be, with the work people in the group of industries involved, some millions of individuals)—an economic entity, so far as one can exist, which does not include all organized society.
The special interests of such a community may become hostile to those of another community, but it will almost certainly not be a "national" one, but one of a like nature, say a shipping ring or groups of international bankers or Stock Exchange speculators. The frontiers of such communities do not coincide with the areas in which operate the functions of the State.
How could a State, say Britain, act on behalf of an economic entity such as that just indicated? By pressure against America or Germany? But the community against which the British manufacturer in this case wants pressure exercised is not "America" or "Germany"—both Americans and Germans are his partners in the matter. He wants it exercised against the shipping ring or the speculators or the bankers who are in part British. * * *
This establishes two things, therefore: The fact that the political and economic units do not coincide, and the fact which follows as a consequence—that action by political authorities designed to control economic activities which take no account of the limits of political jurisdiction is necessarily irrelevant and ineffective. (From " Arms and Industry: A Study of the Foundations of International Polity." Page 28. Putnams: New York.)
The fallacy of the idea that the groups we call nations must be in conflict because they struggle together for bread and the means of sustenance is demonstrated immediately when we recall the simple facts of historical development. When, in the British Islands, the men of Wessex were fighting with the men of Sussex, far more frequently and bitterly than today the men of Germany fight with those of France, or either with those of Russia, the separate States which formed the island were struggling with one another for sustenance, just as the tribes which inhabited the North American Continent at the time of our arrival there were struggling with one another for the game and hunting grounds. It was in both cases ultimately a "struggle for bread."
At that time, when Britain was composed of several separate States, that struggled thus with one another for land and food, it supported with great difficulty anything between one and two million inhabitants, just as the vast spaces now occupied by the United States supported about a hundred thousand, often subject to famine, frequently suffering great shortage of food, able to secure just the barest existence of the simplest kind.
Today, although Britain supports anything from twenty to forty times, and North America something like a thousand times, as large a population in much greater comfort, with no period of famine, with the whole population living much more largely and deriving much more from the soil than did the men of the Heptarchy, or the Red Indians, the "struggle for bread " does not now take the form of struggle between groups of the population. The more they fought, the less efficiently did they support themselves; the less they fought one another, the more efficiently did they all support themselves.
This simple illustration is at least proof of this, that the struggle for material things did not involve any necessary struggle between the separate groups or States; for those material things are given in infinitely greater abundance when the States cease to struggle. Whatever, therefore, was the origin of those conflicts, that origin was not any inevitable conflict in the exploitation of the earth. If those conflicts were concerned with material things at all, they arose from a mistake about the best means of obtaining them, exploiting the earth, and ceased when those concerned realized the mistake. Just as Britain supported its population better when Englishmen gave up fighting between themselves, so the world as a whole could support its population better if it gave up fighting.
Moreover, we have passed out of the stage when we could massacre a conquered population to make room for us. When we conquer an inferior people like the Filipinos, we don't exterminate them, we give them an added chance of life. The weakest don't go to the wall.
But at this point parenthetically I want to enter a warning. You may say, if this notion of the rivalry of nations is false, how do you account for the fact of its playing so large a part in the present war?
Well, that is easily explained—men are not guided necessarily by their interest even in their soberest moments, but by what they believe to be their interest. Men do not judge from the facts, but from what they believe to be the facts. War is the "failure of human understanding." The religious wars were due to the belief that two religions could not exist side by side. It was not true, but the false belief provoked the wars. Our notions as to the relation of political power to a nation's prosperity are just as false, and this fallacy, like the older one, plays its part in the causation of war.
Now, let us for a moment apply the very general rule thus revealed to the particular case of the United States at this present juncture.
American merchants may in certain cases, if they are shrewd and able, do a very considerably increased trade, though it is just as certain that other merchants will be losing trade, and I think there is pretty general agreement that as a matter of simple fact the losses of the war so far have for America very considerably and very obviously overbalanced the gains. The loss has been felt so tangibly by the United States Government, for instance, that a special loan had to be voted in order to stop some of the gaps. Whole States, whose interests are bound up with staples like cotton, were for a considerable time threatened with something resembling commercial paralysis.
While we may admit advances and gains in certain isolated directions, the extra burden is felt in all directions of commerce and industry. And that extra burden is visible through finance—the increased cost of money, the scarcity of capital, the lower negotiability of securities, the greater uncertainty concerning the future. It is by means of the financial reaction that America, as a whole, has felt the adverse effects of this war. There is not a considerable village, much less a considerable city, not a merchant, not a captain of industry in the United States that has not so felt it. It is plainly evident that by the progressive dearness of money, the lower standard of living that will result in Europe, the effect on immigration, and other processes which I will touch upon at greater length later, any temporary stimulus which a trade here and there may receive will be more than offset by the difficulties due to financial as apart from industrial or commercial reactions.
This war will come near to depriving America for a decade or two of its normal share of the accumulated capital of the older peoples, whether that capital be used in paying war indemnities or in paying off the cost of the war or in repairing its ravages. In all cases it will make capital much dearer, and many enterprises which with more abundant capital might have been born and might have stimulated American industry will not be born. For the best part of a generation perhaps the available capital of Europe will be used to repair the ravages of war there, to pay off the debts created by war, and to start life normally once more. We shall suffer in two ways.
In a recent report issued by the Agricultural Department at Washington is a paragraph to the effect that one of the main factors which have operated against the development of the American farm is the difficulty that the farmer has found in securing abundant capital and the high price that he has to pay for it when he can secure it. It will in the future be of still higher price, and still less abundant, because, of course, the capital of the world is a common reservoir—if it is dearer in one part, it is dearer to some extent in all parts.
So that if for many years the American farmhouse is not so well built as it might be, the farm not so well worked, rural life in America not so attractive as it might be, the farmer's wife burdened with a little more labor than she might otherwise have, and if she grows old earlier than she might otherwise, it will be in part because we are paying our share of the war indemnities and the war costs.
But this scarcity of capital operates in another way. One of the most promising fields for American enterprise is, of course, in the undeveloped lands to the south of us, but in the development of those lands we have looked and must look for the co-operation of European capital. Millions of French and British money have poured into South America, building docks and railroads and opening up the country, and that development of South America has been to our advantage because quite frequently these enterprises were under the actual management of Americans, using to the common advantage the savings of the thrifty Frenchman and the capital of the wealthy Englishman.
For, of course, as between the older and the newer worlds there has gone on this very beneficent division of labor: the Old World having developed its soil, built its cities, made its roads, has more capital available for outside employment than have the population of newer countries that have so much of this work before them. And now this possibility of fruitful co-operation is, for the time being, and it may be for many years, suspended. I say nothing of the loss of markets in the older countries which will he occasioned by sheer loss of population and the lower standard of living. That is one of the more obvious but not perhaps the most important of the ways in which the war affects us commercially.
Speaking purely in terms of commercial advantage—and these, I know, do not tell the whole story (I am not for a moment pretending they do)—the losses that we shall suffer through this war are probably very much more considerable than those we should suffer by the loss of the Philippines in the event, say, of their being seized by some hostile power; and we suffer these losses, although not a single foreign soldier lands upon our soil. It is literally and precisely true to say that there is not one person from Hudson Bay to Cape Horn that will not be affected in some degree by what is now going on in Europe. And it is at least conceivable that our children and children's children will feel its effects more deeply still.
Nor is America escaping the military any more than she has escaped the commercial and financial effects of this war. She may never be drawn into active military co-operation with other nations, but she is affected none the less. Indeed the military effects of this war are already revealing themselves in a demand for a naval programme immensely larger than any American could have anticipated a year ago, by plans for an enormously enlarged army. All this is the most natural result.
Just consider, for instance, the ultimate effect of a quite possible outcome of the present conflict—Germany victorious and the Prussian effort next directed at, say, the conquest of India. Imagine India Prussianized by Germany, so that, with the marvelous efficiency in military organization which she has shown, she is able to draw on an Asiatic population of something approaching 400,000,000.
Whether the situation then created would really constitute a menace for us or not, this much would be certain—that the more timid and timorous among us would believe it to be a menace, and it would furnish an irresistible plea for a very greatly enlarged naval and military establishment. We too, in that case would probably be led to organize our nation on the lines on which the European military nations have organized theirs, with compulsory military service, and so forth.
Indeed, even if Germany is not victorious the future contains possibilities of a like result; imagine, what is quite possible, that Russia becomes the dominant factor in Europe after this war and places herself at the head of a great Slav confederacy of 200,000,000, with her power extending incidentally to the Pacific coast of Asia, and, it may be the day after tomorrow, over 100,000,000 or 200,000,000 of Asiatics. We should thus have a militarized power of 200,000,000 or 300,000,000 or 400,000,000 souls, autocratically governed, endowed with western technical knowledge in the manipulation of the instruments of war, occupying the Pacific coast line directly facing our Pacific coast line. It is quite conceivable, therefore, that as the outcome of either of the two possible results of this war we may find ourselves embarked upon a great era of militarization.
Our impregnability does not protect us from militarism. It is quite true that this country, like Russia, cannot be permanently invaded; it is quite true that hostile navies need not necessarily be resisted by navies of our own so far as the protection of our coasts is concerned. But there is no such thing as absolute certainty in these matters. While personally I believe that no country in the world will ever challenge the United States, that the chances are a hundred to one against it, it is on just that one chance that the militarist bases his plea for armaments and secures them.
But, unfortunately, we are already committed to a good deal more than just mere defense of American territory; problems arising out of the Philippines and the Panama Canal and the Monroe Doctrine have already committed us to a measure of intervention in the political affairs of the outside world. In brief, if the other nations of the world have great armies and navies—and tomorrow those other nations will include a reorganized China as they already include a westernized Japan—if there is all that weight of military material which might be used against us, then in the absence of those other guarantees which I shall suggest, we shall be drawn into piling up a corresponding weight of material as against that of the outside world.
And, of course, just as we cannot escape the economic and the military reaction of European development, neither can we escape the moral. If European thought and morality did, by some fatality, really develop in the direction of a Nietzschean idealization of military force, we might well get in the coming years a practical submergence of that morality which we believe to be distinctively American, and get throughout the older hemisphere a type of society based upon authority, reproducing it may be some features of past civilizations, Mongol, Asiatic, or Byzantine. If that were to happen, if Europe were really to become a mere glorified form of, say, certain Asiatic conceptions that we all thought had had their day, why, then, of course America could not escape a like transformation of outlook, ideals, and morals.
For there is no such thing as one nation standing out and maintaining indefinitely a social spirit, an attitude toward life and society absolutely distinct and different from that of the surrounding world. The character of a society is determined by the character of its ideas, and neither tariffs nor coastal defenses are really efficient in preventing the invasion of ideas, good or bad. The difference between the kind of society which exists in Illinois today and that which existed there 500 years ago is not a difference of physical vigor or of the raw materials of nature; the Indian was as good a man physically as the modern Chicagoan, and possessed the same soil. What makes the difference between the two is accumulated knowledge, the mind. And there never was yet on this planet a change of ideas which did not sooner or later affect the whole planet.
The "nations" that inhabited this continent a couple of thousand years ago were apparently quite unconcerned with what went on in Europe or Asia, say, in the domain of mathematical and astronomical knowledge. But the ultimate effect of that knowledge on navigation and discovery was destined to affect them—and us—profoundly. But the reaction of European thought upon this continent, which originally required twenty, or, for that matter, two hundred or two thousand years to show itself, now shows itself, in the industrial and commercial field, for instance, through our banking and Stock Exchanges, in as many hours, or, for that matter, minutes. It is difficult, of course, for us to realize the extent to which each nation owes its civilization to others, how we have all lived by taking in each other's washing. As Americans, for instance, we have to make a definite effort properly to realize that our institutions, the sanctity of our homes and all the other things upon which we pride ourselves, are the result of anything but the unaided efforts of a generation or two of Americans, perhaps owing a little to certain of the traditions that we may have taken from Britain. One has to stop and uproot impressions that are almost instinctive, to remember that our forefathers reached these shores by virtue of knowledge which they owed to the astronomical researches of Egyptians and Chaldeans, who inspired the astronomers of Greece, who inspired those of the Renaissance in Italy, Spain, and Germany, keeping alive and developing not merely the art of measuring space and time, but also that conception of order in external nature without which the growth of organized knowledge, which we call science, enabling men to carry on their exploitation of the world, would have been impossible; that our very alphabet comes from Rome, who owed it to others; that the mathematical foundation of our modern mechanical science—without which neither Newton nor Watt nor Stevenson nor Ericson nor Faraday nor Edison could have been is the work of Arabs, strengthened by Greeks, protected and enlarged by Italians; that our conceptions of political organization, which have so largely shaped our political science, come mainly from the Scandinavian colonists of a French province; that British intellect, to which perhaps we owe the major part of our political impulses, has been nurtured mainly by Greek philosophy; that our Anglo-Saxon Law is principally Roman, and our religion almost entirely Asiatic in its origins; that for those things which we deem to be the most important in our lives, our spiritual and religious aspirations, we go to a Jewish book interpreted by a Church Roman in origin, reformed mainly by the efforts of Swiss and German theologians. And this interaction of the respective elements of the various nations, the influence of foreigners, in other words, and of foreign ideas, is going to be far more powerful in the future than it has been in the past. Morally, as well as materially, we are a part of Europe. The influence which one group exercises on another need not operate through political means at all; indeed, the strongest influences are non-political.
American life and civilization may be transformed by European developments, though the Governments of Europe may leave us severely alone. Luther and Calvin had certainly a greater effect in England than Louis XIV or Napoleon. Gutenberg created in Europe a revolution more powerful than all the military revolutions of the last ten centuries. Greece and Palestine did not transform the world by their political power. Yet these simple and outstanding truths are persistently ignored by our political and historical philosophers and theorists. For the most part our history is written with a more sublime disregard of the simple facts of the world than is shown perhaps in any other department of human thought and inquiry. You may today read histories of Europe written by men of worldwide and pre-eminent reputation, professing to tell the story of the development of human society, in which whole volumes will be devoted to the effect of a particular campaign or military alliance in influencing the destinies of a people like the French or the German. But in those histories you will find no word as to the effect of such trifles as the invention of the steam engine, the coming of the railroad, the introduction of the telegraph and cheap newspapers and literature on the destiny of those people; volumes as to the influence which Britain may have had upon the history of France or Germany by the campaigns of Marlborough, but absolutely not one word as to the influence which Britain had upon the destinies of those people by the work of Watt and Stephenson. A great historian philosopher laying it down that the "influence" of England was repelled or offset by this or that military alliance, seriously stated that "England" was losing her influence on the Continent at a time when her influence was transforming the whole lives of Continental people to a greater degree than they had been transformed since the days of the Romans.
I have gone into this at some length to show mainly two things first, that neither morally nor materially, neither in our trade nor in our finance, nor in our industry, nor in all those intangible things that give value to life can there be such a thing as isolation from the rest of Christendom. If European civilization takes a "wrong turning"—and it has done that more than once in the past—we can by no means escape the effects of that catastrophe. We are deeply concerned, if only because we may have to defend ourselves against it and in so doing necessarily transform in some degree our society and ourselves.
And I wanted to show, secondly, that not only as a simple matter of fact as things stand are we in a very real sense dependent upon Europe, that we want European capital and European trade, and that if we are to do the best for American prosperity we must increase that dependence, but that if we are effectively to protect those things that go deeper even than trade and prosperity, we must co-operate with Europe intellectually and morally. It is not for us a question of choice. For good or evil, we are part of the world affected by what the rest of the world becomes and affected by what it does. And I want to show in my next article that only by frankly facing the fact (which we cannot deny) that we are a part of the civilized world and must play our part in it, shall we achieve real security for our material and moral posessions and do the best that we know for the general betterment of American life.
II. AMERICA'S FUTURE ATTITUDE
In my last article I attempted to show how deeply must America feel, sooner or later, and for good or evil, the moral and material results of the upheavals in Europe and the new tendencies that will be generated by them. I attempted to show, too, how impossible it is for us to escape our part of all the costs, how we shall pay our share of the indemnities, and how our children and children's children may be affected even more profoundly than we ourselves. The shells may not hit us, yet there is hardly a farmhouse in our country that will not, however unconsciously, be affected by these far-off events. We may not witness the trains of weary refugees trailing over the roads, but (if we could but see the picture) there will be an endless procession of our own farmers' wives with a hardened and shortened life and their children with less ample opportunities.
And our ideals of the future will in some measure be twisted by the moral and material bankruptcy of Europe. Those who consider at all carefully the facts hinted at in my last article—too complex to be more than hinted at in the space available—will realize that the "isolation" of America is an illusion of the map, and is becoming more so every day; that she is an integral part of Occidental civilization whether she wishes it or not, and that if civilization in Europe takes the wrong turn we Americans would suffer less directly but not less vitally than France or Britain or Germany.
All this, of course, is no argument for departing from our traditional isolation. Our entrance into the welter might not change things or it might change them for the worse or the disadvantages might be such as to outweigh the advantages. The sensible question for America is this: "Can we affect the general course of events in Europe—in the world, that is—to our advantage by entering in; and will the advantage of so doing be of such extent as to offset the risks and costs?"
Before answering that question I want to indicate by very definite proposals or propositions a course of action and a basis for estimating the effect. I will put the proposal with reference to America's future attitude to Europe in the form of a definite proposition thus:
That America shall use her influence to secure the abandonment by the powers of Christendom of rival group alliances and the creation instead of an alliance of all the civilized powers having as its aim some common action—not necessarily military—which will constitute a collective guarantee of each against aggression.
Thus when Germany, asked by the Allies at the prospective peace to remove the menace of her militarism by reducing her armaments, replies, "What of my protection against Russia?" Christendom should, with America's help, be in a position to reply: "We will all protect you against Russia, just as we would all protect Russia against you."
The considerations which support such a policy on America's part are mainly these: First, that if America does not lend the assistance of her detachment from European quarrels to such an arrangement, Europe of herself may not prove capable of it. Second, that if Europe does not come to some such arrangement the resulting unrest, militarism, moral and material degeneration, for the reasons above indicated and for others to be indicated presently, will most unfavorably affect the development of America, and expose her to dangers internal and external much greater than those which she would incur by intervention. Third, that if America's influence is in the manner indicated made the deciding factor in the establishment of a new form of world society, she would virtually take the leadership of Western civilization, and her capital become the centre of the political organization of the new world State. While "world domination" by military means has always proved a dangerous diet for all nations that have eaten of it heretofore, the American form of that ambition would have this great difference from earlier forms—that it would be welcomed instead of being resisted by the dominated. America would have given a new meaning to the term and found a means of satisfying national pride, certainly more beneficial than that which comes of military glory.
I envisage the whole problem, however, first and last in this discussion on the basis of America's interest; and the test which I would apply to the alternatives now presenting themselves is simply this: What on balance is most advantageous, in the broadest and largest sense of the term, in its moral as well as its material sense, to American interest?
Now I know full well that there is much to be said against the step which I think America should initiate. I suppose the weight of the reasons against it would be in some such order as the following: First, that it is a violation of the ancient tradition of American statecraft and of the rule laid down by Washington concerning the avoidance of entangling alliances. Second, that it may have the effect which he feared of dragging this country into war on matters in which it had no concern. Third, that it will militarize the country, and so, Fourth, lead to the neglect of those domestic problems upon which the progress of our nation depends.
I will take the minor points first and will deal with the major consideration presently. First, I would remind the reader of what I pointed out in the last article, that there is no such thing as being unaffected by the military policies of Europe, and there never has been. At this present moment a campaign for greatly increased armaments is being waged on the strength of what is taking place in the Old World, and our armaments are directly and categorically dictated by what foreign nations do in the matter. So that it is not a question in practice of being independent of the policies of other nations; we are not independent of their policies.
We may refuse to co-operate with them, to have anything to do with them. Even then our military policy will be guided by theirs, and it is at least conceivable that in certain circumstances we should become thoroughly militarized by the need for preparing against what our people would regard as the menace of European military ambitions. This tendency, if it became sufficiently acute, would cause neglect of domestic problems hardly less mischievous than that occasioned by war.
In my last article I touched upon a quite possible turn of the alliance groupings in Europe—the growing influence of Russia, the extension of that influence to the Asiatic populations on her borders, (Japan and Russia are already in alliance), so that within the quite measurable future we may be confronted by a military community drawing on a population of 500,000,000 souls, autocratically governed and endowed with all the machinery of destruction which modern science has given to the world. A Russo-Chino-Japanese alliance might on behalf of the interest or dignity of one of the members of such a group challenge this country in some form or another, and a Western Europe with whom we had refused to co-operate for a common protection might as a consequence remain an indifferent spectator of the conflict.
Such a situation would certainly not relieve us from the burdens of militarism merely because we declined to enter into any arrangement with the European powers. As a matter of fact, of course, this present war destroyed the nationalist basis of militarism itself. The militarist may continue to talk about international agreement between nations being impossible as a means of insuring a nation's safety, and a nation having no security but the strength of its own arms, but when it actually comes to the point even he is obliged to trust to agreement with other nations and to admit that even in war a nation can no longer depend merely upon the strength of its arms; it has to depend upon co-operation, which means an agreement of some kind with other nations as well.
Just as the nations have by forces stronger than their own volition been brought into industrial and commercial co-operation, so, strangely enough, have they been brought by those same forces into military co-operation. While the warrior and militarist have been talking the old jargon of nationalism and holding international co-operation up to derision as a dream, they have themselves been brought to depend upon foreigners. War itself has become internationalist.
There is something of sardonic humor in the fact that it is the greatest war of history which is illustrating the fact that even the most powerful of the European nations must co-operate with foreigners for its security. For no one of the nine or ten combatants of the present war could have maintained its position or defended itself alone. There is not one nation involved that would not believe itself in danger of destruction but for the help of foreigners; there is not one whose national safety does not depend upon some compact or arrangement with foreign nations. France would have been helpless but for the help of Britain and of Russia. Russia herself could not have imposed her will upon Germany if Germany could have thrown all her forces on the eastern frontier. Austria could certainly not have withstood the Russian flood single handed. Quite obviously the lesser nations, Serbia, Belgium, and the rest, would be helpless victims but for the support of their neighbors.
And it should be noted that this international co-operation is not by any means always with similar and racially allied nations. Republican France finds itself, and has been for a generation, the ally of autocratic Russia. Australia, that much more than any other country has been obsessed by the yellow peril and the danger from Japan, finds herself today fighting side by side with the Japanese. And as to the ineradicable hostility of races preventing international co-operation, there are fighting together on the soil of France as I write, Flemish, Walloons, and negroes from Senegal, Turcos from Northern Africa, Gurkhas from India, co-operating with the advance on the other frontier of Cossacks, and Russians of all descriptions. This military and political co-operation has brought together Mohammedan and Christian; Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox; negro, white and yellow; African, Indian, and European; monarchist, republican, Socialist, reactionary—there seems hardly a racial, religious, or political difference that has stood in the way of rapid and effective co-operation in the common need.
Thus the soldier himself, while defending the old nationalist and exclusive conceptions, is helping to shrink the spaces of the world and break down old isolations and show how interests at the uttermost ends of the earth react one upon the other.
But even apart from this influence, as already noted, America cannot escape the military any more than she has escaped the commercial and financial effects of this war. She may never be drawn into active military co-operation with other nations, but she is affected none the less by a demand for a naval programme immensely larger than any American could have anticipated a year since, by plans for an enormously enlarged army.
That, it will be argued, is the one thing needed to be stronger than our prospective enemy. And, of course, any enemy whether he be one nation or a group who really does contemplate aggression, would on his side take care to be stronger than us. War and peace are matters of two parties, and any principle which you may lay down for one is applicable to the other. When we say "Si vis pacem, para bellum" we must apply it to all parties. One eminent upholder of this principle has told us that the only way to be sure of peace is to be so much stronger than your enemy that he will not dare to attack you. Apply that to the two parties and you get this result here are two nations or two groups of nations likely to quarrel. How shall they keep the peace? And we say quite seriously that they will keep the peace if each is stronger than the other.
This principle, therefore, which looks at first blush like an axiom, is, as a matter of fact, an attempt to achieve a physical impossibility and always ends, as it has ended in Europe on this occasion, in explosion. You cannot indefinitely pile up explosive material without an accident of some sort occurring; it is bound to occur. But you will note this: that the militarist while avowing by his conduct that nations can no longer in a military sense be independent, that they are obliged to co-operate with others and consequently depend upon some sort of an arrangement, agreement, compact, alliance with others has adopted a form of compact which merely perpetuates the old impossible situation on a larger scale! He has devised the "balance of power."
For several generations Britain, which has occupied with reference to the Continent of Europe somewhat the position which we are now coming to occupy with regard to Europe as a whole, has acted on this principle that so long as the powers of the Continent were fairly equally divided she felt she could with a fair chance of safety face either one or the other. But if one group became so much stronger than the other that it was in danger of dominating the whole Continent, then Britain might find herself faced by an overwhelming power with which she would be unable to deal. To prevent this she joined the weaker group. Thus Britain intervened in Continental politics against Napoleon as she has intervened today against the Kaiser.
But this policy is merely a perpetuation on a larger scale of the principle of "each being stronger than the other." Military power, in any case, is a thing very difficult to estimate; an apparently weaker group or nation has often proved, in fact, to be the stronger; so that there is a desire on the part of both sides to give the benefit of the doubt to themselves. Thus the natural and latent effort to be strongest is obviously fatal to any "balance." Neither side, in fact, desires a balance; each desires to have the balance tilted in its favor. This sets up a perpetual tendency toward rearrangement, and regroupings and reshufflings in these international alliances sometimes take place with extraordinary and startling rapidity, as in the case of the Balkan States.
It is already illustrated in the present war; Italy has broken away from a definite and formal alliance which every one supposed would range her on the German side. There is at least a possibility that she may finally come down upon the Anglo-Franco-Russian side. You have Japan, which little more than a decade ago was fighting bitterly against Russia, today ranged upon the side of Russia. The position of Russia is still more startling. In the struggles of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries Britain was almost always on the side of Russia; then for two generations she was taught that any increase of the power of Russia was a particularly dangerous menace. That once more was a decade ago suddenly changed, and Britain is now fighting to increase both relatively and absolutely the power of a country which her last war on the Continent was fought to check. The war before that which Great Britain fought upon the Continent was fought in alliance with Germans against the power of France. As to the Austrians, whom Britain is now fighting, they were for many years her faithful allies. So it is very nearly true to say of nearly all the combatants respectively that they have no enemy today that was not, historically speaking, quite recently an ally, and not an ally today that was not in the recent past an enemy.
These combinations, therefore, are not, never have been, and never can be permanent. If history, even quite recent history, has any meaning at all, the next ten or fifteen or twenty years will be bound to see among these ten combatants now in the field rearrangements and permutations out of which the crushed and suppressed Germany that is to follow the war—a Germany which will embrace, nevertheless, a hundred million of the same race, highly efficient, highly educated, trained for co-ordination and common action—will be bound sooner or later to find her chance.
If America should by any catastrophe join Britain or any other nation for the purpose of maintaining a "balance of power" in the world, then indeed would her last state be worse than her first. The essential vice of the balance of power is that it is based upon a fundamentally false assumption as to the real relationship of nations and as to the function and nature of force in human affairs. The limits of the present article preclude any analysis of most of the monstrous fallacies, but a hint can be given of one or two.
First, of course, if you could get such a thing as a real "balance of power"—two parties confronting one another with about equal forces—you would probably get a situation most favorable to war. Neither being manifestly inferior to the other, neither would be disposed to yield; each being manifestly as good as the other, would feel in "honor" bound to make no concession. If a power quite obviously superior to its rival makes concessions the world may give it credit for magnanimity in yielding, but otherwise it would always be in the position of being compelled to vindicate its courage. Our notions of honor and valor being what they are, no situation could be created more likely to bring about deadlocks and precipitate fights. All the elements are there for bringing about that position in which the only course left is "to fight it out."
The assumption underlying the whole theory of the balance of power is that predominant military power in a nation will necessarily—or at least probably—be exercised against its weaker neighbors to their disadvantage. Thus Britain has acted on the assumption that if one power dominated the Continent, British independence, more truly perhaps British predominance in the world would be threatened.
Now, how has a society of individuals—the community within the frontiers of a nation—met this difficulty which now confronts the society of nations, the difficulty that is of the danger of the power of an individual or a group? They have met it by determining that no individual or group shall exercise physical power or predominance over others; that the community alone shall be predominant. How has that predominance been secured? By determining that any one member attacked shall be opposed by the whole weight of the community, (exercised, say, through the policeman). If A flies at B's throat in the street with the evident intention of throttling him to death, the community, if it is efficient, immediately comes to the support of B.
And you will note this: that it does not allow force to be used for the settlement of differences by anybody. The community does not use force as such at all; it merely cancels the force of units and determines that nobody shall use it. It eliminates force. And it thus cancels the power of the units to use it against other units (other than as a part of the community) by standing ready at all times to reduce the power of any one unit to futility. If A says that B began it, the community does not say, "Oh, in that case you may continue to use your force; finish him off." It says, on the contrary, "Then we'll see that B does not use his force; we'll restrain him, we won't have either of you using force. We'll cancel it and suppress it wherever it rears its head." For there is this paradox at the basis of all civilized intercourse: force between men has but one use—to see that force settles no difference between them.
And this has taken place because men—individually—have decided that the advantage of the security of each from aggression outweighs the advantage which each has in the possible exercise of aggression. When nations have come to the same decision and—not a moment before they will protect themselves from aggression in precisely the same way—by agreeing between them that they will cancel by their collective power the force of any one member exercised against another.
I emphasize the fact that you must get this recognition of common interest in a given action before you can get the common action. We have managed it in the relations between individuals because, the numbers being so much greater than in the case of nations, individual dissent goes for less. The policeman, the judge, the jailer have behind them a larger number relatively to individual exceptions than is the case with nations. For the existence of such an arrangement by no means implies that men shall be perfect, that each shall willingly obey all the laws which he enforces. It merely implies that his interest in the law as a whole is greater than his interest in its general violation.
No man for a single day of his life observes all the Ten Commandments, yet you can always secure a majority for the support of the Ten Commandments, for the simple reason that while there are a great many who would like to rob, all are in favor of being protected against the robber. While there are a great many who would like on occasion to kill, all are in favor of being protected against being killed. The prohibition of this act secures universal support embracing "all of the people all of the time;" the positive impulse to it is isolated and occasional—with some individuals perhaps all the time, but with all individuals only some of the time, if ever.
When you come to the nations, there is less disproportion between the strength of the unit and the society. Hence nations have been slower than individuals in realizing their common interest. Each has placed greater reliance on its own strength for its protection. Yet the principle remains the same. There may be nations which desire for their own interest to go to war, but they all want to protect themselves against being beaten. You have there an absolutely common interest. The other interest, the desire to beat, is not so universal; in fact, if any value can be given whatever to the statement of the respective statesmen, such an interest is non-existent. There is not a single statesman in Christendom today who would admit for a moment that it is his desire to wage war on a neighboring nation for the purpose of conquering it. All this warfare is, each party to it declares, merely a means of protecting itself against the aggression of neighbors. Whatever insincerity there may be in these declarations we can at least admit this much, that the desire to be safe is more widespread than the desire to conquer, for the desire to be safe is universal.
We ought to be able, therefore, to achieve, on the part of the majority, action to that end. And on this same principle there can be no doubt that the nations as a whole would give their support to any plan which would help to secure them from being attacked. It is time for the society of nations to take this first step toward the creation of a real community; to agree, that is, that the influence of the whole shall be thrown against the one recalcitrant member.
The immensely increased contact between nations which has set up a greater independence (in the way hinted at in my last article) has given weight to the interest in security and taken from the interest in aggression. The tendency to aggression is often a blind impulse due to the momentum of old ideas which have not yet had time to be discredited and disintegrated by criticism. And of organization for the really common interest—that of security against aggression—there has, in fact, been none. If there is one thing certain it is that in Europe last July the people did not want war; they tolerated it, passively dragged by the momentum of old forces which they could not even formulate. The really general desire has never been organized; any means of giving effect to a common will—such as is given it in society within the frontiers—has never so far been devised.
I believe that it is the mission of America in her own interest to devise it; that the circumstances of her isolation, historical and geographical, enable her to do for the older peoples—and herself—a service which by reason of their circumstances, geographical and historical, they cannot do for themselves. The power that she exercises to this end need not be military. I do not think that it should be military. This war has shown that the issues of military conflict are so uncertain, depending upon all sorts of physical accidents, that no man can possibly say which side will win. The present war is showing daily that the advantage does not always go with numbers, and the outcome of war is always to some extent a hazard and a gamble, but there are certain forces that can be set in operation by nations situated as the United States, that are not in any way a gamble and a hazard, the effect of which will be quite certain.
I refer to the pressure of such a thing as organized non-intercourse, the sending of a country to moral, social, economic Coventry. We are, I know, here treading somewhat unknown ground, but we have ample evidence to show that there do exist forces capable of organization, stronger, and more certain in their operation than military forces. That the world is instinctively feeling this is demonstrated by the present attitude of all the combatants in Europe to the United States. The United States relatively to powers like Russia, Britain, and Germany is not a great military power, yet they are all pathetically anxious to secure the good-will of the United States.
It can hardly be to save the shock to their moral feelings which would come from the mere disapproval of people on the other side of the world. If any percentage of what we have read of German methods is true, if German ethics bear the faintest resemblance to what they are so often represented to be, Germany must have no feeling in the political sphere to be hurt by the moral disapproval of the people of the United States. If German statesmen are so desperately anxious as they evidently are to secure the approval and good-will of the United States it is because they realize, however indistinctly, that there lie in the hands of the United States powers which could be loosed, more portentous than those held by the masters of many legions. Just what these powers are and how they might be used to give America greater security than she could achieve by arms, to place her at the virtual head of a great world State, and to do for mankind as a whole a service greater than any yet recorded in written history, must be left to the third and concluding article of this series.
III. AMERICA AS LEADER.
In the preceding article I indicated that America might undertake at this juncture of international affairs an intervention in the politics of the Old World which is of a kind not heretofore attempted by any nation, an intervention, that is to say, that should not be military, but in the first instance mediatory and moral, having in view if needs be the employment of certain organized social and economic forces which I will detail presently.
The suggestion that America should take any such lead is resisted first on the ground that it is a violation of her traditional policy, and secondly that "economic and social forces" are bound to be ineffective unless backed by military, so that the plea would involve her in a militarist policy. With reference to these two points, I pointed out in the preceding article that America's isolation from a movement for world agreement would infallibly land her in a very pronounced militarist policy, the increase of her armaments, the militarization of her civilization and all that that implies.
There are open to America at this present moment two courses: one which will lead her to militarism and the indefinite increase of armaments—that is the course of isolation from the world's life, from the new efforts that will be made toward world organization; the other to anticipate events and take the initiative in the leadership of world organization, which would have the effect of rendering western civilization, including herself, less military, less dependent upon arms, and put the development of that civilization on a civilist rather than a militarist basis.
I believe that it is the failure to realize that this intervention can be nonmilitary in character which explains the reluctance of very many Americans to depart from their traditional policy of non-intervention. With reference to that point it is surely germane to remember that the America of 1914 is not the America of 1776; circumstances which made Washington's advice sound and statesmanlike have been transformed. The situation today is not that of a tiny power not yet solidified, remote from the main currents of the world's life, outmatched in resources by any one of the greater powers of Europe. America is no longer so remote as to have little practical concern with Europe. Its contacts with Europe are instantaneous, daily, intimate, innumerable—so much so indeed that our own civilization will be intimately affected and modified by certain changes which threaten in the older world.
I will put the case thus: Suppose that there are certain developments in Europe which would profoundly threaten our own civilization and our own security, and suppose further that we could without great cost to ourselves so guide or direct those changes and developments as to render them no longer a menace to this country. If such a case could be established, would not adherence to a formula established under eighteenth century conditions have the same relation to sound politics that the incantations and taboos of superstitious barbarians have to sound religion? And I think such a case can be established.
I wonder whether it has occurred to many Americans to ask why all the belligerents in this present war are showing such remarkable deference to American public opinion. Some Americans may, of course, believe that it is the sheer personal fascination of individual Americans or simple tenderness of moral feeling that makes Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany, and Austria take definitely so much trouble at a time when they have sufficient already, to demonstrate that they have taken the right course, that they are obeying all the laws of war, that they are not responsible for the war in any way, and so forth. Is it simply that our condemnation would hurt their feelings? This hardly agrees with certain other ideas which we hold as to the belligerents.
There is something beyond this order of motive at the bottom of the immense respect which all the combatants alike are paying to American opinion. It happened to the writer recently to meet a considerable number of Belgian refugees from Brussels, all of them full of stories (which I must admit were second or third or three-hundredth hand) of German barbarity and ferocity. Yet all were obliged to admit that German behavior in Brussels had on the whole been very good. But that, they explained, was "merely because the American Consul put his foot down." Yet one is not aware that President Wilson had authorized the American Consul so much as to hint at the possible military intervention of America in this war. Nevertheless there can be no doubt that these "Huns," so little susceptible in our view for the most part to moral considerations, were greatly influenced by the opinion of America; and we know also that the other belligerents have shown the same respect for the attitude of the United States.
I think we have here what so frequently happens in the development of the attitude of men toward large general questions: the intuitive recognition of a truth which those who recognize it are quite unable to put into words. It is a self-protective instinct, a movement that is made without its being necessary to think it out. (In the way that the untaught person is able instantly to detect the false note in a tune without knowing that such things as notes or crotchets and quavers exist.)
It is quite true that the Germans feared the bad opinion of the world because the bad opinion of the world may be translated into an element of resistance to the very ends which it is the object of the war to achieve for Germany. Those ends include the extension of German influence, material and moral, of German commerce and culture. But a world very hostile to Germany might quite conceivably check both. We say, rightly enough, probably, that pride of place and power had its part—many declare the prominent part—in the motives that led Germany into this war. But it is quite conceivable that a universal revulsion of feeling against a power like Germany might neutralize the influence she would gain in the world by a mere extension of her territorial conquests.
Russia, for instance, has nearly five times the population and very many times the area of France; but one may doubt whether even a Russian would assert that Russian influence is five or ten times greater than that of France; still less that the world yielded him in any sense a proportionately greater deference than it yields the Frenchman. The extent to which the greatest power can impose itself by bayonets is very limited in area and depth. All the might of the Prussian Army cannot compel the children of Poland or of Lorraine to say their prayers in German; it cannot compel the housewives of Switzerland or Paraguay or of any other little State that has not a battleship to its name to buy German saucepans if so be they do not desire to. There are so many other things necessary to render political or military force effective, and there are so many that can offset it altogether.
We see these forces at work around us every day accomplishing miracles, doing things which a thousand years of fighting was never able to do—and then say serenely that they are mere "theories." Why do Catholic powers no longer execute heretics? They have a perfect right—even in international law—to do so. What is it that protects the heretic in Catholic countries? The police? But the main business of the police and the army used to be to hunt him down. What is controlling the police and the army? By some sort of process there has been an increasing intuitive recognition of a certain code which we realize to be necessary for a decent society. It has come to be a sanction much stronger than the sanction of law, much more effective than the sanction of military force. During the German advance on Paris in August last I happened to be present at a French family conference. Stories of the incredible cruelties and ferocity of the Germans were circulating in the Northern Department, where I happened to be staying.
Every one was in a condition of panic, and two Frenchmen, fathers of families, were seeing red at the story of all these barbarities. But they had to decide, and the thing was discussed at a little family conference—where they should send their wives and children. And one of these Frenchmen, the one who had been most ferocious in his condemnation of the German barbarian, said quite naively and with no sense of irony or paradox: "Of course, if we could find an absolutely open town which would not be defended at all the women folk and children would be all right." His instinct, of course, was perfectly just. The German "savage" had had three quarters of a million people in his absolute power in Brussels, and so far as we know, not a child or a woman has been injured.
Indeed, in normal times our security against foreigners is not based upon physical force at all. I suppose during the last century some hundreds of thousands of British and American tourists have traveled through the historic cities of Germany, their children have gone to the German educational institutions, their invalids have been attended by German doctors and cut up by German surgeons in German sanatoria and health resorts, and I am quite sure that it never occurred to any one of these hundreds of thousands that their little children when in the educational institutions of these "Huns" were in any way in danger. It was not the guns of the American Navy or the British Navy that were protecting them; the physical force of America or of Great Britain could not certainly be the factor operative in, say, Switzerland or Austria, yet every Summer tens of thousands of them trust their lives and those of their women and children in the remote mountains of Switzerland on no better security than the expectation that a foreign community over whom we have no possibility of exercising force will observe a convention which has no sanction other than the recognition that it is to their advantage to observe it.
And we thus have the spectacle of millions of Anglo-Saxons absolutely convinced that the sanctity of their homes and the safety of their property are secure from the ravages of the foreigner only because they possess a naval and military force that overawes him, yet serenely leaving the protection of that military force, and placing life and property alike within the absolute power of that very foreigner against whose predatory tendencies we spend millions in protecting ourselves.
No use of military power, however complete and overwhelming, would pretend to afford a protection anything like as complete as that afforded by these moral forces. Sixty years ago Britain had as against Greece a preponderance of power that made her the absolute dictator of the latter's policy, yet all the British battleships and all the threats of "consequences" could not prevent British travelers being murdered by Greek brigands, though in Switzerland only moral forces the recognition by an astute people of the advantage of treating foreigners well had already made the lives and property of Britons as safe in that country as in their own.
In the same way, no scheme of arming Protestants as against Catholics, or Catholics as against Protestants (the method which gave us the wars of religion and massacre of St. Bartholomew) could assure that general security of spiritual and intellectual possessions which we now in large measure enjoy. So indeed with the more material things, France, Great Britain, and some of the older nations have sunk thousands of millions in foreign investments, the real security of which is not in any physical force which their Government could possibly exercise, but the free recognition of foreigners that it is to their advantage to adhere to financial obligations. Englishmen do not even pretend that the security of their investments in a country like the United States or the Argentine is dependent upon the coercion which the British Government is able to exercise over these communities.
The reader will not, I think, misunderstand me. I am not pleading that human nature has undergone or will undergo any radical transformation. Rather am I asserting that it will not undergo any; that the intention of the man of the tenth century in Europe was as good as that of the man of the twentieth, that the man of the tenth century was as capable of self-sacrifice was, it may be, less self-seeking. But what I am trying to hint is that the shrinking of the world by our developed intercommunication has made us all more interdependent.
The German Government moves its troops against Belgium; a moratorium is immediately proclaimed in Rio de Janeiro, a dozen American Stock Exchanges are promptly closed and some hundreds of thousands of our people are affected in their daily lives. This worldwide effect is not a matter of some years or a generation or two. It is a matter of an hour; we are intimately concerned with the actions of men on the other side of the world that have never seen and never shall see; and they are intimately concerned with us. We know without having thought it out that we are bound together by a compact; the very fact that we are dependent upon one another creates as a matter of fact a partnership. We are expecting the other man to perform his part; he has been doing so uninterruptedly for years, and we send him our goods or we take his bill of exchange, or our families are afloat in his ships, expecting that he will pay for his goods, honor the bill of exchange, navigate safely his ship—he has undertaken to do these things in the world-wide partnership of our common labor and then he fails. He does not do these things, and we have a very lively sense of the immorality of the doctrine which permits him to escape doing them.
And so there are certain things that are not done, certain lengths to which even in war time we cannot go. What will stop the war is not so much the fighting, any more than Protestant massacres prevented Catholic massacres. Men do not fear the enemy soldiers; they do fear the turning of certain social and moral forces against them. The German Government does not hesitate for a moment to send ten thousand of its own people to certain death under enemy guns even though the military advantage of so doing may be relatively trifling. But it dare not order the massacre of ten thousand foreign residents in Berlin. There is some force which makes it sometimes more scrupulous of the lives of its enemy than of the lives of its own people.
Yet why should it care? Because of the physical force of the armies ranged against it? But it has to meet that force in any case. It fears that the world will be stirred. In other words, it knows that the world at large has a very lively realization that in its own interest certain things must not be done, that the world would not live together as we now know it, if it permitted those things to be done. It would not so permit them.
At the bottom of this moral hesitation is an unconscious realization of the extent of each nation's dependence upon the world partnership. It is not a fear of physical chastisement; any nation will go to war against desperate odds if a foreign nation talks of chastising it. It is not that consideration which operates, as a thousand examples in history prove to us. There are forces outside military power more visible and ponderable than these.
There exists, of course, already a world State which has no formal recognition in our paper constitutions at all, and no sanction in physical force. If you are able to send a letter to the most obscure village of China, a telegram to any part of the planet, to travel over most of the world in safety, to carry on trade therewith, it is because for a generation the Post Office Departments of the world have been at work arranging traffic and communication details, methods of keeping their accounts; because the ship owner has been devising international signal codes; the banker arranging conditions of international credit; because, in fact, not merely a dozen but some hundreds of international agreements, most of them made not between Governments at all, but between groups and parties directly concerned, have been devised.
There is no overlord enforcing them, yet much of our daily life depends upon their normal working. The bankers or the ship owners or the makers of electric machinery have met in Paris or Brussels and decided that such shall be the accepted code, such the universal measurement for the lamp or instrument, such the conditions for the bill of exchange and from the moment that there is an agreement you do not need any sanction. If the instrument does not conform to the measurement it is unsalable and that is sanction enough.
We have seen in the preceding article that the dependence of the nations goes back a good deal further than we are apt to think; that long before the period of fully developed intercommunication, all nations owed their civilization to foreigners. It was to their traffic with Gaul and the visits of the Phoenician traders that the early inhabitants of the British Isles learned their first steps in arts and crafts and the development of a civilized society, and even in what we know as the Dark Ages we find Charlemagne borrowing scholars from York to assist him in civilizing the Continent.
The civilization which our forefathers brought with them to America was the result of centuries of exchange in ideas between Britain and the Continent, and though in the course of time it had become something characteristically Anglo-Saxon, its origins were Greek and Arabic and Roman and Jewish. But the interdependence of nations today is of an infinitely more vital and insistent kind, and despite superficial setbacks becomes more vital every day. As late as the first quarter of the nineteenth century, for instance, Britain was still practically self-sufficing; her very large foreign trade was a trade in luxuries. She could still produce her own food, her population could still live on her own soil.
But if today by some sort of magic Britain could kill off all foreigners the means of livelihood for quite an appreciable portion of her population would have disappeared. Millions would be threatened by actual starvation. For Britain's overseas trade, on which so large a proportion of the population actually lives, is mainly with the outside world and not with her own empire. We have seen what isolation merely from two countries has meant for Great Britain. Britain is still maintaining her contacts with the world as a whole, but the cessation of relationship with two countries has precipitated the gravest financial crisis known in all her history, has kept her Stock Exchanges closed for months, has sent her Consols to a lower point than any known since the worst period of the Napoleonic wars, and has compelled the Government ruthlessly to pledge its credit for the support of banking institutions and all the various trades that have been most seriously hit.
Nor is Germany's isolation altogether complete. She manages through neutral countries and otherwise to maintain a considerable current of relationship with the outside world, but how deeply and disastrously the partial severance of contact has affected Germany we shall not at present, probably at no time, in full measure know. All this gives a mere hint of what the organized isolation by the entire world would mean to any one nation. Imagine the position of a civilized country whose ports no ship from another country would enter, whose bills no banker would discount, a country unable to receive a telegram or a letter from the outside world or send one thereto, whose citizens could neither travel in other countries or maintain communications therewith. It would have an effect in the modern world somewhat equivalent to that of the dreadful edicts of excommunication and interdict which the papal power was able to issue in the mediaeval world.
I am aware, of course, that such a measure would fall very hardly upon certain individuals in the countries inflicting this punishment, but it is quite within the power of the Governments of those countries to do what the British Government has done in the case of persons like acceptors of German bills who found themselves threatened with bankruptcy and who threatened in consequence to create great disturbance around them because of the impossibility of securing payment from the German endorsers. The British Government came to the rescue of those acceptors, used the whole national credit to sustain them. It is expensive, if you will, but infinitely less expensive than a war, and, finally, most of the cost of it will probably be recovered.
Now if that were done, how could a country so dealt with retaliate? She could not attack all the world at once. Upon those neighbors more immediately interested could be thrown the burden of taking such defensive military measures as the circumstances might dictate. You might have a group of powers probably taking such defensive measures and all the powers of Christendom co-operating economically by this suggested non-intercourse. It is possible even that the powers as a whole might contribute to a general fund indemnifying individuals in those States particularly hit by the fact of non-intercourse. I am thinking, for instance, of shipping interests in a port like Amsterdam if the decree of non-intercourse were proclaimed against a power like Germany.
We have little conception of the terror which such a policy might constitute to a nation. It has never been tried, of course, because even in war complete non-intercourse is not achieved. At the present time Germany is buying and selling and trading with the outside world, cables from Berlin are being sent almost as freely to New York as cables from London and German merchants are making contracts, maintaining connections of very considerable complexity. But if this machinery of non-intercourse were organized as it might be, there would be virtually no neutrals, and its effect in our world today would be positively terrifying.
It is true that the American administration did try something resembling a policy of non-intercourse in dealing with Mexico. But the thing was a fiction. While the Department of State talked of non-intercourse the Department of the Treasury was busy clearing ships for Mexico, facilitating the dispatch of mails, etc. And, of course, Mexico's communication with Europe remained unimpaired; at the exact moment when the President of the United States was threatening Huerta with all sorts of dire penalties Huerta's Government was arranging in London for the issue of large loans and the advertisements of these Mexican loans were appearing in The London Times. So that the one thing that might have moved Huerta's Government the United States Government was unable to enforce. In order to enforce it, it needed the co-operation of other countries.
I have spoken of the economic world State—of all those complex international arrangements concerning Post Offices, shipping, banking, codes, sanctions of law, criminal research, and the rest, on which so much of our civilized life depends. This world State is unorganized, incoherent. It has neither a centre nor a capital, nor a meeting place. The ship owners gather in Paris, the world's bankers in Madrid or Berne, and what is in effect some vital piece of world regulation is devised in the smoking room of some Brussels hotel. The world State has not so much as an office or an address. The United States should give it one. Out of its vast resources it should endow civilization with a Central Bureau of Organization—a Clearing House of its international activities as it were, with the funds needed for its staff and upkeep.
If undertaken with largeness of spirit, it would become the capital of the world. And the Old World looks to America to do this service, because it is the one which it cannot do for itself. Its old historic jealousies and squabbles, from which America is so happily detached, prevent any one power taking up and putting through this work of organization, but America could do it, and do it so effectively that from it might well flow this organization of that common action of all the nations against any recalcitrant member of which I have spoken as a means of enforcing non-militarily a common decision.
I is this world State which it should be the business of America during the next decade or two to co-ordinate, to organize. Its organization will not come into being as the result of a week-end talk between Ambassadors. There will be difficulties, material as well as moral jealousies to overcome, suspicions to surmount. But this war places America in a more favorable position than any one European power. The older powers would be less suspicious of her than of any one among their number. America has infinitely greater material resources, she has a greater gift for improvised organization, she is less hidebound by old traditions, more disposed to make an attempt along new lines.
That is the most terrifying thing about the proposal which I make—it has never been tried. But the very difficulties constitute for America also an immense opportunity. We have had nations give their lives and the blood of their children for a position of supremacy and superiority. But we are in a position of superiority and supremacy which for the most part would be welcomed by the world as a whole and which would not demand of America the blood of one of her children. It would demand some enthusiasm, some moral courage, some sustained effort, faith, patience, and persistence. It would establish new standards in, and let us hope a new kind of, international rivalry.
One word as to a starting point and a possible line of progress. The first move toward the ending of this present war may come from America. The President of the United States will probably act as mediator. The terms of peace will probably be settled in Washington. Part of the terms of peace to be exacted by the Allies will probably be, as I have already hinted, some sort of assurance against future danger from German militarist aggression.
The German, rightly or wrongly, does not believe that he has been the aggressor—it is not a question at all of whether he is right or wrong; it is a question of what he believes. And he believes quite honestly and sincerely that he is merely defending himself. So what he will be mainly concerned about in the future is his security from the victorious Allies. Around this point much of the discussion at the conclusion of this present war will range. If it is to be a real peace and not a truce an attempt will have to be made to give to each party security from the other, and the question will then arise whether America will come into that combination or not. I have already indicated that I think she should not come in, certainly I do not think she will come in, with the offer of military aid. But if she stays out of it altogether she will have withdrawn from this world congress that must sit at the end of the war a mediating influence which may go far to render it nugatory.
And when, after it may be somewhat weary preliminaries, an international council of conciliation is established to frame the general basis of the new alliance between the civilized powers for mutual protection along the lines indicated, America, if she is to play her part in securing the peace of the world, must be ready to throw at least her moral and economic weight into the common stock, the common moral and economic forces which will act against the common enemy, whoever he may happen to be.
That does not involve taking sides, as I showed in my last article. The policeman does not decide which of two quarrelers is right; he merely decides that the stronger shall not use his power against the weaker. He goes to the aid of the weaker, and then later the community deals with the one who is the real aggressor. One may admit, if you will, that at present there is no international law, and that it may not be possible to create one. But we can at least exact that there shall be an inquiry, a stay; and more often than not that alone would suffice to solve the difficulty without the application of definite law.
It is just up to that point that the United States should at this stage be ready to commit herself in the general council of conciliation, namely, to say this: "We shall throw our weight against any power that refuses to give civilization an opportunity at least of examining and finding out what the facts of the dispute are. After due examination we may reserve the right to withdraw from any further interference between such power and its antagonist. But, at least, we pledge ourselves to secure that by throwing the weight of such non-military influence as we may have on to the side of the weaker." That is the point at which a new society of nations would begin, as it is the point at which a society of individuals has begun. And it is for the purpose of giving effect to her undertaking in that one regard that America should become the centre of a definite organization of that world State which has already cut athwart all frontiers and traversed all seas.
It is not easy without apparent hyperbole to write of the service which America would thus render to mankind. She would have discovered a new sanction for human justice, would have made human society a reality. She would have done something immeasurably greater, immeasurably more beneficent than any of the conquests recorded in the long story of man's mostly futile struggles. The democracy of America would have done something which the despots and the conquerors of all time, from Alexander and Caesar to Napoleon and the Kaiser, have found to be impossible. Dangerous as I believe national vanity to be, America would, I think, find in the pride of this achievement—this American leadership of the human race—a glory that would not be vain, a world victory which the world would welcome.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald