The Skeleton at Peace Table
By Oswald F. Schuette
[Leslie's Weekly, February 1, 1919]
EDITOR'S NOTE—Mr. Schuette, who is not unknown to LESLIE'S readers, was the war correspondent of the Chicago Daily News with the armies of the Central Powers, from January, 1915, until the break of diplomatic relations that preceded our entry into the war. He was the last American correspondent to leave Germany, and remained in Switzerland until last spring. Since that time he has been in intimate touch at Washington with European events. He traveled extensively, both before and during the war, as a newspaper correspondent throughout Great Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Austro-Hungary, Russia, Italy, Holland, Spain, Turkey, and the Balkan States. He has studied the peoples of Europe at firsthand, and writes as one who has felt the heart throb of the great masses in the war-wrecked nations, and has heard their anguished cries for "Peace." Probably this accounts for the fervor of his warning, and his desire that Americans should know the truth. In sending us this MSS., Mr. Schuette wrote:
"lt is high time that somebody sounded the warning. Never since the dark days last summer, when the German armies threatened Paris, has the world been in such grave peril as it is now. Wasted and weakened by four years of war, the people of Europe are face to face with Bolshevism. They cry for peace…and leaders offer them war. In the name of Humanity they ask for bread, and leaders…give them a bayonet. They beg for work, and are told to fight. They cry for help and hear an echo, "revenge." They stagger under anarchy and pestilence and famine, and diplomats qucarrel over maps. God have mercy on a world aflame!"
Three thousand miles away the delegates of twenty-eight nations are writing the terms of peace, which they are to force the Central Powers to accept.
But there is another delegate who is not on the roll-call. He comes armed with no fourteen points. He has no credentials. He has no vote. He has no voice. But he threatens. Gaunt and grim and silent he is himself The Threat—Bolshevism, the Death Angel of Civilization. He is the peril of peace and humanity, the specter who comes from the starving centers of Russia, who has flung his gray mantle of desolation and destruction over the Central Powers, and now stalks into the Peace Conference at Paris to threaten humanity with misery, faming pestilence, anarchy and war.
He is the Skeleton at the Peace Table.
Strangely enough we hear almost no warning against this terror. To us it is all a matter a million miles away, and we hear but cabled tales of difficulties and disputations that hinder the onward sweep of blessed peace.
If I could write a line of warning for the delegates at the Peace Conference, I would write in flaming letters across their council chamber:
"Beware of Brest-Litovsk."
What I write here has nothing to do with the question of punishment for those who plunged the world into war. For them no penalty can be too exterminatingly severe. Our wishes have nothing to do with this. We must face facts—-cold, cruel, relentless facts. We must be on our guard lest this cry for revenge help those that cry for empire and for power hurl humanity back into the crater of war. Even now from the Paris Conference comes the fearful whisper that the war may begin anew because the January renewal of the armistice includes terms it may require bloodshed to enforce. But the men who wrote that dread message did not seem to realize that this time it will not be war but Bolshevism that will mark the resumption of hostilities.
Less than eighteen months ago the same tragic history was enacted at another "peace conference." In the burned fortress of Brest-Litovsk, the representatives of German imperialism met the delegates of the Russian Soviets. On the one side Major General Hoffmann, pan-German conqueror, on the other, Lenine and Trotzky, Bolshevist agitators.
From my vantage point in neutral Switzerland I watched the progress of that conference far more closely than was the privilege of any other American newspaperman. And I watched the ruthless German imperialists clamor into silence the protests of their own people and inflict on prostrate, bleeding, Bolshevized Russia the same peace which the imperialists at the Paris Conference now demand against the Central Powers.
History is repeating itself with reckless speed. There were plenty to warn at Brest-Litovsk. The liberal Germans saw the danger. They demanded a peace that would leave Russia a nation, a people friendly to Germany. They knew that only a generous peace, a peace founded on justice and humanity could do that. But the pan-Germans shouted more loudly:
Lenine and Trotzky pleaded:
"No Annexations—no Indemnities."
But when the pan-Germans had their way, Lenine and Trotzky rejoiced. For there would have been no room for them or for Bolshevism in a healthy, stable, resurrected Russia. The pan-German peace at Brest-Litovsk delivered Russia, broken, starved, and bleeding, into the hands of Bolshevist anarchy and terror. And the German imperialists who wrote that peace at the same time the death knell of the German Empire.
How tragically the cables from Paris to-day echo the demands of the conqueror of Brest-Litovsk. Again there comes across the seas the cry of Indemnities, of Revenge, of Boundaries to Safeguard Future Peace and National Interests.
At Brest-Litovsk there came the same cry of Revenue, of Indemnities, of Boundaries to Safeguard Future Peace that, we how hear at Paris, The wiser men of Germany pointed out this peril. But they fought in vain for a peace of justice that would leave Russia on her feet. In vain they talked of the danger of Bolshevist contagion that an unrestored Russia would mean to Germany. Pan-German Imperialism had its way and wrote at Brest-Litovsk the death knell of the German Empire.
The People Have Had Enough of War
Because the delegates who present imperialistic demands, who repudiate President Wilson's points, fear that the people of Europe have learned only one-half of the terrible lesson of Brest-Litovsk they voted to put the whole conference under the seal of secrecy. So that if war should arise anew from the sessions of peace, they might rally their people to the cry of "Defend Your Homes," just as the pan-Germans rallied the people of Germany in the August days of 1914, by their cry of "Self-Defense."
Only this time there will be no such rallying. The people of Europe cannot be rallied info war again. This is no idle prophecy. I know whereof I speak. The people of Europe know what war means. We do not. They have had four fearful years of it—years of bloodshed, of starvation, of devastation, of pestilence, of anguish of mind and of soul. To us in the United States it meant two pounds of sugar a week. How few of us ever missed a meal in all this world of hunger? In France, every fourth man was in the casualty lists. We had one in twenty.
The people of Europe will not fight again, for anybody's imperialism. Governments may fight for conquest, kaisers and generals and statesmen may make war for glory. But the people fight only for peace. In this great war, on both sides of the trenches the soldiers battled for peace and only for peace. They have that peace now. Homeward bound from the trenches, to mothers and wives and sweethearts and children, no cry of conquest or revenge or indemnity can recall them to the battlefield.
If the peace terms at Paris are such that it takes arms and bloodshed to enforce them, they will not be enforced. No soldier will lay down his life to collect a dollar or a billion dollars.
What a bankruptcy of sterile statesmanship it would be if the Paris Conference found no cure for the stricken nations but more war!
There lies the danger of driving the world into the arms of Bolshevism. The people of Europe are not Bolshevists at heart—not even in Russia. But if the only refuge from war is Bolshevism, they will fall under its flag. That is why Russia became Bolshevist. Her people prayed for peace and bread. The Entente offered war and demanded that Kerensky make an offensive. Bolshevism pledged peace. Bolshevism won and Kerensky fell. The people of Russia still want bread, but they will not pay for it by re-enrolling as soldiers against Bolshevism, against Germany or against any one else. Prostrate they lie under the feet of anarchy and chaos, of starvation, disease and death, but no cry to arms will rally them. Only peace and work and food can bring them resurrection among the living nations of the world.
The warning cry has reached Paris. Already Premier Orlando of Italy has had to rush back to Rome, because the people of Italy have heard at last that, over the protests of President Wilson, the Orlando government demands the conquest of the east coast of the Adriatic as its trophy of war. Even as I write this the Italian Cabinet has resigned. The "Wilsonian League" of crippled soldiers in Milan, who heard President Wilson promise a peace of justice and not of conquest a few weeks ago, have launched their campaign against the Orlando program.
How far the imperialist program at Rome can be carried out depends on the time when it means a renewal of bloodshed to achieve it. The people of Italy would be willing to accept the conquest of the Dalmatian coast if the Peace Conference could give it to them without a blow. But if Signor Orlando must pay the price of a single Italian soldier's life for Dalmatia—or even Fiume—his ministry will fall and Bolshevism will rise in Rome and there will be Soviets in Milan and Turin and Genoa—-unless the people of Italy receive guarantees that the war is over and that it will not be renewed by the action of their delegates at Paris. Think of what such developments in Rome would mean for a staggering world—what peril of anarchy and revolution the spread of Bolshevism into Italy would carry to France, to Great Britain, and even to us, despite the barrier of the Atlantic Ocean!
"Do you see now why President Wilson went to Europe? Thanks to years of iron-clad secrecy, the great American public knew nothing of the secret treaties with their programs of conquest which suddenly threaten to displace the program of a peace of justice which President Wilson had outlined as the cause for which American blood has been spilled on the battlefields of Europe. But he knew these iniquitous agreements were to be resurrected. Even when the Entente Governments accepted twelve of his fourteen points, he knew that that acceptance would not survive unqualified the first month of the armistice.
Some day there may be a reckoning. Some day the newspaper readers, of the United States may learn how it happened that although President Wilson told the Italian Ambassador, Marquis di Cellere, in November that he would not support the Orlando program, they were misled into believing that the two governments were in complete accord on the Jugo-Slav question. Not until six weeks later did we discover the truth of President Wilson's opposition—and then it came in a dispatch from Paris to the London Daily Mail. Why?
Does that begin to show why President Wilson went out of his way to tell the assembled workmen of Milan and Turin and Genoa that "they" would dictate the terms of peace? When President Wilson spoke to them, he knew that it was the pacifist Socialists of Milan and Turin who had delayed Italian mobilization for a fatal week when Italy declared war on Austria, and again and again had weakened the Cadorna offensive because their Bolshevist leaders told them that was the way to force peace.
The same kind of news comes from France, where there is talk of sending French soldiers into Russia and Poland. And from England, where the soldiers have "demonstrated" to demand speedier demobilization lest they be sent to Russia. M. Clemenceau thinks that American soldiers should be sent into Poland, but even we—almost untouched by war would never permit that. And President Wilson wisely has refused.
Just as a resumption of war to enforce peace would threaten Bolshevism for the Entente Powers, it would rivet Bolshevism on the Central Powers. Before we put into the treaty a demand for a crushing indemnity, we must weigh carefully how far we can enforce that demand. For if it be one that means the virtual enslavement of the German people, no German government can stand that would try to pay it. Bolshevism would sweep it aside.
Against this there is one safeguard that has not been mentioned in the dispatches. The workingmen of the Entente Powers in Europe are not likely to look on quietly when the German workmen are crushed under a millstone of taxes or indemnities. For they know that if the German workman has to work twice as long and twice as hard for his daily bread—they will get no benefit from it. Their standard of living will be pushed down at once to the level of that in Germany.
If I could send another message to the Conference at Paris, I would say:
The formula for world peace is not a Twentieth Century discovery. Mr. Wilson is not its original proponent. It was proclaimed two thousand years ago by the Christmas Angels when they sang in the starlit skies of the Holy Land:
"Peace on earth to men of good will."
There is the only formula for a lasting peace. Yet there has been hardly an utterance by a responsible statesman since the armistice was signed that contained a word of good will. Reams have been written of hatred and revenge; but no writer seems to heed the divine admonition. As though we were wiser than the angels, and as though we could rebuild a world into lasting peace by terror and bloodshed.
It has taken the world twenty centuries to learn what it means to pray:
"Give us this day our daily bread."
But we must go one line, further, humbly and contritely, to pray:
"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."
If we cannot do that, if we cannot write out of this fearful deluge of blood and agony a new testament of love and forgiveness and Christian charity, all the labors for peace at Paris will be vain. The world will be lost, and irrevocably lost.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald