The Peace-Vision Of The Vatican

[The Literary Digest; August 25, 1917]

Popes have driven peace-preferring emperors into crusades and compelled war-mad kings to lay down their arms, but if the fifteenth Benedict hopes to end the present war upon any such terms as he made public last week, his hopes are vain, in the opinion of the best-informed and most representative writers of the American press. Not only do strong supporters of the war dismiss the "Pope's Peace" as a German peace, while they urge strenuous waging of war till Germany is made either "powerless or free," but pacifists, Socialists, and German-Americans agree in predicting the failure of the new papal efforts at mediation. True, Mr. Hearst's New York American feels a profound assurance that peace is very near at hand, since "the Pope, who alone, on account of his unique position, could speak the word that would inaugurate peace-negotiations, has spoken that word, and has spoken it in such fashion as to give to it a weight and a momentum against which we believe not one of the Governments will be able long to make successful resistance." But the German-American New-Yorker Herold fears that the Pope's move will have no practical results, while the Staats-Zeitung thinks it "unlikely that a serious movement toward peace can now develop." The St. Louis Times, published by a German-American house, is frankly of the opinion that the Pope will not make much headway at this time." The Times, it should be added, while greatly desiring the end of the slaughter, would "prefer to have it end with the complete downfall of the Prussian reigning dynasty." The Socialist New York Call deems it "doubtful whether the Vatican's proposal will have any considerable influence in hastening peace." Victor Berger, of the Milwaukee Leader, at once a Socialist and a German-American, concludes that "nothing short of a Socialist revolution in the European countries, including Germany and France, can stop this war; the Pope can not."

Reasons for their belief in the futility of the Pope's effort are stated briefly by several editors. The St. Louis Republic puts it this way: "The fact that Germany is still in the hands of the Army and the Junkers, while the Allies remain confident of their ability ultimately to impose peace-terms upon Germany, makes it improbable that the Pope's peace-proposals will be found to be acceptable to either side." In Canada it seems to the Montreal Star that "if Europe went to war to settle questions inherent in the status quo and expended rivers of blood and mountains of treasure on the task, it would be the climax of futility to stop the war before these questions were settled one way or the other." Peace at the Pope's suggestion is now held impossible by a large portion of our press, because, in the emphatic words of the New York World—

"There can be no peace until Prussianism is destroyed. Whether it is destroyed from without or from within rests mainly with the German people themselves, but destroyed it must be if there is to be peace in the world. That is now the beginning and the end of the war-aims of the Allies, and unless achieved, autocracy has triumphed and German militarism is master of civilization."

Yet the tremendous power of Pope Benedict's appeal is not underestimated at the Allied capitals, Mr. David Lawrence would remind readers of the New York Evening Post. He writes from Washington that the Pope "has started something that will not soon vanish." "Unlike anything in the way of peace-intervention that has happened since the war began," the feeling is said to be that, "while the Pope's offer does not present a basis for peace in its present form, the expressions from the Entente and the Central Powers may conceivably lead to peace some time this year." Mr. Arthur S. Draper, in a London dispatch to the New York Tribune, declares that to say the Pontiff's proposals will lead to nothing is absurd, "for every mention of the word peace brings the belligerents closer together. The peace-forces are daily making greater progress in every belligerent country." While The Tribune's Washington correspondent expects the eventual rejection by the Allies of the Pope's offer, it will, he affirms, be treated most seriously and respectfully as "coming from the head of a great Church with millions of communicants in all the warring nations." This writer says further:

"Whether the Vatican acted at the solicitation of Austria or not, the proposals serve the ends of Germany diplomatically.... The proposals are timed to answer the peace-movement in Germany, to reply to whatever negotiations have been going on to detach weary Austria from the central bund, to raise the hope in distracted Russia that she at last may be free to turn her attention to her pressing internal problems. It is timed to coincide with the hours when our own drafted armies are leaving their homes. It is timed also to make the most of the Socialist movement in France and England for a peace on a 'no-annexation' basis."

"Meanwhile, inevitably, this move for peace encourages the belief that Germany needs peace badly, much worse than she did when the last proposals were made. That consideration and its psychological effect upon the warring peoples may be taken into account by the Allied diplomats as they frame their replies."

That the Pope has at least made necessary a public restatement of Allied aims and peace-terms is the conclusion of this writer and many others. In thus forcing a clearer definition of the issues of the conflict, the peace-plea will be of great value, in the opinion of the Boston Advertiser and the Syracuse Herald. The Allied reply, says the like-minded New York Evening Post,

"Should make it clear to all the world, and, particularly, to the German people, that, the Allies are fighting for the freeing of Belgium, for reparation of the cruel wrongs wrought in the war, for such a disarmament and a leaguing of the nations as will make another war like this impossible, for democracy everywhere, and for the free intercourse of the peoples when the war is ended. . . . Purely as a war-measure, it would seem to be sagacious strategy to endeavor to undeceive the German people, and to help them struggle to their feet as masters in their own house."

When we turn to the Pope's letter to the belligerents, as cabled in translation from London by the Associated Press, we find, after an eloquent and moving description of the horrors of the war, certain definite suggestions "which seem to be the basis of a just and durable peace.'' His Holiness asks for a simultaneous and reciprocal agreement for the diminution of armaments, a court of arbitration with power to enforce its decisions, and "the true liberty of the seas." As to the damages to be repaired at the close of this war, Pope Benedict can see "no other means of solving the question than by submitting as a general principle complete and reciprocal condonation, which would be justified, moreover, by the immense benefit to be derived from disarmament, so much so that no one will understand the continuation of a similar carnage, solely for reasons of an economic order." Certain cases, it is admitted, require special consideration. "They would be deliberated upon with justice and equity, but these pacific agreements with the immense advantages to be derived from them are not possible without a reciprocal restitution of the territory at present occupied." Consequently,

"on the part of Germany there should be the complete evacuation of Belgium with the guaranty of her full political, military, and economic independence toward any Power whatever; the evacuation also of French territory; and on the part of other belligerent parties similar restitution of the German colonies."

"As regards the territorial questions, as, for example, those which have arisen between Italy and Austria and between Germany and France, there is reason to hope that in consideration of the immense advantages of a durable peace with disarmament, the parties in conflict would wish to examine them with a conciliatory disposition…."

"The same spirit of equity and justice ought to be followed in the examination of other territorial and political questions, notably those relative to Armenia and the Balkan States, and the territories making a part of the ancient kingdom of Poland, whose noble and historical traditions and sufferings, which it has endured, especially during the present war, ought to conciliate the sympathies of nations."

In concluding, the Pope appeals to the belligerent Governments for an early termination "of the terrible struggle, which more and more appears a useless massacre," and remarks that "the whole world recognizes that the honor of the armies of both sides is safe."

These terms are declared by American Socialists to be practically the same as the "no annexations, no indemnities" program of their party, and the Milwaukee Leader adds that "they are also in accordance with the doctrine preached by President Wilson as late as last January." The Hearst newspapers, says one of them, "could not do else than to applaud the terms of peace which the Pope has suggested, because these terms are identical with the terms which we have repeatedly suggested as fair terms, rightful terms, and the only terms upon which peace could be negotiated." Even such a foe of Prussianism as the New York Evening Post holds that these are Allied rather than pro-German terms. If they should be agreed to by the German Government ' they would be tantamount to a surrender of nine-tenths of what the Junkers and the Pan-Germans and the military autocracy have contended would be indispensable." The Dallas News notes that the Pope's terms come much nearer to the demands of the Allies than any which have hitherto come directly out of Berlin. It continues:

"If Germany has in reality come to the point of being ready to submit the future of Alsace-Lorraine to diplomatic negotiation and Austria to the point of being ready to concede some of the demands of Italy, then the Central Empires are in a state of mind which would seem to make peace-negotiations in the very near future a practicable undertaking."

"A peace which penalizes the innocence of Belgium and mocks its sufferings could not be a just peace, nor is it likely that it could be made an acceptable peace to France and Great Britain, while assuredly it ought not be an acceptable peace to the United States."

The New Orleans Times-Picayune hopes that Benedict XV speaks with the sanction of Vienna and Berlin, for in that case "the Central Empires may soon offer a peace which the Entente Allies, and especially America, could afford to accept—a peace which would be more than a breathing-spell in preparation for a second world-war." The San Francisco Chronicle finds these terms valuable as a new basis for peace-discussion and inclines to believe that "Germany gives mankind a new hope" for peace in thus seeking papal cooperation in its desire for a cessation of hostilities.

But editorial suspicion and denunciation are far more widespread than trustfulness or hope. The Pope's proposal is simply one to "Condone, Disarm, and Live in Peace," as stated in a New York Tribune head-line. The Providence Journal, which, like most of the rest of the American press, acknowledges the Pope's sincerity, high motive, and praiseworthy purpose, declares that nevertheless every phrase of his program is 'Written across the water-mark, "Made in Germany"—

"Both in the language used and in the measures submitted the communication from Rome smacks of the persistent Teutonic propaganda which has so far failed to ensnare the real foes of Prussianism, but which enlists copperheads, sentimentalists, and dreamers alike among enemies and neutrals, and which has now scored its first important success by enlisting the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church in the propagation of its deadly humbug."

Peace on the Pope's terms, the Chicago Herald clearly sees, "would be a truce, not a peace." Therefore, says the Pittsburg Leader, "these are not the terms on which peace must ultimately be made." For, "to restore the status quo, to put Germany back where she was before the war began, and to leave the German idea of world-dominance free to sprout and grow again would scarcely be more than to insure another world-war, as soon as the German autocracy considered itself strong enough for the trial." The Chicago Tribune fears that the Pope's action "may be used as an aid to weaken the Allied operations or to further an inconsequential peace, which would be perhaps of all misfortunes the worst." A peace arranged now, declares the Ottawa Citizen in the Canadian capital, "would be the most short-sighted peace ever arranged in the world's history; it would place a premium on international rape and barbarity, and substitute the ethics of Attila for the principles of Grotius." "The thing we have arisen to destroy because it is actively and potently inimical to civilization, to freedom, and to humanity, would," the St. Louis Globe Democrat observes, "remain unscathed and in effect triumphant." America, in particular, the Milwaukee Journal warns us, "will have to be on guard against a false peace, against the kind of peace that would enable Germany with all her force and fury to turn upon America alone."

To impose no indemnities would, as the Adrian Telegram sees it, "permit Germany, after committing the most atrocious crime in the history of the universe, to escape all penalties simply because she also had suffered somewhat from the effects of her own infamy." A fatal defect in the Pope's peace-proposal, in the opinion of the Minneapolis Tribune, is the absence of a specific provision for full restitution to Belgium so far as money can accomplish that result. With this the New York Tribune emphatically agrees, saying: "If Belgium is to be forsaken by the civilized world now, then the civilized world will deserve that fate which it will ultimately meet at Germany's hand."

Anything like a general acceptance of the Pope's terms, the Boston Herald concludes, would set all the various nations of the Allied group at one another's throats, metaphorically speaking:

"Suppose Great Britain, for example, were to say in some official way that she liked the Pope's program. What would Italy think of such an 'abandonment' of her aims in the Trentino? The Peninsula would cry, 'Perfidious Albion!' at the suggestion that after all Italy's sacrifices of men and treasure she would get nothing out of it beyond what is implied in the Pope's proposal. The same would be true of the British colonies which have conquered German possessions with gTeat valor and determination. And so you can go on down through the list....

Meanwhile, see what would happen to Germany: She has welded together in a mid-European alliance an extraordinarily powerful group of nations, and she would emerge from the war to-day with a control over the heterogeneous population-groups of the Dual Monarchy, and through Bulgaria a hold on the Balkans, and with Turkey a route to the Bosporus which would make her great war of 1914-1917 well worth fighting, from the point of view of her own statesmen, provided she suffered no losses elsewhere."

"Germany must be beaten and know she is beaten before the peace of the world is secure," is the way the Louisville Post sums up the whole peace-question. Real peace-proposals, insists another Southern daily, the Atlanta Journal, "must come not from prince or prelate but from the German people themselves after they have cast out the brutal satraps who have dishonored the German name and made of their country's plighted word a thing to be rejected and despised."

From the far Northwest the Spokane Spokesman Review maintains that "until the German people have overthrown the Hohenzollerns and their warrior caste, and adopted a generally democratic form of government, there can be no safety for free government or small nations and no effective disarmament." The Portland Oregonian agrees that "to make peace before the Central Empires become democracies or before their rulers are made powerless for harm, would be to waste all the blood and treasure which had been expended." It characterizes the Allies' war as "an effort to bring the criminal rulers of four monarchies to justice; and agents of the law do not parle}' with criminals."

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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