Sixteen Causes of War
By Andrew C. McLaughlin
[Professor and Head of the Department of History]
[The University of Chicago War Papers No. 4; February 1918]
"Politics, as Prince Bismarck often said, is an art. Hence good-will, which in matters of morality is everything, is of little or no account, and ability is the only thing that tells." (Imperial Germany, Prince von Bülow [new and revised edition, 1917], p. 322.)
He [the Emperor of Germany] stated that, anyway, there was no longer any international law. To this last statement the chancellor agreed."—James W. Gerard, My Four Years in Germany, p. 340.
The forces which brought on the world-wide war can be understood fully only when we know a long course of historical events. In the few words of this pamphlet that long preparation, the social and economic reactions, and the diplomatic controversy cannot be even summarized; we must content ourselves in general with a very brief statement of what has taken place in the last four years. It is necessary to begin with the time before America was plainly and openly affected by European conditions if we would see how we became entangled until we had to take part in the conflict or accept unbearable wrong and turn our backs on principles that are part of our lives.* [*The purpose of this pamphlet is not to make an argument for war or to give an extended account of the reasons for our entrance, but to answer briefly and sharply the question as to what our direct charges against Germany are. The individual facts stated are not to be considered as proofs but rather as illustrations.]
1. GERMANY BEGAN THE WAR
Not only does the guilt of the imperial government appear perfectly evident from the examination of the public documents which were issued by the various European governments, including those of the German Empire, but it is made doubly certain by other evidences that have come from various sources since the war began. Had we believed that Germany was set upon by envious neighbors who had planned a criminal attack upon her life, we should have instantly sympathized with her; had we believed Germany to be the victim of malicious attack, possibly we should have been even more patient than we actually were under the burden of insult and ignominy which Germany heaped on us. However that may be, we did not find our sympathy interfering with our duty; for we knew that the crime of precipitating the world into this terrible agony is chargeable to the military clique that surrounds the imperial throne of Germany.
2. GERMANY BEGAN WAR, NOT FOR SAFETY, BUT ON ACCOUNT OF AMBITION
If the purposes of the German government had appealed to us as being high-minded or noble, our feelings would not have been so wantonly outraged; but the motives added to the criminality of the attack. In part no doubt the war was due to internal explosion, the natural and inevitable result of militaristic doctrine and a state of mind begotten by continuous discussion of war, by continuous cultivation of a sense of national jealousy. It was, however, brought on by deep-laid plans of world-domination, of extending the political authority of Germany, of reaching out with mailed fist till all the other nations of the world would cower at the sight of German might. Weltpolitik was Machtpolitik; the principle of world-politics was to be based on the strength of the mighty, and Germany was to show herself the mightiest. Even the word Machtpolitik—the policy of force—is itself a reproach and an indictment. These plans of the war-mad military clique, with the supporting body of big merchants, pedants, and large landowners, are so startling in their magnificence that they stagger our powers of belief and we need not wonder that many are still incredulous. Indeed, it is only when we see how nearly these men have come to making their plans real that their hopes do not appear as the dream of mad men. The project was halted in its hurried fulfilment by overhaste, the defeat of the Marne, the skill of the French soldiery, and Germany's own blunders in France. But had it not been for England's power on the sea, even after the Marne the world-empire might have been at Germany's feet. In fact today, "balked but not defeated," she has fastened her clutches on much that she wanted and has laid the foundations for a political economic system engrossing large portions of Europe and stretching across Asia Minor to where the Turks face the British in Mesopotamia. She now rules a vast territory, partly by virtue of possession, partly by terrorism and guile—those instruments by which she hoped to hold the world in her hand.
3. GERMANY INVADED BELGIUM
The invasion of Belgium brought sharply to American minds the fact that we were face to face with a power which had no intention of respecting the rights of others if they stood in her path. Her philosophers had prepared the way; her procedure was all a perfectly natural product of Machtpolitik, the policy of might. Treaties were "scraps of paper"; the small state was presumptuous and insolent if it stood in the pathway of imperial progress. The invasion was premeditated, secretly planned, and wantonly carried out. The imperial Chancellor, with certain strains of straightforwardness in a complicated make-up, confessed at the beginning that the invasion was contrary to international law; but there has been no evidence of regret, though the action stained Germany before the eyes of the world. The attempts which were early made to charge France with beginning the invasion of Belgium or intending the invasion have recently been thrown to the winds; for a member of the General Staff has published a glorification of that body in which he points to the cleverness of attacking France through Belgium along a route where France was not mobilized for resistance.
4. THE GERMAN TROOPS SACKED BELGIUM
The story of wanton devastation and cruelty is as plain as any fact in history, though equaled in enormity by nothing in modern history before the war, unless possibly the horrors of the Thirty Years' War in Germany itself. Once more the truth was so nearly unbelievable that only slowly did we accept the facts; and today there are some who do not believe, chiefly because the facts are so revolting that one naturally shrinks from accepting them as real. It is not necessary, however, to dwell on this; anybody willing to examine any considerable portion of the mass of evidence, even that of German origin, will have to believe. Had we no enmity against a power that could do such things even if they were only the product, again, of the horrible spirit of military might, an outburst of the ferocity begotten by the psychological effects of militarism? Here we saw cold, calculating terrorism, one of the instruments of world-domination. Must we live in terror of the power that devastated Belgium?
5. GERMANY DISREGARDED HER PLEDGES IN THE CONDUCT OF THE WAR
At the very beginning the German authorities flung aside the maxims and precepts which had been growing up for the purpose of lessening the ferocity and the desolation of war. If one looks at the Hague codes, which Germany helped to make, he will get some idea of how far her armies disregarded accepted principles and practices of warfare. They bombarded unfortified towns, they resorted to pillage, they took private funds, they held communities responsible for alleged acts of individuals and wreaked vengeance on the communities, they used poisonous gases, they dropped bombs in the night on sleeping villages.* [* Germany did not ratify the portion of the Hague declaration prohibiting discharge of projectiles from balloons. Such an operation, one must think, is to be considered illegal on general principles, when the town, bombarded from the air, is undefended. In the regulations on the laws and customs of war on land, Art. 25 says: "The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings, which are undefended is prohibited." (The Hague Conventions and Declarations of 1899 and 1907, edited by J. B. Scott, p. 117.)] In short, Germany carried out on land and sea a characteristic plan of terrorization and snapped her mailed fingers at agreements making for decency in conflict; her answer was "This is war."
6. GERMANY FLUNG ASIDE INTERNATIONAL LAW
Germany openly and flagrantly wiped out international law, the accumulation of centuries of effort to reach a higher stage of civilization. As Germany had reached the height of civilization, why should she be blocked in the course of her glorious march by the principles of international law? This position she of course could defend with scholarly ability and cunning, for what was the use of professors of jurisprudence if they could not find a philosophy of law consistent with the principle of Machtpolitik?* [* "The predatory state is the state which violates the fundamental duties of international law. The state which is power, which inculcates a theory of infallibility, which sets force before right in international dealings and commits the performance of that policy into the hands of an irresponsible man or group of men, is the antisocial factor in international society. So long as it exists, there is no safety for democracy or for international law. The existence of both democracy and international law is now at stake."—Professor Jesse Reeves, "Democracy and the Law of Nations," in the University Record, III, 264, 265.] When we recognize these facts we see why nearly the whole outside world is arrayed against Germany. There could be no room for security save under the steel-clad wings of the German Empire. Does this affect us? Only as it affects every other self-respecting nation and as it affects the hopes of mankind. In fact all these things affected us. We may well consider whether we should not have been more than justified in entering the war even if we had seen no immediate peril to ourselves. Even if we should be left untouched in life and property, even if we should know that we could ward off actual physical attack, could we stand by and see the success of these principles of action and could we be witnesses, and only witnesses, of a conflagration which consumed international law, and democracy where it could be reached, and trampled peoples under the foot of ruthless conquest? But the world was indeed too small, its parts were too closely joined, its spaces too narrow, for one nation to run wild without directly and immediately encroaching on the rights of others.
7. GERMANY PURSUED THE POLICY OF TERRORIZING ON THE HIGH SEA
As the war went on, it became apparent that whether we were moved to action by Germany's attack on other nations or not was to be no very practical question; we had rights of our own and a certain amount of self-respect which Germany openly flouted. For the sake of brevity we must omit detailed description of the injuries inflicted on us by the submarine warfare. Sinkings by the submarine are now so much a matter of daily discussion that our minds are dull to the enormity, the formidable atrociousness, of the whole proceeding; we are likely, possibly, to accept that atrocity, too, as a normal incident of war instead of a violation of the fundamental rights to freedom of the seas of which the Germans speak so much. Submarine warfare is, not to put too fine a gloss on it, piracy, a return to the golden age of the ocean highwayman.* [* "This proceeding amounts to a return to the war methods of the time of the corsairs….. A murky German philosophy attempts to justify these iniquities by contending that the Germans are obeying the law of Prussian expediency, by them exalted as the reason for the existence of the world. Thus their national egotism is to become the arbiter of human destinies." These are the words of a native of Ecuador, Nicolás F. Lopez, in South American Opinions on the War, p. 21, in the "Publications of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace."] The seas belong to no nation or to no body of highwaymen; their waters are free to the nations of the earth; no nation can calmly say, "This stretch of the ocean is my fighting area"—what the German war officials called a "war zone"—"if you or yours come within it, my torpedoes will blow you out of the water." The right of blockade and that of search to enforce blockade or to seize contraband constitute the only legally acknowledged exceptions to the principle of the neutrality of the ocean.
Noncombatants traveling on merchantmen have the right to travel without fear of death at the nose of a submarine. In passing on the legality of submarine destruction our government went very far, farther probably than many would now say it ought to have gone; for the government was anxious, apparently, not to be unfair, and anxious, too, to avoid if possible our entrance into the war on any issue that might appear merely technical. If a merchant vessel is destroyed at sea by the war vessel of a belligerent, as under some circumstances it properly may be, the crew and the passengers should, by the principles of international law, be put in a place of safety, not left to drown and not left in boats on a storm-tossed sea scores or perhaps hundreds of miles from land. If the U-boat cannot act without wanton destruction of noncombatant life, its use against merchantmen is barbarous and lawless. Our government, however, appeared, though reluctantly, to acknowledge that a chance to get into a lifeboat might be considered sufficient guaranty of safety. There is no need to dwell on the "Lusitania" crime and the drowning of a hundred and more American citizens, among them women and children. It is unnecessary to do more than mention the succession of other outrages as criminal if not quite so destructive of human life.
No nation that sought to maintain self-respect could put up with such lawlessness and revolting cruelty. Germany believed that we would do so, or she was willing to run the risk. She believed that we could be frightened into making no defense of our citizens in a place where they had a perfect right to be. It was all part of her theory of Schrecklichkeit.* [* Some eight American ships were sunk or attacked before January 31, 1917. After that date there were eight others. American lives were lost by the sinking of at least twenty vessels, some of which were American. Up to the declaration of war, April, 1917, "226 American citizens lost their lives by action of German submarines, and in most instances without the faintest color of international right."]
Nothing could exceed the patience with which our government dealt with this menace. Protest followed protest and argument followed argument.
After the "Sussex" outrage in 1916, in reply to repeated demands made by our government, the German government promised not to sink without warning and without saving lives unless the vessel should resist or attempt to escape. This promise was coupled with the condition that the United States should compel Great Britain to surrender what Berlin asserted to be an illegal blockade; but our government answered this by declaring that Germany's obligation was not "in the slightest degree contingent upon the conduct of any other government." To this statement Germany did not reply, and by diplomatic usage, common sense, and ordinary honesty she was bound therefore by an unconditional pledge.* [* Let us notice that the pledge was the very least that we had the right to demand. The author of this paper, though pretending to possess no great legal learning, does not believe that submarine warfare against merchantmen is legitimate at all or should be so acknowledged.]
8. GERMANY OPENLY DEFIED THE WORLD
But that pledge was soon openly violated, though for a time conditions were not so perilous and we actually hoped that we could escape war; we hoped that President Wilson's arguments and warnings had had effect. The respite, however, if respite it can be called, was short.* [* "It needed but the words reported to have been uttered by the German Chancellor to complete the picture of the character of his Government when he announced that the only reason why the intensified submarine campaign was delayed until February last was that sufficient submarines could not be built before that time to make the attacks on commerce effective. Do you realize that this means, if it means anything, that the promises to refrain from brutal submarine warfare, which Germany had made to the United States, were never intended to be kept, that they were only made in order to gain time in which to build more submarines, and that when the time came to act the German promises were unhesitatingly torn to pieces like other 'scraps of paper'?"—''America's Future at Stake," by Robert Lansing, Secretary of State, in A War of Self-Defense, p. 4.] The German government announced in January, 1917, that after February 1 vessels entering a barred zone surrounding the British Isles and inclosing nearly the whole coast of Europe should be sunk without warning.* [* Certain privileges promised to an occasional American ship, marked and branded and pursuing a certain narrow route, may be passed over without comment. The proposal was a mixture of crude humor and polished insult.] Even after this our government waited; we tried armed neutrality in vain; we hoped against hope. But even our excessive patience was at length exhausted. In declaring this policy of ruthless sinking without warning, Germany defied the world. She did this openly and with calm, dastardly assurance that the world could place no check upon her cruelty.
9. GERMANY FILLED OUR LAND WITH SPIES
In the meantime we had been harassed and beset by German spies. Bombs were placed in merchant vessels in our ports; plots against nations with whom we were at peace were planned in a carefree way as if we had no regard either for the lives of our people or for our duties as neutrals.* [* There are probably many matters that our government has not disclosed. "Some day," said Secretary of State Lansing, "I hope the whole tale may be told. It will be an astonishing tale indeed. But enough has been told so that there no longer remains the shadow of a doubt as to the character of Germany's rulers, of their amazing ambition for world empire, and of their hatred of democracy." The House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs formally listed twenty-one crimes or unfriendly acts committed on our soil with the connivance of the German government after the beginning of the European war! Probably nothing after all is so interesting or perhaps so creditable to our character as a peace-loving nation as our putting up with this sort of thing so long. "The Prussian autocracy," said President Wilson, ".... has filled our unsuspecting communities, and even our offices of government with spies, and set criminal intrigues everywhere afoot against our national unity of counsel, our peace within and without, our industries, and our commerce."] This was but a part of what the world was suffering; German spies ranged the world. Nothing hardened our hearts more than this—because we realized the malevolent and malignant character of the whole system; and it is probably true today that the policy of unremitting intrigue is more dangerous to the world than the German armies.
For how many years the German agents of ill-will have been sowing discord between Mexico and ourselves, and pouring oil on the embers of suspicion and jealousy between ourselves and Japan—embers which quite possibly they first kindled—we do not know; but certainly these criminal plots are not new. Can there be anything more criminal than attempts to arouse hostilities between two nations at peace, unless it is an effort to break down the morale of a nation which wishes only to be left alone to develop its own life? Zimmermann's instructions to propose to Mexico an alliance against the United States, and that Mexico should draw in Japan and be rewarded by the acquisition of New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona, is a well-known episode in Germany's shocking and shameless foreign policy. These instructions were to be carried out only in case we went to war over the unrestricted submarine policy; but they were sent when we were still at peace and when Germany pretended to be observing her pledge to us.* [* The dispatch was so vulgarly immoral that the German-American papers declared, when it was published, that it could not be genuine; but the German foreign office made only the excuse that the proposal to Mexico was to be made only in case war broke out. "Decent nations do not go around preparing schemes for the dismemberment of other nations with which they are at peace." Irrespective of other evidence—see, for example, the correspondence between Lansing and the Japanese commissioner recently published—it is incredible that Zimmermann should have thought of this thing unless there had been long preparation of the ground.] German agents and officials took advantage of their positions and of our easy tolerance to participate in plans for fomenting strikes and industrial disorder.* [* "German official documents, seized in Capt. von Igel's office, present as an argument against Austro-Hungary's cutting off the subsidy to a pretended employment bureau, which was in reality a branch of the German Secret Service, that this 'Liebau Bureau' had been highly successful in fomenting strikes and disturbances at munition factories." See the President's Flag Day Address, with Evidence of Germany's Plans. The sum of $600,000 was spent on the attempt of Huerta to stir up a revolution in Mexico in 1915, in order that we might have to step in and shoot Mexicans instead of protecting ourselves against Germany (ibid, p. 5). When we consider what was done by German agents in government pay on our soil against the allied nations, especially Britain, with whom we were at peace, we get some idea of our obligation and the extent to which our neutrality was insultingly violated. We were on the verge of war with England during our Civil War because England allowed things to be done there much less vicious in character.] Perhaps the most glaring little piece of evidence of German methods is the request sent to Berlin by the ambassador at Washington that he be given authority to expend $50,000 "in order, as on former occasions, to influence Congress through the organization you know of."
10. GERMANY'S CONSPIRACY AND ESPIONAGE THREATENED DEMOCRACY
Everyone at all appreciative of the danger realized that Germany's policy of unremitting intrigue, her sly cunning, and her patient efficiency in deceit were a source of danger to us and our institutions. Those institutions and the principles of our daily life were detestable to the men whom Professor van Dyke has well called the "predatory Potsdam gang." Democracy, simple-hearted, hospitable, unsuspecting democracy, cannot breathe in the fetid air of constant conspiracy. We thus found ourselves arrayed against the whole system, policy, and philosophy of indecent world-politics (Weltpolitik, the dear handmaid of Machtpolitik). We saw ourselves endangered by a principle as well as shocked by its application. Must we go on trying to develop, enlarge, and make more real the fundamental ethics of democracy—trying to solve, on the basis of justice and propriety and human right, the multitude of social problems which beset us—and must we do this knowing that a suspicious, intriguing nation is watching our every step and spying upon our every action—a nation whose unworthy government nurses the delusion that her pathway to power leads over the misfortunes and the distress of others? Or must we, too, become secretive, vulgarly ambitious, and love darkness better than light?
11. GERMANY MENACED OUR SAFETY
We came to see that German success in the war meant attack, perhaps immediate attack, upon ourselves. A thoroughly triumphant Germany almost surely imperiled us. Again, this danger will seem somewhat fantastic to anyone who has not carefully read, watched, and studied during the last three and a half years; but Germany's need of indemnities to replenish her resources would at least conceivably tempt a victory-drunk government to pounce upon our coast cities. Be that as it may, a victorious Germany was sure to be our enemy. Possibly only the student of psychology of militarism will see why she should be our enemy; but most of us now have some slight knowledge of that psychology. It rests, not on the basis of friendliness or good-natured rivalry, but on intrigue and force, on the supposition that a rival must be beaten either by foul means or by fair, open brutality* [* Fourteen years ago many Germans told one of the professors of this university that Germany must fight America some day, and the reason given was simply that America was beginning to reach out for the world's trade!]—if not by intrigue, then by war.
German leaders (for all the way through I have in mind the predatory classes) included America in the "Anglo-Saxon block"—the British and ourselves—whose upbuilding endangered, they believed, the extension of their own power. Not that there was any block, with political aims or secret purposes; but Anglo-Saxon progress was supposed to rival or overreach Germanic world-influence, not to say power. We came within the scope of their world-policies: First, der Tag, the day in which the British fleet should be beaten (happily still a distant day), and then America, peace-besotten, incoherent, incautious, and unwise, should be taken in hand.* [* Can anything be more imperially magnificent than Kaiser William's impudent statement to our Ambassador Gerard that he would not tolerate any more nonsense from America after this war? America! which even then was enduring German ferocity with dignified patience!] No one can seriously suppose that a successful Pan-Germany stretching from the North Sea, where she today holds Norway, Denmark, and Holland by fear and holds Belgium in her icy grip, down to and across the Bosphorus and over Asia Minor—no one can seriously suppose that that nation would suddenly become peaceful and law-abiding and be willing to live decently with other nations, when she has hesitated at nothing odious in her war of conquest and has trampled on the rights of distant nations like ourselves.
12. GERMANY THREATENED THE MONROE DOCTRINE
Germany has long been a menace to the Monroe Doctrine. The writer of this pamphlet intends to hold no brief for the Monroe Doctrine as a "doctrine." But nearly a hundred years ago we determined that the free nations of this continent should not be tied to the tail of the European kite, or be pawns in the game of European diplomatic intrigue. We owed this principle to ourselves and to our neighbors who were trying for sober self-government; we owed it to the decency of the world; and so in recent years we have not looked on with complacency as Germany, the embodiment of the old rotten principle of world-politics, carried on her confidence game in Latin America.* [* At the outbreak of the war Germany officially informed the United States that she was not seeking expansion in South America! And Dr. Dernburg said that when she was victorious there would be "enough property of her antagonists lying about to keep Germany from the necessity of looking any further." The full disclosure of her militaristic imperialism has justified our previous suspicions. Possibly some eyes have been opened; the eyes of Brazil are, where Germany planned to build up Deutschtum in her midst. And there is nothing more refreshing in its quaint, piratical barbarism, with all the qualities of primitive savagery, than the advice of the German minister to Argentina, if the Berlin authorities decided not to let certain Argentine ships through on their peaceful voyage, to sink them without trace—spurlos versenken. There is the basis for a genteel Kultur; for dead men tell no tales.]
13. GERMANY IMPERILED THE INTEGRITY OF OUR NATION
Not content with watchful jealousy of American progress in the two continents of the Western Hemisphere, Germany endangered our national unity and wholeness. It is difficult, probably impossible, to know just how far she went in an attempt to segregate and hold to herself the Germans in this country.* [* Particular attention might well be paid to the German law passed shortly before the war which provides that, if a German is naturalized in a foreign state, he can go to the German consul and take steps to retain his German citizenship. Notwithstanding that on being naturalized he swears to give up all allegiance to every prince, potentate, or state, all he needs to do is to notify the German consul that he does not mean it.] There were plans for maintaining the devotion of the people who, we supposed, were part of ourselves. To the extent that this was planned, an attack was made upon the very inmost spirit of American democracy—hospitable, uncritical, open-hearted democracy; it aimed a vicious blow at our character, at our selves; it sought to poison the sources of our national vitality.
14. IN PEACE AND WAR GERMANY THREATENED THE PEACE OF THE WORLD
Before the war she scorned disarmament or retrenchment. She scorned attempts at arbitration; this must be put down to her credit, for she was honest about it; she had no intention of entering arbitration agreements; her reliance was on her "shining armor." This much, I say, must be placed to her credit, for it shows that even Realpolitik has its own element of honesty. Arbitration was so distasteful to militarism that even the promise to arbitrate was loathsome. After the war began and as it went on, we saw all this more clearly. Unregenerate Germany led by the war lords of Prussia in a league to preserve peace—weak, timid, flabby, sodden peace! And if the blood-stained government, flying the tattered emblems of self-sufficient military autocracy, should sign a league-of-peace agreement, what would the signature be worth except as a curio?
15. GERMANY MADE THE WORLD UNSAFE FOR DEMOCRACY
America came to see, by April, 1917, that she must enter the struggle and sacrifice, if need be, all but honor to put down arrogant militarism and strutting autocracy, the remnants of an outworn practice of life and mode of thought. The world was too small to contain two fundamentally hostile principles of life. It took the devastation of this horrible calamity, the death of millions, the crippling of tens of millions, the semi-starvation of a continent, the drowning of our own people, the slimy intrigue in our own nation, the practice of studied cruelty in Belgium and Poland—it needed all this to open our blind eyes; but at last we saw. There was no use in arguing about it; the world was too small, too organically united; it could not encompass two warring principles of life—warring, that is to say, and deadly in their antagonisms even in times of so-called peace; for the deadliest of enemies are ideas and ideals that in, of, and through themselves lead to differing goals. There was no use in talking about it; the world cannot permanently exist or longer live half-slave and half-free. We have to make the world safe for democracy.* [* President Wilson has not, as some people think, asserted that Prussia must adopt a democratic government. He has simply said that German rulers cannot be trusted; any arrangement with them for peace, unbacked by the people of Germany, would be a bauble. Does anybody doubt that the German government is not trusted? The question is not whether it ought to be trusted; as to that, some ignorant person might break into an argument.
The question is not whether we may ultimately have to sign a peace with the gilded and brazen rulers of Germany; on that point some faint-hearted person might start a discussion. The question is: Does anybody trust the government?
The President has also pointed out that a peace which is really vital must be a peace of peoples. Anybody doubting that has not got very far into the meaning of this horrible catastrophe. We are not, let us hope, giving up the lives of our boys for a "peace" hanging on the shaky word of a Berlin government. And nothing but the righteous sense and serene judgment of everyday people who have seen light and love the sunshine of friendliness—nothing else can give us hope for humanity.
While we do not demand that Germany adopt the forms of democratic government, we do insist that peace and the security of nations be based on the democratic principle.]
15. GERMANY MADE THE WORLD UNSAFE FOR DEMOCRACY
America came to see, by April, 1917, that she must enter the struggle and sacrifice, if need be, all but honor to put down arrogant militarism and strutting autocracy, the remnants of an outworn practice of life and mode of thought. The world was too small to contain two fundamentally hostile principles of life. It took the devastation of this horrible calamity, the death of millions, the crippling of tens of millions, the semi-starvation of a continent, the drowning of our own people, the slimy intrigue in our own nation, the practice of studied cruelty in Belgium and Poland—it needed all this to open our blind eyes; but at last we saw. There was no use in arguing about it; the world was too small, too organically united; it could not encompass two warring principles of life—warring, that is to say, and deadly in their antagonisms even in times of so-called peace; for the deadliest of enemies are ideas and ideals that in, of, and through themselves lead to differing goals. There was no use in talking about it; the world cannot permanently exist or longer live half-slave and half-free. We have to make the world safe for democracy.* [* President Wilson has not, as some people think, asserted that Prussia must adopt a democratic government. He has simply said that German rulers cannot be trusted; any arrangement with them for peace, unbacked by the people of Germany, would be a bauble. Does anybody doubt that the German government is not trusted? The question is not whether it ought to be trusted; as to that, some ignorant person might break into an argument. The question is not whether we may ultimately have to sign a peace with the gilded and brazen rulers of Germany; on that point some faint-hearted person might start a discussion. The question is: Does anybody trust the government? The President has also pointed out that a peace which is really vital must be a peace of peoples. Anybody doubting that has not got very far into the meaning of this horrible catastrophe. We are not, let us hope, giving up the lives of our boys for a "peace" hanging on the shaky word of a Berlin government. And nothing but the righteous sense and serene judgment of everyday people who have seen light and love the sunshine of friendliness—nothing else can give us hope for humanity. While we do not demand that Germany adopt the forms of democratic government, we do insist that peace and the security of nations be based on the democratic principle.]
All this does not mean that democracy is conquering and combative, or that it is exclusive, narrow, self-seeking; by its very nature in the modern world it is and must be frank, hospitable to ideas, unrevengeful, hating deceit, loving the open. Secrecy, suspicion, and cold, calculating preparation to stab a neighbor—these are the qualities which true democracy cannot endure. If we must live in a state of sullen antipathy, on our guard to protect our own culture from invasion of new ideas, cherishing a sense of peculiar and insulated superiority, we give up most of the things or all of the things that make democracy worth while. Democracy, if true to itself, must have "freedom and fulness of human companionship."
If the world, divided into four or five alliances each bristling with bayonets, must organize from top to bottom for war and live in constant suspicion and hatred, breathing the air of intrigue and sharp practice, then democracy cannot last; then democratic nations must put on the full armor* [* It is worth while to calculate what must be done if, when this war ends, all nations must proceed to prepare for another war. What has been done will be nothing in comparison—organization from the cradle to the grave, millions of men taken from useful employment, consumption of vast stores of material, the consequent lessening of productivity and the maintenance of poverty, the use of science and intelligence to kill. All this must be given up some time if civilization is to survive.] and carry the poisoned arrows of autocracy; for where under those conditions are freedom and fulness of companionship? About one-half of democracy consists in giving the other fellow his fair chance; that is the salt of democracy, and if the salt shall lose its savor wherewith shall it be salted? Not from Berlin.
16. GERMANY'S CONDUCT AND PRINCIPLES CONFLICT WITH ANY PLAN OF
WORLD-ORGANIZATION FOR PEACE
Before we entered the war we were committed, as far as the President could commit us, and as far as our unspoken longings would go, to a league to preserve peace; we had determined that the world must have some scheme, some series of institutions, to which we might with reasonable hope intrust the preservation of civilization to save it from demoniac destruction by scientific warfare. Unless we entered the war, to take our part and bear our suffering, in the awful task of conquering the militaristic, sword-proud government that boasted of its prowess, unless we did our part in overthrowing the predatory classes that openly preached the philosophy of war, we could do little or nothing for peace. Germany might be triumphant; and even if she were not, peace based on justice and hope seemed practically impossible without our help. Europe was drenched in blood, shattered in its very being. So we entered the war for peace. We cannot be accused of seeking financial gain or profiting by territorial conquest. And thus to our bounden duty to defend ourselves was added a duty to the world. This peace, if it be real, must, as the President has said, find its lasting support in the hearts of peoples.
We are offering a terrible sacrifice. National self-respect, resentment at unbearable wrong, indignation at barbaric cruelty, might be enough to justify the exertion of our utmost strength; but the call was louder than that of fear or anger, and we shall have to bear in mind those deeper and higher purposes if we are to do our part in making democracy safe and civilization reputable. The German government, and above all the autocratic principles of Prussia, are a remnant and a survival of hoary doctrines and practices of an early age. Those principles and practices are tenfold more dangerous than ever before because they have summoned to their support modern science, modern industrialism, and a crude and awful materialism.* [* If anyone doubts the existence of this crude materialism beneath the patriotic exaltation of the people, he should read thoughtfully General von Bissing's Testament. There he will find an interesting example, though only an example, of the hard, relentless policy of vulgar, materialistic Kultur.] If Germany cannot cleanse herself and emerge into the light, the outside nations must either do the task for her or themselves adopt with resolution the conscienceless program of suspicion, intrigue, and forcible material conquest. The latter alternative is revolting. Germany can be brought and must be brought within the circle of co-operating nations.
© 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