Sacrificing His Core Supporters in a Race Against Defeat
By Elihu Root
IMMEDIATELY after the famous emancipation proclamation of President Lincoln, the laboring men of Lancashire held a great meeting in Manchester, six thousand of them, and sent a message of sympathy and support to President Lincoln. They were in direst poverty, for the blockade of the Southern ports had cut the cotton off from their factories and they had been suffering for months. The call of a great deed for human freedom made them forget their sufferings. Mr. Lincoln answered appreciatively and closed his answer with these words: "I hail this interchange of sentiments as an augury that whatever else may happen, whatever misfortunes may befall your country or my own, the peace and friendship which now exist between the two nations will be, as it shall be my desire to make them, perpetual."
Mr. MacDonald, all Americans, except perhaps a few who think themselves better Americans than Abraham Lincoln, hail in the same spirit your visit, your words, and your noble effort towards peace and friendship.
Your hosts here this evening have a special sympathy with the broader aspects of your mission, for they have joined together to help each other in getting an understanding of international affairs, in learning what are the true interests, the feelings, the affections, the likes and dislikes, what are the duties, the obligations, and the rights, not only of our own country, but of all countries. And your audience here tonight is a fair representative of a great multitude of Americans who look to you with interest and admiration and fervent hope for the success of your efforts, not merely for the settlement of a question about ships and the caliber of guns, but for a better understanding among all the peoples of the earth.
We have learned, we think, that in international differences the questions involved are nothing. Not only contemporaneous experience but the teachings of history show that nations do not make war for the trifling questions upon which they divide. They make war because a state of feeling has arisen which makes them reckless of aught but the desire to fight. It is plain that the way to settle the questions that arise, is to prevent the state of mind which does not really wish to settle them, and it is equally plain that the way to avert war is to prevent the state of mind in which people wish to fight.
The world has been shaken by the Great War, and everybody is in favor of peace. But too many, while in favor of peace, are unwilling to direct their conduct in such a way that they will not promote ill-feeling that leads to the destruction of peace, and are unwilling to refrain from doing things in the same direction. And so, too large a part of the world is going on in the same old mode of thinking and feeling and acting, with long-labored, diplomatic documents, long distance communications, struggles for little advantages, and purely intellectual controversy over the questions that arise. This continuance of that same old mode of procedure, that same old kind of thinking and feeling and acting, will inevitably lead us to war again as it always has led to war during the three hundred years since the peace of Westphalia.
Is there no remedy? Must we go on as we have been going? Plainly the remedy -- if it is possible -- is to substitute confidence for suspicion, friendliness for dislike, a desire for agreement in place of the die-hard unwillingness to yield an inch. We all know how that can be done as between man and man. Perhaps it can be done as between nation and nation. That, I take it, Mr. MacDonald, is what you are making a test of. There have been some things happening which may make it possible now though it has not been possible before. Dynastic ambition is out of the ring. Cannon fodder has the power to control, and is beginning to learn how to control, diplomacy. The public opinion of the world is beginning to be recognized as a power that can punish. And we are all learning that war is suicide; no longer the gratification of the desire for pomp and display; no longer the opportunity to secure wealth and further power; but the certainty that the victor with the vanquished commits national suicide.
Among many vitally important things accomplished by the Washington Conference of 1921 and 1922, was this, that it gave that great Frenchman, Aristide Briand, an opportunity to make in the most public manner his noble declaration, eloquently phrased in his own inimitable way, that moral disarmament must precede physical disarmament. Your aim, Sir, is to accomplish moral disarmament. Then physical disarmament will follow as a matter of course.
You are mindful of the old story of the sun and the north wind. Your weapons in the battle that you have entered upon are frank and open friendship, a sense of justice which includes justice to others as well as to oneself, a love of liberty, which means liberty to differ without being hated for it, and a conception that the way for nations to rise higher and higher in development, in spiritual power, in wealth, in happiness, is not by pulling each other down, but by all helping each other up.
Who can fail to wish you Godspeed in that mission?
IT was a very kindly thought of those responsible for the arrangement of these dinners to invite me to come and break bread with you at your table. You are certainly not unknown to me, because for some time now I have read a magazine for which you are responsible, both with pleasure and with profit. I refer to FOREIGN AFFAIRS.
And when I heard that the Chairman who is by my side at the present moment, Mr. Root, was to take the chair, the honor that you had done me by sending your invitation was indeed crowned with a glorious pleasure. Only for the first time have I met Mr. Root in the flesh. But it is a very, very long time ago since I learned to respect him as one of the conspicuous workers in the cause of international peace. And last night, when I met him for the first time and tonight when I meet him again sitting so bravely under his heavy load of years, what comes to my mind is Simeon waiting on the steps of the Temple for the Messianic appearance. My hope and my prayer, Sir, is that you may feel in these days, for the cause of peace which has been so substantially advanced, some of those feelings that must have animated Simeon on that great occasion.
Tonight I am speaking to you and I see you, but outside from one end of America to the other, and also, I am told, across the Atlantic and Pacific, I am addressing an unseen audience who hear a voice but see no man. I have a feeling, Sir, that that audience has already been addressed from the columns of innumerable newspapers that have recorded the heartening transactions of the last week. They have followed the course of the negotiations day by day, and every time that your President and myself have been able to renew their hope to give them greater satisfaction as people watching for peace, they have cheered and cheered and they have upheld us in our efforts.
There has been an odd voice or two, as you said, Sir, which is out of harmony with the general feelings of the world. I find there is still that old leaven of diplomacy left in some quarters, mostly remote beyond the seas, that if two statesmen get together, talk together, arrange things together, come to agreements together, there must be something sinister in their hearts. The only remark that I make to those people is this, that they are very much out of date. Their suspicions do not arise because they know, they arise because they are old-fashioned; they arise because they have no conception of the new spirit that is making up its mind to govern and dominate the world, the spirit of an open diplomacy, the spirit of men coming together, not for the purpose of dividing the world into alliances and groups, but for the purpose of by their own agreements helping the world to come to a general agreement that will be universal and not particular. That was the spirit that made Mr. Hoover and myself meet together and talk over affairs of mutual interest to our countries.
I want to say quite definitely and clearly, I want the whole world to know it, and I say it without any reserve and any withholding of any kind whatever, that during the entire course of our conversations, there has never been any idea whatever of an exclusive understanding between Great Britain and the United States. There has been nothing discussed which the two governments would not be happy to see discussed on the same basis with all the Powers in the world. The understanding we have been trying to establish will always be incomplete and unsatisfactory until it has become the common possession of all the nations on the face of the earth.
And that fact, Mr. Chairman, was very well illustrated by the circumstances under which these conversations were inaugurated. When you sent General Dawes to London to represent you, he hurried up in the full light of day to meet me in my Highland fastness. We met; sat at a table together, cheek by jowl, as we say in Scotland; an open window was at our shoulder; the sun shone in upon us; crowds of reporters were on the lawn photographing us through the glass, beholding our various transactions, noting our smiles, and, no doubt, noting our perplexities; everything conducted in a glass house, with no secrecy, no curtains, no blinds, and from that day to this our negotiations have been conducted by men who wish to live the open life and have no desire to pursue the secret one.
We have not come together for the purpose of enthroning peace over the Atlantic. We have come together for the purpose of trying to enthrone peace all over the world.
In your reference to the working men of Lancashire, Sir, you reminded us that in those days of great trial in the United States, those working men bent down under poverty, their lives darkened by privation, felt the ideal of liberty, felt the ideal of justice, so keenly, that they were prepared to go into a still deeper darkness in order that they might in heart have a part in favor of a struggle which they regarded as one for human liberty and human right-eousness in the world.
I have met the same thing since these negotiations began. When the Government of which I am the head decided to postpone the building of two cruisers, because we declined to enter into a ship-building program of competition with other nations, it meant, unfortunately, that the work that was open for some men was closed to them. I don't know how many of you understand what that means. I don't know how many of you understand how the stopping of a couple of pounds a week, or of two-pound-ten a week means, not the difference between pocket money that may or may not be spent lavishly, but between an income that enables a family to be kept without the fear of incurring debt and nothing at all except what insurance they get from unemployment funds. But those men faced that, and whilst they appealed to us to find them other work, they passed resolutions begging us and praying us to go on with our task of disarmament.
The Chairman was perfectly right when he said that what we had in mind was to effect moral disarmament first of all. We shall never be able to effect physical disarmament until we have succeeded in effecting moral disarmament. And I venture to hope that the statement that was issued the other day on behalf of your President and myself, in its opening paragraphs has proclaimed between us a state of moral disarmament.
But the difficulty is the transition period. Here is the problem of statesmanship. On the one hand, you get your moral disarmament. Sentiment is with you, piety is with you, resolutions that read fair and sound well are carried unanimously; but the moment you start to apply them for the purpose of transferring the mentality of the peoples from a mentality of military security to a mentality of political security, then the poor statesman is beset by a thousand and one exceedingly intricate problems.
Now the task that lies in front of us is to get through that transition period. We have declared that no war can take place between us. We have declared more, that we do not conceive, we cannot conceive, any circumstances under which the armed forces of the United States and of Great Britain can come into conflict. So far, so good. Are we sincere? You have applauded that with extraordinary unanimity. The press of America has applauded it. How are you going to come with us or we go with you, to apply that doctrine, that faith, that determination, so that our national policies will reflect it, so that our actions will show in every respect that we feel perfectly secure in the intentions expressed in the document issued a couple of days ago?
Obviously, the very first step that can be taken to prove our sincerity is that you and we say to each other, "We are beginning to get indifferent as to our relative fighting forces. What is the use of troubling about something that is never going to be used?" Yes, but as soon as that is said, the old Adam in all of us comes back, our knees begin to tremble, our hearts begin to faint and to fail. But we have declared something which I hope will protect us against the spread of that fear and that suspicion. We have said to each other that so far as our navies are concerned -- the subject that we have been discussing in particular -- there shall be parity between us, so that neither of us will have any advantage over the other, so that in the balance we are in a state of absolute equilibrium.
What is the effect of that? The Chairman referred to the reasons why people fight. He was perfectly right. People do not fight for the reasons that they give for it after they have got into war. People fight because something has happened; because a train of circumstances has happened which puts their nerves on edge, which makes them unhappy in their suspicions, which makes them feel unsafe and insecure -- until, by a continuation of that mentality, they come to the conclusion, "For God's sake, let us end it, whatever the price, whatever the result may be." And before we know where we are, we are at war.
There is no better way to prevent the development of that national frame of mind than to prevent competition in armaments, because by competing in armaments every nation knows that it has failed to get security. And when it has spent its national income, when it has frayed its nerves, then it knows that war is absolutely inevitable, and that there is no cure for the conditions into which it has landed itself except the conflict of arms. Limit the development of arms, and what do you do? You compel your statesmen, you compel yourselves, to trust to political security, the security of justice, the security of fair play, the security of rightness of position, the securing of arbitration. Every agreement made subsequently between nations to stop threatening each other by competitive development of arms means that those nations are driven more and more into the judicial frame of mind, into the frame of mind which finds security in mutual conference and in mutual good will.
The mind, however, is furnished always with old furniture and it is very difficult for you to turn out of your mind the assumptions and fears that you have inherited and to furnish it afresh as you do your rooms in your houses. For instance, in our case, our navy is the very life of our nation. We have a romance surrounding it. We are people of the sea. We are a small island. Europe is at our doors, for good or for ill. The lines of our Empire have been thrown all over the face of the earth. We have to import our food. A month's blockade, effectively carried out, would starve us all. Great powers on the Continent trust to their land forces. Our land forces must always be a secondary force in the event of any conflict. Great Britain's navy is Great Britain itself.
As I say, we are a people of the sea, and the sea is our security and our safety.
Ah, my American friends, I hope that your imaginations will enable you to see the affection, the real understandable human affection that is gathered around our ships of the sea when we look into the future, and how hard it is to get the British people to feel security if the naval arm is limited in any way whatever. I put that in front of you, not as a final word, but as a plea for understanding, a plea for patience, a plea for good will. In that way, the very fact that you show that patience and that good will will enable us to change that part of the furniture of our mind and put in its place more modern, fairer, more comfortable, and more substantial furniture for future use.
There is another difficulty that you and we have to face in common. You know in this world there is the wise man. As a rule he is a very unwise man. And a very characteristic type of wise man is he who says that as you have never accomplished anything in certain directions, so you never will. He is the sort of man who, an hour before Bleriot flew the Channel, would declare the Channel could never be flown because at various times it had been unsuccessfully attempted. That type of man comes in to bother us at the present time. He knows a little bit about history, he tells us. He tells us that in 1815 the Holy Alliance was formed for the purpose of securing the world forever in peace. And then he tells you little gossipy tales about this nation and that. He tells you how the Holy Alliance came to an end, he tells you how instead of armies vanishing, armies grew. He tells you how even the Holy Alliance itself instead of securing peace paved the way for war, and he shakes his head and he says to Mr. Root and myself, "Ah! you young, unreliable idealists." If the Holy Alliance does not satisfy you and diminish your faith, he will tell you delightful stories of the liberal dreams of democracy in the region of 1848. He will tell you, as one told me the other day, how Robert Owen came to the United States in 1845 and called a convention, and these are the words used: "a world convention to emancipate the human race from ignorance, poverty, division, sin, and misery." And he will continue the story down, down, down into an ever deepening darkness of failure. And then, the light of self-satisfaction will illuminate his face, and he will turn to you and say: "Have I not proved an eternal positive by a finite negative?"
The fact of the matter is, that if you take any great human cause that has triumphed for the benefit of the world, you will find that originally it comes down from the clear blue sky of idealism, down, down, down through experiment after experiment that has failed, until at last it touches the earth, and as soon as it touches the earth, by almost a magical transformation of its creative power, it begins to grow up and up and up, by physical means and by successful action, until at last it establishes itself as one of the great achievements of the human intelligence and the human will.
It was one of the Pilgrim fathers who said, "Let the governments be as the materials be." That is what we have been trying to remember during the last seven days. We have been trying to amalgamate the two ingredients of real creative action -- an idea which is just and inspiring, and practical experience that enables us to apply that idea like practical business men.
There has never been anything worth doing that has not been dreamt of first of all. I am told I am addressing some very successful business men. I am not a business man in that sense, but I venture to say that your experience is mine, that nobody here, and nobody who is not here, has ever established a successful business without dreaming about it at the beginning. Never has there been a good house built, never has there been a glorious cathedral built, but an architect came first of all and conceived the outlines of its beauties and put them on paper. The mason, the man who has been doing what your President and I have been trying to do since we met, builds things up so that in material things we may fashion our architectural ideas. I say, the mason, the builder of material things, comes after the architect and without the architect he can build nothing that is worthy. Our dreams of peace, our conception of human justice and human wisdom, are based upon the assumption that nations sooner or later must discover how their competition is to be competition of mind, competition of spirit, competition of soul. How can we contend with each other? We are not to build walls that exclude each other, but in our various crafts, in our various countries, build temples that will attract each other. Not until we discover how democratic light, how national enlightenment, is to come from great, flaring experiments, successfully conducted, in good government -- not until then are we going to have peace on earth and good will towards men. And only when we apply those ideas are we building up on the earth the condition of peace.
The problem that remains to the statesman is to devise in detail a set of political relations for the specific purpose of realizing the moral condition which we call peace. The problem is, how to coördinate harmoniously, and not in a discordant way, the different interests of the different nations. Wisdom, practicality in politics, consists in having the vision and knowing how to apply it. I hope, Sir, you will find some evidence that that kind of wisdom has been occupying us in the document which was published two days ago.
At the same time, I am not going to leave it for you in that condition. We have been working in Europe and I think we have been working with a considerable amount of success. We have been seeing to this -- and this is of fundamental importance -- that public opinion is demanding that those responsible for governments should not only take the risk of war, which they take when they begin to build competitively their armaments, but they should take the risk of peace. Public opinion in Europe today tells its political leaders that it knows there are risks in peace; that it knows that the assumption made between one nation and another that they are to conduct their affairs in sincerity and in justice, does lay the believing nation open to a certain amount of risk. I will take it. I will take it!
Were I to refuse to take that risk, were I to turn my eyes across the Atlantic to your building, as I have not done and decline to do, were I to build ship after ship in response to your building, what risk should I be taking? The risk that I should be taking would be this: that the American people would at some point or other in the evolution of that program of unlimited building, call a halt. The risk I am taking is the risk of war.
If, on the other hand, I take the risk of believing in your word, if I take the risk of believing in your continuing friendship, if I take the risk of assuming that you are men of your word, that you are a nation of honor, and that your honor consists largely in fulfilling your obligations, what risk am I taking? I am taking a risk of peace which is temporary, and in the end I will get peace, securely, certainly, and a continuing peace to boot.
There is another event that has happened during the last year or so, which is a great outstanding event, one of those foundation events upon which great structures of constitutions and institutions can be built. That is the signing of the Pact of Peace in Paris a little over a year ago. You signed that; we signed that. And those people who are always telling us that there are certain things that must be withheld from arbitration, place their finger upon the foremost of those things when they say "national honor." I agree. National honor is a sort of thing that is not in the nature of an arbitrable affair. I agree. But we have both signed that Pact. Is there any conduct that is more essentially an example of national honor than that when you and we sign a document declaring that certain things will happen, we should carry out our signature? How can anyone talk about national honor and yet contemplate the cancelling of their signature to a Pact just when it suits them?
National honor prevents the United States and Great Britain and the other fifty nations that have signed that Pact from ever contemplating arms as an element in their national policy. And I propose so long as we are in office -- I only limit it in that way because I cannot speak for other parties, but I know perfectly well that as regards other parties the same feeling is there -- so long as this Government is in office, it will always regard its signature, the signature of its nation, to the Pact of Peace as a precious and sacred part of our national honor, and will observe it.
There is another step which has been taken in Europe which is of the greatest encouragement to those of us who are not only peace lovers but peace makers.
At Geneva, the other day, Great Britain and its Dominions signed what is known as the Optional Clause. We have pledged ourselves to refer all those questions that have hitherto developed into wars to a judicial court sitting at The Hague. We have nothing to fear. If we are right we will win our case. If we are wrong, we don't deserve to win our case. And when people talk about little, pettifogging things, and point out how now and again the most judicial of benches make mistakes, I know that is true. I believe that if we were to arbitrate or send to arbitration national cases for the next hundred years, there would be mistakes made. But balance the mistakes on the one hand, and put against them the losses, the destruction, the criminality of war, and where does the balance lie? Human mistakes may be hard to bear by the victim of the mistakes, but the sort of thing that has been going on, generation after generation, and century after century, under the false impression that any nation can get security from military force, altogether outbalances the evils of human mistakes, and if God made us imperfect, as apparently He has done, I accept the imperfection of human good will, rather than the certain destruction and criminality of human malice and wickedness as expressed in war.
And so, these thoughts being in mind, we have taken the very best steps to protect ourselves by proclaiming an enduring peace between us. But, my friends, two nations cannot make the peace of the world, and so next January, as the result of our conservations and agreements so far, we are summoning a five-power conference at which will be representatives of every large naval power. We hope that the five-power conference will enable us to make complete agreements, not between ourselves, but between ourselves and them. And then we shall have widened out the area of agreement, we shall have limited the area of competitive building. We shall hand over the results to the Preparatory Commission sitting at Geneva, the Commission that is preparing the agreements and agenda for the general conference on disarmament, and at last, the general conference on disarmament will I hope be held with very fine prospects of complete success.
Could any two nations engage in a better and a more laudable work than that? And that is the work that you and we have been engaged in during the summer and the recent weeks.
Now, Sir, there is something else that I should like to refer to, because it again is essential for the keeping of peace. I am sure that everybody who is interested in foreign relations at any rate occasionally reads his Macaulay, and I am sure, therefore, that some of you will recognize a passage which I am going to remind you of. You will remember that Macaulay describes the making of the peace of Ryswick, and this is what he writes about it. Some of you will recall that Harlay represented Great Britain, or England, and Kaunitz represented the Empire. "The chief business of Harlay and Kaunitz," sayd Lord Macaulay, "was to watch each other's legs. Neither of them thought it consistent with the dignity of the Crown which he served to advance towards the other faster than the other advanced towards him. If, therefore, one of them perceived that he had inadvertently stepped forward too quick, he went back to the door, and the stately minuet began again." That is the old diplomacy. Needless to say, neither your President nor myself engaged in minuets. We did not try to manœuvre each other into position or out of position. We tried, as I said, for no alliances and no balances of power. We did not sit down to play a creeping and a waiting game. We did not watch each other as swordsmen watch each other or as prizefighters study the faces of each other. We did not begin by offering little things, trying to best each other, and then to advance step by step and stage by stage as the other forced us. We did not examine statements meticulously in order to discover how we could put something over the other without his knowing it. The method was altogether different. We knew what we were out for. We stated the difficulties of our respective countries. He told me his; I equally frankly told him mine. He told me what he thought he could do; I told him what I thought I could do. He told me what public opinion demanded of him; I told him what public opinion demanded of me. In that sincerity, in that simplicity, in that informality, we conducted our negotiations and that is the reason why in four brief days we came to conclusions that under the old diplomacy would have taken at least as many months to have achieved.
Sir, that is the prospect before us. These are the problems that we have to face. That is the road we have to walk. Neither of us can act alone; we must have enlightened public opinion behind us; we must have champions, champions in both countries. We must have men and women who, at this moment, will not allow themselves to be led up side alleys that lead nowhere but end in culde-sacs. We must have a public opinion which selects the essential from the non-essential, which sees that at the moment the great cause and problem in front of us is the cause of peace, made first of all as a political declaration, and then the cause of peace turned into a practical program of agreements on details. I believe we are going to get it on both sides of the Atlantic.
And so when I look ahead, Mr. Chairman, I think both of us are justified in seeing the shining feet of the coming peacemakers coming over the horizon to gladden our hearts and to make us feel that all our long efforts for peace have not been without avail.
If I might trade upon your generosity and make an appeal to you, it would be that from now onwards, until the work is done, you will stand steadfastly by those statesmen who are to have the very difficult job of disentangling the detailed problem of peacemaking; giving us patience; giving us confidence; refusing to be influenced by those who take, maybe, temporary failure as a proof that success is impossible; cheering us so that again and again and again we will return to our work, because in the end it is bound to be successful.
Thank you so very much for listening so patiently to me and giving me the opportunity of coming and spending such a pleasant and profitable evening with you.