REVOLUTIONS will happen. This truth is brought home to us by recent events in Santo Domingo, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Brazil, and by portents of similar developments elsewhere in Latin America. Revolutions challenge other nations to take notice and to take action. When a government is violently overthrown, it is immediately replaced by another. The first question for foreign governments is: "To recognize or not to recognize?" If recognition is denied or withheld, the question arises whether to have relations with the new government and, if so, under what conditions. On these subjects the United States has made notable contributions both of ideas and of precedents. They constitute one of our most vital and least static foreign policies.

The latest change in American policy as regards the granting of recognition is the complete abandonment of the Wilsonian doctrine of "constitutional legitimacy" so far as South America is concerned. The recognition of the recently formed governments in the five countries mentioned above marks a return to the Jeffersonian policy of prompt de jure recognition of de facto governments which are in undisputed control and disposed to fulfil their international obligations.

No adequate discussion of American policy in respect to revolutions and recognition can fail to open with a statement of the ideas which Thomas Jefferson, first as Secretary of State and later as President, expounded and forged into one of the earliest and most characteristically American foreign policies. Jefferson believed in revolution and made no bones about saying so. "I hold," he wrote, "that a little revolution now and then is a good thing and is as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. . . . It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government." And again, referring to Shays's Rebellion: "God forbid that we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion."

These philosophical views were undoubtedly held with all disinterestedness by our third President, but it is well to remember that, so far as South American revolutions were concerned, Jefferson's views accorded exactly with the most obvious dictates of American self-interest, both political and commercial. The triumph of revolution in South America meant the elimination from this hemisphere of a potentially dangerous neighbor and, more important, the opening to American commerce of doors tightly closed by a mercantilistic Spanish colonial system.

Jefferson's policy was that, "It accords with our principles to acknowledge any government to be rightful which is formed by the will of the nation substantially declared," and this without regard for the manner or means of its formation. His policy stood diametrically opposed to the doctrine of legitimacy espoused by the Holy Alliance of European nations. For Jefferson there was no such thing as a divine or a natural right, either of a monarchy or of a constitutional republican government, to be perpetuated and not to be overthrown by violence or otherwise. For him, the facts of political situations and not the postulates of political theories were normative. The development and application of this liberal principle was one of the noblest contributions of the United States to modern international law. It soon came to be generally accepted, probably as much because it suited the commercial interests of Great Britain and the United States as for any idealistic considerations. Anglo-Saxon ideals and interests seem to have a happy faculty of easy coalescence.

By the time of the Civil War, our prompt recognition of any de facto government following the violent overthrow of its predecessor was hardly more than a formality which the American diplomatic representative was promptly authorized to consummate as soon as he considered the new government in effective control of the country and acquiesced in by the people. Acquiescence was objectively determined by the fact that the people paid taxes, rendered military service and obeyed the new government.

It fell to Lincoln's Secretary of State, Seward, acting under the influence of the events of the Civil War, to modify the Jeffersonian policy to the extent of declaring that, "Revolutions ought not to be accepted until the people have adopted them by organic law with the solemnities which would seem sufficient to guarantee their stability and permanency"; adding, without conscious humor, "This is the result of reflection upon national trials of our own."

According to international law today the conditions of civil war require recognition by foreign nations of the insurgency and, in protracted conflicts, of the belligerency of the revolutionists, but full recognition as a de jure government should be withheld until the armed issue has been resolved conclusively in favor of the permanency of the new government. Only the fact of control and acceptance by the people is vital -- not the formalities of establishment.

A few years after the Civil War American policy had got back to the Jeffersonian standards for recognition, or de factoism.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century our policy with regard to recognition has been marked by two important developments. The first has been a growing tendency, wherever recognition of a Latin American government is involved, to attempt to secure from the government seeking recognition its assent to a number of points specified by the United States. This assent is a sort of condition precedent (often intimated but not expressly stated) to extending recognition. The second development has been a revival of the defunct legitimacy doctrine of the equally extinct Holy Alliance, with its old regal robes replaced by the more up-to-date garments of republican constitutionality.

The first development -- trading recognition for a consideration -- has been very subtle in its growth. It may best be explained by referring to an excellent brief statement of the now accepted international law criteria for granting recognition to revolutionary governments. A paragraph in the Draft Convention prepared by the Pan American Juristical Conference at Rio de Janeiro in 1927 reads: "Every abnormally constituted government may be recognized if it is capable of maintaining order and tranquillity and is disposed to fulfil the international obligations of the nation." Up to near the end of the nineteenth century, the second of these conditions, the disposition to fulfil international obligations, was never mentioned in communications of the State Department; it was taken for granted. Expressed interest in this condition seems to be in direct ratio to the amount of American investments in the country. Thus, when we recognized King Peter of Serbia in 1903, following the assassination of his predecessor in a palace revolution, we asked no questions about an ability to fulfil international obligations; we had then no important investments in Serbia.

Interpreted liberally, the second condition should mean simply that the government to be recognized is disposed to fulfil its obligations as they may be defined and determined according to international law. Interpreted narrowly, as our government has shown a tendency to do in recent years when extending recognition to weak governments where our investments are considerable, this condition may mean, in effect, that the government soliciting recognition must agree to every demand of the recognizing government. Of course, the recognizing government reasons that everything it asks is only a part of the international obligations of the new government.

Two examples may be cited to illustrate this unfortunate development. When General Morales sought recognition in Santo Domingo after his coup d'état of 1904, he was told that he would be recognized if his government pledged itself to recognize all the engagements entered into between the American Legation and the Dominican Republic, engagements to which Mr. Roosevelt had not yet secured the assent of the American Senate. Morales signed on the dotted line and promptly received recognition. In another case, the United States chaffered with the Obregon government from November 19, 1921, to March 31, 1923, before recognizing it. The United States demanded as the price of recognition the acceptance by Mexico of what Mr. Hughes called a "proper treaty," drafted and submitted by the Department of State as embodying our views of what Mexico ought to do and ought not to do to "safeguard American property rights in Mexico." The deadlock caused by Mexico's refusal to sign on the dotted line was finally broken by a compromise arrangement fostered by a more conciliatory spirit on both sides, and so recognition came to Obregon.

This may be shrewd trading for private individuals, but from the point of view of international law and good relations between nations it is difficult to imagine a more regrettable procedure. The fairness of the claims has nothing to do with the propriety of making their satisfaction the price of recognition. International law, diplomacy and arbitration exist for the purpose of defining rights and settling claims between nations. Law is clearly a better basis than swapping, especially where the two parties have not equal bargaining power. Take a recent instance. The de facto government of Tinoco in Costa Rica (1917--1919), which was refused recognition by the United States, and by the European nations in deference to our wishes, made certain contracts with foreigners which the next government repudiated by law. The British Government had not exacted any agreements at the time it extended recognition, but, in an arbitral decision rendered by Chief Justice Taft, the Tinoco contracts were held binding on succeeding Costa Rican governments.

Whenever the American representative mentions to the head of a de facto government a number of things which the United States desires, and intimates that compliance with these wishes might help along recognition, the United States is using Machtpolitik or economic imperialism in a very overt manner. The United States is a nearly invincible world Power. The new government with which such tactics are employed is always weak and badly in need of recognition. The United States is under no legal obligation to extend recognition. We may gain a point by this sort of trading, but it is dearly bought in good will, as our relations with Mexico, for instance, eloquently testify.

The second development, or the masquerade of the reactionary Holy Alliance legitimacy doctrine in the garments of republican constitutionalism, is one of the most interesting features of American policy since 1913. The doctrine that a successful revolutionary régime should not be recognized until a constitutional reorganization of the country has taken place was first propounded about 1906 by Dr. Tobar, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay. The idea was embodied in the Central American Treaty of 1907. It was made more drastic by Article 2 of the General Treaty of Peace and Amity of February 1923, promoted by the State Department of the United States but signed only by the Central American representatives in conference at Washington. The Treaty was not allowed to come under the purview of the United States Senate; our announced adhesion to the principle of Article 2 of the Treaty was a piece of executive policy. This article added to the Tobar Doctrine that, even after the freely elected representatives of the people had constitutionally reorganized the government, if they should elect any leader of the revolution or his near relative by blood or marriage, such person could not be recognized as president.

Mr. Wilson made the first American application of the Tobar Doctrine in refusing recognition to the Huerta government of Mexico in 1913. Mr. Coolidge made the last application of the doctrine in South America in the denial of recognition to the Ayora régime, which came to power in Ecuador through a coup d'état in July 1925. Three years later Mr. Coolidge reversed our attitude towards the Ayora régime and recognized it, although Ayora was not constitutionally elected President until March 1929. In Central America the doctrine was last applied in the refusal of recognition to the Chamorro government, which came to power in Nicaragua in January 1926. For Central America the doctrine still governs our policy by virtue of our announced adherence to the rule of Article 2 of the General Treaty of Peace and Amity of 1923.

As formulated in Mr. Wilson's lofty prose, the doctrine seems hard to assail. "The Government of the United States will refuse to extend the hand of welcome to anyone who obtains power in a sister republic by treachery or violence." The policy has not been applied outside of the Americas. In Europe we make a practice of recognizing promptly and without legitimistic inquiries any régime that may shoot or otherwise make its way to power.

As described sympathetically by a supporter,[i] the doctrine seems less invulnerable than it does in Mr. Wilson's phraseology. Ambassador Page had been trying to get the British to withdraw recognition from Huerta in Mexico.

I can't get away from the feeling that the English simply do not and will not believe in any unselfish public action, further than the keeping of order. They have a mania for order, sheer order, order for the sake of order. They can't see how anything can come in anyone's thought before order or how anything need come afterward. Even Sir Edward Grey jocularly ran me across our history with questions like this:

"Suppose you have to intervene, what then?"

"Make 'em vote and live by their decisions."[ii]

"But suppose they will not so live?"

"We'll go in again and make 'em vote again."

"And keep this up for two hundred years?" asked he.

"Yes," said I. "The United States will be here two hundred years and it can continue to shoot men for that little space until they learn to vote and rule themselves."

I have never seen him laugh so heartily. Shooting men into self-government! Shooting men into orderliness -- he comprehends that; that's all right. . . . A nigger lynched in Mississippi offends them more than a tyrant in Mexico.

The non-recognition policy finally forced Huerta out, but recognition did not save Carranza from overthrow by revolution nor did recognition avert the recent Mexican revolution, although it doubtless did much to prevent its triumph.

In passing, it may be observed that a rigid policy which always aids the government against revolution cannot invariably be considered a good policy unless one believes no government ought ever to be overthrown. It goes without saying that rulers and régimes overthrown by revolution cannot, in most instances, be ousted in any other way. There are three choices: putting up indefinitely with a bad government; change of government by revolution; or supervised elections with perpetual intervention by some strong nation. Americans should be prepared to admit that the world's last good revolution did not terminate when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. Mr. Roosevelt, for instance, thought the Panama Revolution of 1903 such a noble movement that he ordered the American Navy to prevent the Colombian Government from landing forces to suppress it. We should always gratefully recall that that revolution gave to the world the Panama Canal and to us the control of it -- truly a noble gift from a Latin American revolution and another example of the happy harmony between Anglo-Saxon ideals and interests.

Our arms embargo policy for the Americas and China is an anti-revolution instrument developed since 1912. The first application below the Panama Canal of an embargo on arms for revolutionists was made on October 22, 1930, by virtue of discretionary authority vested in the President of the United States by the Joint Resolution of January 31, 1922, and in harmony with principles established in the Convention "On the Duties and Rights of States in the Event of Civil War" between the United States and certain American republics. This Convention, a product of the Pan-American Congress of 1928, was ratified by the Senate, April 15, 1930. The policy accords with no generally accepted principles of international law. It is purely a regional policy which had the warm approval of many Latin American statesmen -- recently in power, and now out.

By way of brief critical comment suffice it to observe that the first application of the arms embargo to a South American revolutionary situation proved with dramatic swiftness its utter futility. The Brazilian revolution triumphed just forty-eight hours after Mr. Hoover's proclamation of an embargo on arms to the revolutionists and of an authorization to ship arms to the government. Just what useful purpose the embargo gesture served remains to be explained, either by the champions of the general policy of always actively supporting all constituted governments against revolution, or by those responsible for a singularly unfortunate and entirely avoidable application of this policy. The United States should never have become a party to the above-mentioned Convention. It could then have watched events in the Brazilian contest without an obligation either to take sides with the government by an embargo on arms to the insurgents or to recognize the belligerency of the insurgents by a proclamation of neutrality. Once the United States was a party to the Convention, our government should have taken advantage of the right left to it by the Convention to recognize the belligerency of the Brazilian insurgents rather than to take sides with a visibly tottering government.

But let us return to the main thread of our article. It cannot be shown that the use of recognition and non-recognition as instruments of an American policy of interference with the internal political processes of Mexico and Central America has contributed to peace or stability in those countries.

Hardly was the ink dry on the General Treaty of Peace and Amity of 1923 when the first test came in Honduras. It became apparent early in 1923 that the elections of the coming autumn in that country were going to be fraudulent and that revolution was inevitable. The State Department, animated as ever by good intentions and loyal to Article 2, broadcast a statement that we should not recognize any revolutionary government or leader, that we expected the other Central American republics to abide by Article 2, and that we confidently hoped the Hondurans would settle their electoral problem in an orderly, constitutional manner.

As usual, the inevitable happened. The elections were a farce. A coalition of four political leaders finally drove the old government from power after some months of fighting. In an unfortunate peace conference aboard an American warship at Amapala, Honduras, a hundred miles from the capital, a compromise arrangement, or so-called peace pact, was promoted by the Special Representative of the President of the United States sent to Honduras to bring peace by friendly agreement. It was signed by the delegates of the contending factions on the day of the triumphant entry of the revolutionists into the capital.[iii]

The Peace of Amapala tied the hands of the victors and, together with the American policy of non-recognition which it was designed to uphold, prevented the immediate emergence of the strongest leader of the revolution at the head of a stable government. One of the four victors broke the peace pact and led a second revolution, which the other three leaders in charge of the provisional unrecognized government put down after some three months' fighting in which several hundreds lost their lives; thus peace finally came to Honduras. The American peacemaker had, in the meantime, returned to the United States. When the smoke of the last revolution had cleared away, the American policy of non-recognition for the first time began to show real effectiveness. It kept any leader of the revolution from being elected to the presidency. Washington pronounced the choice of the Honduran political leaders ineligible under Article 2. The Honduran leaders differed with Washington as to his ineligibility but, as was to be expected, the State Department won in an issue in which it had bargaining superiority -- recognition to give or withhold. It devolved on me as American Chargé d'Affaires to extend recognition on February 1, 1925, to the eventually established, eligible, "constitutional" government as found satisfactory to Washington's legitimacy requirements.

Now, if one is not an academic idealist or a doctrinaire, one must appreciate that few things can be worse just after a successful revolution than to say: No Washington, Franklin or Hamilton of the revolution may head the new government; no new government may immediately consolidate its position by de jure recognition; the revolutionary disturbances must be followed by months of the uncertain vicissitudes of a constitutional convention, political manœuvers, campaigning, and finally by general elections held by the provisional government -- all before the country can settle down to normal political life.

Furthermore, the quest after constitutional legitimacy, imposed by our policy under Article 2, involves the American State Department and especially its diplomatic representative in deplorable acts of interference in the political affairs of the country which is seeking recognition. My eleven months of service as American Chargé d'Affaires in Honduras and seven months in the same rôle in Nicaragua, in the course of which I extended recognition to the new government in each country, gave me experience which authorizes me to speak advisedly on this point.

When American policy makes the State Department broadcast to the world in advance what kind of government and what individual, by name, the United States will not recognize, the policy practically forces the American representative to say what government and what individual the United States will recognize. This actually happened in Nicaragua. The American (though not European) governmental way of doing things and then finding out later from the courts whether they were "legally" done, is clearly not feasible in setting up a government to obtain American recognition. The people in control insist on knowing in advance whether the legitimacy formula will be acceptable to Washington, since the only reason for going to all the trouble of working it out is to obtain American recognition. For us to say that our action will be determined by Article 2 and the facts of the case is begging the question. Laws and treaties involve nice questions of interpretation. The best lawyers in the United States cannot predict with assurance which way the interpreting authority will resolve a fine point of constitutional law or public policy. The State Department has, therefore, much to its dislike, been obliged to commit itself in advance to the recognition of a given man under certain specified conditions, as it did in connection with the choice of Diaz in Nicaragua. Local politicians are thereby made to curry favor with the State Department and the American Legation. The American representative, by holding the State Department's key to the legitimacy puzzle, becomes the essential party to the solution of the country's political problem, or to the selection of its president. No amount of sweetness and light from Washington can mitigate the fact that the State Department is minding another country's electoral business.

Utterly unimpressed by the precedent of American non-recognition in the Honduran difficulties of 1923--1924, General Chamorro in Nicaragua started a coup d'état against the constitutional government in 1925, just one month after we had withdrawn the marines. The State Department bombarded him with verbal and written broadsides about unconstitutionality, illegality, Article 2 and non-recognition, some of the later and stiffer ones of which it fell to my lot to deliver personally, much to the detriment of cordial relations between General Chamorro and myself. Chamorro, nevertheless, went ahead with his plans, first "illegally" assuming and then "illegally" exercising the presidency of Nicaragua until a revolution, materially aided by Mexico and morally stimulated by our non-recognition statements, forced him to turn over the government to a fellow-Conservative, Diaz, whom the State Department had indicated through me it would recognize.

Mexican support of the so-called constitutional movement of the constitutional Vice-President of Nicaragua against Chamorro drove us to seek hurriedly a government we could recognize and so checkmate Mexican interference. Continued Mexican support of the same movement against a government we had recognized for an obvious purpose was an assault on our national prestige amounting to a piece of international lèse-majesté. Thereafter, affronted dignity dictated largely our course of action and determined events.

Once nations get away from the objective criteria of the sound de factoism of international law and old American policy into the specious metaphysics of any system of legitimacy, be it constitutional or monarchical, irreconcilable differences of opinion will inevitably arise, making national honor, rather than reason and political expediency, the ultimate arbiter of policy. Dynastic wars used to be one of the results of arguments about legitimacy. It is hard enough to accommodate policy to situations of fact. It is quite impossible to adjust it to doctrinary systems of politics. This we learned in trying to rationalize our denial of recognition to Chamorro on account of his coup d'état, our forced recognition of Diaz, a partner in the coup, and our later recognition of the revolutionary leader, Moncada, after declaring we would not recognize Chamorro, even if fairly elected under our supervised elections. Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica challenged our verdict on the mystic issue of Diaz's constitutionality. Moreover, while we had given Chamorro a legalistic tongue-lashing, Mexico seemed determined to aid his Nicaraguan adversaries to administer a more corporal drubbing. After all, did not France once aid a revolution against Great Britain?

The upshot of it all was that we had to fight a small war to make peace in Nicaragua, to uphold our prestige, to carry out supervised elections, and to establish and maintain a constitutional legitimacy which we could recognize. If we would continue this artificial situation, we must keep the marines indefinitely in Nicaragua. They kept Nicaragua free of revolutions from 1912 to August 1925. One month after their departure revolution started.

One of the grim ironies of it all is that, while there was nothing for Mr. Stimson to do, if America's face was to be saved, but to have us intervene as we did, practically all our acts in Nicaragua since 1927 have been in violation of the Nicaraguan constitution. There are few written constitutions which do not clearly inhibit the legislative and executive branches from making such delegations of power to foreigners as were required for the carrying out of our program.

The fundamental error in our Central American recognition policy lies in a misapprehension of the true nature of political revolution. Jefferson and the fathers of the American Republic were too near to the American and French Revolutions and too critical in their political thinking to suffer from any such misapprehension. Revolutions, like bodily pain or fever, are not diseases but symptoms. They are nature's way of calling attention to, and reacting protectively against, something wrong in the body. Sound therapy aims at the eradication of causes, not of symptoms. Without symptoms we should not know when we are sick.

It is undoubtedly a noble dream, that of ridding Latin American republics of political disorders, but as it can be realized only by removing the causes, it is not the business of foreign countries. The policy of practical idealism and enlightened self-interest is to encourage the American republics, in ways approved by international law, to work out their own salvation without armed interventions. We should be tolerant of their shortcomings and patient with their slow progress, remembering that long decades of uninterrupted civil war and several great revolutions are a part of the political experience out of which the present political institutions of the English-speaking peoples have flowered.

In our pursuit of the will-o'-the-wisp of constitutionalism and in our apostolic fervor against revolution, we have founded recent American policy in Nicaragua on the naïve assumption that what Nicaragua mainly needs is fair elections and freedom from revolution. We have accordingly sent them first-class fighting men to supervise their elections and police their territory.

As a matter of fact, among the things Nicaragua most needs are not electoral and civil policing, but primary instruction, sanitation, means of communication and a better economic structure. Not merely policemen, but spiritual leaders, teachers, physicians, engineers, craftsmen and agricultural pioneers are required to prepare Nicaragua for successful self-government. These, however, are contributions which pass from one nation to another through the processes of colonization and racial amalgamation. They are not exported in the soldier's knapsack.

We are given to overvaluing constitutionalism and political tranquillity as factors of social progress. We seem to forget that many a people has flourished economically, produced great men, and enriched the human heritage with the fruits of a high civilization without either fair elections or political tranquillity. On the other hand, Nicaragua today furnishes the spectacle of a country spiritually and economically stagnant while to its illiterate and undernourished masses American marines vouchsafe that ultimate luxury of an advanced democracy -- fair elections. One may even question whether the leader best suited to the needs of a country is as likely to emerge from elections supervised by American officials as from a less artificial course of events.

It is no disparagement of fair elections or the pax americana in Nicaragua to question whether these boons, by themselves, are worth to Nicaragua the life of one good American soldier. And it is no criticism of our gallant missionaries of order and fair elections to reiterate that self-government, like every other art, must be learned by practice, by trial and error -- not absorbed from foreigners in control of certain vital governmental functions.

In defense of our interventionist activities the argument is invariably advanced that revolution cannot be allowed to run its course to the detriment of foreign interests. Foreign nations must, therefore, do something about it. This is the stock argument of academic idealists and certain equally uninformed practical men who are occasionally moved strangely by a vague sense of the notion known as "the white man's burden." Only a little clear thinking is needed to reveal the true character and limited application of this argument.

As a doctrine it is feasible only when applied to weak countries, easy of subjugation. It is a sort of Machtpolitik. It is not good international law. Unlike good law, it cannot be applied to large as well as to small, to strong as well as to weak. In nations like Russia or China, no matter what happens or how greatly foreign interests are menaced or injured, there can be no serious question of a foreign intervention to put things right. At most, a few punitive blows against frontier points or the seizure and administration of frontier customs may be resorted to by way of reprisal or indemnification. But even the most ardent would-be bearer of "the white man's burden" hesitates to urge a foreign intervention to give to Russia or China free elections, safety for foreign lives and property and the other good things some people feel we owe it to ourselves and to Nicaragua to bestow on this neighboring republic.

European and Asiatic aliens have been lynched in the United States, and the legally contracted debts of certain states of our Union to foreign bondholders have been repudiated by law. Yet a lack of security for foreign lives and property was not on this account alleged against us as a ground for foreign intervention. When, however, our Union was in jeopardy, Napoleon III favored an Anglo-French intervention to force a draw in our Civil War. He deemed two American republics more favorable to European interests than a united American nation.

Defenders of our interventions also find it convenient to exploit the bogey of possible European intervention were we to follow a hands-off policy. The truth about this bogey is simply that whenever the United States intervenes for the announced purpose of protecting American lives and property, European governments quite naturally interest themselves to see that their nationals share with ours any benefits of such measures. This does not indicate that if we did not take these measures other nations would.

Whatever may have been true twenty-five or more years ago, today no European nation will undertake measures on this hemisphere in the face of our expressed opposition. This will remain true whatever the situation may be in any one of the Latin American republics and however we may meet it. And it will be true primarily because of our relative economic might and military potentialities and not because of our handling of political situations in Latin America.

The fundamental basis of political interventions is force, not law, except in so far as might alone may be held to make right. The legislative and executive ratifications of our acts secured from officials installed and kept in power under the ægis of our arms and consequently, for all practical purposes, subservient to them, have little moral authority or normative value. The prerequisites of intervention are three: a strong intervener, a weak intervenee, and the absence of effective opposition by other strong nations to the intervention. These observations do not constitute a moral reproach but a factual analysis. The morality of intervention as a measure for the protection or advancement of the interests of a strong intervening nation does not admit of objective discussion. This phase of the question, therefore, has no proper place in this article.

With regard to the expediency of intervention, however, two points susceptible of demonstration may be stated with considerable emphasis. The first is that revolutions in Latin America are not so dangerous to foreign interests as is commonly believed in the United States. It may be remarked, in passing, that the only significant differences between revolutions in Central America and South America grow out of the fact that certain Central American countries are too weak to maintain an adequate professional army capable of promptly deciding the fate of any popular movement against the government, by either expeditiously suppressing it or going over to it. Three years' diplomatic service in Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua; intimate conversations with residents of many years; a quiet night's sleep through a revolutionary raid on the leading United Fruit port in Honduras; and the leisurely observation of street fighting in an interior Nicaraguan town with no near-by protecting marines -- these afford me a basis for the observation that Americans greatly exaggerate the dangers to non-participants from Latin American revolutions. For the bystander they are less dangerous than a routine gangster fight in Chicago.

The second point is that injuries to foreign lives and property from occasional political disorders will be found less than the total costs in American lives, money and good will throughout South America, growing out of a prolonged intervention. A study of the records of adjudicated revolutionary claims in Nicaragua and Santo Domingo will reveal such losses to be trifling as compared with the far more frequent damages suffered in these countries, and equally in lands less affected by revolutions, from tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, fires, strikes, non-patriotic bandits and other things for protection against which people look to insurance rather than to United States marines. It should be stated also, to the credit of most really large American companies (the United Fruit Company, for instance), that they do not ask for American intervention to protect their interests. They are able, and usually prefer, to take care of themselves in their own ways.

It must not be forgotten that foreigners in these countries pay very small taxes and no income tax whatever. A 20 percent tax on the profits of a large corporation in a Central American republic would, in a good year, amount to more than the revolutionary damages suffered by this company in a decade. If foreign companies receive little protection, they pay for less. Savings on taxes may properly be regarded as generous premiums on self-insurance against revolutionary losses.

Until Mr. Stimson and General Moncada made peace in Nicaragua, American lives and property were scrupulously respected by both sides, such property losses as occurred being unintentionally caused. Thereafter, Sandino's followers made deliberate war on foreign property and destroyed an important American mine. Until peace was declared at Tipitapa, no American non-participant lost his life in the Nicaraguan revolution. Thereafter, a hundred good American lives were sacrificed in the Nicaraguan jungle waging a feckless warfare against a handful -- now admitted never to have numbered at one time more than some two hundred and fifty -- of ignorant, half-starved Nicaraguan peasants, inflamed by fanatical anti-American propaganda and hunger. So much then for the argument that active measures of intervention to promote order and constitutional government in Central America are at times essential to the safety of American lives and property.

England may allege a need to police and colonize the lands of the "lesser breeds without the law" in order to secure markets and raw materials. The validity of this argument, however, must be critically examined by weighing the profits of imperial trade against the costs in human lives, human welfare and economic goods growing out of imperial wars and imperial defense. And the final account of British imperialism cannot yet be rendered.

The United States, however, unlike England, is nearly self-sufficient and has no surplus population to export to colonies or to support by an unemployment dole. We may well stop and consider whether our highest destiny lies in assimilating the Mediterranean, Indian and Negro races and cultures found in the republics immediately to the south of us. History certainly does not warrant the hope that assimilation may be avoided if we persist in indefinitely prolonged interventions admittedly aimed at the modification of the political and cultural ways of these neighboring peoples. We should bear in mind that it is usually possible to trade with another people, exchanging one's manufactures and farm products for their bananas, sugar and coffee, without first forcing on them one's own standards of government.

The choice between intervention and non-intervention is not, as the defenders of intervention like to argue, a choice between peace, safety, constitutionality and trade on the one hand, and disorder, unconstitutionality and no trade on the other. It is a choice between one kind of war and peace and another. A Nicaraguan civil war in which American marines participate differs from a purely Nicaraguan civil war mainly in that the one costs us a hundred American lives and good will throughout South America while the other does not. The choice between a Nicaraguan-made peace and an American-made peace is a choice between Chamorro's way and our way of violating the Nicaraguan constitution.

With regard to Cuba, Santo Domingo, Haiti and Panama, it may be said, somewhat parenthetically in this discussion, that these countries are in reality American protectorates, each under a special type of what is known in international law as an international servitude to the United States, created by the respective treaties. In Cuba, Panama and Haiti the United States enjoys a treaty right of intervention to assure order and the fulfilment of international obligations. In the opinion of many this right carries with it a moral responsibility for the governments which we permit and which we protect from overthrow by revolution. If we are to believe many well-informed persons, we even protect certain governments from peaceful change by fair elections. Specifically, the charge is made that the governments of Cuba and Panama do not allow fair elections. Obviously, a full discussion of these peculiarly colonial problems of the American empire lies outside of the scope of this article.

As matters stand since our recognition of the latest de facto governments, we have thrown Wilsonian "legitimacy" into the discard for South America, but it remains to plague us in Central America, where we still profess adherence to it and still keep some marines to avoid future difficulties. A dignified exit from the perpetual occupation of Nicaragua and a guarantee against being jockeyed by circumstances into similar adventures in the future are to be found only in a return to the Jeffersonian recognition policy. Landing marines in an emergency for the temporary protection or evacuation of foreigners where there is actual danger to their lives is one thing; doubtless it is a defensible exercise of our President's power as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Sending an army of five thousand soldiers to wage a war in a foreign country to carry out fair elections and secure a certain type of political procedure, however excellent, is something quite different and, in my opinion, outside the constitutional powers of the President of the United States. It is idle to disclaim a desire for intervention while pursuing policies which in certain likely situations make it inevitable. Legitimacy is one of these policies.

We can announce that our recognition policy for Central America will not hereafter be necessarily governed by Article 2 of the General Treaty of Peace and Amity of 1923. Better still, we can suggest another Central American conference to modify Article 2 to conform with the generally accepted international law doctrine on recognition. We have Chief Justice Taft's arbitral dictum that our Central American recognition policy, whatever its political merits as a regional policy, does not establish criteria generally recognized by international law. The agreement in the Treaty not to encourage revolution or otherwise interfere in the political affairs of other Central American states should remain and, if possible, be strengthened. Political non-interference is the best kind of international law.

In the future, the United States Government should not be tied by any doctrinary system of "legitimacy" in its policy with regard to recognition, in Central America or anywhere else. We must be free to make decisions in the light of the facts of the given situation and as nearly in harmony with the principles of international law and common justice as the demands of sound political expediency will allow.

[i] "Life and Letters of Walter H. Page," edited by Burton J. Hendrick, Vol. I, p. 188.

[ii] This is what we have been doing in Nicaragua since 1927.

[iii] An equally unfortunate and even more unfruitful peace conference aboard an American warship in Nicaraguan waters was presided over two years later by me, as American Chargé d'Affaires. Peace in Nicaragua was later proclaimed by Mr. Stimson and General Moncada at Tipitapa, but it took nearly five thousand marines several months of sanguinary fighting, in which a hundred of them lost their lives, to make it a reality.

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  • LAWRENCE DENNIS, assigned to several Central American capitals prior to his resignation from the diplomatic service in 1927; chargé d'affaires in Honduras in 1925 and in Nicaragua in 1926
  • More By Lawrence Dennis