PRESIDENT WILSON repeatedly spoke of the Great War as a "war to end war" and he seized the moment of victory to force the organization of a system of international peace and security, the charter of which was the Covenant of the League of Nations. The League fired the imagination and hope of the war-trampled European masses; and here and there was found a leader who shared the vision and helped give it an intellectual and moral basis. But to most European statesmen the League seemed at best a harmless idiosyncrasy. Some thought they might arrange to turn it to particular national purposes, though the possibility of this was strangely ignored at first; some were definitely afraid of its implications, and accepted it only as a tactical concession to a statesman whose country was asking none of the material rewards of victory; most were busy and skeptical and bored.

Those who wrote the Covenant realized, of course, how greatly the League would be handicapped by having to shoulder its vast and novel responsibilities in a world disorganized and demoralized by more than four years of passionate combat. They encouraged themselves by remembering that great reforms are not accomplished in placid times, and by the old saying that the way to begin is to begin. They also foresaw that the League would suffer from being incorporated in treaties partly punitive in character. But they knew no other way of making sure that it would be adopted generally, and in any case they counted on its capacity gradually to correct provisions which were unjust or unworkable. This latter hope, however, they thought best not to emphasize. The pressing need being to repair and stabilize the damaged foundations of society, they decided not to try to elaborate the future function of the League as an agency for executing peaceful transformations in the international pattern of that society. They therefore did not carry out their early intention of embodying a provision for peaceful change through collective action in one of the principal articles of the Covenant, but instead placed the embryo of the idea towards the end, in Article 19.[i]

The League was probably the best collective system that idealistic men could conceive and make acceptable, in the circumstances of 1919, to men less idealistic or (as these thought) more realistic and practical. Much the same could be said of the territorial settlement with which it was linked. Admittedly that settlement had certain specific faults. But on the whole the map as redrawn after the war was the best map which there had been in modern times. For this result Wilson and the American experts at Paris must have the major credit. Thanks to Wilson's pronouncements about freedom and self-determination, and to his unremitting struggle on their behalf, the post-war map accorded far better with those principles than the pre-war arrangement,[ii] or than the territorial settlement which the Central Powers would have dictated had they been victorious.[iii]

Of many of the economic and financial provisions of the treaties the less said the better. They helped enormously in fixing in the minds of the vanquished nations the need of revision and the hope of revenge. True, American money was to be poured into Germany in a golden stream largely counterbalancing any reparations which that country would ever pay. And within fifteen years the whole reparations slate was to be, for all practical purposes, wiped clean. But this was not to happen until after the financial sections of the peace treaties, and the economic and financial policies adopted generally in the post-war era, had wrought general havoc. The web of tariffs and trade restrictions (in spinning which the United States helped set the pace) intensified national rivalries, prevented any real or lasting recovery, unhinged one after another of the principal currencies, and in each particular did serious damage to the experiment under way at Geneva.

Viewed in the long perspective of history the Covenant marked a major step forward in social organization. The sad thing is that it never received a full and fair trial. Apart from the reasons already indicated, perhaps the fact of American abstention was the most important. It is sometimes misrepresented. The participation of the United States in many post-war efforts to settle world problems, whether unofficial as in the reparations negotiations or official as in the negotiations over Manchuria, has been no more exclusively based on self-interest than has the participation of other states. But the fact remains that the American decision not to go to Geneva marked a moral turning point in post-war history. If a great country impregnably situated, one moreover which had been largely responsible for the idealism which brought the League into being, came so soon to see in it dangers of entanglement and an intolerable abridgment of its sovereign right to do as it pleased regardless of the cost to others, what were less well endowed and less securely situated peoples to think?

There was an additional and more concrete reason why the absence of the United States from Geneva proved disastrous. If the League procedure were set in operation against an aggressor, might not the insistence of the United States on its neutral trading rights thwart the League and perhaps even lead Washington into making common cause with the state against which collective action was being taken? In Great Britain particularly this fear took root and helped paralyze British support (already weakened by Dominion misgivings) of the League system of sanctions. Other great nations, too, were absent from Geneva. Indeed, from the very beginning there never was a moment when those states which were members of the League represented enough effective force for them to feel confident that, even supposing they could agree to act promptly and whole-heartedly, their joint action would prevail in any one of several possible contingencies.

In a word, the Covenant lacked both physical support and the moral force on which some of its authors had counted most -- the combined weight of the informed public opinion of the civilized world. Under such circumstances it is not surprising that Geneva did not wish to multiply its difficulties by assuming the power to arbitrate changes in the territorial status quo. Yet without the development of that function the undertaking of all states members of the League to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all other members (Article 10) became too uncompromising, too everlasting. The authors of the Covenant had, as already noted, been conscious of this difficulty; but Article 19 does not give evidence that they sufficiently recognized its paramount importance.

Article 19 reads as follows: "The Assembly may from time to time advise the reconsideration by Members of the League of treaties which have become inapplicable and the consideration of international conditions whose continuance might endanger the peace of the world." Now, except in specified circumstances which do not seem applicable in this connection, the Assembly of the League acts only by unanimous vote. Amendments to the Covenant take effect only after ratification by all the members of the Council and by a majority of the Assembly. In view of this, the procedure outlined in Article 19 to take care of possible necessities for growth and change appears today to be too limited and vague, particularly by contrast with the hard-and-fast terms of Article 10.

There are few examples in history of the strong voluntarily handing something over to the weak in order to serve ideal justice, or in order to forestall the weak from taking that something and more too in case he should one day become strong. Nor can anyone give assurance that concessions, even wise and timely ones, will satisfy and halt a state seeking expansion. Germany's acquisition of Heligoland did not prevent her from building a navy to challenge England's. Bismarck's encouragement of France to spread into North Africa did not make Frenchmen forget Alsace-Lorraine. If a way had been found to give Japan everything she had her heart set on in Manchuria, would she have stayed quietly north of the Chinese Wall and ceased planning to organize the Orient under her leadership? Today, would her acquisition of the Philippines halt her march southward, or would it on the contrary lead her by a natural bridge down toward the Dutch Indies and the great open spaces of northern Australia? Would Italy be satisfied with the economic exploitation of Abyssinia, and in consequence cease to write, talk and dream of hegemony in the Balkans and the reëstablishment of the Italian flag on every Levantine coast where a Roman Legion ever camped or the Lion of St. Mark was ever carved above a city gate? Will Hitler, Rosenberg and the other Nazi spokesmen abandon their present vast program if once they get Austria and Danzig within the Third Reich and reacquire a "suitable" empire in Africa? Or will their arms and voices reach out even more insistently toward the Baltic coasts, the warm waters of the Adriatic, Danubia, and the Black Sea?

No certain answer can be given to questions like these. And so long as the record is what it is, and the future so unassured, it is hard to imagine the "haves" adopting a policy of voluntary territorial concessions and changes in favor of the "have nots."

Whether or not this reasoning is correct, few will deny that to expect the advent of a new era of national generosity on the basis of so poorly understood an obligation as that implied in Article 19 was to expect a new perfection of character and foresight, and an unlikely degree of confidence that human nature had everywhere been marvelously improved. At any rate, no such perfection developed in 1919 among nations which had just ceased from dealing death and destruction to their rivals, and the result of whose wartime experience had been to magnify what is in any case one of man's principal cravings -- a desire for stability and security. With it went a desperate wish to be free of thoughts about other people's rights and of responsibility for their troubles. Growth -- a contrary tendency to stability -- is another of the natural longings of mankind. But provisions for orderly growth stood small chance of receiving adequate attention in the 1919 world which was yearning after what an uneducated American president of that era was to call "normalcy."


If the League had come into being under the most favorable conditions conceivable -- if the territorial and reparation provisions of the peace treaties had been free from any evidence of the fact that the Allies possessed almost absolute power to impose their own terms on the vanquished, if international economic rivalry had not been keyed up rapidly to unprecedented heights, if Germany had received earlier membership in the League, if the current phase of the Russian social experiment had been reached ten years sooner and with it the current willingness of the Soviets to participate in international life, and if the United States had promptly assumed its share of responsibility for the operation of the new collective system, would lasting peace have ensued? Unfortunately the answer must be: "Probably not." However, we can say that Europe might have had peace for a couple of generations, possibly much longer. In a prolonged period of political and economic appeasement, moreover, educational processes might have developed a wider public understanding of real national self-interest and a better sense of national responsibility, and the study of possible methods of revising Article 19 of the Covenant so that it could take better account of changing conditions and needs might have brought at least a partial solution to the question which today is still wholly unsolved.[iv]

As things are, the outlook for maintaining peace -- excepting temporarily by a coalition of the "haves" against the "have nots" -- is not encouraging.

There are satisfied Powers, and Powers less satisfied, and Powers openly dissatisfied. Those in the first category may be willing to take considerable risks in experimenting with a collective system to uphold the status quo. Those in the second might be brought to tolerate and even support such a system as the lesser of two evils. But the third set of states will join unwillingly, and, as the last four years have demonstrated, each will await the day when it feels strong enough to disregard its obligations and launch out on a career of conquest. This may be termed dishonest. The answer of a state so situated is that it simply is doing belatedly what Powers now satisfied did earlier, and that indignation of the latter over parvenue imperialisms is, to say the least, hypocritical.

Even could we imagine some general redistribution of the world's territory and resources in accordance with the findings of a fabulously humane, impartial and all-powerful tribunal, and even if every state, small and great, accepted that judgment as equitable and just, would not some nations promptly find justification for fresh discontent as soon as scientists and inventors had introduced one or two new alterations in the conditions of human work and happiness? Discoveries in the realm of science continually shift the bases of economic and political power. Must they not transform national ambitions? Oil, for example, was a great factor in the imperialistic competition of the last half century. Who is so bold as to say that there will not be discoveries of new fuels or new sources of power which will give importance to regions or materials not now considered valuable? Who can predict the shifts in population that would eventually follow the invention of synthetic substitutes for cotton or rubber? Who would assert that new methods of storing power may not make possible the utilization of ocean tides? The Firth of Forth or the Bay of Fundy or the Straits of Magellan might then become foci of world imperialism and the oil of Mosul and Venezuela might be left in relative quiet to await the day when another turn of the wheel would restore it to a place in man's cupidity. Air travel has already indicated possible uses for arctic wastes (as recent British territorial claims make plain) which even twenty years ago seemed destined permanently to lonely silence. Habits also change. What alterations in population pressures would result, for example, from the general adoption of birth-control methods among some peoples while others for religious or patriotic reasons became more prolific?

The impossibility of foretelling the future conditions of human life must indeed have a sobering effect upon anyone who thinks either of once-for-all casting the political world in a mould or of trying to devise in advance the precise mechanism by which alterations in it are forever going to be made. In this large view the caution of those who drafted Article 19 of the Covenant may seem justified. What, then, can be the program of sensible men who desire a reduction in the frequency and scope of war?

The answer of the communists is unconvincing. Private competition may be wiped out, as they predict, along with the profit system which consciously or unconsciously tempts manufacturers and farmers into policies which risk war in order that they may satisfy their needs for materials and markets. State socialism may prevail. It is theoretically conceivable, further, that a worldwide proletarian federation might then be established, each unit with a planned economy. But does it seem reasonable to suppose that people in regions favored by nature would permanently be willing to work in order that people in regions less favored should enjoy a large part of the benefits of that work without commensurate return -- specifically, that people in the Ruhr or the Dakotas should increase their output of coal, iron and wheat, without added return, in order to give an equal distribution of goods and comforts to those who live in Tibet and along the Upper Amazon? Unless that proved true, the various units of the great proletarian federation would have different standards of living and inevitably would compete for materials and markets, i.e. there would be the same imperialistic incentive to war as under a capitalist system. Which is to say that communism as among nations would not last any more than communism as among individuals has lasted in Soviet Russia.


It was about fifteen years after the peace of 1815 that broad cracks began appearing in the European edifice which the architects of the Treaty of Vienna had planned should last forever. The idea that it was possible to establish a changeless order lost currency and a search began for a means of change that would not produce a fresh débâcle. Perhaps the world today is at some such point in the post-war cycle. The need for security and stability and the need for development and growth clamor to be reconciled.

Conference, arbitration, conciliation and judicial settlement cannot do all that is required to be done. They are indispensable. They tide over many of the sudden crises that spring up out of frontier incidents and the crimes of fanatics; they solve minor boundary disputes, questions of reparation for damage done by nationals of one state to those of another, and many other matters where something less than a vital national interest is involved. As between small states, they often suffice to keep even important disputes within manageable bounds. But they are not effective in preventing great states from premeditatedly using force to achieve some long-range aim which the people have come to consider vital to their security and prosperity, or about which the régime in power has whipped up excitement in order to divert attention from domestic difficulties and sacrifices. At best, the obligation to adopt such procedures constrains governments to throw a cloak of pseudo-legality about their aggressive actions, in the hope of avoiding the consequences of belligerency and their League obligations by waging "informal" war -- e.g. Japan in China, Germany in Austria -- instead of formal war. Between these there is not much to choose. In both cases the object is the same, the acquisition of coveted lands and resources against the will of those presently and presumably legally in possession.

The League's accomplishments through conference and conciliation, and through its statistical, health, financial, intellectual and other services, are beyond dispute. They are worth five five-million-dollar buildings at Geneva and ten times an annual budget of ten million dollars, regardless of whether the League is able to keep Japan out of Manchuria or Italy out of Abyssinia. But at present three at least of the seven strongest states seem definitely bent on expansion. If anyone is to say them nay it will be other states, more powerful still, which see in the proposed action an intolerable threat to their own vital interests. The will of the League is no more firm than the several wills of the Great Powers which must be its executors. Perhaps it will be found that a geographical division of certain of the League's responsibilities in conformity with the varying capabilities of states and the varying requirements of regions offers the most likely way for it to acquit itself of its practicable tasks without risk that it will lose face by attempting to dam up evolutionary movements with which the world as a whole does not yet know how to cope.

The conception of a peace system based on the collective action of states which prize full sovereignty but which participate in an assembly possessing real legislative powers (i.e. where the requirement of unanimity has been discarded) rests on irreconcilable contradictions. Nor does it seem likely that great states will spontaneously divest themselves of the privileges of sovereignty within any measurable space of time. Failing that, it is hard to conceive of a "parliament of man" able to transfer territories, allocate resources and direct movements of population.

One method of lessening the danger that pressure to effect territorial changes will be carried to the point of waging war is to make boundaries less important. This will be a slow process. The fact that the globe is shrinking rapidly is often cited as an argument that in time all peoples will be so close that harmonious understanding will result. Unfortunately, international understanding does not always or even often result from contact between masses of individuals. The American doughboy came into contact with strange (to him) civilizations in Europe, and the consequence was not to make him understand them but to dislike them. And the activities of white business men and missionaries in Asia can result in the emulation there of the technique of occidental imperialism, political and economic, as well as produce bathrooms and native bishops. A possible method of making boundaries less important is to reduce their economic significance. Of course not every tariff is a direct menace to peace. The Canadian-United States frontier is not fortified, and need not be, because although there is not free trade between the two countries each knows for certain that the other has plenty of territory and resources and does not entertain any sort of hostile design. But when some threat of international violence looms up it is a sure sign that some nation is feeling constricted and hampered, in other words is having an attack of claustrophobia, the result of the erection of barriers against the normal movement of its trade and surplus population.

It was Wilson's hope that nations might be brought to coöperate to maintain peace and advance civilization in an atmosphere of economic liberalism. On that formula he relied to make the postwar territorial settlement tolerable and to ensure that the ambitions and needs of peoples denied a satisfactory means of livelihood within fixed borders would not subject the Covenant to too great strain. In the second place, Wilson had a passion for social justice; he hoped that a period of peace, even if it were an enforced peace, would give time for a gradual amelioration of the average man's lot in all the great industrial nations, a gradual raising of standards of education, and a gradual increase in the world's stock of comprehension and tolerance.

Twenty-five years have passed since Wilson wrote "The New Freedom," seventeen since the third of his Fourteen Points demanded, as a prerequisite to peace, "the removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance." Today, a better distribution of benefits as between classes and individuals, a lowering of the trade walls which keep nations at different economic levels, a more accommodating attitude toward race and population problems, a truer assessment of the "land values" at stake in colonial adventures, in general a deepening and widening of the forces of education so that peoples will take fuller account of each other's aspirations and needs -- these still seem to offer the most practicable means of advancing the cause of world peace beyond the stage to which conference, arbitration, conciliation and judicial settlement have now brought it.

Probably such a program is too unheroic to attract the impatient. And who, when war and peace are in the balance, can be patient? At first glance it almost seems to make the problem of world peace hopeless of solution. But if the sovereign state cannot be coerced (when it is strong enough), it can be taught. Mass psychology can be right, on occasion, as well as wrong. The long procession of spiritual and intellectual innovators, able to formulate and preach and convince, has not come to an end. Movements which depend at first on moral and intellectual arguments, and as such are not able to make much headway, occasionally produce sudden transformations in society by attracting support from some large group which discovers that its material interests are involved. Rousseau preached democracy, and the French bourgeoisie found that their welfare would be served by this political doctrine. Cobden's unexpected success was based on "a union of morals and money bags." In the United States the possibility of a similar union of forces between theoreticians and hard-headed businessmen may be indicated by the propaganda of enlightenment just commenced by the automobile industry for the adoption of an American trade policy which will permit sufficient imports to allow foreigners to pay for exports, and in the sudden realization by American cotton and wheat growers of the direct relation between the height of American tariffs and the disappearance of the foreign markets for their produce.

If the conditions of peace are hard to define, and if the program indicated here to fulfill them sounds tedious and unspectacular, one thing at any rate is harder -- to conceive of warfare as bringing a permanent solution of the modern world's economic problems, or to accept it as a satisfactory purge for man's spiritual emotions and aspirations. Perhaps this gives us the right to hope that, despite their present phase of intellectual incompetence and moral impotence, human beings nevertheless do possess in embryo the ability to live peacefully together. Wars become harder and costlier to wage, and victories are more and more empty. Often success proves as injurious as defeat. Eventually, perhaps, the effective majority of mankind will come to accept the notion that the injuries of war, even a victorious one, are harder to face than the sacrifices involved in a compromise of interests based on the principle of live and let live, trade and let trade, prosper and let prosper.

[i] In Colonel House's draft of the Covenant (July 16, 1918), the proposed mutual guarantee of territorial integrity and political independence (later Article 10) carried provisos regarding territorial modifications which might later become necessary. Article III of President Wilson's draft, made shortly thereafter, read as follows: "The Contracting Powers unite in guaranteeing to each other political independence and territorial integrity; but it is understood between them that such territorial readjustments, if any, as may in the future become necessary by reason of changes in present racial conditions and aspirations or present social and political relationships, pursuant to the principle of self-determination, and also such territorial readjustments as may in the judgment of three fourths of the Delegates be demanded by the welfare and manifest interest of the peoples concerned, may be effected, if agreeable to those peoples; and that territorial changes may in equity involve material compensation. The Contracting Powers accept without reservation the principle that the peace of the world is superior in importance to every question of political jurisdiction or boundary." R. S. Baker states ("Woodrow Wilson and World Settlement," v. I, p. 223) that down to the end of January 1919 it was this "qualified, flexible guarantee" which Wilson had in mind.

[ii] In pre-war Austria-Hungary, for example, Vienna and Budapest ruled 28,000,000 subject Czechs, Slovaks, Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Rumanians, Poles, Ruthenians and Italians. Today in that same area the ethnic minorities number something under 14,000,000, that is to say, less than half the number of those formerly living under alien rule.

[iii] For a foretaste of German intentions see the treaties of Bucharest and Brest-Litovsk (1918).

[iv] At the best, however, difficulties would probably have been encountered at an early date in the Far East, where the post-war collective system was first challenged successfully.

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