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AMERICANS at the present time seem determined to refrain from joining with other countries in attempts to avert war, and equally determined to remain neutral and to keep out of any war that may occur between other countries.
Personally, I believe that the United States should not so refrain; and I fear, moreover, that it will be impossible to remain neutral in any war between Great Powers resulting from a violation of the League Covenant or of the Kellogg-Briand Pact. But so long as this country holds to the opposite view, it is of immense importance that Americans who hope to keep out of war should be made to realize the burdens which they must probably assume, and the rights which they must probably yield, in any attempt to fulfill their hope. For, in order to keep out of any future war between Great Powers, the United States must do far more than to remain technically neutral. There is no magic in the word "neutrality" as a protection to us against war. In fact, the very condition of neutrality engenders frictions which nowadays are likely eventually to implicate a powerful neutral in any war in which the Great Powers may be engaged (especially if one of those Powers happen to be a naval Power). The United States, therefore, cannot rely on neutrality alone. To the old warning, "in time of peace, prepare for war," must be added another, "in time of peace, prepare for keeping out of war." And in the present unsettled state of international affairs in the world the people of this country should now be giving serious thought to such preparation, by the immediate passage of further legislation, not merely for maintenance of our future neutrality, but for the avoidance of frictions which will otherwise inevitably grow out of that neutrality, and which, unless prevented, will inevitably drag us into the conflict. Statutes for this purpose should be enacted now, so that they may be put into active operation at once upon the outbreak of a war; for, in 1914, grave difficulties were created for our Government by the absence of Federal laws adequate to deal with the unexpected situations produced, not only by changed conditions of modern warfare, but also by hostile operations of belligerent agents and supporters on our neutral soil.
How certainly a future neutral is likely to be involved in dangerous complications with the belligerents, both with respect to obligations which international law imposes on neutrals and to rights which it confers, has been recently made clear by Mr. Lloyd George. In the second volume of his "War Memoirs" he points out that since the attitude of a belligerent is governed "by the exigencies of a deadly strife, the country which is determined at all costs to remain neutral must be prepared to pocket its pride and put up with repeated irritations and infringements of its interests by the belligerents on both sides," and "should the difficulties of neutrality prove too great, it is left with the choice of treating the violation of its rights by one of the belligerent powers as a casus belli." Thus, belligerent disregard of rights growing out of neutrality is very likely to drive the neutral straight into war. And even full and rigid compliance by a neutral with its legal obligations may constitute an irritant to one or the other of the belligerents and be a means of involving it in the war; for, by reason of geographical or other conditions differently affecting opposing belligerents, an obligation imposed by international law upon a neutral frequently operates in such a way as to render a country, while technically neutral, an aid in fact to the one side as against the other.
Hence, in the future, in order to keep out of war, it will be necessary (as before stated) for the United States to do far more than merely comply with its legal obligations of neutrality. In order to avoid friction and complications with the belligerents, it must be prepared to impose upon the actions of its citizens greater restrictions than international law requires. It must also be prepared to relinquish many rights which it has heretofore claimed and asserted, and to yield to contentions by belligerents, hitherto denied by it, with respect to interference with the trade and travel of its citizens on the high seas, if the interests of the belligerents seem to them so to require.
This is not a statement of any theoretical condition; it is the necessary conclusion from what took place in the World War. The United States found that to assert neutrality by Presidential proclamation or otherwise was easy; to maintain it in face of activities of belligerents on our soil or in our waters was difficult; to preserve it against the conflicting contentions of the belligerents was practically impossible. And it must also now be borne constantly in mind that (with the exception of the existence of a statute enacted in 1917, of which I shall speak later), every condition which confronted the United States from August 1914 to April 1917 is still present or possible today. Not a single controversy which arose between our Government and the belligerent powers has been settled. Every single contention made by them respectively as to use of submarines and as to neutral rights on the high seas is still made by them. We are just where we were on April 6, 1917, so far as any agreement on what are the rights of neutrals then involved is concerned.
It so happened that from August 1914 to April 1917, I, as Assistant Attorney General of the United States, was charged with enforcing our neutrality laws and obligations and with investigating and prosecuting all hostile activities of belligerents in this country, so far as the Department of Justice was concerned. I was, therefore, placed in a position in which a clear comprehension was to be had of what steps the United States would be obliged to take in a future war, if it expected to keep out of such a war. It may be admitted that, in one respect, the United States is at present better prepared to cope with problems affecting a neutral than it was in 1914. At that time, practically no neutrality legislation had been enacted since the year 1838; and there were few Federal criminal laws appropriate to deal with the hostile activities in which German agents and sympathizers engaged on our soil from 1914 to 1917 -- the manufacture of bombs and the placing of them in cargoes of sea-going vessels, the explosion and burning and attempted destruction of munition factories and manufactures of other war supplies, the interference with transportation of such supplies, the attempts to blow up canals, bridges, and other property in Canada, the furnishing of coal and other supplies to belligerent warships on the high seas through neutral ships for which clearances were obtained by false statements, the forging of United States passports, the operations of agents of the German Government in this country without notice to our State Department. These and many similar activities were entirely unanticipated, and we had no Federal criminal laws adequate to curb them. When the serious gaps in our protective statutes were finally perceived, the Attorney General of the United States directed me to draft further legislation for the better enforcement and protection of our neutral state. Eighteen proposed statutes so drafted were submitted by the Attorney General to Congress in June 1916; but they were not enacted into law until June 15, 1917 (after we had ceased to be neutral). They were then embodied in one law under the various titles and sections of the miscalled Espionage Act (an Act which was very little concerned with espionage and which was chiefly a neutrality law). With this law now in existence, a repetition of many of the hostile and criminal activities which took place here during the Great War is not to be expected; and some of the conditions will be controlled, which produced so great friction between us and Germany. But the provisions of this law cover only a limited portion of the field of legislation which the United States ought to enact now, if it hopes to avoid similar sources of friction with belligerents; and past experience amply shows that, to achieve that result, the following are some of the additional obligations and restrictions which we must assume and impose upon ourselves.
1. One of the earliest questions which the United States Government had to solve at the beginning of the Great War, in August 1914, was what to do with radio stations. As the advent of the wireless had been subsequent to any previous war, it constituted a new problem and its possible use presented conditions differing from the use of cables or telegraph. Each belligerent complained that radio stations then built or being built were or were to be owned or operated by or in the interest of the opposing belligerent. As early as August 5, 1914, and without any great degree of statutory authority, our Government felt obliged to take over a certain amount of control and censorship, because of the fact that such stations could be used as a base of operations to direct belligerent fleets on the high seas and for other belligerent purposes. Subsequent Federal legislation has increased its authority, and the Government will undoubtedly find it necessary in a future war to take over control of all high power radio stations; it will also probably be obliged to prohibit transmission of any secret code or cipher message, by wireless (and possibly by cable or telegraph), even those sent by foreign diplomats, in view of experiences in the Great War with the use of such means both by diplomats of belligerents as well as of other neutral nations. It will certainly be wise to forbid the use of radio instruments by any ship in our ports or waters, as Chile, Argentina and Norway found necessary in the Great War.
2. One of the leading sources of friction between us and Germany and Austria was the supply by citizens of this country of arms and munitions to the Allied Governments -- an action permitted by international law. Germans became infuriated (and not unnaturally) when they saw, or believed they saw, their soldiers killed and wounded by American-manufactured armament. It was, however, contended by one of the belligerents that it would be unneutral in our Government, after the war began, to change the rules of the game and to then forbid such supply by our citizens; for such Government interference, it was contended, would have had the effect of deliberately favoring Germany over Great Britain, France, and Italy. On the other hand, refusal of our Government then to interfere, though strictly in compliance with the law of neutrality, did, in practice, favor the Allies over Germany, owing to the control of the seas by the former. In a future war, we should, at its very outset, forbid the supply or sale of arms and ammunition to all belligerents. It must be admitted that under present conditions, when many articles used ordinarily for commercial purposes, such as cotton, chemicals, etc., may be employed directly for war purposes, it will be very difficult to know where to draw the line on such prohibited sales, and that unless a line is drawn, such a provision might lead to a practical embargo on all trade with belligerents. It is possible, nevertheless, for practical purposes to define in a statute the words "munitions of war;" and this has been done in two carefully drawn bills introduced in 1928 by a Republican Congressman, Mr. Burton of Ohio, and by a Democratic Congressman, Mr. R. Walton Moore of Virginia, and also in a thorough opinion rendered by Attorney-General Wickersham in the Taft Administration. During the Great War, similar legislation was introduced by Senator Hitchcock of Nebraska as early as December 7, 1914, which was widely supported later throughout the country. Moreover, it is sales of such munitions as cannon, shells, explosives, bombs, machine guns, rifles, cartridges and the like, which gave rise and will give rise to the bitterest resentments by belligerents and which resentments will be obviated by the proposed legislation. It may be admitted that it will be difficult to prevent sales of munitions being made indirectly to belligerents through agents or friendly purchasers in other neutral countries. Nevertheless, unless the attempt shall be made by us, we shall incur serious resentments, which will impair the possibility of our remaining out of the war.
3. If we are not prepared to go so far as to forbid the sale of arms and munitions to belligerents, we should at least forbid their shipment in American vessels. For, since the right claimed by Germany to employ submarine attack without warning upon vessels carrying arms and munitions of war or armed for defense has never yet been settled by any agreement of all of the Great Powers, and since, therefore, such submarine attacks are practically certain to be employed in any future war, with the inevitable result of dragging this country into the war if American citizens on such ships shall be killed, it will be necessary for our Government to forbid American ships to carry arms and munitions to the belligerents. For the same reason, it will also be necessary for our Government to forbid American citizens to travel as passengers or members of the crew on any ship, whether belligerent or domestic, which shall so carry a cargo of arms or munitions. Undoubtedly the right of an American to travel on any such ship is an admitted right under international law; but unless we are prepared to go to war to maintain it, it is a right, under the present contentions as to the use of submarines, which we must be prepared to yield or restrict for the sake of remaining at peace.
4. Germany attempted to justify her method of submarine warfare by pointing out the fact that British merchant ships carried armament ostensibly for defense but which could be used for attack; and Germany has never abandoned this contention. On the other hand, the Allied Powers asserted and continue to assert their right to arm merchantmen for defense. As early as August 15, 1914, a controversy arose with our State Department as to the status of a British merchantman which had entered New York with two naval guns mounted. The subject of this controversy continued to inflame the situation through the war; it gave rise in 1916 to the McLemore Resolution. It is a most certain source for frictions. Our Government, at the outset of any future war, should forbid the entrance into our ports or waters of any commercial ship of a belligerent which is armed, whether for defense or offense, with cannon, or which has emplacements for cannon, or else it should treat such ships as auxiliary cruisers of the belligerent. The United States should also forbid American citizens to travel on such ships either as passengers or crew. It will not be wise to run the risk of another Lusitania complication. (While, of course, examinations before sailing and subsequent investigations by our Government officers proved conclusively that that vessel did not carry armament, yet she did carry in her cargo munitions of war classified as nonexplosives, such as cartridge and unfilled shell.)
5. Since many attacks by submarines on our ships were due to the practice of British merchant vessels in flying the American flag for purposes of deception, our laws should authorize the President to forbid entrance into our ports of any ship belonging to a belligerent nation which shall permit such a practice.
6. Complications arose in the Great War by the action of a German cruiser in sending into Norfolk with a prize crew an English ship, the Appam, taken by it as a prize. No prize should be allowed to enter or be brought into our ports. Treaties on this subject should be revised.
7. In the Great War, our Government allowed the entry into our ports and waters of commercial submarines belonging to Germany, since international law did not require us to forbid it. Friction with supporters of the Allied cause arose. On the other hand, Norway, Sweden and Spain forbade the use of their ports and waters by submarines of belligerents. The difficulty of any adequate supervision over the operations of submarines, whether war vessels or merchantmen, should lead our Government to debar their entrance into our ports or waters during a war. For similar reasons, aircraft of a belligerent, whether war or commercial, should be forbidden to arrive or descend within the jurisdiction of the United States or to pass over our territory.
8. German merchant ships in our ports at the beginning of the Great War became, in many instances, seats of bomb manufacture and nests of activities, criminal, and otherwise hostile to this country. Such ships in the future should be required to leave our ports within a given time after outbreak of war (unless such action should be violative of treaty obligations), and if they shall choose to remain in our ports, they should be taken into the custody and control of our Government during the war (not for use by our Government, but for safekeeping and preventive purposes) or until such time as they shall desire to clear from our ports.
9. One serious source of irritation, as to which frequent charges were made by both belligerents against our Government for alleged violations of our duties as a neutral, was the use of our ports as a base of supplies to send out ships carrying food, coal, and other supplies to belligerent warships on the high seas. As a matter of fact, our Government exercised the fullest diligence and care to comply with its neutral obligations by preventing such use, wherever it had or could obtain knowledge; but fraud and deceit by belligerent agents made our efforts to some extent ineffectual. Early in the war, charges by the German Ambassador that New York was supplying British warships off the port were investigated by us and found baseless. On the other hand, after long, patient, and difficult investigation, we found ample evidence of the still earlier sending out of ships from New York, San Francisco and other ports, by German agents to supply coal to German warships. At first, we had no Federal statutes sufficient to deal with the situation; but we did indict and convict certain German corporations and individuals here for false statements in papers submitted by them to this Government in connection with clearances. In 1915, Congress authorized the President to refuse clearance to any ship which he had cause to believe was to constitute such a supply ship to a belligerent. The Act of June 15, 1917, gave still further authority to our Government. Even more stringent legislation, however, may be necessary in any future war. How deeply the fortunes of a belligerent may be involved may be seen from the fact that two American ships controlled by Germany which were cleared from San Francisco, in the fall of 1914, by means of false statements as to their destination, actually supplied coal to the German cruisers Dresden and Leipzig which made possible the defeat of the British fleet in the battle off Coronel. It may be wise to consider seriously the advisability of granting to the President authority to forbid the entrance into our ports and waters of any ship of a belligerent nation which shall have violated or may violate in the future the laws of neutrality or our statute laws. We should also consider the advisability of forbidding clearance to any ship, domestic or foreign, owned by a corporation or individual which shall have committed such a violation. Argentina and Chile took action along these lines; and it is interesting to note that, in 1915, Brazil even went so far as to authorize taking over the ships of its national merchant marine "in order to avoid international frictions which might compromise the cordiality of the relations of perfect friendship in which fortunately we live with other peoples."
10. Considerable controversy arose in the Great War between our Government and Italy and Great Britain over the status of merchant ships of the latter two countries which had been chartered, requisitioned, or otherwise officially controlled by the respective Governments. The status of these ships raised a question whether they should not be considered as supply ships of the belligerent navies. To avoid any dispute in the future, our Government should announce its intention, at the outset of any war, to treat such ships as adjuncts of the belligerent navies, and subject to internment under international law if they shall remain in our neutral waters longer than the time prescribed by such law for belligerent war vessels.
11. A leading source of friction in the Great War was the public floating of loans in this country by belligerent Governments. International law, while forbidding loans by neutral Governments to belligerents, allows such loans to be made by private citizens of neutral countries. To avert frictions and resentments, such loans should in the future be forbidden. Moreover, the possibility of pressure being brought by our own citizens upon our Government to enter the war on the side of a belligerent to whom the bulk of such loans shall have been made is such as to render it desirable to prevent such a condition from arising. Denmark in the Great War, it may be noted, penalized any person publicly inviting participation in a state loan of a belligerent. It is true that prohibition of such public loans would not prevent private loans for the financing of commercial transactions of the belligerents; and it is also true that such commercial loans constituted the bulk of the financing for the belligerents in this country in the Great War; and it is further true that to interfere with private loans for commercial financing would produce too great a commercial loss to our citizens to be readily endured by them. But, while the limited legislation above suggested would not and could not prevent all resentments, it would mitigate the situation. Moreover, if the suggested legislation as to prohibition of sale of arms and munitions to belligerents should be adopted, a great part of the commercial financing would disappear from the picture.
12. Considerable friction arose in the Great War between Great Britain and this country owing to the unequal action of our neutrality statute which forbids enlistment in this country in the forces of a belligerent. When we indicted and convicted British officials here of violating this statute, the British Ambassador violently complained that we did not take similar action against German and Austrian officials. But, as decided by our Courts, the British actions constituted in fact a violation of our enlistment law; whereas, since all German and Austrian reservists in this country were already on the army lists of their respective countries, their assembly here and dispatch abroad did not fall within the meaning of the word "enlist" used in our law. To avoid this source of friction, we should forbid both kinds of action by belligerents in this country, regardless of the technical meaning of "enlistment." The evil is equally great to us, whether agents of a belligerent gather together in this country either new recruits or reservists.
Hostile sentiment towards this country during the Great War was further aroused in the belligerent countries by the extent to which American citizens enlisted in belligerent armies, notably in the French and Canadian forces. Nothing in the law of neutrality forbids such action; but its allowance by a neutral country is certain to excite resentment. Denmark wisely made it a crime for one of its citizens "to take service in the armed forces of any belligerent." This country might profitably enact similar legislation in any future war.
Most of the above provisions must be embodied in legislation which shall operate at once upon the outbreak of another war, if we are to avoid being forced into future wars between Great Powers owing to inevitable frictions aroused by our neutral position; and much of such legislation should preferably take the form of authorization of the President to put in force all or any of the prohibitions provided for.
Up to this point, however, the chief source of inevitable entanglement in a war under modern conditions has not been mentioned, viz., the assertion and attempted enforcement by our Government of alleged rights of trade belonging to our citizens as neutrals. If, in the future, we intend to insist on the alleged rights for which we persistently contended from 1914 to 1917, then there is little likelihood that we can avoid entering a war, on the one side or the other. For these alleged rights, at the present time, are "rights" only in name. They are a legal fiction.
It is possible that, prior to 1914, international law and law-books did not recognize certain rights to trade as belonging to neutrals. But with the advent and progress of the Great War those rights were swept aside; and today the belligerents then engaged have not conceded any right which they denied from 1914 to 1917. Beginning with the first week of August 1914, and continuing up to our entry into the War, there was a series of acts by Great Britain, France, Italy and Germany, every one of which was challenged by our Government as a violation of our neutral rights: the sowing of mines on the high seas; the extensive and unreasonable sea zones involving danger to neutrals; the destruction of neutral ships captured in midocean; the unwarned sinking by submarines of neutral ships and of belligerent merchant ships on which neutrals were rightfully travelling; the forcing of our ships and of our mails into belligerent ports for the purposes of search, seizure, and censorship; the extension of contraband to cover foods and supplies to civil populations; the stoppage of our ships on the high seas for the purpose of taking persons off them. Secretaries of State Bryan and Lansing constantly protested all these actions, as contrary to international law. Nevertheless, on April 6, 1917, when the United States entered the war, not one of our contentions had been accepted by the belligerents; not one neutral right asserted by us had been granted by them as a right, though a few of our protests (notably against taking men off our ships) had been acceded to as a favor. After the war, neither the United States, nor other neutrals like Holland, Sweden or Norway, took effective action to submit their claims of violation of neutral rights to arbitration in order to determine whether any such rights were in existence. On the contrary, at the end of ten years from our entrance into the war, on May 19, 1927, Secretary of State Kellogg exchanged notes with Great Britain, deliberately giving up any attempt to ascertain the validity of our claims of violation of neutral rights by Great Britain from 1914 to 1917, and waiving the presentation of any diplomatic request for international arbitration of our claims, though saving the right (which right, of course, we would have had as a sovereign nation, without any such reservation) "to maintain in the future such position as it may deem appropriate with respect to the legality or illegality under international law" of the measures adopted during the war. So far as Germany is concerned, our dispute with her as to the legality of her use of submarines has never been settled, judicially or otherwise; and the treaty of February 6, 1922, framed at the Washington Conference for the Limitation of Armaments prohibiting the use of submarines as commerce destroyers has not been ratified by all its signers, and was not even signed by Germany.
Hence, the situation confronting the United States today is that not a single neutral right of trade asserted by us is recognized officially by Great Britain, France, Italy or Germany to any greater extent than it was between August 1914 and April 1917.
What is the use of talking about neutral "rights," in view of such a situation? Of course, I do not mean to say that there are not many neutral rights which a nation, as a nation, still possesses and which are universally recognized; but it is evident that the citizens of a neutral nation do not now possess any rights on the high seas which can be successfully asserted against a belligerent without danger of such assertion leading to war. The fact is -- and we must face it without deluding ourselves with international law as it exists in books -- it is perfectly clear that, in any future war between Great Powers, each belligerent will deal with neutral trade in whatever manner may seem necessary to it in order to achieve victory -- unless the danger of forcing the neutral to join in the war against it shall appear to it to counterbalance the advantage of such a policy. In other words, the neutral will be allowed just such privileges of trade, and only those privileges, which the belligerent believes will not impair too seriously its chance of winning the war.
The doctrine which was announced by both Great Britain and by Germany in many notes addressed to the United States from 1914 to 1917, to the effect that illegal interference with neutrals by the one justified equally illegal interference by the other, i.e., the so-called right of retaliation, entirely ignores the existence of any such thing as a neutral right of trade. Yet this doctrine has been upheld by the English courts and by their prominent writers on international law. Thus, the Earl of Birkenhead, in his book on the subject, in 1927, defended the British reprisals as measures adopted in pursuance of the highest duty "to obey the law of self preservation," and, said he, "all the measures adopted may not be generally acceptable [to neutrals] but the broad policy pursued, it may be safely predicted, will be followed in another war by any naval belligerent to the fullest extent compatible with continued diplomatic relations with neutral States." And even an American naval officer in a treatise for the use of our navy, wrote in 1928: "It is generally recognized that a belligerent is entitled to prevent neutral commerce that will aid the enemy in prosecuting the war from reaching the enemy via any route. . . . To allow this commerce to proceed, when a belligerent has the power to stop it, may result in the loss of the war by such belligerent." And Mr. Lloyd George, in the second volume of his "War Memoirs," in describing the British relations with the United States, says very plainly that while neutrals during a war, "earn greater profits, they are subject to greater hazards and less consideration. Nations fighting for their lives cannot always pause to observe punctilios. Their every action is an act of war, and their attitude to neutrals is governed, not by the conventions of peace, but by the exigencies of a deadly strife."
In any future war, therefore, it will be wise for our Secretaries of State to cease using the words "neutral rights of trade." If we continue to contend for such "rights," we will inevitably be implicated in the war.
It behooves our Government, moreover (and in fact any Government), to be extremely cautious about inspiring in its citizens a belief in the existence of a "right." Men are often more influenced by their beliefs as to a fact than by the fact itself. Inculcation of a belief in a "right" is an inflammatory act. For instance, the interference with American trade by Great Britain from 1914 to 1917 would not, by itself, have produced such hostile sentiment here, if such interference had not been so continuously represented to the public by our Government as a violation of fixed, unchallengeable rights which our citizens possessed as neutrals under international law. The President and his Secretaries of State were undoubtedly justified at that time in employing the term "rights," because it was then supposed that they existed under international law. (It is unnecessary to consider whether we were correct in all of our contentions, but certainly some such rights were considered as established.) But now, in view of our past experience, discontinuance of the use of the inflammable words "rights of trade" in diplomatic correspondence will be one of the chief factors in helping a neutral to remain neutral.
In order to avoid this risk of becoming engaged in the war for the vindication of so illusory a thing as a "neutral right of trade," the sane policy for us would be, at the outset of any war between Great Powers, to admit frankly that, whether or not "rights" exist in law, it is impracticable to assert them successfully during the war, and that it is impracticable to wrest admission of them from a belligerent. Recognizing, realistically, that a belligerent will concede only such privileges to trade as it believes compatible with its own victory, the President of the United States should enter into negotiations with both belligerents at the outset of the war to obtain by informal agreement or convention the utmost concession or the best modus vivendi for the trade of our citizens; and in such negotiations valuable and persuasive arguments would be available to him, if there should then be on the Federal statute books the legislation above suggested, vesting in the President powers to be exercised at his discretion in any war in which the United States shall be neutral. The fear, expressed by some, that concessions to a neutral by one belligerent might be resented by the other belligerent seems ill-founded; for the United States would offer to both belligerents the opportunity to make such concessions, and the belligerent failing to make them could hardly be in a position to complain. Belligerents, moreover, can often afford to concede to a neutral, as a practicable arrangement of trade in a given situation, that which they will not concede as a right. There is too much talk in international affairs about rights and too little about adjustments. Harping on rights leads to arrival at positions from which a nation cannot withdraw or yield; it leads to ultimatums which inevitably lead to war.
If a President of the United States shall not be able to obtain concessions from belligerents, by agreement, he will have four courses which he can pursue, if belligerents continue to interfere with our citizens on the high seas. (And it is to be borne in mind that in the conduct of our foreign relations, the President has sole power to act, so far as the situation is such as not to require a treaty or legislation.)
a. He can decide that no right of neutrals exists.
b. He can decide that a right exists but that it has not been violated.
c. He can decide that a right exists which has been violated and which is of sufficient importance to lay before Congress as a casus belli.
d. He can decide that a right exists and has been violated but that he will not consider it wise, under the circumstances, to press it until the conclusion of the war.
It is for the President alone to make such a choice. Neither the Senate nor Congress can control his choice of policy, unless Congress shall decide, independently, to declare war. It is to be hoped that so far as neutral rights of trade are concerned, a President will make the fourth choice. It is better that our citizens should run the risk of commercial loss than that the country should be involved in a war to protect their alleged commercial rights. And indeed, there are many men in this country who believe that our citizens, travelling on the high seas in time of war, should do so at their own risk. Such a policy on the part of our Government would not entirely wreck our foreign trade, as some writers fear; for as a matter of fact, in the Great War, the profits from our trade with or for the benefit of the belligerents were so great that many American citizens would have continued to engage in that trade, as a speculation, regardless of the fact whether or not their right to do so was asserted by our Government or denied by any opposing belligerent. While it may not be desirable for our Government to take any legislative step either to protect or to prevent such trade (other than to prohibit trade in munitions of war, as specifically defined by statute), our Government may very properly say, in effect, to its citizens during the war: you engage in such trade at your own risk during the existence of the war, and you can protect your trade by requiring a profit correlative to the risk. If our Government should adopt this policy and its claim for violated rights should be upheld by any international tribunal after the war, and if the violating belligerent nation should not be able to pay, it would be far cheaper for this country to assume payment of all such claims of its citizens than to join in the war on the side of the one or the other belligerent, to enforce them.
Finally, even if all the above precautions shall be taken by this country to avoid being dragged into war, there will still exist in this country of mixed population the ever-present danger of becoming involved in war, through inflammatory propaganda in the public press and on the public platform by the adherents of one belligerent against the other. Recollection of the violent activities of the pro-Ally advocates, as well as of the pro-German advocates, directed against each other in this country from 1914 to 1917, and the testimony taken before the Overman Committee in 1918 as to efforts by belligerents to buy, control, or direct foreign language and other newspapers of this country, furnish clear proofs of the dangers of propaganda intended to promote the cause of one or the other belligerent within the confines of a neutral nation.
President Wilson was much assailed for his appeal to the American people of August 18, 1914, in which he said:
The people of the United States are drawn from many nations, and chiefly from the nations now at war. It is natural and inevitable that there should be the utmost variety of sympathy and desire among them with regard to the issues and circumstances of the conflict. Some will wish one nation, others another, to succeed in the momentous struggle. It will be easy to excite passion and difficult to allay it. Those responsible for exciting it will assume a heavy responsibility, responsibility for no less a thing than that the people of the United States whose love of their country and whose loyalty to its Government should unite them as Americans all, bound in honor and affection to think first of her and her interests, may be divided in camps of hostile opinion, hot against each other, involved in the war itself in impulse and opinion if not in action.
Such divisions among us would be fatal to our peace of mind and might seriously stand in the way of the proper performance of our duty as the one great nation at peace, the one people holding itself ready to play a part of impartial mediation and speak the counsels of peace and accommodation, not as a partisan, but as a friend.
I venture, therefore, my fellow countrymen, to speak a solemn word of warning to you against that deepest, most subtle, most essential breach of neutrality which may spring out of partisanship, out of passionately taking sides. The United States must be neutral in fact as well as in name during these days that are to try men's souls. We must be impartial in thought as well as action, must put a curb upon our sentiments as well as upon every transaction that might be construed as a preference of one party to the struggle before another.
The President was moved to issue this early appeal because of the rather blatant attempts by German sympathizers here at the very outset of the Great War to rouse this country against the Allies. (It is interesting to recall the much overlooked fact that his appeal was, at the time of its issue, highly praised by both Republican and Democratic papers of prominence in the East, though attacks made later on the President for the appeal were chiefly made by advocates of the Allied cause.)[i] The subsequent course of events in this country -- the immoderate and illiberal attacks on the pro-Germans by the people of the East, and the equally illiberal attacks on the pro-Allies made by people in the Central West -- proved how right the President had been in his effort, and what dangerous discord was produced in this country by a disregard of his wise caution. Throughout the period of our neutrality, influential magazines and newspapers, as well as speeches of public men, continually inflamed the situation and endangered the position of the country as a neutral by not merely expressing their sympathy with the one side or the other (as was perfectly right and natural), but by indulging in harsh and violent criticism and denunciations of the belligerent Governments, countries, armies, and citizens with which they were not in accord. This not only excited animosities here but aroused hot resentments in the belligerent countries. It was certain to work estrangements; and, as Senator Stone, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, deplored, it "made free and cordial intercourse between this Government and the Governments of the nations at war more difficult and embarrassing."
In a future war, this unrestrained system of public attack here on one or the other of the belligerents will again be bound to excite animosities which will lead us straight into war, unless curbed or modified by ourselves or by our Government. Denmark in the Great War made it a penal offense for anyone publicly in writing or orally to "endeavor to incite the population against a belligerent." Such legislation in this country would be inadvisable because it appears too dangerously close to an infringement of the freedom of the press. The proper position for public men and the public press in a neutral country to take voluntarily and without compulsion was finely expressed in a circular issued by the Minister of Foreign Relations of Colombia, November 27, 1914:
Not because the public authorities are the only personalities upon whom is incumbent the duty of showing neither favor nor hostility to belligerents, nor because impartiality can co-exist with sympathies or antipathies more or less definite, nor finally because the liberty of the press authorizes in practice all kinds of publications, ought one to admit as proper the possibility for the press to take no account of truth, courtesy and good will. Absolute liberty of the press does not nullify the duty here in question. . . . Sympathies and antipathies can be expressed in the reasonable form of truth, in the respectful form of courtesy, and in the Christian form of good will. It is no longer true to say that, once the Government has officially observed impartiality, associations, individuals, and the press can express themselves as they please; for we have seen that such an attitude may wound aliens domiciled in the country, occasion the hostility, with all its injurious consequences, of powerful governments, tarnish the good reputation of the country itself.
If the citizens and press of the United States shall not choose to refrain from attacks on the one belligerent or the other, if they shall not deliberately curb their prejudices and their sympathies, then they must not be surprised if conditions are produced in this country which will make avoidance of implication in the war very difficult.
Such are the ways in which we can try to keep out of war. But we must be willing to pay the price, and above all we must not fool ourselves into the belief that the road will be an easy one. Neutrality alone will not keep us out. There are obligations which we must assume and there are rights which we must waive if we wish to attain our object. That lesson, our experience in the Great War should teach us.
The question then arises, however, whether, under such circumstances, the price of neutrality may not be too high; and whether neutrality, with such added burdens and concessions or surrender of rights, will not be too disagreeable a status for this country to assume. And thus the further question is at once presented: Should not the people of this country be led to give more serious, intense, and continuous consideration to joining with other nations in all practicable movements to prevent the occurrence of any war which would involve us in so difficult, so burdensome, and so disagreeable (even if not impossible) neutrality?
[i] It was forgotten from 1915 to 1917, and is now forgotten, that the date when President Wilson issued his appeal, August 18, 1914, was prior to the issue of the English "White Book" in this country, prior to the arrival of news of the alleged Belgian atrocities and the Bryce Report on the same, prior to any Zeppelin raid, prior to news of the "scrap of paper" conversation of the British Ambassador with Bethmann-Hollweg in Berlin, and prior to the devastation of Rheims Cathedral and Louvain Library.