Courtesy Reuters

The Lansing Papers

PAPERS RELATING TO THE FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES. THE LANSING PAPERS. Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 1939-1940, two volumes.

ONE evening in the spring of 1919, immediately after the plenary conference had approved the amended Covenant of the League of Nations, a member of the American Peace Commission walking home with a young French diplomat noted the lighted windows of the War Office on the Boulevard Saint Germain. "What are they doing so late?" he asked. "Working on the plans for the coming war with Germany," was the reply. "This is a repeat performance. Only next time we may not be so lucky." The pathetic irony of the remark, and its prophetic accuracy, will strike the student who, after immersing himself in the two volumes of the "Lansing Papers," lays them down to pick up the day's newspaper. Here is the story of how the United States came to appreciate the close relation between European turmoil and American interests; of the assumption by America of a responsibility for protecting and maintaining an international régime based upon respect for law rather than power; and of the promise, through victory, of a new international organization that would guarantee peace. We read the story at a moment when the German conquest of the European continent and the deadly threat to the British Empire have created a menace to American security more direct than any in our history as an independent nation, when law as a principle of intercourse among nations has all but disappeared, when the hope of peace through understanding has been eliminated and our only chance for security lies in the achievement of predominating power.

Yet a reading of these documents does not leave one with a sense of futility. They confirm the belief that, regardless of what the ultimate results of the last war may have been, the American effort was worth making; that indeed it would have been shortsighted cowardice had we evaded our responsibility for seeking

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