Sacrificing His Core Supporters in a Race Against Defeat
BAFFLED by the feats of imagination that had been demanded of them during five years, exhausted by the renunciation of accustomed moral distinctions no less than by physical trials, men sought relief in 1919 in the oblivion of routine. They had known what it was to be "ever climbing up the climbing wave." They laid themselves down on the shore, glad merely to be alive.
In the United States, where the actual conflict had been shorter and less a matter of personal experience, the recoil should by all rules have been less complete than in Europe. But our material and financial power, our happy geographical position, our prestige as a result of our charity in the early years of the war and our participation in the final victory, gave us both the temptation and the opportunity for a relaxation that the Old World could not attain. We had broken bonds of custom and forged innumerable new ones, but many of the changes in our physical life could be, and were, simply carried over into a more efficient peacetime routine.
Not so Europe. The fabric was torn from top to bottom. Constantinople and Petrograd had fallen from their high estate (to be imitated the other day by Peking). Hapsburgs, Hohenzollerns, Romanoffs had vanished. The Sultanate soon followed, and the Caliphate went next. They left hardly a vestige of their dynastic personalities, but the vacuum created by their disappearance had to be filled. Conventions that despite political and industrial revolutions had persisted for centuries, were snapped almost simultaneously and amid an unprecedented chaos of forces and ideas. Peoples recently enemies, and fearful of being enemies again, glowered across little rivers, narrow straits, rows of white posts marking new frontier lines, yet, tired as they were, did not dare indulge in the luxury of forgiving and forgetting. While the United States across the water relaxed with a groan of contentment, Europe leaned panting against the flanks of her cannon.
Both inevitably suffered from modern complaints -- Europe from an inferiority, America from a superiority complex. Because Europe felt herself at a disadvantage physically she tended to "compensate" by exaggerating the superior moral merits which she naturally thought her longer ordeal of fire had proved her to possess. Because Americans felt in their heart of hearts that this might really be true, they tended to talk about the iniquity of European rivalries, trade barriers and smoldering fires of hate. The fact that American representatives had participated in drafting the peace treaty which the American Senate proceeded to reject did not make one side feel more amicable or the other more comfortable. French vexation further increased when the American Government made no attempt to secure ratification of the tripartite agreement to lend assistance in case of fresh German aggression. As time passed, too, the United States made plain its intention of refusing to accept German reparation engagements in lieu of sums due on inter-allied debt account, and at the same time adopted the Fordney Tariff Act which besides rendering it more difficult for the debtor nations to pay in goods delayed the reconstruction of their industries. Indeed, Europe did not have to hunt far for an excuse to attribute a good share of its economic troubles to the behavior of the United States. Nor did our new immigration restriction policy, justified as it seemed to some most liberal-minded Americans, endear us to foreign countries where poverty and unemployment were chronic. Could there have been better provender for nourishing general recrimination?
Given the incitement, recriminations have really been less bitter and less disastrous in their results than might have been expected. There has been no open break. The European states have pulled together enough to avoid official hostilities, even over particularly sore spots like the Ruhr, Vilna, Danzig, Silesia, Fiume, the Tyrol, the Burgenland, Transylvania, Albania and Macedonia. But they have had interests sufficiently divergent to keep from pulling together against the United States. There has been nothing resembling a united front against us, even in matters of obviously common concern like the debts. Frank criticism and frank envy of us there have been, sometimes in abundance. But we have claimed such virtue for our own frankness, for our willingness to "face facts," that only our most school-masterish publicists have been able to feel injured when a high-minded critic like Lord Cecil recounts our alleged shortcomings.
In extenuation of what those who are irritated by European criticism are inclined to call European jealousy of the United States, we must take into account that the Old World does in fact occupy a far less predominant position than it did fifteen years ago. The war took fearful toll of its man-power, and a steady decrease in the birth-rate of several of the principal nations has made the handicap heavier still. The world's center of financial and economic gravity has commenced to shift across the Atlantic. The year before the war our foreign investments amounted to $2,625,000,000; at the end of last year they were $14,500,000,000, and the first six months of 1928 added over a billion to the total. On the political side, the influence of non-European states in the affairs of Europe was greatly increased during the war, and is to some extent maintained at Geneva. The British Empire's transmutation into a Commonwealth has shaved off some of London's prerogatives and added them to Ottawa, Pretoria, Canberra and other distant capitals. The grant of virtual independence to the dominions and to the Irish Free State has relieved Great Britain of some of the most pressing difficulties growing out of the development of her marvellous Empire. But some persons in those dominions are rude enough to say that it was less a grant than an unenthusiastic recognition of the fact demonstrated in the war that, despite the hearty response of the dominions to their Empire responsibilities, they would thenceforward expect a larger share in the development of Imperial policy and would exact liberty of action in foreign matters touching their own vital interests. It was ironical that at the very moment when this development had come to a head the opponents of our entry into the League of Nations should have emphasized the "six-votes-to-one" slogan as a principal reason against our braving the perils of Geneva. In case of trouble over the foreign problems which recently have most concerned American public opinion, for example the restriction of Asiatic immigration or the protection of the rights of nationals in backward countries, does anyone believe that Canada, Australia and New Zealand would always be found on the side of Downing Street?
It is natural that these changes in the old equilibrium should make Europe self-conscious and ill at ease. We ourselves are comfortably convinced that we are the most pacific of nations. We are sure that no stock need be taken in "the menace of Anglo-Saxon imperialism," a favorite expression with anti-English and anti-American writers on the continent, who do not know, and perhaps cannot be expected to know, that popular feeling in the United States inclines no more toward a special arrangement with Great Britain than with any other country. Similarly, we are positive that the divergent aims of all the highly dissimilar states of this hemisphere will never allow them to unite in an efficient Pan-American bloc that can oppose or harm the rest of the world. But those who cannot read our hearts are not to be blamed for feeling annoyed that we have so large a share of the world's prosperity and power, the more so as we sometimes give the impression of believing that the possession of money automatically confers a sort of moral superiority.
It is difficult to generalize about events as complicated and contradictory as those that have held the attention of the world's statesmen, economists and financiers in the decade since hostilities ceased after the armistices with Bulgaria on September 29, with Turkey on October 30, with Austria-Hungary on November 3, and with Germany on November 11, 1918. Over six months were to elapse between Maréchal Foch's meeting in the Forêt de Compiègne with the delegates of the new German Republic, and June 28, 1919, when the present Chancellor of the German Reich, then a comparatively inconspicuous Socialist leader, set his signature to the Treaty of Versailles. But the period of "The Peace" had begun, the period for estimating the changes brought by the war, for repairing the damages, and for endeavoring, if possible, to make it less likely that such a catastrophe should again overtake the civilized world. At the end of ten years -- more than twice the time the war itself lasted -- how much has been achieved?
On the material score, a great deal. The battlefields are again tilled, roads, railroads, bridges and mines have been reconstructed, towns rebuilt; only here and there in Northern France, in Macedonia, in Venezia, do the gaunt ruins of individual buildings remind the traveler of the carnage and utter devastation spread across these regions ten years ago. Certain classes were seriously crippled in most European countries by the depreciation of the currencies in which they had put their savings, great or small; their lot has been pathetic, but cruel as it may seem to speak impersonally about them, we must note that in one way or another they are adjusting themselves to new conditions and no longer constitute a political problem.
So with the refugees and exchanged populations. The Russians of the old régime, at first concentrated mainly in Constantinople, have been absorbed all over the continent. They have been treated with particular hospitality in Jugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. In those countries leaders like General Wrangel tried for a time to maintain their unity and some sort of organization, but this effort has now been abandoned; few of them, if any, are likely ever again to play a rôle in the internal affairs of their own land. The political exiles from Italy of Mussolini, from Hungary of Horthy, and from Spain of Primo de Rivera form restless but for the time being ineffective little groups in London, Paris, Vienna and Brussels; some of them may be heard from again, but at the moment there are no signs of an early overturn of any of the régimes which have forced them to seek shelter under the free institutions of other peoples. The exchanged populations have undergone great losses and privations, but, like pioneers in a wilderness, their children will benefit from their sufferings. The general task of maintaining peace has undoubtedly been served by making several of the new political frontiers better from the ethnic point of view. For example, Greek Macedonia is wholly Greek today for the first time in history, and the populations of Thrace and Asia Minor are more homogeneous than ever before. Greece herself certainly will profit eventually from the introduction of the hardy, laborious Anatolian Greeks into the economy of the homeland.
Under the leadership of the most resolute statesman in Europe, and out of her own resources, France has now made the sacrifices necessary for a return to the gold standard. This leaves Spain the only considerable nation of Western Europe which has not de jure stabilized its currency, and she could stabilize tomorrow if she wished. Great Britain is on the "bullion standard," her currency being convertible into gold ingots on demand. Germany, Belgium and Italy are on the "gold and valuta standard," their currencies being supported by reserves of gold and foreign exchange. Some of the smaller countries are in process of stabilizing or have postponed taking the final step because of nationalist feeling -- Portugal, for example, has recently refused a League stabilization loan because French, British or American experts were to sit on the board of the National Bank and watch the expenditure of loan monies. Bulgaria is negotiating the terms on which a National Bank will be constituted and a League loan supplied, and Rumania, after having refused certain limitations which the League decided to impose, is now seeking the aid of the Bank of France to set up a practicable scheme of currency stabilization. Jugoslavia will likely be the next to undertake this task, aided by British and American bankers. Hungary, Austria, and Greece have stabilized through the League and with American and other financial support; Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Baltic states with general international coöperation. Switzerland, Holland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, whose currencies had not been so seriously affected, have maintained or reëstablished pre-war parity, mainly out of their own resources. Currency stabilization has removed the most dangerous obstacle to the revival and sound health of European industry and trade.
The defeated countries have been on the horns of a dilemma -- to talk rich or to talk poor? If they talked rich in order to secure foreign funds for rehabilitation and fresh development, they risked seeming prosperous enough to pay larger reparations. If they talked poor to escape reparation payments, what became of their attraction for foreign investors? Some of the war-time associates of the United States have felt the same difficulty in their desire simultaneously to scale down the debts and to preserve their credit. As a British journalist remarked, "Banks do not invest in a tragedy." All this has tended to keep the real economic situation of Europe obscure.
Today we are able to see that, industrially, France is well off, better off perhaps than she was in 1914. Germany's plants are in many instances more modern and efficient than they were before the war, and though her industries have had to borrow large sums abroad and must pay levies for the Dawes annuities, these obligations generally are in lieu of a pre-war indebtedness which was all but wiped out when the old mark was virtually repudiated. English industry, though recovering, suffers from deep-seated maladjustments. In particular, she has been hard hit by the world-wide depression in the coal industry, her coal having always been a principal factor in her export trade and shipping.
In general, it would not be far wrong to say that the immediate economic effects of the war are making themselves felt in diminishing scale, and that many of the difficulties that face certain countries would inevitably have appeared sooner or later even if the war had not occurred. For example, it is quite likely that the pre-war rate of expansion of German industry and overseas enterprise, and new factors such as the development of cotton milling in the Orient, would before long have placed England in the same disadvantageous position, supposing there had been no war, in which she finds herself today. Germany's former rulers, in fact, may be justly criticized for having failed to realize that without a gun fired or a soldier killed they stood to achieve all the economic advantages that they might or might not gain by the gamble of war. An English historian said in 1923 that the Anglo-German feud for primacy at sea ended at Scapa Flow; even five years ago it would have been more cautious to note the many signs of Germany's maritime renaissance, and either to have limited this generalization to purely naval rivalry or else to have made clear that it applied to a single dramatic phase in the commercial struggle which seems the destiny of the two countries. Again, Italy's handicap in having neither raw materials for the purposes of industry nor coal to use in turning imported raw materials into manufactured goods has no connection with the war, and the need for water power development to ameliorate her economic situation was merely emphasized by the necessities of war and of post-war reconstruction. As between the states of Europe, so between Europe and America. Just as the war did not create American industrial prosperity and financial power, but merely accelerated the rate at which our material resources and manufacturing efficiency made themselves felt, so the war did not produce most of the difficulties that Europe is experiencing in maintaining its trade against American competition, but merely intensified them and brought them sooner to a head.
During the fiscal year beginning this present September -- the first year of full reparation payments under the Dawes Plan -- Germany is due to pay over to the Allies two and a half billion reichsmarks, or $595,500,000. Mr. Gilbert, Agent General for Reparation Payments, believes that the needed sums will be forthcoming and he gives no indication of doubting that they can be transferred. At the same time he states the desirability, from the standpoint of the creditors as well as the debtor, of fixing the total amount of the indebtedness; for, as is well known, the Dawes Committee merely provided for an indeterminate series of annuities without mentioning any capital sum. Their only statement on this score was that the Plan would give a practical demonstration of what Germany could pay.
At the moment, then, discussion of the perennial reparation question turns on how to fix Germany's indebtedness once for all. At first sight it may appear unlikely that while the Dawes Plan is still in successful operation the Allies will of their own accord meet and agree to scale down the total sum, which remains nominally the 132,000,000,000 gold marks set by the Reparation Commission in 1921. We might logically assume that the Allies would be especially unwilling to begin such conversations if, following the promptings of certain German circles, the German Government seemed likely to ask that the total be fixed at less than 42,000,000,000 reichsmarks, the capital figure which is obtained if we suppose that the standard year payment of two and a half billion marks represents annual interest at five percent and an annual amortization charge of one percent, which would retire the capital sum in 37½ years. But the Allies can probably see many advantages in a final settlement -- political, economic and financial. Germany would have more pride in paying her debts if thrown on her own resources and freed from foreign supervision. If the sum were fixed and she failed to pay interest she would be frankly insolvent; whereas at present the Dawes Plan expressly provides that reparations need not be transferred if to do so would unsettle the German currency. One proposal is to fix the total German reparation debt at 42,000,000,000 reichsmarks, about $10,000,000,000, and then gradually commercialize the whole amount by a series of bond issues. In this case the 16,000,000,000 reichsmarks worth of German railroad and industrial securities already pledged under the Dawes Plan would presumably be merged in Germany's new general debt. However achieved, the commercialization of the total debt would remove from the political sphere one of the chief causes of friction and uncertainty of the post-war period.
There seems scant reason for believing, however, that the United States Government will permit changes in the reparation arrangement to affect the settlement of the inter-allied debts. We shall continue to maintain the theory that there is no connection between two pockets in the same pair of trousers. But the inter-allied debts have been left in unstable equilibrium, and few would care to prophesy that a reconsideration of them will not be in order before the end of the sixty-two year period. Even today it would be hard to refuse a firm offer of cash down in discount of the annuities due over a long period.
Of the political effects of the peace treaties, it may be said at once that they diminished the power of autocratic dynasties in the world and established more firmly the principle of nationality. The appearance of personal dictatorships in several countries does not invalidate this statement, nor does it need dishearten too greatly those who have faith in parliamentary government. In the autumn of 1920 many observers, inside Italy as well as out, imagined that country on the brink of anarchy. They interpreted the violent symptoms of post-war neurasthenia, the law-lessness tolerated by a succession of spiritless governments, as incipient bolshevism. But where did bolshevism not seem to exist? In staid Boston itself the police went on strike, an event without a parallel in Italy at the most disorganized moment. Even after the crisis had passed, Signor Mussolini was able to avail himself of conservative fears to organize a coup d'état and manœuver the country onto a completely new course. But he has never represented a deliberate choice of "autocracy" on the part of the Italian people in the sense that Napoleon III -- "the crowned Carbonaro," adoring personal prestige but forever praising the "supremacy of the people" and holding elections and plebiscites -- entered into the imagination of the French and for a time retained their enthusiastic allegiance. Today there is evidence that many of the industrialists who supported Signor Mussolini at first are far from happy, and the Senate vote on the new electoral law abolishing the last relic of free elections (the number of Senators who abstained plus the number who cast adverse votes constituted a majority of the house) seems to indicate discontent in the most conservative ranks. It is natural that those with a substantial stake in the economic life of the country, as well as adherents of the House of Savoy, should be nervous; for the use of force breeds force. One can only hope that what material progress Italy has made will not be wasted, that when the pendulum swings back it will not go too far, and that the democratic government of tomorrow will be more efficient and more whole-some than that of yesterday.
From Fascist Italy our thoughts run naturally to Soviet Russia. The "turn to the Right" there which was confidently predicted when Trotsky was delivered into exile, proves to have been only one more of the zig-zags in internal policy which have confused and confounded observers since the earliest days of bolshevik power. International policy toward the Soviets must evidently await the determination of Soviet domestic doctrine. Does the present régime seek merely a consolidation of the hard-won Russian revolution, or does it still nourish Marxian dreams of revolution all over the world? In other words, which is the authorized spokesman, the Foreign Minister, who may use most proper and even conciliatory language toward the Foreign Offices of other states, or the Third International, which may still be preaching and planning violence? The answer to this kind of question seems at the moment as much in doubt as it ever was.
One indirect achievement of the peace treaties was a wide-spread agrarian reform. The Russian peasant had already got his land. No sooner had the subject peoples of Austria-Hungary secured their freedom than they set to work to divide up the great estates of the German and Magyar nobles. Of the so-called Succession States, Hungary alone has lagged in effecting a thorough and comprehensive reform in favor of the peasant who tills the soil. Agricultural production in Central and Eastern Europe has diminished in consequence, though less than was predicted, mainly because the development of the coöperative movement is making up for the lack of central planning and control and even for the difficulty of purchasing and utilizing expensive modern farm machinery.
We have heard so much of the alleged iniquity of the peace treaties that out of weariness we begin accepting the statement uncritically. Some errors in territorial details are indeed obvious, not to mention things theoretically as indefensible as the prohibition of Austria to join Germany, and stupidities such as the provision for the trial of the Kaiser. Today, just forty years after Wilhelm Hohenzollern ascended the imperial throne under Bismarck's tutelage, the world no longer cares whether or not he is still alive; luckily, the project of replacing his wilted laurels with a martyr's crown was never carried out. But by and large the territorial provisions of the treaties as actually adopted were fairer and more scientific than in 1918 seemed likely in view of various inter-allied undertakings and given the passionate feelings aroused by years of struggle. The decision to hold plebiscites in several instances, as at Klagenfurt and in Schleswig, prevented some ex cathedra decisions that would have worked hardship on one side or the other. In any case, a comparison of the territorial decisions made at Paris with the aims openly avowed by the Hohenzollern and Hapsburg Governments during the war shows that on the whole they were moderate.
This may sound like faint praise. An important point remains to be made in their favor. Far more people live today in national groups of their own choosing than did in 1913. Of course proponents of the principle of the self-determination of peoples are mute just now in countries where there are dictatorships based on the doctrine that might makes right, and the principle is also rather out of fashion in countries like England and the United States which have had no recent experience with dictatorship or alien rule. But there is no ground for supposing that self-government is unsatisfactory to most of the peoples who for the first time in modern history are ordering their own affairs and exercising the pleasant prerogative of making their own mistakes. The number of such peoples is an imposing one. Before the war six Great Powers -- Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Russia -- influenced decisively the international destinies of fifteen lesser European states -- Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Rumania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Albania, Montenegro, Greece and Turkey. The war and the peace treaties reduced the number of the Great Powers and increased the number of the lesser states to twenty-two, by the substitution of Austria and Hungary for the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the addition of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Esthonia, Finland, Latvia and Lithuania (two states on the previous list, Serbia and Montenegro, merged to help make Jugoslavia). Not only are there fewer big Powers and more smaller ones; on the new list of lesser states are found a larger proportion than before of countries that might be called "middle-sized." Four of the new or enlarged states -- Poland, Jugoslavia, Rumania and Czechoslovakia -- are very active in European politics today, and the first two possess imposing military forces. Other states, like Belgium and Spain, have taken on new importance, the former as a result of her rôle in the war, the latter because she now considers herself the spokesman in Europe for the Hispanic peoples of the Western Hemisphere. Moreover, the lesser members of the League of Nations profit from the protection which that organization gives them and enjoy the publicity conferred on them by the right to be heard in its deliberations.
The situation of minorities in the new scheme of things is also fundamentally different from what it used to be. The peace treaties left something over thirty millions of the population of Europe as national and religious minorities. The Great Powers, besides feeling a moral responsibility for the settlement, knew that the chief burden of maintaining it would fall on their shoulders. They therefore induced all the new or aggrandized states to sign treaties promising that alien elements should be as well treated as citizens belonging to the dominant racial groups. The supervision of these treaties, and of the supplementary declarations made by several countries before the Council of the League of Nations, was entrusted to the League. The states that were persuaded to sign these treaties and make these declarations have never been happy about them. They look on them as an abridgment of their sovereignty, and have not tired of pointing out that the Great Powers refused to give similar undertakings regarding the treatment of minority elements left inside their own frontiers, such as the Germans in South Tyrol and the Slovenes in Gorizia. Some critics feel that the League has not installed adequate machinery for supervising the treaties, and that a permanent subcommittee of the Council might well be set up to coöperate with the Minority Section of the Secretariat in examining petitions and hearing the representatives of dissatisfied groups. It is hard to judge whether the criticism is well founded so long as information is withheld as to the kind and number of petitions received at Geneva. Nevertheless, the work of the League in these matters represents an advance upon the selfish and uncoördinated action that the Powers used to take by fits and starts before the war, notably in Turkey-in-Europe; and the mere fact that minority rights have been recognized by treaty, even if in practice they are sometimes unfairly curtailed, places the problem on a different plane.
The subject is complicated, and it is arguable that the attempt to maintain the individuality and strength of inharmonious elements is unwise, that the abridgment of sovereignty is not permissible. In point of fact, the adoption of minority treaties was dictated by expediency and not by political theory. At the Peace Conference, the process of reductio ad absurdum made it evident that the right to self-determination of small and often isolated ethnic groups must be balanced against the right of larger groups to establish viable states. The minority treaties were the expedient chosen to compensate those entitled in theory to self-determination but in practice denied it, such as the German and Magyar "islands" in Transylvania and the German sector in Bohemia. Perhaps it would have been better to limit the validity of all these treaties to a term of years, as was done in the case of the German-Polish convention about Upper Silesia. There are many among the rulers of the new states who remember the futility of the old German, Magyar and Russian efforts at forcible denationalization. Already an increase in stability and prosperity, and the passing of the war psychology, have made it easier for these to gain a hearing and arrange that a more sensible regard be shown for the political rights of minority elements.
Evidence that this is indeed so is furnished by a recent editorial in the Prager Tagblatt, the leading German daily newspaper of Prague. Commenting on the celebrations in honor of the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic, it says:
"No one can wonder that the Czech nation should greet the anniversary of the founding of their State with jubilation and conscious optimism. The largest and most important racial minority has made its peace with the new order of things, and even the German Opposition parties have, with the exception of some few negligible romantic spirits, foresworn irredentism. . . . The Germans of Czechoslovakia have lived for the past ten years in a State which was established against their will. The force of time, of custom and of facts has reconciled them in principle with this State in which they are no longer yoke-bearing slaves but citizens who coöperate and feel that their word can not be overlooked. In these days of festal commemoration by those who founded this State each individual German asks himself what his attitude to the festivities shall be. The answer to the question is simpler than it seems. No reasonable Czech will expect jubilation and enthusiasm from us Germans -- he would indeed find offensive hypocrisy therein. A due comprehension and appreciation of the legitimate joy of others, a discreet reserve, an avoidance of all that could disturb, and an unostentatious readiness to collaborate in official functions is assuredly all that can be asked of the Germans, and is what they can, without compromising themselves, willingly offer and give."
The reaction of the United States to the developments that took place in Europe after the signature of the Treaty of Versailles was at first one of utter weariness. The turn taken by political events at home intensified the feeling that we should be happier if in the future we avoided world politics. The battle for and against the League of Nations is now an old story. It is hard today to say anything new about the League, and hard to say anything about our relationship with it that does not sound either like a straddle or an extremely partisan statement. There are faults in the organization of the League and there are undoubted blemishes on its record. One blemish that recurs is the habit of tying the hands of national delegates -- sometimes far in advance, as in the declaration by members of the Conference of Ambassadors on November 9, 1921, regarding the course to be pursued by their colleagues at Geneva in dealing with Albania; but it is difficult to see how this sort of thing can be avoided, particularly at first, in an organization founded to give scope for the expression of strongly different national points of view. The tale of technical and humanitarian achievements of the League has often been told, and indeed can hardly be exaggerated. With many of these activities we have coöperated, but sometimes only after giving our agents such iron-bound instructions that instead of plenipotentiaries they seemed more like messenger boys. We feel very sure of ourselves, but in reality we are not yet so sure of our position in the world that we are willing to speak freely in controversial matters and let accredited representatives speak for us.
We still give signs of cherishing the notion that one escapes "involvement" by avoiding positive action. But lack of action at the proper moment can entail as long a train of disagreeable consequences as can follow any particular positive act. Often a situation is aggravated because a firm hand was not extended promptly or a warning word uttered in time. We were not entangled with Europe in 1914, we were not members of any organization which could urge us or force us to participate in Europe's quarrels, but we found the Atlantic a narrow sea when the act of a neurotic Bosnian youth, half anarchist, half patriot, resulted in a general European war; and before the war was done Americans were fighting and dying in France. It is fruitless to debate whether or not there would have been a war in 1914 if a League of Nations had then existed. Perhaps it was necessary to go through the pain and disillusionment of war on an immense scale in order to bring the general will for organized peace to a point where governments became ready to make sacrifices to secure it. But it is at least open to argument that Germany, even though she failed to estimate the spirit of France and misconstrued England's preoccupation with domestic difficulties, would have held back in the face of knowledge that if she encouraged Austria-Hungary to provoke war, and herself joined in, the greater part of the world would be aligned against her from the start.
It was the boast of some of President Harding's spokesmen that the United States was impregnable, self-sufficient and would henceforth "go it alone." The power of our finance and our trade was quoted to support the view. But our bonds of international finance and trade demonstrate not only our prosperity and efficiency but also the extent to which we depend on the good-will of our neighbors and their capacity to pay for our goods. What use is it to have half the gold of the world at our command if we cannot set it to work by lending it, or by buying raw materials which we need but which we do not ourselves produce? The growing realization of this interdependence prompted the creation of the Dawes Committee to help in the rehabilitation of Europe, and fundamentally it lay back of the popular demand which led Secretary Kellogg to offer to negotiate a multi-lateral treaty for the abolition of war as an instrument of national policy.
That there is a body of American opinion sufficiently powerful to make the Secretary of State feel the wisdom of acting at the time he did on M. Briand's proposal is something to be welcomed. But there remains the considerable risk that the good intentions enshrined in Mr. Kellogg's multi-lateral treaty may be accepted for concrete and sufficient achievement, and that the American will to do something constructive for the cause of international peace will be lulled to sleep with a pleasant opiate. The risk is diminished if we do not claim too much for the treaty, if its object is generally recognized as being mainly the education of the world to think in terms of peace rather than war. Indeed, this is proving to be the result, whether it was Mr. Kellogg's object or not. The vagueness of the treaty has set thoughtful people to pondering how to implement its aspirations effectively. For thus bringing matters to a head the Secretary of State deserves thanks, provided the public is constantly reminded that the whole field of action to minimize the causes of war and deal with them efficiently when they arise still remains most inadequately covered, particularly as our new arbitration treaties specifically exclude certain important causes of dispute.
The immediate goal is to bring the special interests of the United States, arising out of its material power and its geographical position, into harmony with the general interests of the world, so that, on the one hand, we shall not insist on rights which nullify the will of the other nations to maintain peace (as expressed through the League Covenant, and in particular through Article 16 dealing with economic and financial sanctions), and, on the other hand, the other nations will recognize that they have no right to search or otherwise interfere with our shipping (except by an old-fashioned strict blockade of the enemy's shores) when they engage in a war which is a "private" war and not a collective war against a pirate nation.
How can these two concessions be made? Not by calling a conference on maritime law, as Senator Borah has proposed. The questions under dispute are not of law but of national policy, national will. Clear thought and courageous statesmanship are more needed than a debate on legal technicalities and historical precedent. For example, in case Great Britain is willing to forego the right she claims to blockade our commerce during a private war, are we ready to renounce the right we claim to trade with a country which the majority of the rest of the world, acting through the Geneva organization and upheld by the British fleet, are coercing into good behavior and a respect for formal obligations? We might well be, because as a matter of fact we would gain at both ends. We would gain general recognition of our principle of the freedom of the seas; and by sacrificing of our own accord one segment of that principle, we would help to establish a régime of law and of law enforcement, with increased general security in the world of which we are a part.
The mere discussion of a direct issue of this sort shows how much is left out of account in the bald proposal to "renounce" war. To the multi-lateral treaty there must evidently be added machinery for the regulation of arbitrable disputes, an impartial court for judging disputes which are susceptible of adjudication, and an undertaking as to how states may act together to protect their agreements from being disregarded by pirate nations. These steps in the development of a system for the pacific settlement of international disputes must be accompanied by a clear understanding on the part of the people of all nations -- and, above all, of our own -- that they are taking serious and very real pledges and henceforth will have duties to perform as well as rights to defend and benefits to gain. Disarmament will then become practicable. If opponents or friends of the League of Nations think all this points the way to some sort of collaboration with the Geneva organization they must lay the blame or credit to President Coolidge's Secretary of State.
In the event of agreement with Great Britain regarding the use of the seas in time of war, the reasons that doomed the 1927 Naval Conference to failure would automatically vanish. Few doubt that the fiasco was mainly due to uncertainty regarding the possible attitude of the United States Government towards some eventual British naval action under the terms of the Covenant of the League. True, the Conference met under very unpropitious circumstances; for some reason the ground had not been prepared, and the actual negotiations were entrusted largely to naval officers, who should not be called upon to determine public policy. But the actual disagreement came over the size and number of cruisers, a category of warships not covered by the Washington Agreement. England said that since she is dependent on other countries for food and raw materials for her factories she must be in a position to protect her merchant shipping; she therefore demanded a large number of 8,000-ton cruisers. The United States said she must have enough cruisers to prevent the interference by any belligerent with her rights as a neutral, an interference which the last war showed would occur if any other nation had control of the seas; she felt she needed 10,000-ton cruisers for this service, and proposed building enough of them to equal the tonnage which England would put into 8,000-ton cruisers. England replied that 10,000-ton cruisers were offensive fighting ships, while 8,000-ton cruisers were not. Supposedly an agreement might have been found on the basis of the freedom of the seas, entailing the abolition of contraband and blockade except in the sense that blockade was used before the war, i. e. it must be effective and it must apply to all neutrals; for if contraband and blockade, except in this strict sense, were abolished, the shutting off of supplies from England and the searching and seizure of neutral vessels would be at an end.
The difficulty in the way of this solution was that, as already observed, Great Britain has assumed definite obligations as a member of the League of Nations. She must boycott a member of the League that goes to war in contravention of its agreement under the Covenant, and this boycott can hardly succeed if the United States insists on continuing to trade in munitions and food with the offending state. This is where the 1927 Conference broke down. And any naval parley with Great Britain will break down at this point so long as she continues to support the League (as obviously she intends doing), and so long as on this vital matter we fail to clarify our relation with the League. If a League boycott were evidently for the good of the world, it is almost inconceivable that we of our own accord would not refrain from trading with the boycotted nation. Why not say so definitely? The present situation is full of uncertainty. Above all it clouds the Anglo-American horizon.
It is difficult to gather up, even loosely, the guiding threads of these ten years. But it is obvious that in addition to hard-won material progress one great advance has been made. Since states first came into being their foreign relations always have been the playthings of privileged individuals. The League of Nations has now come into existence to provide for the registration of treaties and to afford the opportunity for any state that is discontented or alarmed to appeal to the public opinion of the world. The change in the psychology of Europe has been such that if the League broke up in confusion tomorrow, an attempt inevitably would be made the very next day to re-create it, if possible without the defects that had just led to failure. That in itself represents a change in tradition that momentary difficulties at Geneva must not be permitted to obscure.
The new world war, freely predicted in 1919, has not come, and today seems on the whole less likely to come than at any time since the last one ended. Russia remains a chaotic enigma. But with this vast and obvious exception, and others of less significance, the European world is better off in material things than seemed possible in the autumn of 1918. The English papers again find space to note the appearance of the first cuckoo and to describe the biggest sweet-pea of the local flower shows; the Grand Semaine this year seemed more its pre-war self than on any recent occasion; even in poor Austria, we read, a farmer entertained 500 neighbors at his daughter's wedding festivities with 4 roast pigs, 3 calves, an ox, 400 eggs, 2,300 bottles of wine and vast supplies of cake and pastry. On our side, prohibition has replaced the League of Nations as the football of politics. By and large, the world -- at any rate the western half of it -- gives indications of becoming year by year more prosperous, more complacent about the future.
Some will not be sure that in the matter of morals we have kept pace with the progress in material reconstruction and with our growing feeling of satisfaction that the scars of war are hiding behind a more healthy business aspect. The generation that fought the war is no longer very young. The men who graduated this last June from American universities were ten years old when the Lusitania was sunk. To children born in the days when American troops went into action on the Marne that story is not so much less remote than the story of San Juan Hill. At this milepost, ten years after the Bulgarian collapse heralded the crumpling of the Siegfried line, those to whom the war was the greatest event of their lives will want to look back as well as forward. We cannot retrace our steps; if we did, we should find on the roadside chiefly the ashes of dead fires. But we may perhaps pause for a backward glance and try to decide whether at any point our national policy has lacked in good faith, good manners, generosity, a proper sense of responsibility, or any other virtue by which, without being quixotic or emotional, we might have helped the journey of other peoples towards the goal which all profess to have in view -- international understanding and peace.
For the future, we shall need to exercise all these qualities to the full if we are to be successful in gaining acceptance for our views regarding the problems referred to in these pages, as well as many others that loom on the horizon. High hopes cannot always be harnessed to the plough of everyday reality. But we on this fortunate continent will at least want not to limit ourselves, like the lotus eaters on their warm sand, to the refrain which during the last ten years has often recurred in our dealings with the rest of the world -- "Let us alone."