The Disarmament Trust

A New York Times editor spins a fable in which banking giant J.P. Morgan strikes a deal for world peace

It all grew out of a chance remark of Mr. Morgan's to Baron de Staal at Homburg, in July, 1903. That was the year in which all the European watering places had been consolidated, and the American had run over to see how economy of management was working in the Badenkartell und Syndicat des Eaux, which he had so successfully financed and promoted. It was, accordingly, between sips in the Kursaal that he said to the Russian ambassador, "It was a pity that you did not have at the Hague Congress a modern man of business."

"Why so?

"He could have done what all your diplomats and military experts made a botch of."

"I do not understand you."

"Why, he could have brought about disarmament on correct business principles. You were too much under the influence of a vague philanthropy; you talked of the horrors of war; you dwelt upon national jealousies and ambition— and you got nowhere. At best, you emitted only a pious aspiration for peace. Now an up-to-date financier would have put the matter in its true light. He would have shown you that war is waste,—the most baleful form of competition. He would have driven home the community-of-interest idea in international relations, and could have worked out such a plan for division of territory and of profits, for allotment of influence and of stock, that European armies would have been resolved into productive laborers like magic, and swords would have been beaten into shares without the plough."

This little joke of Mr. Morgan's was too much for the Russian nobleman. The study of the English Bible is deplorably neglected in the Court of St. Petersburg. But the baron knew an idea when he saw it. This was the very thing to report to his royal master. The Czar Disarmer would jump at it. And so it was that from this casual conversation at Homburg there resulted the second appeal to the civilized world, by Nicholas II., to grapple with the problem of swollen and burdensome national armaments. This time, however, he frankly put himself in Mr. Morgan's hands, and went straight to the heart of the matter by giving notice that what the nations were to do was to consider the formation of a great International Disarmament Trust. That at once made the solid men of the world perceive that he meant business.

Nor was there a second dawdling Congress at the Hague. Mr. Morgan could not waste time in that way. He bought the Deutschland (which, to avoid wounding national susceptibilities, be rechristened the Allgemeinesland, and then promptly applied for an American register and a subsidy), steamed after the necessary monarchs and plenipotentiaries and generals and admirals, sped with them to the neutral and quiet waters of the Sargasso Sea, dined them handsomely, and then collected them about the big table in the main saloon, just as if they were so many heads o corporations prepared to abandon cutthroat competition for merged interests, and commissions and profits Dot too deeply submerged. He himself, of course, took the chair, jauntily remarking that wherever a Morgan sat was the head of the table.

"Now, in order to get right down business, Majesties and Excellencies and Honorables," he said, "I will ask you to state briefly the objections to my Plan which may have occurred to you, as we have been discussing it on the way hither. I have always found it wisest, in arranging gentlemen's agreements of this kind, to invite the frankest criticism. I then refute it, either by more arguments or more stock. So speak your minds without embarrassment."

"The financial, difficulty most deters said M. de Witte, "such vast are involved. I fairly told my master, before leaving St. Petersburg that if it involved another of my miraculous budgets, in which borrowed money was to appear again as ordinary revenue, I really could not undertake it. There are, limits even to my skill in financial legerdemain."

“Ja wohl," broke in the German Emperor, "I was saying the same thing to Von Bulow. In the absence of Herr Bleichroder, with his expert advice, I should like to know who is going to finance this enterprise."

"I think I may say without Majestutsbeleidigung,” observed Mr. Morgan gracefully, "that, the various governments may safely leave all these mere details about money to me."

"Ah, if we only could in all cases! sighed Sir Michael Hicks-Beach. "Still I feel bound to ask, in order to be able to make a proper reply as chancellor of the exchequer, when questioned in the Commons, — I feel it my duty to inquire just what resources may be counted upon."

The chairman's brow grew black. This was flat lèse-Morgan. But Mr. Balfour intervened, with his customary urbanity.

"I am only a child in these matters," he remarked, in his gentle and detached way, "but if we could be assured that the other great American lover of peace with money, Mr. Carnegie " —

"He and his purse are at one with me," broke in Mr. Morgan emphatically. "I think I need say no more?"

"Not a word, as far as I am concerned," said M. de Witte. "I know something about mere government revenues, but if you propose to join two such private fortunes, why, of course we poor public finance ministers are not in it, as our Cossacks who were with your American troops in China learned to say."

"Then we may consider time financial obstacle already surmounted! " cried Mr. Morgan gayly. "What is the nest?”

Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open For 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.


Is Minneapolis the Best City in America?

No other place mixes affordability, opportunity, and wealth so well.
More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In