The Disarmament Trust

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

By Rollo Ogden

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?”

"There is, Monsieur le President," said M. Delcass solemnly, "the French passion for gloire to be reckoned with. How shall we satisfy that, if our army is disbanded?"

"Precisely," added General Andre, scowling horribly at the Germans across the table; "and our national thirst for revanche, — what of that?

"Gloire? " said Mr. Morgan musingly. "I suppose it would be vain to quote to a Frenchman the noble words of our English poet,

'Oh, take the cash, and let the glory go!'

As for revanche, I only know that, like sons-in-law, it is very costly. But I presume that what you want is not simply to kill somebody, but to get your lost provinces back?

"France," asserted M. Delcasse, "will never be satisfied short of that."

"Then," broke in the Kaiser, "we may as well stop talking. That can be under no circumstances. Rather than give up the Reichsland, I will smash everything to pieces (Ich will alles kurz und klein machen)."

"It is evident," observed Mr. Morgan judicially, "that we have simply a case of two railroads competing for the same territory. We must adjust the controversy by a pooling arrangement. Your Majesty admits that the inhabitants of Alsace and Lorraine have strong French sympathies?"

"Unluckily, yes. The phrase oftenest in their mouths is, ' Nous sommes plus Français que les Français.'

"And you, Mr. Minister, concede that thirty years of occupation entitle Germany to some consideration, some equivalent, some balancing concession?”

“Indubitably," replied M. Delcasse "Then we have all the basis we need for a businesslike adjustment. The details will be mere matter of give-and-take,—give stock and take profits. But," went on Mr. Morgan, "there are other difficulties of the same kind. It will be best to cover them by one comprehensive plan. You, for example," he said, suddenly turning to General Dragomiroff, "have what you call espérances ultérieures in Persia and China and India?"

"A Russian cannot tell a lie," replied the general, with charming archness, winking at Secretary Hay. "We admit it."

"Exactly, and Great Britain and Germany compete with you for that territory. Africa is nearly all sliced up, and on sound business principles. There the various countries have adopted my precise theory of an equitable division of traffic— that is, territory. Of course, the mere native, like the consumer, is a negligible quality. There remains, therefore, only South America as a continent likely to give us trouble."

"Beg pardon," interrupted Secretary Hay, "but you do not seem to have read my speech explaining how all that would fall beautifully and peacefully under the Monroe Doctrine, hand in hand with the golden rule."

"Which version? " asked Mr. Morgan, with a merry air. "Do others as they wish to do you? Let us not, in any case, forget that this is a business meeting. We are not drawing up a political platform, or making a speech, or writing an editorial, or even addressing the Chamber of Commerce; therefore we may safely leave out these little hypocrisies. The thing to do is to arrive at a fair pro rata division of territory which is unoccupied, or which is occupied by those who do not make as good use of it as we think we could. That once clone, costly armies and navies would be as easily dispensed with as are soliciting agents after two competing railroads have combined. I’ll just have my chief clerk draw up a memorandum for an equitable and binding redistribution of islands and provinces and protectorates and hinterlands and spheres of influence, and then the greatest single obstacle to disarmament will have been overcome."

"But," asked Emperor William, "what is to become of the fixed property of war, — for example, the forts at Strassburg and Belfort?"

"They will be preserved as historical curiosities, — a sort of public museum of archeology. The entrance fee will be applied toward paying interest on war debts."

"And the guns of the fortresses?”

"Well, many of those mounted are wooden. Oh, do not start up! General Andre told me confidentially, on the way here, that such is the case on the French side, and I have my own reasons for believing that the Germans have their share of the same sort of Quaker artillery. Well, the wooden guns may remain. They will do perfectly to set the gullible agape. The rifles of real metal will of course be melted and used for ship's plates."

"But there are the barracks," objected M. Delcassé. "We have erected them at great expense; what shall we do with them when there are no soldiers to occupy them?"

"They would make splendid factories and storehouses. The Steel Trust would be glad to take most of them oil your hands."

"You surely forget, however, interposed General Wood, "the moral side of war. I am here at the especial request and as the personal representative of President Roosevelt, and you can imagine what he will say if the dis­cipline and manly development of the fighter are overlooked or thrown away. How are we going to prevent the fiber of our youth from growing flabby, how are we."

"I have taken all that into consideration,” said Mr. Morgan, with an impatient gesture. "We shall let the children have military toys. They can lay about them valiantly with wooden swords in the nursery. The kindertgarten will be just the place for drum and trumpet. In the schools there will be military organizations, each vying with the other in plumes and feathers and padded coats and precision of drill and terrible front. I am not so foolish to think at once to exorcise the spirit of martial vanity from boys. In them it will doubtless persist for a long time. But we are looking at the subject as tall-grown men, who have put away those childish things, who know what life is and what the modern world really bands, and who want to capitalize the wicked waste of war."

There was a pause. Then Admiral Tirpitz and Captain Mahan spoke up as one man: "You say nothing about power."

But I have thought of it. Knock the turrets and military masts, and your battleships would make admirable grain carriers. I have for some time had my eye on the cruisers as a coal fleet. In fact, all this matter of the rivy you may safely leave tome. When certain plans of mine are matured, I shall be in a position to take over all the war fleets in the world, for the Shipping Trust, at a handsome profit to the various nations."

"I have still an objection," remarked Secretary Hay. "How are you going to bring over public opinion?"

"Ah," replied Mr. Morgan, "I count upon the power of the press. You know something about that, Mr. Hay?"

"Yes, as an ex-journalist I suppose I am entitled to say, et ego militavi."

"Very good. Then you are aware of the moral influence of a full-page advertisement. I shall arrange to place the prospectus of our proposed Disarmament Trust in all the leading newspapers of all the countries concerned, and I assure you that there will follow most able and eloquent advocacy of our plan. I do not say that it will be propter hoc,— to cap your Latin, Mr. Hay,— but it will surely be post hoc. That prospectus, in fact, seems to me the only detail now left to arrange. But I shall have it ready by the time we reach New York."

Here it is, in a reduced facsimile of the full-page advertisement which appeared in all the New York papers simultaneously:—

FINANCIAL

INTERNATIONAL DISARMAMENT TRUST.
OFFICE OF J. P. MORGAN & Co.,
23 WALL STREET, NEW YORK.

TO THE CITIZENS OF GREAT BRITAIN, FRANCE, GERMANY, RUSSIA, SPAIN, ITALY, AND THE UNITED STATES.

THE INTERNATIONAL DISARMAMENT TRUST has been organized under the laws of the state of New Jersey, with power, among other things, to acquire the armies and navies of the countries above named.

A SYNDICATE, comprising leading financial interests throughout the world, of which the undersigned are managers, has been formed by subscribers to the amount of $2,000,000,000 to carry out the arrangement.

For every $100 of its military budget each of the several countries will be entitled to $125, Preferred Stock, and $107.50, Common Stock of the Trust. On this basis may be exchanged the annual military expenditures of Great Britain, placed by our expert accountants at $460,000,000, France at $213,000,000, Germany $126,000,000, Russia $203,000,000, Spain $35,000,000, Italy $76, 000, 000, and the Unit­ed States $204,000,000. This would leave the Trust a balance of working capital of nearly $700,000,000.

In addition to the immediate extinction of over $1,000,000,000 in yearly taxation for the purposes of national defense,—all to be cared for by the. Trust,—there would be the return to productive industry of at least 2,500,000 men. The Trust will arrange for the allotment of additional preferred shares for each 100,000 men disbanded. Useless flags will be taken over at the rate fixed by the management for such "commercial assets." With all these obvious advantages, and others that will appear as the work of disarming goes on, we have no hesitation in recommending the stock of the Trust at par and accrued interest. It is proper to state that J. P. Morgan & Co. are to receive no compensation for their services beyond a share in any sum which ultimately may be realized by the Syndicate.

J. P. MORGAN & Co.,
SYNDICATE MANAGERS.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1902/05/the-disarmament-trust/305433/