After the War
AT a time when the issue of the war is still doubtful, it is impossible to speak with any confidence of its probable effects upon Europe and the world; for the kind of settlement that is possible will depend upon where victory falls. The Germans, so far as one can understand from the utterances of their representative men, are fighting for a German hegemony of Europe, in order that they may pursue the task — whose hopelessness all history demonstrates — of destroying by force the ‘culture’ of the non-Germanic nations and imposing upon them their own. Such an attempt would mean perpetual war, and would end by reducing Europe to the level of the Balkan States. On the other hand the Allies profess to be fighting, not for territory or for hegemony, but to ‘crush German militarism.’ No object could be more desirable, but the important question is, how to do it. There is talk, irresponsible of course, of ‘crushing Germany’ in order to crush German militarism, and even of imposing upon her by force a new form of government, expelling the Hohenzollerns and democratizing Prussia. But it is clear that no nation will patiently take its form of government from foreigners and enemies; and that such a solution, too, would only perpetuate war. If militarism is to be crushed it must be crushed in all countries, the victorious as well as the vanquished. Will it be, and can it be? Let us try to estimate the forces and the possibilities.
First, what do we mean by militarism? Conscript armies, in the first place, and huge navies. But that is only the outward sign. The inner spirit is the will to dominate by force, evoking everywhere the fear of domination.
These two things go together. Every country, of course, claims to be always on the defensive. But every country, or every group of allies, believes the others to be aggressive, or there would be no need of defense. The truth indeed is that, in all countries, there are militarists and anti-militarists; the militarists believing in force, desiring to extend the power and territory, or perhaps the ‘culture,’ of their country by force, and believing that every other state has the same purpose and attitude; the anti-militarists believing that no country has any interests that are worth pursuing by war; that all real interests are common to all peoples; and that all disputes between states can be and should be settled by judicial process. In the conflict between these principles the militarists have always won. They win partly because they are so strongly entrenched in the governments of the continental states; partly because, having made war, which they can always do before the people know they are making it, they can count upon an immediate outburst of passion, sedulously nourished by the press, to carry them through to the issue.
The question, then, that we have to ask is, whether this war, like all previous ones, is to end in a mere truce leading up to a new war, or whether we may hope for a permanent, change in the spirit and organization of Europe. This question cannot be answered with any confidence. But some of the tendencies in either direction may be appraised.
On the side of militarism are all the bad passions evoked by war. Before the outbreak, all the great permanent forces of civilization were working, as they always must do, toward an everincreasing coöperation and understanding between the nations. Militarists, of course, were doing what they could to counteract this; publicists and historians and professors, especially in Germany, were preaching the necessary and eternal antagonism of races, states, and cultures. But the ordinary business of life was working against all that. The democratic parties especially, in all countries, were pacifist; and this was specially true of the Socialists. In France and in England literary and cultural influences were becoming more and more humane and less and less chauvinistic. And the community of interest of trade and finance, as well as of labor, was more and more being recognized.
The war has changed all that for the moment. When nations go to war they feel it necessary to hate the enemy; and they have no difficulty in finding excuses. The expressed sentiment in England toward Germany, and in Germany toward England, is now one of sheer unadulterated hate, not only of the governments, of the Kaiser on the one hand, and Sir Edward Grey on the other, but of all the individuals of the nations concerned, merely because they are German or English. All sense of fact has disappeared. It is unpatriotic to doubt German atrocities in England, or French or Belgian or English atrocities in Germany. I have myself seen letters and postcards full of the foulest abuse, written to a man who had sent a letter to the press pleading for some kind of evidence before such things were believed.
All this popular fury is, of course, made the most of by the press. And it is difficult, even in the liberal organs in England, to get inserted any expression of reason or humanity toward the enemy. The Germans, indeed, by their methods of warfare give little chance to those who endeavor to remember and remind others that Germans are men like other men. And the hatred felt in England for the Germans is fully reciprocated in Germany against the English. The war, in fact, which was represented in Germany, before the English went into it, as a war of defense against Russia, appears now to have taken in German public opinion the form of a war of revenge against England.
As for the feeling of the Belgians and French, whose countries are invaded, whose cities and villages have been destroyed, whose non-combatants have been slaughtered, they may be better imagined than described. No better evidence can be given of the trend of sentiment than the fact that M. Maeterlinck, the preacher of universal tenderness and justice, has written to the press a letter breathing nothing but revenge.
All this, of course, is grist to the militarist mill; for militarism depends upon the perpetuation of fear and hatred and revenge. But how deep these feelings go, how widespread they are, how long they will last, it is difficult to estimate. Collective feelings are changeable in proportion to their shallowness. If proof is wanted, one has only to remember the rapidity with which the hatred of the English by the Boers has given way to very general loyalty; or to reflect that the same Germans whom we English now exclude from the comity of nations were our friends fifteen years ago, and the same French whom we now love were our enemies. The intense hatred now existing on the part of the Allies against the Germans, and vice versa, need not therefore be permanent or even long enduring. It need not make impossible a right settlement of Europe. But it must make it more difficult. For it will make the victors short-sighted and pitiless, and the vanquished bitter and rancorous. Further, the war may increase the belief in armaments, instead of destroying it, as it rationally should. In England, for example, many people say, and more think, that the moral of the war is that we ought to have had a conscript army. This, they will even add, might have prevented the war! So obstinate, in the face of its refutation by all history, is the extraordinary delusion that you can produce peace by preparing for war. But all illusions die hard, and it is the interest of militarists to keep this one alive.
The growing hatred on which I have dwelt may make it very difficult to get fair consideration for a reasonable and permanent settlement of Europe. If the Allies are victorious there will be an immense desire to ‘punish’ Germany, to the neglect of all other considerations. And a peace conceived in that mood will be pregnant with a new war. Still more, if the Germans win, will they perpetuate the present unhappy organization and spirit of Europe. For they believe in it; that is, their rulers and thinkers do. And further, their hatred of England and desire for revenge against us is at least as great as ours against them. The possibility, therefore, that this war may increase and perpetuate militarism is not to be lightly dismissed. Indeed the worst curse of war is that it has to make settlements by force. And no settlement by force is ever permanent. For it can never be accepted as just.
On the other hand, there are powerful influences working against militarism. In the first place, the war, one hopes, is a final exposure of war. No one even attempts to find in it any romance. No one pretends there is any chivalry. Personal courage and endurance, indeed, are required and are forthcoming to a degree almost incredible. But it is the courage to lie still and be torn to pieces by shrapnel, or to wait in a warship day by day, week by week, in hourly expectation of being blown into fragments by a mine or a submarine. Man is fighting not against man, but against machines. And the full horror as well as the madness of this must needs, one thinks, come home at any rate to the combatants. Outside England, the combatants are the nation. Never before have so many men, women, and children experienced the horror and brutality of war. Never before, in fact, has war been so horrible and so brutal. Even the idealists of war —whom one feels to be of all idealists the most pernicious and the most contemptuous of facts — must see what this thing that they have been glorifying really is. It will be difficult henceforth to pretend that war is anything but the greatest of follies and the greatest of crimes.
Further, the economic consequences of war must end by making themselves felt. It is true that they will not be felt to the full until the war is over, when millions of combatants return to try to take their place in civil life. Then it is that the cruellest pressure will begin; then that the mass of people will realize how all hopes of social reform and social justice have been destroyed for generations by the waste of war. Then too, perhaps, governments will be faced by general anarchy; and civil conflicts arise more formidable and disruptive even than the war in which we are engaged. But even before the end, the pressure of economic distress will increase more and more. So far as it is possible to foresee, this war will be one of exhaustion, that is to say, it will be a question what nation can longest stand starvation. Those words are easy to write, especially for a member of the ' comfortable classes.’ What they mean in misery to the masses who have been dragged into this madness by the incompetence and cynicism of governments, let him try to estimate who has the experience and the heart to do so.
Everything then points to the conclusion that this war will be an exposure of war on a more gigantic scale than ever before. The reaction will be proportionate to the effort. But then, the reaction may come too late. For if the peace settles Europe once more on the wrong basis, Europe will move as fatally toward another war as it has moved during the past thirty years. The militarists need not then make efforts; they can sit and wait. They will have their war again in due time.
Now, the kind of settlement that will be aimed at or obtained when the time comes will depend on the spirit and temper, not only of the belligerents, but of the neutral powers. And neutrals are better able than the combatants can be to estimate the kind of peace that has a chance of preventing a repetition of the catastrophe. That is why it is important that they should be thinking about the problem, even while the belligerents are unable or unwilling to do so.
Without considering, for the moment, what it is premature to anticipate,— where victory will ultimately lie, — we can see that the settlement of Europe may be approached from two radically different points of view. The first is that from which past settlements have been approached after the wars of the past. It presupposes that war is to recur sooner or later, and merely tries to put the victor in a good position and the vanquished in a bad one for the future struggle. It thinks of states, not of the people of states. It regards territory as transferable without regard to either the interests or the desires of the people inhabiting it, but exclusively with regard to the ambitions or fears of the governments appropriating it. It leaves Europe a collection of ‘sovereign’ states bound together by no common authority, and free, each of them, to pile up armaments against the others for use on the next favorable occasion. To make peace on principles of this sort will be the first instinct and desire of the monarchs and diplomats who will want to have the handling of it. That it will be so made is the great and imminent danger of Europe and of the world.
There is, however, quite a different possibility inherent in the new conception of society which is implied in democracy everywhere. This conception was admirably expressed by Mr. Asquith, when he set forth at Dublin, on September 25, his view of what the Allies are fighting for. The words are perhaps the most important and significant pronouncement ever made by a responsible statesman, and they cannot be too widely circulated.
I should like, beyond this inquiry into causes and motives, to ask your attention and that of my fellow countrymen to the end which, in this war, we ought to keep in view. Forty-four years ago, at the time of the war of 1870, Mr. Gladstone used these words. He said, “The greatest triumph of our time will be the enthronement of the idea of public right as the governing idea of European politics.”Nearly fifty years have passed. Little progress, it seems, has yet been made toward that good and beneficent change. But it seems to me to be now, at this moment, as good a definition as we can have of our European policy. The idea of public right! What does it mean when translated into concrete terms? It means, first and foremost, the clearing of the ground by the definite repudiation of militarism as the governing factor in the relations of states, and in the future moulding of the European world. It means, next, that room must be found and kept for the independent existence and the free development of the smaller nationalities, each with a corporate consciousness of its own. Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland, and the Scandinavian countries, Greece, and the Balkan States, — they must be recognized as having exactly as good a title as their more powerful neighbors — more powerful in strength and wealth — to a place in the sun. And it means, finally, or it ought to mean, by a slow and gradual process, the substitution for force, for the chaos of competing ambitions, for groupings and alliances and a precarious equipoise, of a real European partnership based on the recognition of equal right, and established and enforced by a common will. A year ago that would have sounded like a Utopian idea. It is probably one that may not, or will not, be realized either to-day or to-morrow. But if, and when, this war is decided in favor of the Allies, it will at once come within the range, and before long within the grasp, of European statesmanship.’
If really this is what the Allies are fighting for and what they will stand for if they win, their victory will mean a new era in history. It will mean the end of militarism and therefore the end of war; it will mean the end of the sovereign, and therefore Machiavellian, state; it will mean in a not remote future the United States of Europe. That this is what all the common people want in all countries, if only they could be made to understand the issue, I have not the smallest doubt. Those who do not want it are the men brought up in the old bad traditions of Europe. There are plenty of them in England as well as in the continental countries. And they are reinforced by all cynics, all faithless men, all men without generosity or hope, all pedants of exclusive national ‘cultures.’
That there may be any chance of the peace settlement being carried out according to Mr. Asquith’s ideas, not only is it essential that the terms of peace should be dictated by the Allies, and not by the German Powers, — for the German Powers do not even pretend to have similar aims, and their whole tradition and philosophy is against them, — but also that these terms should be settled in public, under a strong and constant pressure of popular control. It is essential, also, that neutrals, who have no ambitions for themselves, but who have a deep interest in the peace of Europe, should be influentially represented; and especially that the President of the United States should exercise a commanding influence supported by the great weight of American opinion.
A general and all-round reduction of armaments, under the control and guarantee of an international council; the reference of all disputes, without exception, to arbitration; no transfer of territory in Europe without the consent of the people, fairly and freely ascertained by an international authority, — these, and these only, are the principles that can guarantee the future peace of Europe and the world.
To carry them out in detail will be enormously difficult. But the first and essential step is to get them accepted. For that purpose public opinion will need to be aroused in all countries in an unprecedented degree; for the forces working in the other direction — the forces of revenge, cupidity, skepticism, fatigue, all that has hitherto maintained the intolerable martyrdom of Europe — are very strong and very firmly entrenched in the press, in ‘society,’and in the chancelleries and foreign offices of Europe. Against them we have to invoke the new spirit of the world, the spirit of coöperation, of reason, of that divine common sense which is the essence of religion. All these
forces are for the moment silenced among the belligerents. But they are suppressed, not killed. They are ready to awake in new strength from this horrible nightmare. Meanwhile, in America and the other neutral countries they will and must be more active than ever. For to these countries the conscience of mankind looks for its expression.