What I Expect
In answer to the oft-asked question: ‘What do you really expect the American Peace Award definitely to accomplish ? ‘
BY EDWARD W. BOK
NOT a day passes that I am not asked, either in a letter or by someone I meet, the question under the title of this article.
It is a curious fact that the question is invariably put in the future tense. It never seems to occur to these inquirers that a large part of the purpose of the American Peace Award is accomplished. Before the world can have peace, it must, first of all, think in terms of peace. That was one of the chief aims of the Award, and that has been accomplished, if one may judge from the widespread reaction of press and public from every part of the United States. It is quite within the bounds of conservatism to say that not for a long time has a united national mind been so concretely fixed upon the question of peace as during the past six months since the American Peace Award was first announced. Individuals, groups, clubs, organizations, faculties of colleges, entire communities, even a complete state, have been thinking, planning, talking, studying, discussing, and writing peace. Over a quarter of a million of American citizens have written and asked for the conditions under which plans might be submitted. Plans from the most prominent men and women of the United States have passed under the scrutiny of the Jury of Award. Scarcely a newspaper or periodical published throughout the length and breadth of the United States has not printed from one to a dozen news articles and editorials touching different aspects of the Award. A group of newspapers and periodicals have opened their pages to printing plans sent by their readers which were afterward submitted to the Jury of the Award. Meetings innumerable have been held at which the Award has been the sole topic; scores of conventions have passed resolutions of endorsement, and sermons, literally by the hundred, have taken the Award as their subject.
Will anyone say that a large purpose has not thus been served; that any reasonable expectation one might have had has not been realized in great part? ‘It is indeed true,’ said the New York Tribune, ‘that this Award has brought the general subject of peace directly home to the people of the United States to a degree and in a measure which no effort on the part of the United States Government has succeeded in doing.’
Someone will ask, But has not all this widespread attention been attracted by the offer of $100,000 for a winning plan? Unquestionably. That was exactly why the monetary phase was introduced into the Award. Its purpose was to dramatize the idea. And it has served that purpose beyond all expectations. It spoke, too, of the serious intent of the founder of the Award. About the time that this article appears, the winning plan and its author will in all probability be known to the public, and while, naturally, nothing is known of its character or authorship at this writing, I am rash enough to prophesy that the monetary phase of the Award did not actually play quite so important a part in the actual plan as some imagined it would. In fact, it did exactly what I hoped and intended it should do: it gripped the imagination of thousands who would otherwise not have been attracted, and it focused public attention upon the Award as no other single factor could have done. It stimulated idealism by the golden spur of self-interest. The same idea of individual emulation lies in the Nobel awards and in the Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Joseph Pulitzer awards. Systems of monetary rewards are methods of uplift and inspiration as old as the hills. It is human to work our best when the rewards are greatest. But it may also be true that hundreds of the plans submitted came, not because of the financial attraction, but because they were asked for and a channel was afforded for their consideration.
I was prepared for the fact that the emolument part of the Award would be stressed, and, in some quarters, criticized. But I was also aware of the fact that the men and women who were to associate themselves with its conduct would at once, from their distinction and authority of position, give to the idea its proper place of dignity and solidity. The money was not intended, as the unintelligent and carping were so quick to say, to buy world peace: its purpose was to play its part in making the subject one of widespread thought and discussion, with the result of bringing a united national mind within definable terms.
Something more, however, will be accomplished. The method used in the Award will, once and for all, demonstrate that a point of direct personal contact can be created between the people of the United States and its legislative and executive governments. When there was made for me a research of a wide cross-section of the American people upon which the American Peace Award was based, there was found a distinct yeasty fermentation on the part of thousands of American citizens, and an expressed desire, sometimes in the most vehement terms, that they be offered some unpartisan and nonpolitical channel through which they could express themselves on this and other national and international subjects. Thousands of the American people gave vent to this idea of what they called a defect in our system of contact of citizen and government. They brushed aside the idea of the ballot. ‘We want to talk, not vote,’ they repeatedly said. ‘We want to give expression to our views on these questions — to what we think. We want a direct hand in settling these questions.’
When the newspapers were suggested as a channel of expression, they dismissed them with the criticism of partisanship. When their Representatives or Senators were suggested, they replied. ‘No: we want a channel of our own: a direct, open way to Washington, not via the newspapers or the politicians; a way in which we can feel a sense of confidence that our views will be heard and considered and that our voice will carry to Washington.’
There was always a deadly earnestness in this demand; there was a distinct note of impatience with prevailing conditions, and there was a whip-like method of speaking and a threatening shake of the head that indicated deeprooted dissatisfaction with things as they are.
It was the discovery of this widely prevalent note that led straight to the American Peace Award. If the American people were really willing to make these great problems their own, to accept their part in the responsibility of their solution, — all of which I had, with hundreds of others, up to this time doubted, — and were actually crying aloud for a channel through which they could express themselves, I decided that they should have such a medium, simple and direct.
What is the result? Surely, the hundreds of thousands of letters and the thousands of plans received by the American Peace Award constitute the best and direct answer. ‘At last!' have said literally hundreds of writers, in evident relief and thankfulness.
That has been the single accomplishment of the American Peace Award thus far that has fulfilled and transcended any expectation that one may have had for it. For if this method has been accepted by the people as a desired and acceptable method of approach to their Government on this question of peace, is it too much to say, as President Coolidge has already publicly said, that the idea can be applied to other questions of national and international import?
I was very much amused by a letter from a high United States official, who asked if it had occurred to me that in the American Peace Award I might be training the American people to feel that they could initiate legislation, and awaken in them the feeling of legislative power, and whether I realized the inherent danger in such a widespread feeling? It would surely be a red-letter day in American life if any effort could bring about such a result!
Another distinct accomplishment of the American Peace Award has been a clearer recognition by the people of the United States of the fact that they cannot sit placidly by and see Rome burn: that we are a part of the world, and, as such, must play our part in it. In other words, no single effort of late has so fixed the attention of the people of the United States upon our foreign relations, and upon the best methods under which we can live in amity and peace with the nations of the earth, and how far we can go with our contribution to such an end. Librarians from every part of the country report that never has there been such a demand for books dealing with our foreign relations or works on previous peace-efforts, and for the records of peace congresses. Booksellers are selling more books dealing with the European situation than ever before. The entire interest of the American people in foreign questions has been quickened all along the line. The editors of three of the leading American newspapers have sent letters to me from individual subscribers and from clubs and organizations, asking that more space be given to foreign news in their papers, in each case crediting their larger interest in the affairs of the world to the American Peace Award. There is the distinct beginning of an international mind.
When a single effort can actually accomplish such results, one’s expectations with regard to it should, to my mind at least, not be put entirely in the future tense.
‘But surely,’ say many, ‘you expect some definite result, too, do you not?’
No, not expect. I expect nothing.
But I have hopes — very deep hopes.
At the same time, I am perfectly free to say that I am so well satisfied with what has been accomplished that, if it were decreed that the American Peace Award should go no further to a definite result, I should still feel more than repaid for the effort and its accomplishments.
But it does not appear as if it were so decreed.
One of the ranking officials in the United States Government recently wrote me in a letter: ‘You have started something that nothing can now stop. The interest is too widespread: the idea has rested too securely and gone too deeply. The Award has planted a seed from which something must come.’
I think he is right.
The American people may not know exactly where they are going, but they are distinctly and decidedly on their way. No one who has had his finger on the public pulse, and heard its beats through the progress of the Award, can doubt this statement for a moment. The people are determined that as they have registered their views they shall now be crystallized into definable terms on this question of world peace, and that they shall be placed before the world. This note of determination is struck in almost every letter. ‘This must now be carried through’ is a common phrase in hundreds of letters; and it is said with a crispness that leaves no doubt of the determination behind it.
I hope for —
Not a miracle.
Not a solvent.
But a beginning.
Wisely has Goethe said, ‘We are not born to solve the problems of the world, but to find out where a problem begins (do our part), and then keep within the limits of our grasp.’
The people of the United States stand before the world to-day without any plan of action so far as their relations with the rest of the world are concerned. There is on record no crystallized national opinion. The views of special groups have lost their force. Besides, that is not what the world asks from the American people. It asks not a foreign policy born of an administration, of a group, or of a political party. It wants an expression of the national will, of the national belief of the people of the United States. The world knows well that without such national support the most carefully worded treaty becomes a worthless scrap of paper. But, on the other hand, it is also a fact that world peace can be attained if enough people think of it, and desire it, and say they desire it. The public conscience is derived from personal conscience: the unit becomes the mass.
The underlying impulse of the American people toward some form of practical foreign coöperation is strong and irresistible. Politics have beclouded the issue; the absence of a straight and unbiased channel of expression has made it impossible for universal expression. But the moral interest and the moral force of the people are awakened; they have had time to think, and they have thought, and the national voice is now to be heard over the heads of those who have, up to this time, talked to no purpose.
This is the beginning, and it has been made and registered in the thousands of plans submitted.
The next stage is now imminent. And it will be the acid test.
That will come when the selected plan — or plans worked into one plan — shall be made public and offered to the people in the widest and most direct referendum perhaps ever taken on a single question. A very large crosssection of the American people, reached through the eighty powerful coöperative organizations associated with the Award, and through a poll to be taken by a large group of American newspapers, will be asked to vote on the plan before it is submitted to the United States Senate.
The sole purpose of this referendum should be borne in mind. Here are a group of representative American men and women, distinguished for integrity of judgment and distinction of achievement, who have labored for months to draw out from the consciousness of the American people their ideas as to the method which, in their opinion, the United States Government can wisely pursue to bring about a state of future peace to all the peoples of the world. Out of this mass of material, a jury of seven has, after the most careful deliberation and conscientious search, selected the plan, not necessarily the best, which, in its opinion, contains the most practicable ideas capable of being carried into effect. This plan is submitted by the jury to the American people for the purpose of ascertaining whether their selection is, in substance, approved by them. ‘Are you prepared to support this plan to form, in substance, the basis of your Government’s attitude toward foreign nations on the question of peace?’ There is no coercive purpose in the referendum. The character of the men and women on the Jury of Awards precludes such a thought. It is natural, however, that they should wish a vote of confidence on their stewardship, the voice of the national mind to say whether the general trend of thought in the selected plan reflects the thought of the people of the United States. It is only by a direct referendum that such an endorsement of the work of the jury can be obtained. Upon the expression of opinion thus obtained directly from the people much will depend. To the many who have written and asked how they can individually help the cause for which the Award stands, the answer lies here: the individual vote for the published plan, multiplied by the millions, will be the all-important factor. It is here that the individual man or woman becomes the most important cog in the wheel. The donor of the Award, the Policy Committee, the Jury of Award — all who have labored will have finished their tireless work of months, and it will be for the people to say whether the effort and its labor shall be supported. That voice will spell the result.
Students of history confidently assert that never before in the world after a great war has humanity shown a greater desire to outgrow war. Not only, they say, are more people looking forward to the dream of universal peace, which has been in the minds of men for ages, but the human mind all over the earth to-day is busier thinking peace, talking peace, and reading peace along practicable lines. The ideal is, according to the men of keenest observation, fast becoming an idea. Travel, discovery, exploration, the wider-flung line of commerce are all bringing people together, face to face, as never before, and a greater common understanding is being born that the welfare of one is the welfare of all. This great fundamental truth is the surest road to peace, and the people of the world are beginning to realize its wisdom and necessity. What were once the heroic ideals of the past no longer hold with the peoples of to-day. The temper of the world is changing, and the American Peace Award has burned the truth into the minds of thousands who otherwise would never have concerned themselves with the idea that the individual is a potentiality and can be a peacemaker.
It is exactly this truth which the referendum, as it goes out to millions of the American people, will mean: that the individual need no longer stand helpless before the great drama of the world, but that he and she can now have a voice in that restoration of spiritual humanity without which humanity cannot abide.
The support of the American people at this point, as reflected in the referendum, will mean something more. No state of world peace can be brought about with a single step. As Elihu Root has well said, its consummation can come about only through a series of successive steps, each step a little farther toward the goal. Hence the present American Peace Award is only the first step. Other steps lie beyond, and it is for the American people to say whether those subsequent steps shall be taken.
There is no reason why I should not now publicly state that the second step I have long had in mind is planned and ready for announcement so far as my part in it is concerned. While the present first step has concerned itself with the people of the United States, the second step will have a far wider scope and intent, with an award larger and more important in every respect.
It rests with the American people to say whether that second step shall be taken. Thus far they have certainly given unqualified support to the idea. But the final answer will come in the referendum. The willingness and desire are with me to carry the idea through to a consummation, because, despite all that is said to the contrary, and in face of all the efforts made through centuries, peace throughout the world is attainable. This positive statement is not made because of any superior efficiency of method pursued in the American Peace Award, but solely because there has never been a time in the history of the world, as I have said before, when the people in every clime were more ready to substitute the tribunal for the battlefield. War has never seemed so repugnant as it seems at the present day to modern enlightened civilization, and never has the psychological moment so vividly presented itself for the people of the United States to assume the leadership. The world is ready to follow a practical enlightened sentiment toward permanent peace if a voice powerful enough to be heard will sound the way.
We are quick to say that war cannot be abolished. But we forget that the first tribes of cave-men thought that individual fights between members of the tribe could not be abolished. Among civilized men, fights were once the order of the day. To-day they are infrequent: we settle our differences in courts of law. Among the ancients, it was a religious rite for one family to destroy another. Revolutions are growing less in number all the time. Only nations take up arms against nations. If the seemingly impossible — to the ancients — has been accomplished in the smaller units, is it any more impossible that a way may be found to do the same for the larger units?
Whatever may be the plan submitted to the people for their vote, — whether an entirely new inspiration, away from all previously suggested plans or efforts, in which case we should be unafraid; or whether it rests on what has already been laid down at Geneva or The Hague, with such modifications as will not demand a transfer of sovereignty, in which case all partisanship should be forgotten, and only the greatest good to the greatest number should be considered, — whatever it be, the voice of the American people saying ‘Yes’ to the plan will mean ‘Go ahead’ to me, and the next move will be mine.
After the voice of the American people has spoken, the way leads to the United States Senate, and here I have had predicted almost certain failure for any plan — whatever its merit and whatever the American people may say. One would really imagine, from the pictures which have been drawn for me in countless letters, that the Senate is a sort of hydra-headed monster, created chiefly to destroy and devour the hopes and aspirations of a people, no matter what form these desires may choose to take. I have had pointed out to me in the most painstaking manner the Senate’s record of devastation, until I have often wondered whether my correspondents thought me incapable of personal reading or observation. The curious part of this phase of the matter is that in not a single instance was there cited to me the constructive legislation which the Senate has enacted. One would really imagine that its record was purely negative and solely destructive.
I cannot share in the misgivings which seem so prevalent with regard to the probable action of the Senate on the Award plan, provided, of course, that the plan is one which commends itself in its workable quality to intelligent judgment, and if the members of the Senate can feel that a strong national sentiment supports its provisions. What those who predict failure of senatorial action with the Award plan seem to forget is that one of the chief aims of the American Peace Award was to take the question of our foreign relations entirely out of the troubled sea of politics— where, by the way, the majority of the members of the Senate never wanted it to drift; that this plan will not be associated with any personality or group or ‘bloc,’ but, on the contrary, that it represents, so far as any single measure can by any conceivable method represent, the will of the American people. It will not constitute legislation conceived in the mind of this man or that; it comes not from any partisan faction or political party; it rises directly out of the American people, expresses their desires, and, it is hoped, will come supported by the individual voices of several millions of American citizens. All this is different from previous sources or character of foreign policy legislation.
It seems not to be as clearly understood as it should be that United States Senators are men who keep themselves in close touch with their constituencies; that they are representative of the voice of those constituents, and that they act in accordance with what they believe to be the wishes of those constituents and for their best interests. It is a slander upon the highest legislative body of the most powerful nation on earth to proclaim it to be anything other than a body of intelligent, self-respecting, and conscientious men. We forget that we slander ourselves and our fundamental institutions when we slander our legislative bodies at Washington. Nor is the slander any more justifiable even at those times when the severest public judgment seems merited. It is undoubtedly true that here and there political hysteria in some state, which is not carefully thought out or through by the voters, will bring into the Senate some man who has no proper relation to it or rightful place in it. But that condition is by no means confined to the Senate. It happens in almost every organization, social or business, at times. It is hardly fair to condemn the whole because of the few.
I recall a President of the United States saying to me once: ‘I should like to see a session of Congress held with absolutely no pressure from the people as to its action, leaving its members entirely to their own deliberations, free from all pressure, and reaching their own conclusions. I would guarantee that such a session would be distinguished for the wisest and sanest legislation ever passed by a legislative body.’ It is unquestionably true that the muddle in which Congress often finds itself on some important topic, until it becomes humanly impossible to untangle the mess, is due more often to public pressure and conflicting public currents than to any inability on the part of the legislators. Close observers of legislation at Washington all corroborate this statement.
The chief fear expressed with regard to the fate of the Award plan in the Senate is that politics will be interjected into its consideration of the measure. But that is really the least possibility. There lies before me now a letter from one of the most prominent United States Senators — a so-called ‘bitter-ender,’ by the way: —
Concern yourself not that a plan, if constitutionally sound and workable, will fail of receiving a perfectly fair hearing and [of being] accorded equitable treatment in the Senate. I have met and talked with several of the Senators, and they all agree as to this. Nor has the fear of an introduction of politics any basis. As a matter of fact, I cannot imagine a measure, presented as this will be, into which an interjection of politics would be so disastrous and fatal to the member who attempted it. I should feel sorry for the Senator who would venture upon such a foolhardy course. He certainly would play with dynamite.
There is in this letter a true reflection of the public mind. If the American Peace Award plan comes before the Senate, it is inevitable that it will arouse debate and discussion. That is natural, and should be, and no fairminded citizen will object to such a course. But the public is in no mood to tolerate the interjection of politics. That outstanding fact was made as clear as crystal in my research. ‘We have had enough of that, ‘ was the crisp, whip-like opinion, and it was expressed in no uncertain tone. That is one thing that the public will not stand for. Its patience with politics on this question is exhausted, and so close to the breaking point is it that the slightest attempt to make a political football of the submitted plan would bring about disastrous results to the man who should attempt it. ‘It is our turn at the bat now,’ writes one citizen, in baseball terms; and he expressed the thoughts of hundreds of others.
It must be borne in mind, too, that throughout the progress of the Award an outstanding feature of the interest evoked came from women. There is not a powerful women’s organization that is missing from the list of coöperating agencies. These women’s organizations were the first to offer their coöperation, and their interest has been active and insistent through all the successive stages of the Award. The American woman, in hundreds of letters, has repeatedly made this point: that in the American Peace Award was contained the subject which above all others stood closest to her heart and that, incidentally, it was the first time, since the suffrage was extended her, that she had been given an equal share in formulating opinion and becoming an active actor in a great public opportunity. That the women of America are determined that this opportunity shall not be lost admits of no doubt when one reads their letters or the resolutions of their organizations. Peace is primarily a woman’s problem: she takes it as her own more than does a man, and the American Peace Award stands to her as spelling Opportunity in very large letters.
‘There is only one political angle to the Award plan,’ writes another Senator to me, ‘which I foresee, and that cannot but be in the mind of every Senator when the plan is laid before the Senate: the fact that a Presidential convention and election are distinctly in the offing, and that the people who voice support of the Award plan are the same people to whom the two parties must look within a few months for its suffrage. That, however, will be a silent thought; but, unexpressed, it cannot but be distinctly present in the mind of every Senator.’ That may be. Still unconvinced, and with deep distrust, many say ‘Well, we’ll see.’
So be it. We shall see!
In fact, it is all we can do at the present time, — wait and see, — except to say the important, ‘Yes,’ when the opportunity comes to each of us. Rarely, indeed, has one of the smallest words in the English language assumed greater potentiality.
How much of the happiness of humankind may depend upon it, no one knows!