An American Plan for Peace
THROUGHOUT the confusion and the strife of the past six years there has been a longing that some practicable scheme should be devised to prevent a clash of arms in the future, and as it becomes obvious, not only in the European sphere but in the American orbit, that war, so far from becoming impossible, looms dangerously near, there has been a revival of the demand for some infallible recipe with which to cleanse the world of war once and for all. A specific of this kind is not easy to discover. The habit of fighting is deeply ingrained in human nature, though one cannot accept the contention of certain European thinkers that war is the normal condition of things and peace a mere necessary respite. With the development of science we have reached, or have almost reached, a point at which fighting, unless ended, will mean the eventual annihilation of the human race; at any rate, the disappearance of our present civilization. The powers of destruction have increased enormously and will continue to increase. The economic interdependence of the world has grown so greatly that any dislocation produces something like chaos.
But where is the check to war to be found? A method of American origin, exceedingly simple in itself, is being discussed by European statesmen, and is beginning to be taken up seriously in England, in France, and in Germany. It is not the first time that an American idea has entered European politics. Since 1914 the United States has played a great part in the shaping of Europe. President Wilson during the latter war years became the prophet whose every word was anxiously awaited and who guided events more than any other man in the world. He did not, it is true, invent the general ideas of peace and righteousness among nations, nor did he invent the idea of a league of nations which would serve as a kind of conscience for mankind; but he did bring back these ideas to Europe from America, and in spite of fluctuations of feeling it is certain that America has, of recent years, taken a sort of moral leadership. Perhaps one should cite the drafting of the Dawes Report and the settlement between the Allies and Germany which was based upon it as the latest, most striking example of American influence in Europe.
Europe is thus ready to hearken to the voice of America. Although the proposal to conscript wealth in the event of war has not yet been accepted officially in European countries, it has already made considerable headway. If it is really pushed in America, and practical steps are taken after the presidential election to make it applicable, Europe cannot fail to be converted. Though the European Governments have not yet stirred, they are watching with the keenest interest the progress of a suggestion which has been adopted as a plank in the platform of both the great parties in the United States, while the churches in Europe and leaders of public opinion there are only waiting to see whether such a scheme can indeed be worked out. The writer found the French Prime Minister extremely sympathetic, though he has not yet declared himself openly for wealth conscription in the event of war. The British authorities are also cautious and a little skeptical, but they are ready to welcome the plan if it is shown that it can be enforced. They point out that it is, in effect, the adoption in special and temporary circumstances of the system of State control which was, in fact, adopted by Great Britain during the final stages of the war, and they admit that it would be better to prepare such a scheme in advance rather than leave it to hasty improvisation. I have talked of it also to distinguished Germans, who agree that it is undoubtedly logical and feasible and desirable that a State should prepare an inventory of its resources and be able to mobilize them immediately if the occasion arises. Men of many nations engaged in many different professions, with whom I have discussed the possibilities, acknowledge that, if it were made clear to the citizens of every country that in any future conflict their property as well as their persons would be drafted, chauvinistic instincts would be suppressed. Newspapers in Europe have not as yet dealt generally and fully with the subject, but there have been here and there significant and encouraging references to it. So far one must register private rather than public acquiescence and advocacy, but the ground is prepared.
The principal doubts arise because the scheme is not comprehensive, but then it has never been put forward as comprehensive; it cannot replace the method of arbitration — that is to say, the reference of disputes between nations to the League or to the International Court of Justice; it cannot replace mutual promises of assistance against an aggressor; it cannot replace general disarmament. But it is an admirable adjunct and if once accepted in the various countries will do much to render war unpopular if not impossible. Altogether it must be said that the progress of this new American idea in Europe is not unsatisfactory, and during the coming months it will be discussed with increasing interest.
It should be recalled that the proposal has been expressed in a single sentence as follows: ‘In the event of a declaration of war the property, equally with the persons, lives, and liberties, of all citizens shall be subject to conscription for the defense of the nation.’ If wars arise chiefly from political, territorial, and sentimental causes, they are often fostered by economic considerations, and when once war begins it is continued longer than need be because vested interests in war are immediately established. Anyone who had the smallest inside knowledge of the Great European War must have been struck with the number of people who enriched themselves from 1914 to 1918 and for some time afterward. For these people the war was a good thing. Whatever were the feelings which animated the bulk of the fighters, it cannot be denied that behind the armies in places of safety were those who were making money and whose professed patriotism may rightly be regarded as tainted.
Every country had its profiteers, and these profiteers were among those who most urged on the troops. If no profits whatever could in future be made out of a national tragedy — for war whether it is won or lost is, as we now see, a tragedy for all the belligerents — then at least we should be sure that only unselfish motives were animating the peoples engaged in fighting. But something more than the impossibility of making profits out of war is needed. The declarations of the great parties in America which appeal strongly to the best minds in Europe provide for the conscription not only of war profits but of property of any kind which may be required for the successful prosecution of war. One may doubt whether the diplomatists in 1914 would have been allowed to push matters to extremes had there been in existence laws by which private property was automatically placed at the disposal of the State.
Not to respect property in time of peace would be revolutionary; it would be putting into practice the theories of an obsolete socialism; but in war time abnormal conditions are created, conditions which, if they justify conscription of persons, surely equally justify conscription of property. It is strange but true that many men will risk their lives who will not risk their pockets. Human nature being what it is, they will go forward to fight with alacrity and even enthusiasm, but they would be alarmed and altogether reluctant to approve a declaration of war if war meant that not only were they themselves placed in jeopardy, but their possessions also were to be taken out of their control. If patriotism had to be expressed in every country by readiness to be conscripted, and to have all wealth conscripted, it is calculated that every country would hesitate and would almost certainly decline the sacrifices which would be required from each individual citizen. Men would be touched at their most vulnerable point. War would be less easy if men and women were aware that not only the soldier in the trenches would suffer, but the whole nation would be required to make a real sacrifice. Everything that has happened in Europe during the past decade strengthens this contention.
It is true that, especially in the countries of Europe, financial sacrifice was common. If a few persons enriched themselves, the result of the war for the people was the depreciation of their savings as expressed in their national currency, the imposition of staggering taxes, and a financial and economic chaos which affects adversely the vast majority. Since the war, trade has diminished and unemployment has been rife, but these results came, as it were, indirectly and unexpectedly. While the fighting lasted there was no unemployment in any European land, and the community for the most part was materially better off than in days of peace. It was, indeed, only in the days of peace that the misery which was the outcome of war was realized.
The object of the present plan is to bring home to everybody in advance the necessity of immense sacrifices, and therefore to create in each country a greater reluctance to run risks which could be avoided by the submission of any dispute — if the ordinary diplomatic methods failed — to arbitration.
This is no insidious socialistic attack on capital. It must not be imagined that by this method advantage is being taken of abnormal conditions in order to strike at the rich. Indeed, the American Legion has been the driving force behind the idea in the United States, while in Europe it is not the socialistic fishers in troubled waters who have caught it up, but the men of good will who desire by this means to preserve the fundamental structure of society. It has been objected that the Bolsheviki in Russia could never have accomplished their object in time of peace; but, when their country had been weakened by the long years of warfare, and authority had betrayed its corruptness, its rottenness, and its helplessness, then came the chance of the extremists to seize power, to abolish capital, and to set up a new socialist system which makes no appeal in any country outside Russia, and which has defects that are patent. What guaranty, it is asked by European opponents of the idea, have we that we are not preparing the way for the Communist, who has shown that any violent interference with the existing state of society can only shatter civilization as we know it?
To this question the answer is easy. It is not any weakening of the State, but, on the contrary, the strengthening of the State which is advocated. The Bolsheviki succeeded simply because the Russian Government had not prepared for the utilization of its resources. Those countries which will thus prepare, instead of leaving things to chance, will be safe from any sudden seizure of resources by the malcontents. Certainly there is not the slightest desire on the part of the Republicans and those Democrats who have cheered the suggestion to the echo, or on the part of those Europeans who are essentially conservative in their ideas, to attack capital. What applies to capital applies equally to labor. It is well known that not only were the wealthy immune during the war,— not in their lives but in their property,— not only did the profiteers become the nouveaux riches, but the workingmen in Europe who did not go to the front received higher pay than they had ever received before. The European States impoverished themselves to keep their citizens of all classes contented. While millions of men were falling on the battlefield, there was organized in each belligerent country — in England, in France, and the rest — a system which squandered money in the most amazing manner. Workmen were paid at extravagant rates for munition-making, and women who had never before been employed were offered large salaries for various services. The standard of living rose. A large proportion of the population of most countries engaged in the war would acknowledge that they never had such prosperous times.
Few object to the raising of the standard of living. It is highly desirable that there should be a permanent increase of the welfare of the masses. But the welfare engendered by war is fictitious and fleeting. What one objects to is that while a section of the nation is enduring almost unimaginable hardships another section should be battening on those hardships, and should feel that war is an excellent institution. It was regarded as proper to compel the soldier to undertake the most deadly tasks for the merest pittance, while rewarding the civilian with larger wages than he had previously enjoyed or could enjoy in a period of peace. One man was forced to enlist in the most dangerous trade without remuneration, and another man was bribed to work in comfortable and highly paid occupations. Many wage-earning families showed sinister and selfish disregard of the darker realities of war. In too many cases there was no desire that war should cease, but a blunting of feelings and an unacknowledged cynicism.
To encourage sentiments of this kind among civilians who have it in their power to shorten or to perpetuate war is dreadful. One cannot blame the masses, whose imagination can hardly extend beyond their individual situation at a particular moment; it was difficult for them to appreciate the truth about the active warfare, especially as this warfare was written up in such manner as to represent it in its most romantic and picturesque light. Nor could they be expected to foresee consequences to themselves in a future which could not be remote. The fat years were to be followed by lean years and widespread unemployment.
England, perhaps, offers the best example. She has had a particularly unfortunate experience in the reaction which followed — as it was bound to follow — the war. With the shattering of industry and commerce which were not directed to the supplying of war materials, there were periods when no fewer than two million persons found themselves out of work. As I write, the total of the unemployed in England is 1,162,700, and the tendency is again upward. Further, taxation was raised to such a point that the whole nation groaned under a burden which was almost impossible to bear. France has financial, as distinguished from economic, troubles which were never anticipated. Germany has suffered as no people would have consented to suffer had the consequences of war been realized. Had the German people been conscious of the demands which were to be made upon them they would have contrived to stop those who precipitated them into war. Had the inhabitants of Russia known that everything would go into the melting-pot they would have halted upon the path on which they were being led. This is equally true of Austria and Hungary, and indeed of all the belligerents.
It is, I think, obvious that had some such proposal been translated into legislative form before 1914 in Europe there would have been a definite stand against the war. The present proposals contemplate a conscription of man power — and indeed of woman power — of a kind somewhat similar to that which was exercised to secure soldiers. Everybody — man or woman — should be at the service of the State. Money should be used as sparingly as possible; the workman should no longer be a workman in a free labor-market, but an industrial conscript; his position should not be better than that of the soldier except in the sense that the dangers which he would face would be fewer. There should be no age limit, and the older men, pressed into the service of the State, would then be less inclined to egg on the younger men and to become the somewhat despicable patriots —whose sacrifices were being made by proxy — that they became in all the European countries. The same method should be applied to the women who, rejoicing in their own immunity, often had no other occupation than to attempt to shame every young man into performing what they considered to be his duty. I must not, of course, be misunderstood as depreciating the noble work which was done by a large body of older men and of self-sacrificing women, personally engaged in many capacities in positions not exempt from danger.
Although labor should be mobilized and although laws should be passed in advance which would compel every man, woman, and child to take an allotted place in the ranks in the event of war, — although there should be no more embusqués, as the French disdainfully called those who took refuge in Government offices and other well-paid places of safety,— the principal purpose of the plan is to suppress the war profiteer properly so called. Government employees or wage-earners are not fairly described as profiteers; but there sprang up everywhere during the dreadful years an army of people who were engaged in buying and selling to the Governments at exorbitant prices, or in other ways assisted in increasing the prices of commodities. Some effort was made to limit such profits, not only by fixing certain prices, but by instituting a tax known as the War Profits Tax or the Excess Profits Tax. But this legislation was scamped and hasty and, in all European countries, proved inadequate, and there were many ways of evading even the nominal obligations. The favorite method was to invest the profits in the business, that is to say, to turn them into capital. In France in particular it is notorious that immense profits were thus made from which the State has never benefited. It has, for one reason or another, been impossible to collect a good deal of the revenue due from this source. Now surely it is not unreasonable nor is there anything which savors of socialistic doctrines in declaring that profits of this kind should be in their entirety confiscated by the State. The weakness of the German Government in dealing with its profiteers has been amazing; and while it is possible for a few men to add to their riches by encouraging war, the danger of nationalist movements which will strive for the revanche is greatly increased.
In the recent discussions on the Amnesty Bill in France it was pointed out that deserters, who had on the outbreak of war flown to a foreign country to escape their military obligations, had engaged in trade and had enriched themselves. Was it fair, it was asked, to extend to them a pardon? Those men who had evaded the laws of their country, and while their fellows were fighting had piled up profits abroad, should not be allowed to come back with impunity and enjoy their gains. Perhaps it is better to be as generous as possible now that the war is over; but it should be made clear that in no country in future will the war profiteer be tolerated.
We should consider, too, the effect in Europe of the further declaration that property which does not in any way represent the profits of war should also be liable to conscription. It is not necessary to suppose that this proposal literally means that a capital levy will be raised immediately war breaks out, or that it will ever be enforced unless circumstances render a capital levy imperative. It may be sufficient to lay down the principle. Had the principle been adopted from the beginning, clearly many of the financial difficulties of Europe to-day would not exist. The problem of Allied debts would scarcely have arisen. There are, of course, objections to the capital levy in practice, for it is not easy to liquidate capital on a large scale. Such liquidation might produce confusion and would be liable, unless the strictest care were taken, to cause economic injury to the country which insisted upon it. But in spite of the undoubted objections, it is nevertheless an admirable thing that it should be put upon record that capital, like labor, may be called upon to pay its quota, and that countries should in the event of war first use their own financial resources before looking to other nations for loans. The borrowing of money abroad, the piling-up of indebtedness which can never be removed, meant the artificial prolongation of the European War. Without foreign loans a war must necessarily come to an end when the property-owners of a country are no longer willing to contribute to its maintenance. There is therefore a useful lesson to be learned from the European War, which was largely waged upon subscriptions from abroad after the belligerent Powers had frankly renounced the collection of sufficient money from their own citizens. Nobody cared about the cost until the war was over. The authorities, in future, should be given large powers which could be automatically used. Those powers in themselves will tend to check war. Instead of running a war on borrowed capital which can never be repaid, the banks inside a country should be compelled to raise loans at small interest, and the big businesses as well as the banks should be controlled. It is well known that the metallurgical trades, for example, are benefited in a material sense by war although the country in which they exist may fall into bankruptcy. Doubtless the individual mine-owner or ironmaster is full of the milk of human kindness and would do nothing to secure profits at the expense of human life; but, as has been pointed out, there is such a thing as group-greed. Companies and trusts and Comités des Forges and the like lose all sense of humanity and even of patriotism. Great shipbuilding firms, contractors on a large scale, and others may batten on war while the nation is going headlong to ruin.
Countries should be made to pay for the luxury of war, and they should first look to their own citizens, who must not, as has been the case during the past ten years, be allowed to make huge sums of money at the expense of the State. The State should be enab.ed on the outbreak of war to institute without delay a War Industries Board and a War Finance Board which would strictly control industry and finance, and would bring the industrialists and the financiers into line. At the end of a war it would certainly be a great advantage for the overburdened State to impose, once and for all, an immense tax which would have to come from capital rather than from income. As much as twenty-five per cent has been demanded in England in the shape of income tax, and indeed, where extremely large incomes are concerned, the percentage is very much higher. Even from the point of view of the taxpayer, it would be better for him to surrender a portion of his capital to the State rather than continue to pay year after year a quarter of his income. From the point of view of the State, the speedy obliteration of war debts would be preferable, and the capital levy is more than permissible in abnormal times when the State should recover its equilibrium as early as possible.
Take the case of France. In France the franc has depreciated by two thirds of its value—that is to say, the bondholder has a real income today which is worth one third of the income he had before the war. Whether it is called a capital levy or not is of no importance; the fact remains that the rentier has, while nominally keeping his capital, lost two thirds of his income. The depreciation of the franc is due to the difficult financial position in which the French Treasury finds itself, and the French Treasury could have put itself right if it had frankly called upon bondholders to surrender a portion of their bonds. Both the State and the bondholders would have been in a much better position.
We are too often frightened by mere names; we prefer to surrender two thirds of our income rather than have our capital touched. But to some sort of capital levy — that is to say, to the extinction of paper capital — it would appear that the French will sooner or later have to come.
At the very highest, it is estimated that the revenue of the French State from taxation will be thirty milliard francs. Even to raise twenty-five milliard francs, heavy taxation, which it is hard to collect, has been imposed. Out of this twenty-five or thirty milliard francs of revenue the State must pay fifteen and, according to some estimates, over eighteen milliard francs a year to the bondholders. The disproportion is appalling. The country is being taxed in order to pay interest to what may be regarded as a privileged class; and yet the term ‘privileged class’ is unjustified, for the rentiers are really badly treated, in that their income is a fixed income which, owing to the fall of the franc, has diminished in real value to an extent which would hardly have appeared possible a few years ago. In one way or another the war must be paid for, and the question is whether it should be paid for by gradually increased taxation year after year and by placing the State bondholders at a disadvantage as compared with the industrial bondholders, or whether the State should immediately proceed to take whatever is required from its citizens, rich and poor, thus preserving its currency and obviating the necessity of heavy annual taxation.
I do not desire, however, to discuss in detail this vexed problem, but it is surely fair to suggest that if a community goes to war the community should understand in advance that it will be called upon to make monetary sacrifices as well as sacrifices in human life. It will not understand unless there is given in advance power to the State, not only to raise taxes, but to obtain all the capital it may need for the prosecution of the war and the final liquidation of the war. It has been protested by prominent bankers that funds to prosecute a war and to liquidate a war should be obtained in a manner that will disturb the business life of a nation as little as possible, and that will not deplete or destroy the income of the people more than is absolutely necessary to meet the exigences of war. With that everybody must agree. But directly or indirectly the income of the people will be depleted. There is no more misleading cry than the foolish cry raised in England that business should continue as usual during hostilities. Business cannot continue as usual, and the question is as between two methods: one method tends to deceive the people and the other method tends to open their eyes to the fact that ultimately they must pay, and that no enemy country will pay for them.
The European peoples were deceived as perhaps peoples have never been deceived in the history of the world. They were assured that Germany would pay for the war if the Allies would only continue it long enough to defeat Germany. It is because, in pursuance of this fallacy, we have endeavored to make Germany pay, that the whole of the Continent has suffered more than it need have suffered for six years, and that financial and economic confusion still prevails. It has been declared that capital, which is a shy bird, would if menaced fly to cover; but in any community which is really animated by patriotic sentiments such an attitude on the part of capitalists is unthinkable. They must show the same loyalty as the common man.
It would be facile to drift into a demonstration that stricter governmental control of men, of material, and of money, in time of war, would make for the efficient prosecution of war. This is, however, a side issue. The purpose of the proposal is not to make it easier to prosecute a war but to prevent war. This must be borne constantly in mind. It is possible that, in other ages, men have delighted in fighting. In our own times it would seem that man is by nature a fighting animal, for the armies of Napoleon which had no purpose but conquest followed him wherever he went, prepared to endure any hardship, happy enough that they should show their physical superiority over the men of other nations. Even in the last great war there is no doubt that millions of men were moved chiefly by the sense that at last an opportunity had occurred for them to escape from the dull daily round of existence.
It is deduced from the evidence that mankind will always love war, and that nothing will bring peace upon the earth. But in no age as in our age, in spite of appearances, has there been such consciousness of the evils of war, and in no age has there been such consciousness of the solidarity of mankind. Undoubtedly progress is being made and, beyond a peradventure, peace can be achieved. The earth has become a small place. Every country finds its interests interlocked with those of every other country. The traveling facilities of to-day make for a better understanding. The rapidity of communication helps toward the realization of a common civilization. Commerce in its modern development makes us more and more interdependent. Our culture is more or less the same the world over, and when one nation suffers every nation suffers. No longer can we live in water-tight compartments; no longer is war a little thing that can be regarded as apart from our general life. Chaos in one place means chaos in every place. We have been drawn together as never before, and we are becoming aware of the necessity of adopting friendly relations toward each other, and of helping each other. We cannot pass by on the other side; we cannot be simply onlookers. The rôle of the good Samaritan is no longer a role which we are at liberty to fulfill or not to fulfill. So intimately bound up are we with each other that to fight to-day is precisely as though the members of our body were to quarrel among themselves and were to attempt to injure each other. In striking at our head our arm would be committing suicide. The destructiveness of modern warfare has brought home to us the horrors of fighting, which can no more be localized. We recognize that no future war could be confined to the men in the field. It would, if pursued to its logical end, bring about the destruction of all that is precious to us.
And morally also there has been a considerable advance. The mental attitude of nations is becoming more and more the mental attitude of individuals who have been taught in their private relations the advantages of selfrestraint and of mutual forbearance. In an earlier age the average man was accustomed to personal violence, but to-day the average man has little or no experience of violence; he does not think in terms of violence. The fighting instinct has in communal life disappeared, or at least rarely manifests itself in civilized communities. Now it is obvious that the order which has been introduced into private life must, consciously or unconsciously, extend itself until it becomes the rule of national life. The fighting instinct is, owing to the personal habits of men everywhere, being eliminated, and it would be strange indeed if men who have set up courts of law for the legal settlement of their personal disputes were not to adopt the same principle in international affairs.
But with the growth of this detestation of violence in every sphere, with the attempt to set up International Courts of Justice and Leagues of Nations, and to have recourse to the arbitration of special tribunals, there exists a greater desire for profits than has ever existed before in the history of the world. The business instinct has, as it were, taken the place of the fighting instinct, and the business instinct, if we are not careful, will prove to be as dangerous as the fighting instinct. In any long view, there are more profits to be made out of peace than out of war, and business men are undoubtedly aware of this fact. But there is nevertheless an immediate temptation; and it is precisely to destroy the possibilities of profits in war time that the promulgators of the present plan urge its universal acceptance.
The higher consciousness of our common interests needs to be fortified, and it is essential that the Governments should eradicate the selfishness that was shown by profiteers, little and big, of all classes, in all nations, and that war should be shorn of the only glamour that it still possesses — that of providing profits for a portion of the community.
No country which agrees to mobilize all its resources in time of war, to abolish the middleman, the profiteer, the civilian who can in present circumstances continue to work for private gain, can possibly lose. It would discourage war; but if war, in some fit of madness, or through the bad faith or the atavism of some other country which has not adopted a similar plan, were to be forced upon it, then it would not suffer, but on the contrary would, by this mobilization of the whole of its resources, be in a superior position, and would beat its enemies much more certainly than if every man were striving for his own hand and private interests were to be mixed with national interests.
The origin of the suggestion is doubtless to be traced far back, but it would be unfair not to give full credit to the Christian Science Monitor, which formulated and advocated the proposition for the maintenance of peace by eliminating profit and privilege from war. Since it set out its plan — which is admittedly a partial though an exceedingly important plan — the idea has been caught up everywhere. All organizations of World War veterans emphatically favor it. Measures have been specifically introduced in Congress, and the Conventions, both Democratic and Republican, have pronounced in its favor. In European countries its progress may be slower, but serious thinkers in all lands have been attracted by the proposition, and are doing their best to propagate it and to make it practical politics. But if America takes the lead, as she has often taken the lead in matters of this kind intended to promote the advancement of humanity, — as indeed she took the lead in the founding of the League of Nations and of the International Court of Justice, — it must not be supposed that America is putting herself at a disadvantage as compared with other countries which, in this respect, for particular reasons, are more backward. The idealism of America is an idealism which is solidly planted on the ground. It is an idealism which, far from weakening any country which possesses it, will give it a formidable strength of organization which will make the most bellicose enemy hesitate before attacking.
In short, the advantage of this scheme, which is simple, practical, and effective, is that while it is designed to prevent war, it does not reduce, but, on the contrary, increases, the means of self-defense. Sooner or later this plan will be advocated by every international assembly and in every national parliament.