A Diplomats' War

If the public can make decisions about taxes and schools, why not about war?

A 1914 British poster features Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, the ruthless hero of the Second Boer War and Britain’s secretary of state for war. (Associated Press)

People cannot fight unless they believe that they are fighting for a great cause; and so, in fact, they always manage to believe it. Nonetheless, these voices at the outset of the war were the true ones. It is a diplomats’ war. None of the peoples wanted it, and none of them would have stood for it, if in some way they could have been jointly consulted in the light of full knowledge of the fact. But they were not consulted, either jointly or severally, no more in the countries called democratic than in the autocracies. If they had been, there would have been no war. Hence the movement for the democratic control of foreign policy …

On questions of domestic policy, in such countries, the people are constantly consulted. An insurance bill, a shop-hours bill, an education bill, a land bill, are canvassed eagerly and passionately in parliament and the country. The whole press is set in motion; public meetings are held, deputations are arranged, ministries rise and fall. But where hundreds of millions of [dollars] and hundreds of thousands of lives are concerned; where the very existence of the country is at stake; where the decision to be taken involves not an extra tax, or a tentative experiment in social legislation, easily to be recalled or modified if it does not succeed, but the immediate summoning of the whole manhood of the country to kill and be killed in ways of unimaginable horror; when, in short, that very thing to the fostering and development of which every act of man, private and public, is rightly and exclusively directed; when life itself is to be destroyed wholesale, that decision, the most terrible any nation can be called upon to take, is precipitated by the fiat of half a dozen men, working in the dark, without discussion.

Originally titled "Democratic Control of Foreign Policy"