Ludwell Denny

Chapter One


“WAR IS UNTHINKABLE.”  So Prime Minister Asquith said.  A few days later Britain was at war with Germany.  “War between America and Britain is unthinkable,” we are told now.  Like a refrain it runs through most discussions of Anglo-American relations.  This assurance is given to us by Prime Minister MacDonald and President Hoover—although they were less optimistic before they talked with the tongues of officialdom.  Any one who questions this dogma does not receive a reasoned reply.  He is dismissed as a militarist and a war-monger.

Whatever may be the truth regarding the highly complicated and often contradictory relations between America and Britain, it should be clear to intelligent persons that the truth cannot be ascertained by incantation.  The phrase “War is unthinkable” is only that.  It has no definite meaning.  If it means merely that war between the English-speaking nations would be regrettable, it is an obvious aspiration.  But, unfortunately, it is usually understood by the people as a statement of fact.

As a statement of fact, it is not true.  War between America and Britain is more probable than war between America and any other Power.  This does not mean that such a war is inevitable.  It does mean that the causes which have produced other wars, and specifically British wars, are active in virulent form in Anglo-American relations now.

This fact is ignored or resented as heresy by most Americans and Britons because they have been reared on childish notions of the causes and nature of war.  They bring to this problem only one simple question.  Do the American people want to fight the British people ?  Do the British people want to fight the American people ?  And their reason answers :  Of course not.  Are the Washington and London governments plotting war ?  Their reason answers : I mpossible.  So they say and believe war is unthinkable.

How such a simple and erroneous conception of war has lodged in the minds of the people in spite of all the facts of history is somewhat difficult to understand.  How such a conception can be held by Americans and Britons who lived through the World War and these post-War years is even more difficult to understand.  Nevertheless, the myth that war comes only when peoples and governments want war is perhaps more widely accepted to-day than ever before.  It is the chief obstacle to an understanding and mitigation of the causes of war.


War does not begin on the day armed hostility starts, nor end when an armistice is signed and guns are silenced.  The World War was the result of causes deep in the 19th century.  Hostilities might have been precipitated, indeed were almost precipitated, several times.  That actual fighting began in 1914 was an accident.  Germs of war, like the germs which afflict the human body, are always present.  This conflict between health and disease is as natural and as inevitable in the international body as in the human body.  Of course, the British and American peoples do not will war any more than they deliberately get sick.  But when there are organic defects or functional weaknesses or malignant germs, then just as individual carelessness or bravado can be the immediate cause of disease, the ineptitudes of government can become the immediate cause of war.

It is not necessary for the governments to want war.  They don’t.  They know it would injure both nations.  Some London and Washington statesmen know that it would injure both nations irreparably.  Most of the capitalists do not want war ;  peace is more profitable to all but a few.  Nor do most of the generals and admirals want armed hostilities.  Why should they ?  The military life is an easy life—in peace time.  The military man likes order ;  there is no order in the trenches.  The military man is human enough not to choose vermin and mud and death gladly.  But the fact that neither the peoples nor the governments, nor the generals and admirals welcomed armed conflict did not prevent the unthinkable World War.  It did not prevent the unthinkable Civil War in this country, nor did it prevent the unthinkable Anglo-American war of 1812.

This Unthinkable War attitude does not prevent war when the crisis comes, because physical forces have become too strong to be restrained by mere good intentions ;  because of the panic which follows when a patient or a nation suddenly discovers the crisis ;  because the very psychological unpreparedness, which the patient or the nation believed to be the greatest protection, then makes the body more vulnerable to the shock.  The one who succumbed to the human tendency to ignore disquieting symptoms and disagreeable facts is the one most hysterical when the horror is revealed.

That is why governments, when they find themselves on the verge of unsought war, can so easily turn their pacifist populations overnight into war-mad mobs.  The people are shocked into a state of mental paralysis and nervous irresponsibility.  The fact that there are major conflicts—between the United States and Great Britain, let us say—is so new to them that they magnify the political disputes into eternal verities worth fighting for.  This process of sudden popular conversion of a pacific nation to war is not always brought about by discovery of the actual causes of the conflict.  Those real causes, indeed, are often deliberately disguised by the governments concerned.  Because those causes for the most part are economic maladjustments which obviously cannot be corrected by wholesale killing.

Hence the necessity for governments to create a moral issue as a bogy.  The World War was not the first “war to make the world safe for democracy.”  That is the way most wars have been staged, in the sense that the popular ideal of the moment always has been used by governments to ennoble the conflict.  No modern civilised people will fight—other than to bar an actual invader—unless they believe it is a Holy War.

To create this Holy War myth is one of the few easy tasks confronting a government on the eve of hostilities.  Taken by surprise, the people are in a credulous and highly suggestible condition.  The government controls all channels of publicity.  The government alone has access to all the facts, especially immediate facts and developments.  So even the small minority of dispassionate and informed citizens is in no position to trust absolutely the validity of its opposition.  Even if convinced that the government propaganda is based on lies, the minority cannot persuade the majority.  It has neither the facts nor the forum from which to present the facts.

Even in peace time the American and British governments withhold from the public important facts concerning international relations.  Whenever the American public through Congress drives the Administration into a corner on a question of unpopular policy, and the official legislative representatives request information from the Secretary of State, he usually declines to give such information on the ground that to do so would be “incompatible with the public interest.”  A government which has so little difficulty in withholding facts in normal times, cannot be forced into making embarrassing revelations in times of national crisis, much less during armed war.  This certainly was the experience in Washington and in London during and immediately before the World War.

Governments do more than withhold facts from the public.  They deliberately colour facts.  Honourable men, who are honest as individuals, become liars as officials.  In the name of duty, of course.  The significance of such governmental suppression, colouring of facts, and deliberate lies, however, can be exaggerated.  Such lies are usually less potent in creating the Holy War myth, which overthrows the Unthinkable War myth, than are certain carefully selected facts.  Selected facts, isolated, become first half-truths and then untruths.

All governments have skeletons in their closets.  All large nations have Hun records.  All have oppressed weaker peoples.  All have nasty national traits.  Every Power can be shown by an enemy, on the basis of its own acts, to be a menace to civilisation.  Hence the ease with which governments create popular support for the war which was unthinkable yesterday.

These are generalities.  But they are generalities which can be applied with disquieting precision to the United States and Great Britain.  No argument is needed to demonstrate that these generalities apply to both countries in their World War experiences.  Americans and Britons equally were confident that war then was unthinkable.  Both governments were certain that actual fighting somehow could be avoided.  Both governments were “liberal,” neither was “militaristic.”  Prime Minister Asquith was a man of peace.  President Wilson was a man of peace.  Peace societies flourished among the peoples of both countries.  The few who questioned the Unthinkable War myth were derided as mad.

The British people, despite their pacifism or perhaps partly because of their pacifism, were unprepared psychologically to withstand the shock of unexpected war.  Yet now they appear to have forgotten that experience.  “Most of us suppose that the dread of war in ourselves and our fellows can be trusted to respond to the needs of the hour, when the next war comes upon us,” says Mr. H.N. Brailsford, in describing the British attitude.1  “We rely on some spontaneous rally of public opinion, when the last tense week of doubtful negotiations confronts us with our dangers.  We forget how the Great War stole upon us.  In London, ten days before the irreparable decision, the question of Ulster filled our minds, and if we troubled to think of Europe, it was only to fling a curse of irritation at Serbian murders.  There is no hope for us, unless we realise that the next war is being prepared every day.”

Even had the British people been aware of the danger, they had no opportunity to stay it.  They were not consulted by their Government, when the decision was made.  The House of Commons had no choice.  Not even the British Cabinet as a whole was free to choose.  The issue had been decided for them years before.  “We found ourselves on a certain Monday listening to a speech by Lord Grey at this box which brought us face to face with the War and upon which followed our declaration,” Sir Austen Chamberlain explained several years later (February 8, 1922) to the House of Commons.2  “That was the first public notification to the country, or to any one by the Government of the day, of the position of the British Government which it had assumed. . . . Was the House of Commons free to decide ?  Relying upon the arrangements made between the two Governments, the French coast was undefended—I am not speaking of Belgium, but of France.  There had been the closest negotiations and arrangements between our two Governments and our two staffs.  There was not a word on paper binding this country, but in honour it was bound as it had never been bound before—I do not say wrongfully ;  I think rightly.”

As Lord French later admitted in his book on the War, “The British and French General Staffs had for years been in close consultation with one another on this subject.  The area of concentration for the British forces had been fixed.”  As Marshal Joffre told a Paris commission on July 5, 1919 :  “A military convention existed with England which could not be divulged as it bore a secret character.”  This situation had been reported by M. Sazonov to the Czar more than a year before the War :  “Arising out of this, Grey, upon his own initiative, corroborated what I already knew from Poincaré, the existence of an agreement between France and Great Britain, according to which England engaged itself, in case of a war with Germany not only to come to assistance of France on the sea, but also on the Continent by landing troops.”

Although this situation was known to a few high officers, a few diplomats, a few outsiders, the British House of Commons and the British Cabinet as a whole did not know.  “The concealment from the Cabinet was protracted and must have been deliberate,” Lord Loreburn says in his How the War Came.  Mr. Arthur Ponsonby, former Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, in Falsehood in War-Time (1928), from which the above quotations are taken, concludes :  “This commitment was not known. . . . More than this, its existence was denied. . . . No more vital point stands out in the whole of pre-War diplomacy, and the bare recital of the denials, evasions, and subterfuges forms a tragic illustration of the low standard of national honour, where war is concerned, which is accepted by statesmen whose personal honour is beyond reproach.”3  Though these Anglo-French military and naval conversations had been proceeding since 1906, the British Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs in the House of Commons in March 1911, made a flat denial in answering the question whether “any undertaking, promise, or understanding had been given to France that, in certain eventualities, British troops would be sent to assist the operations of the French army.”  Another formal denial was made in the House of Commons on March 10, 1913, at about the time M. Sazonov was again reporting the truth to the Czar.  “It is not true,” Prime Minister Asquith replied when a statement was made from the floor of the House of Commons that “there is a very general belief that this country is under an obligation, not a treaty obligation, but an obligation arising owing to an assurance given by the Ministry in the course of diplomatic negotiations, to send a very large force out of this country to operate in Europe.”4  So the denials continued to be made by Prime Minister Asquith and Sir Edward Grey down to August 3, 1914—and all the while they were making definite war preparations for the emergency which they did not welcome but which they were too weak to prevent.5  The manner in which the British Government, once war was declared, conducted an effective propaganda campaign in England and in the United States to establish the myth of Germany’s sole guilt need not be re-told.  The effects of that propaganda still live in the Versailles Treaty and in the prejudices of too many Britons and Americans.

Methods used by the Washington Government in making an Unthinkable War a Holy War were essentially the same.  But the task was harder.  There was much more traditional anti-British than anti-German sentiment in the United States.  In the conduct of the War Britain had come into more direct conflict with American interests than had Germany.  The American people could not be surprised by war already in progress.  Finally, there was little danger of actual invasion of this country.  So more skill was required of the Washington Government to convert its public to intervention.  For the reasons given it did not succeed in converting Americans in advance.  President Wilson was re-elected on the campaign slogan, “He kept us out of war.”  This Government’s agents, and the Allied propagandists imported by it, were not effective until the German submarine frightfulness developed.

By that time large financial and industrial groups, for other reasons, were trying to draw us into the conflict.  Then it became more expedient for President Wilson to act.  It became expedient, that is, so far as these business groups and their Congressional representatives were concerned.  As for the American people, no one will ever know.  But the “He kept us out of war” election, and difficulties in making the military draft effective, seemed to indicate that the people would not have voted for war in a popular referendum.  At any rate Mr. Wilson was too wise to permit a referendum, and governmental control of public opinion operated successfully to suppress any referendum demand.  Thus the American people even less than the British people willed their entrance into the World War.

It is significant, however, that once in, conversion of Americans to the Holy War idea was almost complete.  The most absurd German atrocity stories were accepted with relish.  Teutonic culture, which had been looked up to, now became in the minds of Americans a thing gross and perverted.  Whether pre-War German culture was as great as Americans originally rated it, or as degraded as war-mad Americans later came to regard it, is immaterial here.  In any event Americans at that time revealed their capacity, under official tutelage, to swing suddenly and violently from one extreme to the opposite in their attitude toward a foreign people.  And that easily inspired hatred of Germany remained as a hangover in America long after it had been thrown off by the British.


While many admit that the World War proved the ability of both the Washington and London governments to turn an Unthinkable War into a Holy War, it is commonly believed that this has no bearing on a possible Anglo-American war crisis.  America is not Germany, our British friends say.  Britain is not Germany, we say.  Such dogmatic optimism ignores the basic economic causes of war.  Specifically, it ignores the disquieting similarity between Anglo-German relations yesterday and Anglo-American relations to-day.  Even many who understand that the present Anglo-American economic conflicts are like those which precipitated the last war, assume that the present rivalry cannot lead to armed strife because of the unique bonds uniting these two nations.

Blood is thicker than water, it is argued.  A common language, literature, law, and a common political tradition have created a deep sense of understanding, sympathy, and kinship.  This is another one of those pretty notions about the nature of war which violate experience.  Historically, blood and language kinship has meant war more often than peace.  Civil wars have been frequent.  And the civil wars of Britain and America have been especially unreasoning, vindictive, and bloody.  If brother fought brother in our War of the States, by what costly forgetfulness can any one assume that cousin will refuse to fight cousin because of kinship ?  Those are nearer the truth who believe this kinship between Americans and Britons creates more friction than friendship, and is chiefly responsible for the patent tendency of each to exaggerate the foibles of the other—as cousins are apt to do.

Positive unfriendliness has been fed on both sides of the Atlantic by the memory of the American Revolution.  It accounts, in part, for the ease with which American governments during the War of 1812 and the Civil War, and in the later 19th century were able to whip up anti-British sentiment when the actual conflicts between the two countries were much less serious than now.

But this entire approach to Anglo-American relations as a family matter is fallacious.  The United States is no longer predominantly of British heritage.  Immigration has changed that.  Hardly one-third of our population is of British stock, according to the 1920 U.S. Census.  The melting pot has changed the old stock as well as the new.  Except for a professional Anglophile here and there, one rarely finds an American of any heritage or class who thinks of England as the motherland.  And the Anglophile, curiously or perhaps naturally, is apt to be a super-nationalist demanding that we build “the largest navy in the world,”—that is, larger than the British navy.

British politicians and publicists once keenly sensitive to the anti-British feeling engendered here by Irish immigrants, often fail now to appreciate the importance of the newer “Latin-Slav leaven in the Anglo-Saxon lump.”  Establishment of the Irish Free State has not appreciably diminished the hostility to Britain of Irish-Americans.  The chief difference is that this group’s shouting against the British is losing its identity in the louder chorus of abuse from more recent non-British immigrants.  One of the most potent results of the War is the abiding anti-British influence of German-American groups.  They are influential especially in the Middle West.  Their temporary submergence during the War has reacted now in a more positive racial affinity with the German Republic.  They tend to see the future of international relations in terms of America and Germany versus Britain.  These German-American upper and middle class groups are supported by the southern and eastern European immigrants.  In the case of the latter the dominant factor is perhaps less a racial and more a class, or at least a social, consciousness.  Immediate hostility is aimed not so much at Britain as at the older Anglo-Saxon stock which rules this country socially, commercially, and politically.

With the growth of this non-British stock to its present proportion of 63 per cent of the population, an attempt by it to wrest economic and political control from the older ruling class is doubtless inevitable under any circumstances.  But it is apparent that the War and post-War developments have accelerated this spirit of revolt.

Hence Mayor Thompson of Chicago.  It is generous of London politicians and publicists to be amused rather than insulted by the Thompson episode.  But, as British observers and officials long stationed in the United States can tell them, this Thompson movement cannot be “laughed off.”  For it is a movement.  It represents one of the most fundamental developments in our political and social life.  It cuts across every major American problem, whether that be labour organisation, crime, prohibition, the Ku Klux Klan, or foreign policy.

Mr. William Hale Thompson, instead of being the buffoon he is supposed to be abroad, is upon his record one of the shrewdest of American politicians.  He is a man of Anglo-Saxon stock, of cultured heritage and good education.  But he is a politician.  He has demonstrated that an unscrupulous campaign of hate against Britain is the quickest way to win votes in the second largest city in the United States.  On the strength of that issue he was able to wipe out his Wartime unpopularity.  On the strength of that issue he was able after defeat to return to political power, as few American politicians ever do on any issue.  On the strength of that issue he was able to remain in power despite united opposition by the influential press of the city and nation, and despite a record of city crime during his term unprecedented in the history of America’s boss-ridden cities.  As all rotten structures fall of their own weight in the end, the Thompson administration went down.  But the anti-British forces that raised him to power have not collapsed with him.  They are as strong as ever.

A fairer example is Mr. Alfred E. Smith, who, by the testimony of his political opponents, is one of the ablest and most honourable men in American public life.  Certainly he is one of the most popular.  Despite the handicap of being a minority candidate and a Wet Catholic in a prohibitionist Protestant land, he received in 1928 the largest popular vote ever given a Democratic presidential candidate.  He is the representative and idol of the immigrant class of which he is a part.  In this son of Irish immigrants were fused in hot enthusiasm the ambitions and drive for power of the immigrant groups.  Almost without exception, he carried the immigrant districts.  The cleavage of class was conscious.  “Al” was recognised and acclaimed as “the man of the people” in a sense that none has been acclaimed since Lincoln and Bryan.  As the popularity of Lincoln and Bryan reflected the social movements of their time, so Smith represents the group now struggling for power against the domination of an older ruling class.  That group is anti-British.  It follows a William Hale Thompson when there is not an Al Smith to lead.

There is general recognition by American politicians of this situation.  The Republican Party in 1920 deliberately used an anti-internationalist appeal—similar to an anti-British appeal, as anti-British sentiment helped prevent American entrance into the League of Nations—to unseat the Democratic Administration.  The same strategy was utilized by a majority of the Republican politicians in their opposition to Mr. Hoover in the 1928 pre-convention campaign.  They knew that the most effective propaganda they could use against him was to call him pro-British.  They called him “Sir ‘Erbert.”  They emphasised that he had lived much of his life in England.  He is one of the few national figures who have survived the charge of being pro-British.  Perhaps the reason is that he had an alibi in his anti-British crusade against the rubber monopoly.  At any rate it is clear that Democratic and Republican politicians, including Mr. Hoover, do not underestimate the power of anti-British immigrant opinion.

That is not to deny that the Anglo-Saxon minority still rules this country, politically as well as intellectually and economically.  But even this minority is not as friendly toward Britain as some professional utterances might indicate.  It resents what it considers the patronising attitude of the British—an unforgivable sin to a class which cherishes the exclusive privilege of patronising others.  Among the professions any foreign influence is apt to be Continental rather than British.  In the army, navy, and diplomatic service there is little love of the British.  Instead there is positive hostility.

Such hostility, as indicated, is not new.  It has come down from the American Revolution in our history text-books.  The same spirit made Americans ready to go to war with Great Britain over a boundary dispute in Venezuela, as to the merits of which the average American knew nothing and cared less.  Without preparation, President Cleveland was able to tap a great gusher of British hate which flowed over the cross-roads, the villages, and the cities into the press and onto the floors of Congress.  War was demanded.  The Unthinkable was called “inevitable” by senators.  Nothing but British statesmanship prevented war.  There was no evidence of fairness, much less of blood friendship, in Secretary Knox’s note to Great Britain in the Panama Canal Tolls dispute.  There was less in the Congressional debates.  Even when we were on the point of entering the World War on the Allied side the diplomatic notes of Secretary Lansing to Britain in the freedom of the seas dispute were as bitter as those usually followed by a declaration of war against the recipient.

If ever the much-talked-of kinship should have operated to produce friendship it was during the World War.  But the official alliance of that period was not reflected in any love of the American troops for the British.  Yankee doughboys do not return in numbers now to renew pleasant associations in England.  Indeed, the relatively small general American tourist trade in England is indicative of the lack of positive sympathy between the two peoples.  The British speak our language, even our slang.  They show our movies, they re-print our fiction, they have Americanised many of their newspapers and hotels and shops.  They have the best motor roads in Europe, the most charming countryside, the most famous lakes, the most beautiful churches, the cultural shrines of the English-speaking world.  Logically, England should be the American tourist’s paradise.  But the larger tourist trade washes other shores.

Americans who go to England do not, as a rule, like their “cousins.”  Even Ambassador Page, who was later pro-British almost to the point of treason in his sabotage of the policies of his own Government, could write in a private letter to his friend, Secretary Houston, August 24, 1913, of the Briton’s “unctuous rectitude in stealing continents.”  “I guess they really believe that the earth belongs to them.”6  But, as he added in a later letter to President Wilson :  “The future of the world belongs to us.  These English are spending their capital ... Now, what are we going to do with the leadership of the world presently when it clearly falls into our hands ?  And how can we use the British for the highest uses of democracy ?”  Apparently the British have no monopoly on “unctuous rectitude,” though probably at least a better sense of humour than that of Ambassador Page.  Mr. Page’s earlier opinion of the British was not unlike that of many of our diplomats who are now so fond of the Geneva jibe that “England expects every Swede to do her duty.”

Vicious attacks on Great Britain during the Kellogg Treaty and cruiser bill debates in the winter of 1928-29 by such senators as Mr. Blaine and Mr. James Reed were little-exaggerated versions of opinions expressed by the man on the street.  Senators and press correspondents who have followed Congressional debate for years said that never in peace-time within their experience had there been such unrestrained attacks on any foreign nation.  So marked was that hostility that Prime Minister Baldwin, when under fire from the Opposition in the House of Commons, was able to use successfully for the moment the excuse that “suspicion” in America toward Britain was so great that further naval disarmament proposals by his Government would be “useless.”

These American “suspicions” are commonly ascribed by the British to an inferiority complex.  Thus “Augur” writes in the Fortnightly Review :  “The naval conference at Geneva and later developments prove that people in responsible positions in the United States have a deep distrust of the intentions of Great Britain and are inclined to see hidden plans of aggression in all proposals made by the British.  It is clear that the complex of political inferiority which existed among the Americans before the War has not vanished completely even now when really there is no cause for it.  The fear of Great Britain has disappeared, but, instead, the inferiority complex breeds a suspicion which must be destroyed before the two countries can come together.”

Perhaps at this point we should recall that “profound secret of which the Americans are unaware,” as disclosed by another Briton, Mr. L.J. Maxse :  “The self-complacency of official England, which is no less exasperating to unofficial England than it is to foreigners, is never a mask for Satanic cunning or diabolic cleverness, but it is sometimes a cloak for somnolence, stupidity, ignorance, and ineptitude.”  If that be true, unfortunately, the average American cannot be expected to understand it, especially in times of crisis.  If the time ever comes when the Washington Government wants to turn the luke-warm friendship or positive dislike of large numbers of Americans for Britain into hatred—as was done in the case of Germany—there is no evidence that the task will be a difficult one.

There are all too many skeletons in the British closet ;  many of them, indeed, not even in the closet.  There is India.7  There is the Mui Tsai (child-slavery) system in British Hong-Kong and British forced labour in Africa.  There is British sabotage of the American reforms proposed at Geneva for international control of production and trafic in drugs.  There is Egypt.  There is the British exclusion policy against American oil companies, the activity of the British in the Panama Canal region, discrimination against American stockholders in British corporations.  There is imperialism, which means, to many if not to most Americans, British Empire policy.

Americans are more familiar with the faults of British policy than with its virtues.  Doubtless that is one reason they love Britain so little.  She offends their sense of justice and fair play so often in dealing with weaker people.  And Americans—whose capacity for puritanical hypocrisy is unequalled anywhere in the world, unless it be in Britain—cannot respect any other nation which treats defenceless peoples as we treat the Haitians, Nicaraguans, and others.

There is also the matter of prohibition.  Bigotry of “Dry” extremists, which is creating such a serious domestic problem, is carried over to poison our relations abroad.  Much is made of British rum-running.  Little credit is given the British Government for the unusual measures it has taken in Bermuda and elsewhere to co-operate in the enforcement of a foreign law which is disapproved by most of its own citizens ;  nor is there appreciation of the restraint of the British public and press when, as in the I’m Alone case, the American coast guard sink British ships with loss of life on the high seas.

Given this tendency to be less than fair to our “cousins” and given the skeletons of British imperialism so familiar here, any American Government propaganda agent worth his salt could in a crisis “sell” the idea to “make the world safe for democracy” by fighting Britain.

Not that the latent hostility is all on one side.  The British reciprocate.  Even in these post-War years, when most British newspapers and officials have been trying so hard as a matter of deliberate policy to be pro-American outwardly, there are constant and unconscious evidences of that patronising attitude Americans resent more than anything else.  At times this official pro-American resolution breaks down, as when under the provocation of the Coolidge Armistice Day address of 1928, the name of the American President was jeered in the House of Commons.  Incidentally this episode, with few exceptions, was not reported by the British or American press.

In his book, British-American Relations, Mr. J.D. Whelpley states on the basis of many years of friendly observation of British public and private sentiment that the Englishman’s opinion of Americans “is not as favourable as the American’s opinion of the Englishman.  There is a certain peculiar unchangeableness in the British attitude as a nation and individually.  It might be described as one of tolerant dislike, though this is perhaps too strong a term to use.  At times this feeling comes very much to the surface, and at other times it is submerged under the emotions of the moment, but it is always there, and takes the form generally of a vague distrust as to motives, uncertainty as to what the American will do next, and lack of sympathy with American stridency of life and lack of reserve.  There is generally a certain amount of patronage in such approval as is given and a feeling of justification when an American does something which is disapproved.  There is a full appreciation of American energy, resource, vitality, and accomplishment.  There is always an under-estimate of the spiritual forces at work in America and an over-estimate as to the importance with which material things are regarded in that country.”8  Mr. Whelpley’s last sentence is also an uncomfortably close description of the pre-War attitude of the British toward the Germans.  Most observers, whether American, British, or foreign, find in the British attittude toward Americans this same dislike or worse.  Here are a few examples, taken at random :

Mr. C.E.M. Joad, British professor of philosophy and author of The Babbitt Warren.  “Perhaps it is because they dimly apprehend this fate for England, fearing that it may become the toy and the plaything of the vulgar rich from over the seas, its culture lost, its beauty shattered, and its people parasites, that the English dislike America.”9  But most observers tend rather to emphasise the political aspects.  As Colonel House wrote to President Wilson in 1919, remarks frequently quoted in England :  “Almost as soon as I arrived in England I felt antagonism to the United States. . . . Relations of the two countries are beginning to assume the same character as those of England and Germany before the War.  By her industry and organisation Germany was forging ahead as the first power in the world, but she lost everything by her arrogance and lack of statesmanship.  Will it be Britain or the United States who will commit this colossal blunder ?”

It must be said, of course, that the British are not original in their dislike of us.  As Mr. Edwin L. James, foreign correspondent of the New York Times, reports :  “Of all the peoples in the world, the Americans are now the least loved.  That is one way of saying that the United States of America is the most unpopular nation on the face of the earth.  By degrees all civilised countries are being divided into two parts—the United States and the rest of them.”10

Mr. Samuel Samuel, a member of Parliament and Dutch-Shell oil official, not long ago told a London audience :  “We cannot trust the United States.  She is trying to dominate Great Britain.”11  The Dean of St. Paul’s, in his book England, says :  “If the British flag were hauled down in the North American continent it is more than possible that the nations of Europe, enraged by the bloated prosperity and airs of superiority of ‘the man who won the war,’ would combine to draw Shylock’s teeth ;  and Great Britain, after losing Canada, would no longer have any motive to help a nation which, in the circumstances supposed, would have finally forfeited its friendship.”  When this was quoted on the floor of the Senate, British clergymen sent a denial that it represented the views of any considerable number of Englishmen.  Perhaps not in quite such an extreme form.

According to Mr. Bertrand Russell, in his Prospects of Industrial Civilisation :  “It is, of course, obvious that the next Power to make a bid for world empire will be America.  America may not, as yet, consciously desire such a position, but no nation with sufficient resources can long resist the attempt.  And the resources of America are more adequate than those of any previous aspirant to universal hegemony.”  Mr. J.W. Brown, vice-chairman of the National Federation of Professional Workers, in opening the International War Danger Conference in London in 1927, was more specific :  “America is undoubtedly the most ruthless and aggressively imperialist nation at present.  It is in the imperialistic policy of the United States that great danger exists for future war.”12

Discussing the occasion when members of the House of Commons jeered at the mention of President Coolidge’s name in connexion with the 1928 Armistice Day speech, Mr. John L. Balderston cabled the New York World from London :  “Although I have worked here as newspaper correspondent for 14 years, I have found an England this week that was strange to me, an England whose feelings—at least those of the governing class, which is easy to sense—are extremely difficult to explain.  But it seems, at least to one observer, that the Coolidge pronouncement, though of course isolated, signalises a new difficulty and possibly a dangerous era in Anglo-American relations.”13  On the same day the usually careful London Times printed in large type at the head of its letter column, a place usually reserved for contributions expressing the view of the newspaper, a communication which charged that the United States at the Washington Arms Conference tricked Britain into scrapping new and good naval ships in exchange for American ships of doubtful value.14

Mr. Balderston quotes the London News as stating that the talk of the “unthinkableness of Anglo-American conflicts now or in the distant future hardly fits the fact.”15  Later the London News admitted that relations between the two countries “are more delicate than they have been for a generation;”  and the London Chrovicle declared :  “We stand at a critical epoch ;  the next four years may well determine for the long future the relations between ourselves and America.”16

Mr. Frank H. Simonds, one of America’s best informed foreign observers, finds :  “So far there has been a general unanimity both in the United States and Great Britain on the verdict that an Anglo-American war was unthinkable.  Now, however, one must face the fact that in Britain and on the Continent there is a growing fear lest the unthinkable becomes a very real and well-nigh inescapable menace.  Europe, which has a long and unhappy experience in reading the signs which forecast stormy international weather, begins to interpret the new signs with the accustomed standards.” 17  Mr. Simonds’ reference to the opinion of Europe is easily verified.  For instance the New York Times reported from Rome, November 14, 1928, that “almost all the newspapers consider it (the Coolidge Armistice Day speech) foreshadows a gigantic struggle between America and England for world leadership.”

Senator Henri de Jouvenel, former French delegate to the League of Nations, told the War Danger Conference in London in 1927, that there would be another world war by 1935, and added :  “If we should see another European war the United States will not be on the same side as England.”18  According to War Commissar Voroshilov of the Soviet Government :  “One must not be particularly far-seeing or a political bolshevik to foresee that a solution of the aggravated English-American controversies lies in the long run in the path of armed conflict.  This clash, enforced and violent, will exceed all the bloody slaughters recorded in the history of mankind.”19  General Ludendorff thinks that such a war is not only possible but “more possible than war seemed possible between America and Germany years ago.  For, between America and Britain, there are undeniably, strongly conflicting interests and policies.”20

Lieut. Comdr. J.M. Kenworthy, M.P., says :  “The danger of Anglo-American conflict is as real as was the danger of war between Britain and Germany in 1905.  We are heading straight for the same tragedy as 1914.”21  Field Marshal Sir William Robertson, former Chief of the British General Staff, frankly compares the United States to the Prussia of 1914.  Speaking to the League of Nations Union in London, Dec. 5, 1928, he said :  “America, influenced by imperialistic tendencies, apparently, means, whatever happens, to go on increasing her navy, and her official utterances on the question of armaments not infrequently bear a close resemblance to those claims which we were so accustomed to hear made by Germany before the tragedy of 1914.”22

The truth or lack of truth in these opinions of Europeans and of Britons will be considered later ;  the point here is that such opinions of us are held abroad—though usually not openly expressed except under extreme Yankee prodding.  Before we dismiss such opinions as those of scaremonger journalists, bolsheviks, and militarists, it is necessary to note that they are confirmed in a general way by the highest political authorities in Britain.  Mr. Stanley Baldwin, leader of the Conservative Party, said while Prime Minister :  “I think President Coolidge is right.  I think there is lacking between Europe and America mutual understanding, and I regret it profoundly. . . . I do not pretend to see a way out, but I think this worthy of reflection and consideration.”23  Mr. David Lloyd George, leader of the Liberal Party and former Prime Minister, has said :  “I am frankly alarmed over our relations with America.”24

Prime Minister MacDonald said—before he took over the Governrment, of course—:  “The relations between the United States and Great Britain grow increasingly unhappy.  The usual committees of friendship are being formed—always an ominous sign, and the usual signals of a faith in doubt are being flown, such as :  ‘War between the United States and Great Britain is unthinkable.’  When I hear that I am reminded of the sailor who in dire peril expressed a thankfulness that his religion was still left.”26

It is true that several of the above quotations were provoked by Coolidge speeches, and that the Hoover-MacDonald conversations of 1929 stimulated more friendly public statements on both sides of the Atlantic.  But, just as the old Anglo-American antipathy was stimulated though not initiated by Coolidge, that friction is not removed by the extreme prophecies of everlasting friendship occasioned by Mr. MacDonald’s visit to Washington.  Causes of economic conflict and armed war are too deep to be judged by surface waves of popular feeling resulting from favourable or unfavourable propaganda winds.

In the midst of the Hoover-MacDonald friendship negotiations, the MacDonald Government officially and directly was fighting two special trade battles against the United States, and the Hoover Administration officially was trying to force through Congress a higher tariff law deliberately designed to exclude many British products from this country.  The MacDonald Government sent the official d’Abernon mission to the Argentine Government and obtained an agreement giving Britain many millions of dollars’ worth of trade which had been going to the United States, and which Mr. Hoover hoped to retain on the strength of his Argentine tour a few months earlier.  While Mr. MacDonald was nearing New York on his visit to the President, his Cabinet colleague, Mr. J.H. Thomas, was boasting of having taken a large amount of Canadian coal and steel trade away from the United States.

Mr. Thomas in making to the Brighton Conference of the Labour Party the first official announcement of the result of his Canadian mission, said :  “I found that Canada was importing from the United States 15 million tons of bituminous coal every year.  I convinced the Canadians that some of that should come from England and Wales, because every 300 tons mined in this country means enough work to support a miner and his family one year”—and, he might have added, means work taken away from American miners of whom tens of thousands are unemployed and other tens of thousands are on part time.  When a member of the Brighton audience asked Mr. Thomas why he had not told the good news of the steel orders before, he replied :  “Because if I had talked too soon the United States steel producers would have got into the Canadian market with offers of their goods reduced $2 or $3 a ton, and I was more interested in increasing our export trade than in satisfying public curiosity.”

To which a delegate shouted the objection that Britain “should not begin economic warfare against America, at the very time when the Prime Minister is going to Washington on a mission of world peace, because all wars have economic origins.”26

This does not mean that the Prime Minister and the President in their good will negotiations and statements were hypocrites.  But it does mean that the trade war at the same time is increasing with a force which sweeps Prime Ministers and Presidents along with it.  As Mr. MacDonald has explained,—when not on good will missions—Britain must increase her exports to survive.  As Mr. Hoover has explained—when not a good will host—our prosperity depends on keeping the foreign markets which absorb our 10 per cent industrial production surplus.  Now it so happens that our Canadian market, raided by the MacDonald Government, is our largest world market.  Our Argentine market, raided by the MacDonald Government, is our largest Latin American market, almost as large as that of any three other Latin American customers combined.  It also happens that those are “our” markets chiefly because we captured them from the British, and only so long as we can prevent the British from recapturing them from us.  All of which is only one little front in the Anglo-American economic world struggle, which cuts under and through the tentative Hoover-MacDonald naval truce.


There are two popular attitudes toward the fact of Anglo-American economic conflict, and the further fact that historically such rivalry usually has resulted in armed war.  One is that of bland denial of the facts, without proofs or arguments.  Such is the familiar course of orators at Anglo-American dinners and occasions of one sort and another.  Thus Mr. Charles Evans Hughes, who has participated personally in the Anglo-American conflict as Secretary of State and as attorney for the American oil interests, told the Pilgrim Society of London in the summer of 1929 :  “Happily we have no controversy threatening our friendship—merely injudicious utterances of the irresponsible and irrepressible.”27  This, of course, is the set speech of practically all diplomats of the two governments. Another popular attitude is silence.  Especially those who hold most strongly to the Unthinkable War idea, want to stop discussion of the existing conflicts.  This group, and many brilliant peace advocates on both sides of the Atlantic are included, have the notion that the disputes can best be worked out in secrecy or semi-secrecy.  Thus they throw over their ideal of open diplomacy.  To accept this hush-hush method is to renounce hope of intelligent popular control of foreign policy.  What either government has ever done without popular pressure in peace-time—which is the only time there is any chance of intelligent public opinion—to justify trust in such secret diplomacy, we are not told.  Since both countries operate nominally through a system of representative government, it would seem that if the people are not able to hear the truth regarding foreign relations, they are not capable of judging the issues or exercising an election mandate upon such issues.

The fallacy of this silence panacea goes deeper, however, than a mere inconsistency in the theory of representative government.  Judged only on the basis of practical results, the method of suppressing discussion has the opposite effect from that intended and claimed by its peace advocates.  Belligerent propaganda is not and cannot be stopped.  The only thing that is silenced is intelligent and responsible discussion.  That has been demonstrated repeatedly in the case of naval rivalry.  Results are the same, though less obvious, in economic conflicts.  Take war debts and the rubber monopoly.

In the case of the debt,28 the British people would not feel the same bitterness against the American “Shylock” if they understood the situation governing American policy, nor would the American people be so unwilling to cancel all of the debt if they appreciated the British need and the economic fallacy of international war debt payment.  Here is a fair example of the failure of the friends of better Anglo-American relations, who go about making pretty speeches of the all’s well variety and cursing those who dare mention the serious misunderstandings.

British friends of peace, to say nothing of the British friends of the United States, do not give their countrymen the American side of the case—it is not the whole truth, but it is a half-truth without which the British cannot arrive at a just or intelligent opinion.  Anglophile Americans do not explain to this country the psychological and economic justification for forgiving our debtors.  Instead, this pro-British minority among us is strangely silent whenever a practical defence of the British position on an actual issue is needed.

The debt situation in the United States is clear.  The Government would cancel all of the debt if such action were politically expedient.  But American voters object, and object strenuously, chiefly because they are uninformed.  Their ignorance on this subject, and their hostility born of that ignorance, is so great that the Government has to lie to them about the debt funding settlements already made.  To this day, they do not know that those funding agreements did cancel war debts from 30 to 80 cents on every dollar.  Cancellation of the British debt amounted (at a 5 per cent interest rate) to 30.1 per cent of the total.  Whatever the coolness in this country toward Britain, it is a safe generalisation that most Americans would rather die for Britain than lift a finger to help Mussolini.  If they understood that Mussolini made even a paper settlement only under duress and only after the promise of a virtual bribe in the form of a new loan larger than his partial debt payment, and that he was then granted an 80.2 per cent debt cancellation, they would not be so eager to penalise Britain for being the first foreign nation to fund its American debt and the only one to do so voluntarily.  Logically, to be sure, Americans might be more anxious to drive a hard bargain to weaken their chief world competitor, than to restrict by debt collection the war preparations of Fascism which do not concern them directly.  But they are not moved by logic.  They would not wittingly, at the expense of a parliamentary government, befriend a system so alien as is Fascism to their faith in the perfection of the American form of democracy.  Even though an intelligent discussion of the war debt issue left the problem unsolved, it could hardly fail more completely to mitigate the bitterness on both sides than has the method of silence.

Analagous to British hostility toward America because of debt collection is American vindictiveness toward Britain over the latter’s rubber monopoly.  The fact that Britain “did not get away with it”—to use the familiar Americanism most often applied to this dispute—does not lessen the tension.

Mr. Hoover’s handling of the rubber controversy, while Secretary of Commerce, is a perfect example of how not to handle Anglo-American relations.  It is discouraging evidence of the capacity of otherwise intelligent and well-meaning officials to sow the seeds of war psychology, through stupidity or worse.  Here was a growing dispute, which did not break upon officials unexpectedly.  Its potentialities were especially dangerous because, unlike most international issues, it touched practically every American family directly and immediately.  It meant that the millions of American buyers of motor cars would have to go without a car or pay more.  It meant that they would have to pay more for tires every few months.

The situation could have been explained calmly by the Government from the beginning and before the crisis developed.  That would have accomplished two things.  Americans then would have understood that foreign monopoly price-fixing of a commodity of which they were the chief consumers, while not justified, was no more than British retaliation against our prohibitive tariff and was one way of paying the British war debt to us.  Probably also such a discussion here would have lifted the counter-discussion in England to a similar plane of friendliness and intelligence, which might have influenced that Government to discontinue gracefully and sooner an impracticable plan which in the end it had to disown as a failure anyway.

But American officials and publicists watched this growing conflict in the silence so dear to those whose panacea is to ignore such disagreeable situations.  The people knew nothing about it until the crisis.  Then they wanted to know just one thing :  Who put up the price of tires ?  They were in a mood for propaganda, and they got propaganda without stint.  Mr. Hoover and others began a shrill anti-British campaign.  It was an effective campaign because, as is usually the case, there was so much truth in it.  But the whole truth was not in it.  The British side was never stated.  Nor were the people told that certain American tire companies were pyramiding the British monopoly prices of raw rubber.  Only a few Progressive senators and publicists, most vehemently hated by the professional Anglophiles, tried unsuccessfully to voice these reservations in the midst of the general hubbub.  Even now the American farmers, who are not only tire users but the most rigid sticklers for full foreign debt collection, do not know that the British rubber scheme was close akin to their own farm debenture plan for an export surplus.  Nor do the American people as a whole know that the British plan was only a “reverse-English” tariff, which, if anything, was less unfair to Americans than our high tariff wall is to our British debtors.

That American Government’s propaganda ended, for the time, in characteristic fashion—in the glory and self-righteousness of a pseudo-nationalistic victory.  “We beat the British.”  Of course, we did not win the rubber war, any more than we won the World War.  Sabotage by Dutch planters broke the attempted British-controlled production monopoly upon which the restrictive price-fixing scheme depended.  Or, put in broader terms, failure was caused by the economic ipossibility of permanetly raising prices in a world market without stimulating competing outlaw production.  Mr. Hoover and his associates in the Government and in the American rubber companies to claim the victory for the United States, and for the sacred American foreign policy of the Open Door in all territories not closed by the United States.  Another crusade to make the world safe for democracy !

The net result of the Government’s propaganda and of the misguided silence of advocates of Anglo-American peace, is increased American nationalism and imperialism.  This is precisely the sort of thing which would rise up to curse us in a war crisis.  Moreover this anti-British propaganda has been used skilfully to blind Americans to the methods of imperialism and labour exploitaion employed with the blessings of the Washington Government by Yankee rubber companies in Liberia and elswhere to “free America from the British monopoly menace.”

So one Anglo-American controversy after another could be examined to show that silence by friends of peace has contributed to the mutual misunderstanding.  Never have international economic conflicts been resolved by refusal on the part of some to recognise their existence.

Could the people of Europe have understood in advance that the causes driving their nations to war were not essentially spiritual conflicts between Huns and Hosts of the Lord, but economic struggles for iron and coal and oil, for colonial raw materials, for surplus population and production outlets, for strategic lines and bases, for sea supremacy, would the peoples then have fought ?  Perhaps.  But if such popular knowledge of war causes and war aims cannot prevent an Anglo-American war, probably nothing can.  Compared with this peace insurance other guarantees against war are insignificant.

Unfortunately most of the peace movements of both America and Britain rely almost exclusively on safeguards other than an understanding and settlement of basic economic conflicts.  They ignore or deliberately gloss over those realities.  They see Utopia in terms of treaties and the kind of naval limitation or truce which passes for disarmament.  Certainly no intelligent person can belittle the temporary settlement of political and naval disputes resulting from economic conflict.  But neither can he assume that the cause is thereby eliminated.

Since the War such a false assumption has been made more than once by Americans and Britons, in the sudden reversals of public opinion controlled by officials.  Perhaps those uncritical reactions have been more characteristic here than abroad.  First it was the Washington Naval Treaty.  The speeches of Secretary Hughes and Lord Balfour acclaiming an end of naval rivalry were believed by the people.  When the exaggeration was discovered, the public went to the other extreme.  And partly because of that reaction the country for six years wallowed in anti-British and big navy propaganda.  Then came the Kellogg Treaty outlawing war.  That seemed a large order, and rather sudden.  But the public took the sweeping statements of that Treaty literally.  Later its jokers began to appear.  It turned out that the Treaty had only a “moral” value and was not legally binding.  It turned out that so-called defensive war was recognised with each nation its own judge—in other words, the Treaty would not have prevented the World War or any other war in modern history.  Soon after the Treaty was ratified, Mr. Kellogg and the President were proclaiming that armament and arbitration treaties were necessary to make it effective.  And the people were asking how the Kellogg Treaty could be a guarantee of peace one minute and revealed the next as only high-sounding words.  It was not that the people themselves had expected too much of the Kellogg Treaty, or the Washington Naval Agreement.  They had been led to expect too much by well-meaning, though over-anxious statesmen.  That applies to the naval negotiations of 1929-30 too, and to the prospective treaty.

In the midst of the Hoover-MacDonald conversations in Washington it was officially indicated that all friction had been removed in all disputes.  Why exaggerate ?  There was so much friction over war debts the subject could not even be mentioned in the official statements.  There was so much friction over the freedom of the seas dispute they were afraid to put it on the agenda lest it break up the naval conference.  Economic conflicts were untouched.

Treaties are not enough—not even an unconditional arbitration treaty, which is much needed.  Britain and America, no less than Germany, have violated informal agreements and formal treaties, and will do so again with sufficient provocation.  Armament reduction is good.  Men fight when they are armed.  But they fight also when they are unprepared—as America was unprepared in 1917.  They fight whenever it is to the economic interest of the governing class to make them believe that an Unthinkable War is a Holy War.

If ever they refuse to fight, if ever they refuse to believe the propaganda and war lies of governments, if ever they decide that the actual faults of the “enemy” cannot be corrected on the battlefield, it will be because they understand the nature of the conflict.  Armed with knowledge, they may not fight with guns.  Those who preach the unthinkableness of war between the United States and Britain, those who pray for silence regarding the present Anglo-American economic conflict, have perceived a half-truth, but a most dangerous half-truth.  They see that public opinion is the only hope.  But they do not see that uninformed and unintelligent public opinion is the great menace.  No militaristic government ever gets more insane, more destructive than a war-mad mob.  Soon or late come crises, soon or late come stupid or vicious governments ready to convert such crises into war.  And if that time should come, British and American public opinion in its present state could not be trusted.

There is danger of eventual war.  There is a fierce struggle for foreign markets, raw materials, financial supremacy.  But that struggle in itself is not the gravest danger.  The danger is in the people’s ignorance.  They believe that international conflicts can be settled by armies and navies.  They still believe that a war can be won.



1 Olives of Endless Age, p. 309. 1928.

2 Arthur Posonby, Falsehood in War-Time, p. 41. 1928.

3 Cf., Posonby, supra, pp. 32-42.

4 —, p. 33.

5 Cf., Memorandum written by Lord Morley between July 24 and August 4, 1914, on the deliberations of the British Cabinet of which he was a member, New York New Republic, Oct. 10, 1928.

6 B.J. Hendrick, Life and Letters of Walter H. Page, Vol. 1, p. 139. 1925.

7 While Americans are blaming Great Britain for oppressing India, and the British are blaming the United States for its lynchings and general treatment of the Negroes, it is significant that these two groups are feeling their “kinship in oppression.”  On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, June 17, 1929, Gandhi, described by the Association as the “spiritual leader in India,” sent the following message :  “Let not the 12 million Negroes be ashamed of the fact that they are the grandchildren of slaves.  There is no dishonour in being slaves.  There is dishonour in being slave owners.  But let us not think of honour or dishonour in connexion with the past.  Let us realise that the future is with those who would be truthful, pure, and loving.  For, as the old wise men have said truth ever is, untruth never was.  Love alone binds, and truth and love accrue only to the truly humble.”

8 P. 34.

9 New York Forum, November 1928, article on “Does England Dislike America ?”

10 New York Times, July 11, 1926.

11 United Press, Oct. 17, 1928.

12 Associated Press, Nov. 24, 1927.

13 New York World, Nov. 18, 1928.

14 —,Nov. 18, 1928.

15 —,Nov. 20, 1928.

16 New York Herald Tribune, Mar. 10, 1929.

17 Washington Star, Dec. 23, 1928.

18 New York Times, Nov. 26, 1927.

19 Associated Press, Mar. 10, 1929.

20 Interview by Karl H. von Wiegand, quoted in the Congressional Record, Feb. 19, 1929, p. 3929.

21 United Press, Oct. 3, 1928.

22 New York Times, Dec. 6, 1928.

23 New York Current History, December 1928.

24 New York Literary Digest, Dec. 1, 1928.

25 New York Nation, Jan. 24, 1920.

26 New York Times, Oct. 2, 1929.

27 —, May 9, 1929.

28 Cf., Chapter VII.