Shall it be Again ?


OUR professed objectives, as voiced by President Wilson, and echoed by all “loyal patriots” who “stood behind” him, do not admit of dispute as to their nature, so long as they were expressed in abstract terms.  From the beginning of the war to its finish, all declarations of aim were put forward as leading to the same ends—democracy—permanent peace.  Permanent peace was laid down as essential to the safety of democracy—and a certain measure of democracy was laid down as essential to permanent peace.  Absolute equality among nations, great and small;  equal and absolute independence in domestic affairs;  freedom of the seas for all, upon terms of equality, in peace and in war;  the self-determination of peoples;  some international understanding for the enforcement of these principles;  open diplomacy, the abolition of militarism and autocracy—these were put forward simply as conditions of that measure of democracy which a permanent peace requires.

These principles of a permanent peace were not new.  They are not Wilson creations or discoveries.  They were urged upon the world by a few men in all countries before the outbreak of the war, and during the war they were accepted—in words—by the leading statesmen of both sides.

We have the word of President Wilson himself that :  “The objects which the statesmen of the belligerents on both sides have in mind in this war are virtually the same, as stated in general terms to their own people and to the world.”  (Dec. 18, 1916.)  What governments, if any, in fact went to war for democracy ?  It is obvious that the answer is to be found, not in the abstract professions of statesmen, but in the record of concrete performances.

Even had President Wilson been sincere in his professed regard for the principles of democracy and permanent peace, that alone would not have justified him in leading America into war.  He would still have been under the obligation to arrive at war through constitutional and honest means.  Furthermore, the practicability of reaching the desired ends through war would have had to be overwhelmingly clear.

It happens that we have Wilson’s own word on the inexpediency of going to war for democracy, permanent peace, or for almost any other end, however desirable.  Although, from the beginning of his tenure of office, the President proclaimed adherence to the same principles of international conduct as he later translated into war objectives, until April, 1917, he not only refrained from going to war for their attainment, but argued copiously and eloquently upon the futility of such a course.  “There is nothing that the United States wants that it has to get by war. ... Force will not accomplish anything that is permanent. ... We are not interested in seeing one group of nations prevail over another. ... I challenge you to cite me an instance in the history of the world where liberty was handed down from above.”  Even after April, 1917, President Wilson, at times, pronounced against a crusade at arms to impose democracy upon other countries, as we shall soon see.

Even were a government to be found unselfish enough to assume the fearful cost of war, simply for the sake of extending democracy, the very attempt to impose democracy upon another nation would constitute a violation of sovereignty, which happens to be one of the conditions of democracy which President Wilson laid down as a prerequisite to permanent peace.

How, for that matter, can autocracy and militarism be banished from the earth, by opposing the autocracy and militarism of one country, with autocracy and militarism set up in other countries ?  During the fighting, the beauties in the so-called German system were urged upon us, notably in the President’s proclamation of May 18, 1917, and frequently by such men as James W. Gerard, ex-ambassador to Germany, and one of the President’s most trusted propagandists.  But if the system is so fine, why should we wish to destroy it, in Germany or anywhere else ?  If it be desirable for us, why not for our neighbors ?  For the very gentlemen who shouted most violently for the overthrow of German militarism advocated the same system for America, not merely as a temporary measure for the overthrow of German militarism;  after German militarism was overthrown they continued to advocate it as a permanent feature of American “democracy”!

One of the most universally accepted principles of the international law for which we professed to fight was that one country may not attempt to dictate the form of government of another, or any of its internal affairs, or find a basis for dispute in any of its policies except where the latter may involve either a direct infringement of the sovereignty of the first country, or an attack upon its vital interests.  The principle of self-determination precludes any government from attempting to serve democracy abroad by force, except as that might be possible in the adjustment of the external affairs of nations.  The question of reform within any country must be left strictly to be worked out by the population of that country.  The very term, “a war for democracy,” carries a contradiction within itself;  for the act destroys the aim.


PRESIDENT WILSON’S first formal and comprehensive statement of the terms requisite for a permanent peace, and the means for attaining such a peace, was made January 22, 1917, in the famous Senate address in which originated the phrase, “peace without victory.”  On going to war he did not repudiate his peace-without-victory speech as such, nor at any time confess himself wrong in the basic principles there laid down.  On the contrary, in the war message he assured us :  “I have exactly the same thing in mind now that I had in mind when I addressed the Senate on the 22nd of January last.”  In the message of December 4, of the same year, he again referred to the January address, asserting positively :  “Our entrance into the war has not altered our attitude toward the settlement that must come when it is over.”

Accordingly, here and there among the President’s later pronouncements appear declarations that prove to be strictly in harmony with the original formula.  Yet, side by side with these, appear others of a flatly contradictory nature.

The principle of first importance in the President’s original formula related, not to the actual conditions of a democratic and permanent peace, but to the means for attaining it, and was expressed by the phrase itself, “peace without victory”:

It must be a peace without victory. ... Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser, a victor’s terms imposed upon the vanquished.  It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory, upon which terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand.

Yet, in the war message, the President advised that Congress “exert all its power and employ all its resources to bring the government of the German Empire to terms”;  and thereafter he repeated the sentiment innumerable times.

Did the President change his convictions as to the means for attaining a permanent peace after January, 1917 ?  Why, then, did he continue to affirm his allegiance to that original formula ?  How great the inconsistency, is seen from the President’s elaboration of this article of his original book of faith:

Fortunately ... the statesmen of both of the groups of nations now arrayed against one another have said, in terms that could not be misinterpreted, that it was no part of the purpose they had in mind to crush their opponents.

Yet, in the message of December 4, we find this declaration, characteristic of later utterances :

The German power ... must be crushed.

Why should it be fortunate, at the beginning of 1917, that England, France, and their allies did not wish to crush Germany ?  The President answered as follows :

Only a peace between equals can last;  only a peace the very principle of which is equality and a common participation in a common benefit. ... The equality of nations upon which peace must be founded, if it is to last, must be an equality of rights.

If this and previous quotations from the same address mean anything at all, they mean that the primary condition for the attainment of a permanent and democratic peace is that the various belligerents shall meet at the peace table on terms of absolute equality, that neither shall hold a military advantage over the other, that neither shall be in a position to dictate to the other.  The corollary of this is that, should circumstances require America to enter the war, we would not be justified in continuing until victory, but only until such a time as the enemy became willing to meet us at the peace table on terms of equality.

But, throughout the war addresses, the military advantages of victory were frequently urged, even for the specific purpose of dictating a permanent and democratic peace.  “We are ... seeking to make conquest of peace by arms,” said the President, in the December 4 address.  And in the Buffalo speech (Nov. 12, 1917), he proclaimed that “the way to get peace, if you want it for more than a few minutes,” would be to win the war.

It was on this opposite theory that President Wilson acted in dealing with the enemy’s overtures for peace.  In the note of October 5, 1918, he demanded that, as one of the conditions precedent to talking peace, the Germans withdraw from Allied soil.  This demand would have been perfectly consistent with the permanent peace formula, had compliance with it equalized the position of the opposing sides;  but it happened that it made for greater inequality.  So long as the powers associated with us occupied more German territory—to-wit, the German colonies—than the Allied territory occupied by Germany, and so long as the demand that Germany withdraw was not accompanied by an offer of the Allies to withdraw, the principle of “equality of rights” was flagrantly violated.

Moreover, in subsequent notes, replying to Germany’s consent to withdraw from invaded territory—and other concessions of Germany—the President acknowledged that inequality was the very thing he was seeking, and that, unless Germany would accept inequality at the peace table, there would be no armistice and no peace.  In the note of October 14, he insisted upon “absolutely satisfactory safeguards and guarantees of the maintenance of the present military supremacy of the United States and the Allies in the field”;  and in the note of October 23, upon a situation “which would leave the United States and the powers associated with her in a position to enforce any arrangements that may be entered into.”

The President’s position in action, therefore, was that only a peace with victory would be considered, only a peace between unequals, only such a peace as “would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand.”  It was in accordance with this formula that the armistice terms were framed and imposed.

In spite of all this, during his exhortations to victory, President Wilson at times showed that he was fully aware that “peace without victory” signifies equality in the field as a means to arriving at equality in the terms—particularly in the reply to the Pope, and in the Baltimore speech (Apr. 6, 1918).  At the same time, he was advancing an argument forecasting a refusal of equality for the Kaiser.  This argument was that the word of the German government could not be trusted.  “They observe no covenants,” said he, September 27, 1918.  “We cannot `come to terms’ with them.  They have made it impossible.”

In the course of such denunciations, however, it was always made clear that the application was to the then existing German government.  Far from suggesting that the word of the German people was less trustworthy than the word of any other people, Wilson gave the world to understand that the word of a reformed German government would be worth as much as that of other governments.  When it is remembered that the President did not, at any time, advance any other argument why a peace between unequals should be imposed upon Germany, except that the word of the Kaiser’s government was worthless, his war speeches have to be taken as embodying a most unequivocal pledge to the German people that, on the day they overturned the Kaiser, they would be acceptable as equals at the peace table.

As late as October 23, 1918, we find the President refusing peace on the ground that “the nations of the world do not and cannot trust the word of those who have hitherto been the masters of German policy.”  With this proposition held before them, in their desperate need for peace, the German people overthrew the Kaiser and his entire circle in a manner so emphatic that its genuineness was not questioned.

What, then, became of the President’s promises ?  What became of his eloquent differentiations between the Kaiser’s government and the German people ?  Did he accord the reformed German government equality at the peace table ?  Did he exert any effort in that direction ?  Did the German revolution make any difference whatever in his course of action ?  Were the armistice terms one whit less crushing than they would have been had the Kaiser himself remained at Potsdam ?  Just how much was the word of Woodrow Wilson worth ?

The truth is that all of the President’s utterances about the worthless word of the Kaiser standing as a bar to a democratic peace are answered by other utterances of the President.  His original peace formula does not require that the word of any government whatever be taken as a means to guaranteeing the peace covenants.  Fully recognizing that the peace of the world in the past has been disturbed by governments dishonoring their word—not the German government alone, but governments in general—it fully provides for means to compel all to keep their word, in spite of any possible lapses of conscience.  Here is the provision :

It will be absolutely necessary that a force be created, as a guarantor of the permanency of the settlement, so much greater than the force of any nation now engaged, or any alliance hitherto formed or projected, that no nation, no probable combination of nations, could face or withstand it.  If the peace presently made is to endure, it must be a peace made secure by the organized major force of mankind.

This scheme is either efficacious or it is not.  If it is efficacious, then the question of the untrustworthiness of the word of the German government is irrelevant.  If it is not efficacious, then it is ridiculous to continue advocating it.  Nevertheless, along with his advocacy of a peace between unequals because of the moral incapacity of our enemies, the President continued his advocacy of a scheme to enforce a peace between equals, regardless of moral incapacities, wherever found.  Here is the form which this advocacy took as late as June 7, 1918:

Very well, let us make an arrangement by which we will give bonds.  Let us have a common guarantee that all of us will sign a declaration of political independence and territorial integrity.  Let us agree that if any one of us, the United States included, violates the political independence or territorial integrity of any of the others, all others will jump on her. ... Now that is the kind of an agreement that will have to be the foundation of the future life of the nations of the world, gentlemen.  The whole family of nations will have to guarantee to each nation that no nation shall violate its political independence or its territorial integrity.  That is the basis—the only conceivable basis—for the future peace of the world.  (Address to Mexican editors.)

So much for the means requisite for attaining a permanent and democratic peace.  Contradictions quite as remarkable appear in the terms themselves, as soon as they begin to be stated in concrete form.

As “equality of rights” is the vital principle of both the means and the terms of the President’s original peace creed, so equality of sovereignty is the primary essential of the terms.  In the peace-without-victory address, the proposition was put in the following words :

I am proposing ... that all nations should henceforth with one accord adopt the doctrine ... that no nation should seek to extend its polity over any other nation or people, but that every people should be left free to determine its own polity, its own way of development, unhindered, unthreatened, unafraid.

This is a principle to which the President had frequently professed allegiance from the beginning of his tenure of office.  That it means that one government may not attempt to abolish another government, however pernicious the latter may be—and however pure the former—is obvious, and it was so interpreted on almost innumerable occasions in pre-war days by the President himself.  It was even interpreted by him as imposing “upon each nation the duty of seeing to it that all influences proceeding from its own citizens meant to encourage or assist revolution in other states shall be sternly and effectually suppressed and prevented.”  (Inaugural address, 1917.)

After we entered the war, he pledged himself to apply the principle to our enemies, as a matter of course.  In the message of December 4, 1917, he made this sweeping commitment :

We owe it, however, to ourselves to say that we do not wish in any way to impair or rearrange the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  It is no affair of ours what they do with their own life, either industrially or politically.  We do not propose or desire to dictate to them in any way.  We only desire to see that their affairs are left in their own hands in all matters, great or small. ... And our attitude and purpose with regard to Germany herself are of a like kind.  We intend no wrong against the German Empire, no interference with her internal affairs.  We should deem either the one or the other absolutely unjustifiable, absolutely contrary to the principles we have professed to live by and to hold most sacred throughout our life as a nation. ... No one is threatening the existence or the independence of the German Empire. ...

In the speech of the Fourteen Points, Jan. 8, 1918, these promises were reaffirmed, both to Germany and to Austria.  Presidential pronouncements alternating with these, in point of time, and flatly contradicting them, begin with the war message and do not cease.  The war message is, in considerable part, an argument that America is justified in going to war to reform the German government, as well as other governments :  “We shall fight ... for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments.”  He even proceeded to make revolution in Germany an objective in war, and a condition of peace.  In the note of October 14, 1918, he insisted that the German people “alter” their government.  In the note of October 23 he laid down the ultimatum :

The President deems it his duty to point out that, in concluding peace ... the government of the United States cannot deal with any but veritable representatives of the German people who have been assured of a genuine constitutional standing as the real rulers of Germany.

Dismemberment itself became, in actual practice, a war aim of America, although it had been pronounced against, in one form or another, all the way from the peace-without-victory address, to the address of February 11, 1918, and even afterwards.  “The dismemberment of empires,” the President told the Pope, “we deem inexpedient and in the end worse than futile, no proper basis for a peace of any kind, least of all for an enduring peace,” while in the message of December 4, 1917, he quoted the phrase, “no annexations, no contributions, no indemnities,” asserting that they expressed his own thought.  Yet as early as his message to Russia (May 26, 1917) he was, at times, shuffling on the whole matter.  He was saying :  “The status quo must be altered.”  Also :

No territory must change hands except for the purpose of securing those who inhabit it a fair chance of life and liberty.  No indemnities must be insisted upon except those that constitute payment for manifest wrongs done.  No readjustments of power must be made except such as will tend to secure the future peace of the world, and the future welfare and happiness of its peoples.

We soon find that the President himself intends to determine upon the exceptions, and that they are always to be at the expense of our enemies, never of our allies.  Although in the message of February 11, 1918, the President disclaimed any “desire to interfere in European affairs or to act as arbiter of European territorial disputes,” he had already put forward his Fourteen Points, three of which forecasted the process of dismemberment.  Germany must cede France Alsace-Lorraine.  Austria must surrender to Italy territory that had never belonged to the kingdom of Italy.  An independent Poland must be created, in part, out of territory long recognized as belonging to our enemies.  In the message of December 4, the President had even announced the dissolution of the Quadruple Alliance as a war objective.  Finally, in October, 1918, he notified Austria-Hungary that the first condition of a cessation of hostilities must be a recognition of the Czecho-Slovak and Jugo-Slav “peoples” as “members of the family of nations.”

So, side by side, coming from the mouth of the same man, not separated by time, and reflected throughout our entire war propaganda, we find two distinct statements of war objectives and peace terms, absolutely inconsistent one with the other, diametrically opposed;  two formulas covering both the terms of a democratic and permanent peace, and the means for attaining it;  two theories utterly irreconcilable.

The first can only be based upon the assumption of the approximate moral equality of the opposing sides, not merely of the opposing peoples, but of the opposing governments—on the assumption that the character, motives, aims, ambitions, purposes, and methods of the opposing sides were never essentially different.  Necessarily, it rejects the theory that the responsibility for the war lies wholly in any one quarter, or that the liberty of the world is or was particularly imperiled by the power and ambitions of any one or any group.  It rests, instead, upon the theory that the great war was caused by things, by systems, by methods of action common to all;  specifically, by the general practice of secret diplomacy, by a general lack of respect for the sovereignty of weaker peoples, by the general practice of backing up private investments in weaker countries with armies and navies, by the inadequacy of existing international law, by the general practice of violating international covenants at will, by the common jealousies and hatreds growing out of former peaces from victory, by the absence of an effective concert of power to prevent war.

The second is based upon the diametrically opposite assumption, that the character, ambitions, and methods of the German government were vitally different from those of her enemies;  that the former governments of Germany and Austria are solely responsible for the great war;  that the Germans literally plotted world domination by might of the sword;  that the covenanted word of the enemies of the Kaiser was of distinctly greater value than the covenanted word of the Kaiser;  that the German world peril was a fact;  that world conquest by Germany was reasonably possible;  that Germany represented the principle of autocracy in world affairs, and that her enemies represented the principle of democracy.

To each of these theories the President pledged allegiance upon alternate occasions, even in alternate phrases.  If the first is the correct one, then our war was a crime.  If the second is the correct one, then our neutrality for nearly three years was a crime.  Of the first the President declared :

I feel confident that I have said what the people of the United States would wish me to say. ... These are American principles, American policies.  We can stand for no others. ... They are the principles of mankind and must prevail.  (Peace-without-victory speech.)

But he stood for the other theory whenever it came to action.  We shall now examine the premises upon which that theory is based.


ALTHOUGH, in the official propaganda, our motives, causes, and objectives, were stated in forms remarkably numerous and diverse, no theme was more frequently played upon than the German peril.  No exhortation to patriotism in the years 1917 or 1918 was complete without its horrible picture of German domination.  Every invocation to personal sacrifice, to loyalty, to courage, to hatred, was accompanied by an appeal to fear.  Fear !

Was the fear justified ?  Did the youth of America pour out its blood in a fight against a reality, or against a man of straw ?

It is obvious that not absolute, but relative, depravity must be the point of inquiry;  that the force of any indictment of a government or a nation can be gauged only by comparing it, on the same counts, with its neighbors.  For it must be apparent that if the character, the methods, and the aims of the governments with which we associated ourselves in war, do not stand upon a distinctly higher plane than the character, the methods, and the aims of the governments they opposed, then a victory of the former and a humiliation of the latter must be absolutely futile.  The causes of world war will not be abolished or abated.  Humanity will not be benefited in any respect or degree.  Civilization will go on exactly as it has gone before, serenely traversing a cycle that will bring it inevitably around to another vast catastrophe of steel and blood.

Insofar as they relate to the conduct of the Kaiser’s government toward America, the accusations of special depravity have already been exploded.  If the German peril was ever a reality, therefore, it must have been so only in the remote sense—and if a reality in the remote sense, the evidence of the fact must be found exclusively in those issues which the President himself, up to the delivery of his war message, had a hundred times assured his people did not concern them.

A brief but sufficient glance will now be given these issues.

Democracy versus Autocracy.

“We stand,” said President Wilson to President Poincaré  (Apr. 8, 1917), “as partners of the noble democracies whose acts and aims make for the perpetuation of rights and freedom of man, and for the safeguarding of the true principles of human liberties.”

*// Társként a nemes demokráciák(csőcselékuralmak) sorában állunk, kiknek cselekedetei és célkitűzései jelentős mértékben előmozdítják az ember szabadságának és jogainak állandósítását és az emberi szabadságjogok igaz alapeszméinek megőrzését.

But whether we and our “noble” allies are, on the whole, more democratic than were our enemies, is a debatable question.  Whether our most powerful ally is more democratic than was our most powerful enemy, even, is a debatable question.

If to possess the more clearly defined leisure class be the measure of democracy, then England is more democratic than was the Kaiser’s Germany.

If the size of such leisure class—the proportion of the population that never does any useful thing, from the cradle to the grave, but draws its sustenance wholly from others—be the measure of democracy, then England is the most democratic of all modern nations.

If the volume of unearned income drawn from overseas be the measure of the democracy of a country, then England is the most democratic country in the world.

If the control and exploitation of the largest number of subject peoples be the measure of democracy, then England is the most democratic nation on earth.

If to have fought more wars of spoliation;  to have taken by conquest, and held by force, the largest areas of the earth’s surface;  to have destroyed or overridden the largest number of small nations;  to have interfered in the affairs of other peoples, great and small, the most flagrantly and the largest number of times;  to have broken the most treaties;  to have led the way in secret diplomacy;  to have claimed the seas as its own;  to have asserted its God-given right to rule the world—if any of these be the measure of democracy, then England is the most brilliant example of a noble democracy the world has ever seen.

The government of England was slightly more democratic in some respects—slightly, very slightly—at the beginning of the war than was Germany’s.  But the particular realm in which it excelled is of secondary importance.  Governments are a menace to the peace and freedom of the world only as they are autocratic in their foreign relations.

Who—and how many—hold in their hands the power to choose war for a given people ?  That is the pertinent question.  What is the measure of the given government’s responsibility to its people in the particular affairs which involve nations in war with one another ?  In this vital respect did Germany differ distinctly from its enemies ?

Responsibility versus Irresponsibility.

We frequently pronounced against the right of the German “autocracy” to exist, expressly because of its irresponsibility to its people in its foreign relations.  In the war message we find these words :

We act ... only in opposition to an irresponsible government. ... We have no quarrel with the German people.  We have no feeling toward them but one of sympathy and friendship.  It was not upon their impulse that their government acted in entering this war.  It was not with their previous knowledge or approval.  It was a war determined upon as mars used to be determined upon in the old, unhappy days when peoples were nowhere consulted by their rulers and wars were provoked and waged in the interests of dynasties or of little groups of ambitious men who were accustomed to use their fellow-men as pawns and tools.

At Mt. Vernon, July 4, 1918, President Wilson put it this way :

These are the ends for which the associated peoples of the world are fighting, and which must be conceded them before there can be peace :

1.  The destruction of every arbitrary power anywhere that can separately, secretly and of its single choice disturb the peace of the world;  or if it cannot be presently destroyed, at least its reduction to virtual impotence.

The President presented this clause to Germany, on October 14, as one of the conditions which must be fulfilled contingent on the granting of an armistice.  And when the German Foreign Secretary, in reply, outlined the constitutional reforms then being initiated, the President argued the matter, in part, as follows :

It does not appear that the heart of the present difficulty has been reached.  It may be that future wars have been brought under the control of the German people, but the present war has not been. ... It is evident ... that the determining initiative still remains with those who have hitherto been the masters of Germany.  (Note of Oct. 23.)

But it happens that the responsibility of the Kaiser’s government in this particular realm had, at all times, been greater, in law, than the responsibility of its most powerful enemy, and fully equal, in practice, to the average responsibility found among the entire body of its enemies, including the United States.

While the assent of the Reichstag was not required for a declaration of war, the assent of the Bundesrath was.  The assent of Parliament was not required;  no check existed in England equal to the Bundesrath.

As a matter of practice, all the belligerent governments entered war without any adequate consultation of the will of their various peoples.  Although the Congress of the United States had to declare war, it was an empty formality.  As has been shown, America was legally at war, by illegal action of the President, and Congress was practically forced to go through the motions of legalizing an accomplished fact.  In electing the President, the American people had pronounced against war, not for it, and the President was able to arrive at war only through a series of deceptions and usurpations, in which his “single choice” was pitted against the choice of both the public and of Congress.

Our pronouncements on the irresponsibility of the German government imply responsibility on the part of the opposing governments.  There was—and is—no such responsibility.

Secret Diplomacy.

The decisive importance of secret diplomacy as a cause of the European war was frequently asserted by our official spokesman.  In an address before the League to Enforce Peace, May 27, 1916, he said :

It is plain that this war could have only come as it did, suddenly and out of secret counsels. ... The lesson ... is that the peace of the world must henceforth depend upon a new and more wholesome diplomacy.

In his war message he said :

Plans of aggression can be worked out and kept from the light only within the privacy of courts, or behind the carefully guarded confidences of a narrow and privileged class.  They are happily impossible where public opinion commands, and where it insists upon full information concerning all the nation’s affairs.

But was the secret diplomacy of the Kaiser any different from that of his enemies ?  Legally, “democratic” England is more autocratic, irresponsible, and secret in its diplomacy than was “autocratic” Germany.  A treaty entered into by the Kaiser was not a legal document until ratified by the Reichstag.  But in England the most vital engagements may be undertaken without the consent of any legislative body, and these engagements are binding upon successive governments.  Theoretically, the King and the Foreign Secretary make these international contracts, with the consent of the cabinet.  In practice, the Foreign Secretary makes them, frequently without the consent or even knowledge of the cabinet.

The classic example in modern times of secret diplomacy being carried to the limit of its possibilities—in secrecy, in irresponsibility, in autocracy—was furnished by the British Foreign Secretary, Viscount Grey, in July and August, 1914.  One man shaped and conducted the conversations, correspondence, and negotiations with the other powers, wholly uncontrolled by “democratic” England, wholly uncontrolled by Parliament, uncontrolled by the cabinet as a body, and in secret.  He not only withheld the essential facts as to what had been going on, and what he was doing, from the Parliament and England, but, as Neilson has shown (“How Diplomats Make War”), he deceived them both, as well as a part of the cabinet.  The truth became known, only after war was an accomplished fact.  “Separately,” “secretly,” and by his “single choice,” Foreign Secretary Grey steered his country into war—as nearly so as such a thing is conceivable for any one human being to do in modern times.

Secret diplomacy, as a means for achieving autocracy in foreign affairs, is as firmly established in the United States as elsewhere.  Treaties are not binding unless ratified by the Senate, but the part which the Senate plays is nearly always perfunctory.  The President arrogates to himself full power to conduct negotiations in secret, and, through his State Department, to frame treaties in secret.  As in all other countries, more or less diplomatic correspondence is printed, but whenever the President chooses he suppresses these documents.  A fraction of the diplomatic correspondence preceding war was never published and is still unknown outside of the State Department.  The Senate may ask the Executive for diplomatic correspondence, but the latter can—and frequently does—refuse on the ground that it is “incompatible with the public interest.”

While pronouncing for open diplomacy, President Wilson employed secret diplomacy in precisely the same manner as our allies and our enemies employed it.  Many of the Wilson diplomatic moves in relation to Mexico are still shrouded in secrecy, and to this secrecy is partly due the almost universal misapprehension as to the true nature of his Mexican policy.  Who knows the real circumstances of our acquisition of the Virgin Islands from Denmark, or of our military operations in Nicaragua ?  How many Americans were afforded an inkling of the real motives behind the Nicaraguan, the Haitian, and the Santo Domingan conventions, and the means by which these conventions were imposed upon the inhabitants of these little countries ?  Did public opinion “command” in any of these matters ?  Did it insist upon full information ?  Did it get any information from Wilson or his subordinates ?

The acquisition of new territory is a matter of grave import in the affairs of a nation, but in the “purchase” of the Virgin Islands, President Wilson took the American public into his confidence exactly to the extent that he would have taken it had he been buying a corner lot for a grandchild—and he took the Senate into his confidence only to the extent that the naked forms of law required him to do.

The very existence of the deal was unknown to the Senate itself, until the bill of sale was signed and in the hands of the Committee on Foreign Affairs.  In transmitting the document, the State Department expressly asked that its terms be kept secret.  The committee considered the document in secret, and the Senate ratified it in secret.  Except for the bare purchase price, the only disclosure to reach the public regarding this important matter reached it through the “indiscretion” of a Senator, and was contained in a single sentence in the letter of transmissal, viz :  “The government of the United States will not object to the Danish government’s extending its political and economic interests in the whole of Greenland.”

Except for these simple but significant words, all that ever reached the American people on the true inwardness of their real-estate deal in the West Indies is contained in admissions which members of the Danish cabinet made at the time to the Danish parliamentary houses.  (See Chapter XXXIII.)

Regarding our adventures in Nicaragua, Haiti, and Santo Domingo, we have for public consumption three brief documents known as the Nicaraguan, Haitian, and Santo Domingan conventions.  These conventions followed a military occupation in each case;  they did not precede it.  The function of each is to legalize acts of war and civil control, in each instance planned and initiated by the Executive Department in secret, and in violation of the clause of the Constitution which vests in Congress the war-making power.

The conventions themselves were prepared in secret by the Executive Department, and considered in secret by the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, and ratified altogether “on faith” by the Senate.  In each instance the Senate committee conducted a hearing, in secret, in which it examined witnesses.  In the case of Nicaragua, the testimony was printed.  One copy of this testimony was allotted each member of the committee.  No one else could obtain one, not even a member of the Senate.  In the cases of Haiti and Santo Domingo, the testimony was not even printed, but remains a State Department secret.  Through the machinery of secret diplomacy, the essential facts of record regarding the circumstances and purposes of the military occupations of Nicaragua, Haiti and Santo Domingo, were completely withheld from the American people and their duly elected representatives.

Sometimes we even disdain to go through the forms of Senatorial supervision, inadequate as that is.  A formal treaty with Japan, recognizing the special interests of Japan in China, might have caused unpleasant discussion in the Senate and might have failed of ratification.  So the President circumvents the Constitution;  a State Department “agreement” is signed, of which nothing need be known until a version of it is ready for public consumption.

The act of coöperating with the Entente governments in the prosecution of the war necessarily involved understandings on war and peace problems of vast moment.  But the President snaps his fingers at the Constitution, ignores the Senate, and achieves absolute secrecy and absolute irresponsibility in matters of unbounded importance to America.  In the realm of greatest importance to the public welfare—in the realm of war and the policies that lead to war—the public commands as little here as in Germany, Austria, Turkey, England, or Japan;  the President of the United States is as irresponsible an autocrat as the ruling monarch of the German Empire could ever have hoped to be.


At one time, President Wilson defined militarism as a monster whose essence is size, at another time as a monster whose essence is form, at still another time as a monster whose essence is purpose.

Here are the various quotations :

1.  Militarism consists in this, gentlemen :  it consists in preparing a great machine whose only use is for war.  (Speech at New York, Jan. 27, 1916.)

2.  It is inconsistent with the traditions of the country that their [the peoples] knowledge of arms should be used by a governmental organization which would make and organize a great army subject to orders to do what a particular group of men might at the time think it best for it to do.  That is the militarism of Europe, where a few persons can determine what an armed nation is to do.  That is what I understand militarism to be.  (Statement to Committee from American Union Against Militarism, White House, May 9, 1916.)

3.  Militarism does not consist in the existence of an army, nor even in the existence of a very great army.  Militarism is a spirit.  It is a point of view.  It is a system.  It is a purpose.  The purpose of militarism is to use armies for aggression.  (Speech at West Point, June 13, 1916.)

But in size the Raiser’s army was smaller than that of Russia, and smaller in proportion to population than that of France.  His navy was barely over half the size of England’s, and only slightly larger than that of France.

In form the Kaiser’s army was, in 1914, in every respect except one—conscription—the same as all modern armies, and in every respect the same as that of the majority of its enemies.  Every army of every powerful government is organized from the top down, not from the bottom up;  every one is a perfect autocracy.  All are now based upon conscription, as were the majority when the war began in 1914.

The system of discipline is the same in all-military law, courts-martial, cruel and unusual punishments.  Each has its officer caste, and the power and arrogance of the officer caste within the organization itself is not different in one country from another.

Outside the military establishment itself, the influence of the officer caste is invariably towards reaction, and the best measure of that influence is nothing more nor less than the size of the military establishment.  In “democratic” England the navy has always been a power for reaction in the affairs of the nation.  In France the political machinations of the officer caste—as exemplified in the Dreyfus affair—have been a constant threat to the existence of the republic.

The essential question of form—we are told—is whether a few persons can determine what an armed nation is to do.  In every great country a few persons can determine that thing, and during the late war a few persons determined it in every country, including the United States of America.

If German militarism was actually different from the militarism of Germany’s enemies, therefore, the difference must be found in its purpose.  How is the purpose of a military establishment revealed ?

Prepared for Forty Years.”

The ultimate purpose of every military establishment is, of course, war, either of defense or aggression.  The purpose of a large military organization in times of peace is to be ready for war, either of defense or aggression.  When two neighboring countries both have armies of large size, both built on the same model—when both are spending large sums in order to be ready for war—the relative readiness and efficiency of one can hardly be taken as evidence of a relatively aggressive purpose.  It is, rather, evidence of graft, incompetence, or laziness, on the part of the one that is less ready and efficient.

If either the efficiency of a great fighting machine, or the period during which it has been built up is any evidence, in itself, of aggressive purpose, then by this test England stands thrice convicted of the charge that is made against Germany.  In size and effectiveness, the British navy stands so far ahead of the other navies of the world that the relative size and effectiveness of the Kaiser’s army is not to be compared with it.  The British navy reached its commanding position, not in forty years, but in a period covering centuries;  and not alone by large expenditures and careful training at home, but by a policy of opposing, by threats of war, the growth of other navies, even by seeking out and destroying in war all other navies that seemed to threaten its supremacy.

In August, 1914, the German war machine was not distinct in any essential from the war machines of its enemies.  German diplomacy was not more secret than any other diplomacy.  The German government was not more irresponsible to its people in the conduct of international relations.  It was no more autocratic in the affairs of war or the policies that lead to war.

In other words, in the means of aggression the Kaiser stood on the same footing as his enemies.  So far as possession of the means of aggression reveal a purpose of aggression, the charge of special depravity against Germany fails.

Confessed Ambition to Dominate the World.

In August, 1914, the American public for the first time heard of a retired officer of the German army named Bernhardi.  It also heard, for the first time, of a German professor named Treitschke.  Nietzsche, of whom it had heard before, went through a lightning change, to be introduced in a different garb.  Before us were paraded all the bombastic sayings to which the Kaiser had ever given expression, with annotations to show that he meant something very, very sinister.  By courtesy of the British propaganda machine a great plot was suddenly revealed to us—world dominion by might of the sword, long planned, secretly prepared for, timed for a chosen moment, initiated by an unprovoked attack upon unsuspecting, unprepared, peace-loving, lamblike neighbors, keepers of the holy urn of democracy.

President Wilson, at the beginning and for a long time afterwards, told us, in effect, that it was all a hoax.  Only when it became necessary to put fear into the hearts of the American people, as a means to accomplishing his own purposes, did he embrace this doctrine.

Now how did we suddenly discover that the German government planned to dominate the world ?  Was it because the Kaiser, or some member of his government, hinted at something of that sort ?

It is doubtful if anyone can produce a single avowal of any responsible German from which can be fairly deduced a dream, even on the part of that individual, of the sort of world domination which the German-peril theory presupposes as a dream of the Kaiser, of all of his sons, all of his military chiefs, and a great number of his professors, editors, and prominent men besides.

On the other hand, the extreme result hoped for even by Bernhardi, from the war which he believed England, France, and Russia were determined to force upon Germany, was for his country to “attain a position as a world power by the side of, and in spite of, England.”  (“Germany and the Next War,” p. 164.)

Said Bernhardi, continuing (p. 165), “We shall, in this struggle, as so often before, represent the common interests of the world, for it will be fought not only to win recognition for ourselves, but for the freedom of the seas.”

Disgusting as is the worst of the German jingoistic and chauvinistic literature of the Kaiser’s day, it cannot be taken as evidence of especially aggressive purpose, so long as it is matched by a similar literature in all other great countries.

Before August, 1914, Americans heard a great deal more of this sort of thing from England than from Germany.  “Germany had a Bernhardi,” declared a member of the British Parliament in 1915 (Francis Neilson, in “How Diplomats Make War,” p. 134), “but Britain had a Bernhardi class, which lived and moved and had its being in war.  It thought of nothing else but war, and it was recruited from all sections of society.”

Every vain effusion upon German destiny can be matched by similar effusions upon British destiny, Russian destiny, Italian destiny, French destiny, and even American destiny.  The phrase “Deutschland uber alles” is matched by “Rule, Britannia, rule the waves.”  German naval officers drank to “The Day” when the German fleet would be powerful enough to challenge Britain’s mastership of the seas.  British naval officers drank to the existing mastership and to its perpetuation at all costs.

Who can quote anything from an influential German more nearly approaching a propaganda for world dominion than the will of Cecil Rhodes, who directed that his great fortune be expended for the establishment of a secret society whose aim “shall be the extension of British rule throughout the world ... and especially the occupation by British settlers of the entire continent of Africa, the Holy Land, the Valley of the Euphrates, the islands of Cyprus and Candia, the whole of South America, the islands of the Pacific and heretofore possessed by Great Britain, the whole of the Malay archipelago, the seaboard of China and Japan, the ultimate recovery of the United States of America as an integral part of the British Empire”?

When Americans were kindly told by Britons that the Germans thought themselves superior to other peoples, we were shocked and angered, because we had been taught that we ourselves were superior to other peoples.  Self-praise is not peculiar to any people.  It is one of the evidences of national egotism, as wide as the world.  Has any German writer, asks Georg Brandes (“The World at War,” p. 209) gone farther in this kind of thing than one Leon Bloy, in the Mercure de France ? Brandes then quotes Monsieur Bloy as follows :

After Israel, who were called God’s people by special favor, God has loved no nation on earth as much as France.  Explain it whoever can.  To call this nation the most noble of all nations—which it undoubtedly is—serves no purpose, since such divine prerogatives are the reward of the chosen one. ... France is so far ahead of other peoples that, no matter who they be, they should feel honored at being allowed to eat crumbs destined for her dogs.

We ourselves are not free from this kind of talk.  We do not need to go beyond President Wilson himself to find out that we are extraordinarily endowed, strangely unselfish, singularly righteous, that our history is peculiarly pure and white, that we are especially chosen to carry the torch of civilization and democracy to the world, even on the point of the sword.  It may be worth while to set down half a dozen quotations of this sort :

We are Trustees of World’s Morality.

I need not tell my fellow-citizens that we have not held off from this struggle from motives of self-interest, unless it be considered self-interest to maintain our position as trustees of the moral judgments of the world.  (Speech at Chicago, Jan. 31, 1916.)

We Fight the First Unselfish War in History.

The glory of this war, my fellow-citizens, so far as we are concerned, is that it is, perhaps for the first time in history, an unselfish war.  (Speech at New York, May 18, 1918.)

Our Fine Example has Thrilled Two Continents.

Do you never stop to reflect what it is that America stands for ? ... It is for the sovereignty of self-governing peoples, and her example, her assistance, her encouragement, have thrilled two continents in this western world.  (Speech at Pittsburgh, Jan. 29, 1916.)

Just Think of Cuba !

The world sneered when we set out for the liberation of Cuba, but the world does not sneer any longer.  The world knows now what it was then loth to believe, that a nation can sacrifice its own interests and its own blood for the sake of the liberty and happiness of another people.  (Speech at New York, Jan. 27, 1916.)

We are the Flower of Mankind.

We are the flower of mankind, so far as civilization is concerned.  (Speech at Billings, Sept. 11, 1919.)

Me und Gott.”

We are to be an instrument in the hands of God to see that liberty is made secure for mankind.  (Speech at Confederate veterans’ reunion, June 5, 1917.)

Our aggressions have invariably been for the good of the victims.  In this we are not different from our powerful neighbors—if you take the word of their statesmen for it.

But it is not true either that two continents have been thrilled by our disinterested example, or that the world has stopped sneering about our Cuban pretensions.  The truth is that the menacing picture of Pan-Germanism, as painted by Wilson in his Flag Day address, is a counterpart of the menacing picture of Pan-Americanism, as it appears to a great many Latin Americans.

Why ?  Partly because of American boasts of superiority and declarations of purpose to bend the weaker American countries to our will.  The propaganda for German imperial expansion, at its worst, is not one whit more cold-blooded and subversive of the principles for which we pretended to fight Germany than, for example, the propaganda that has been carried on for some years for American domination of Mexico.

Is there a valid basis for the German-peril theory, then, in the acts of the Kaiser’s government ?


1 It now appears, according to information published in the London Nation, June 21, 1919, that the Sarajevo murderers have been acknowledged as Serbian officers.