John K. Turner
Shall it be Again ?

XXV
WHAT REALLY STARTED IT



IN 1840-1, England fought what has since become known as the Opium War, to break down the barriers of China against the importation of opium from British India.  China, defeated, was compelled not only to open five harbors to the British trade, but to pay $22,500,000 to cover the cost of the war, $6,250,000 for opium seized and burned on Chinese soil, and to hand over Hong Kong to England for good measure.

England’s Opium War is a classic in its clear simplicity as a war for business.  But every war fought by England within the present generation, as well as by every other great power, although not always as plainly so on the surface, was also a war for business.

Most modern wars for business, however, unlike the Opium War, are not motived upon a desire to crowd trade down the throat of an unwilling people.  The mere exchange of goods is a secondary consideration.  Nor is conquest in the present day carried on for so legitimate a purpose as that of providing homes for surplus populations.  European powers make no serious effort to colonize their African and Asiatic possessions, as a rule.  France, the world’s second greatest grabber of new territory, has a stationary population.

What is sought is access to the natural resources of the weak nation in question, opportunity to exploit these resources with cheap labor and without any adequate return for the privilege, and favorable concessions for railroads with which to get away with the loot.  The usual process is to get a “stake” in the country, concessions for mines, lumber, or oil, often through bribery, and then to begin coercion, leading usually to armed intervention, on behalf of the particular interest involved.

This process has been termed “the new imperialism.”  It was first enunciated as a policy in the year 1850 by the British government, and the first example of its practice on a large scale is furnished by Egypt.  Intervention on behalf of investments is a denial of the equality of nations, and the grossest possible violation of international law.  Nevertheless, France, Germany, Russia, Italy, and Japan, followed the example of England, and intervention on behalf of investments became the most serviceable maneuver in the partition of Africa and Asia.  It is not always necessary to resort to actual war to accomplish the end sought, or even to hoist the flag over the coveted spoils.  Threats, more or less veiled, often accomplish the desired result.  China furnishes one example.  Spheres of influence fly the flag of the exploited, not the exploiter, though control by the latter is no less effective for his purpose.

Where the business motive of a given war is not evident at the beginning, it invariably appears later, in the conditions imposed upon the beaten nation.  Having persuaded the Boers by cannon-shot to yield to British mine-owners what they wanted, England conceded to South Africa a measure of self-government approaching that of Canada and Australia.  Because the spirit of the Boers could not be completely broken, it happened to be good business to do so.  But nowhere else in the British dominion in Africa or Asia is Home Rule in operation.  Throughout these vast dominions, government is by and for British bondholders, British concessionaires, and British officeholders.

A result of British imperialism is that the inhabitants of the richest spots of the earth live and die in the most abject poverty.  The famines of India have been shown to be due, not so much to overpopulation or failures of crops, as to appropriation of crops by British gentlemen.  The voracious demands of British bondholders and concessionaires, made good by British bayonets, are responsible for wholesale starvation of Egyptians in past decades, and for the present misery of the Egyptian population.

Such is the result, on the one hand, of British imperialism.  The result, on the other, is that England has a leisure class larger in proportion to population than any other country—and at the bottom of the social scale a most pronounced destitution.  By virtue of her “glorious” empire, England lives more largely upon forced tribute from “weak nations” than any other power.  By virtue of aggression, treaty-breaking, atrocity, and conquest, London became the financial centre of the world, England the “world’s banker.”

No fact is more significant than that the British nation does not share, in any degree, in British imperial prosperity.  The standard of living of the masses in England is no higher than that in neighboring countries that possess no empire.  The wage of the British trade unionist depends, not one iota upon the bursting banks of London, the expanse of the empire, or the supremacy of the fleet, but solely upon the strength of his union.  The British common laborer is no better paid than the Dutch, the Belgian, the Norwegian, or the Dane.  The British slums are the most notorious in the world.  This could not be true were “democratic” England a real democracy.  It is true because the empire, and all it means, is for the upper classes.

More space is devoted here to British imperialism than to French, German, Italian, Russian, or Japanese imperialism, only because Britain led the way, set the styles, has profited most—and is supreme.  France is the world’s second greatest imperial power.  We have heard much of French democracy, but French “democracy” is of little value to the world so long as democracy does not extend to France’s foreign relations.  The bankers of Paris wield the same measure of control over the French Foreign Office as the London bankers enjoy over theirs, while the control of the French press by the Paris bankers is reputed to be even more complete than similar control exercised in England.  While the French army was gradually extending dominion over Morocco, the Chamber of Deputies repeatedly adopted resolutions reaffirming the adherence of France to the Act of Algeciras, promising that the army would be withdrawn.  These resolutions were probably sincere.  But the French bankers had their way.  As the great war drew on, the desire of the French people was unquestionably pacific, as was the desire of the peoples of all countries.  Nevertheless, the same factors were dominant in France as in Germany, Russia, Austria, and England, and they worked the same way.

German militarism existed for several decades before it was discovered by British gentlemen.  German militarism and the German peril were discovered only when Germany began to compete for foreign trade, to look for colonies, and to build a navy.  Imperial Germany’s crime against democracy was to imitate imperial England, and to do it with disturbing energy and efficiency.

Britons informed us that the Kaiser’s speech at the beginning of the war, to the effect that Germany would now have her place in the sun, meant that Germany would now proceed to conquer the world.  There is no ground whatever for such an interpretation.  The term, “places in the sun,” had long been employed to mean rich tropical colonies.  What the Kaiser literally meant was that he intended to acquire some new colonies in the war.  This is a brazen confession of depravity—until one remembers that all the great governments that took up the sword against the Kaiser, had been doing the very thing the Kaiser confessed he intended to do.

All had been acquiring colonies by war.  Not by a world war;  but they were not far behind the Kaiser in letting it be known that they, also, intended to acquire new territory in the world war itself.

The world war, indeed, was the logical and almost inevitable outcome of the rivalries and enmities of the preceding years, which were kept alive, sharpened, and rendered malignant by the competition for “places in the sun.”  While contributing causes can be found which run back to the very beginnings of some of the nations involved, the preponderating and decisive cause was the clash of rival imperialisms within the previous ten years.

While, for example, the German acquisition of Alsace-Lorraine was a persistent factor in French enmity against Germany, it would never of itself have caused another war.  French and British enmity had been more bitter and of longer standing, British humiliation of France more recent.  Britain was the “traditional enemy.”  Yet for imperialistic reasons, France joined forces with Britain, who in former decades had scarcely known a dispute with Germany, and the latter became the common foe.

Partly because the Kaiser had come late into the field of spoliation, and partly because when he came the other despoilers united and bargained to keep him out, the German acquisitions of “places in the sun” were meagre.  They not only bargained and divided among themselves, and conspired to keep out the Kaiser, but on occasion they made it plain that they were determined to keep him out, even at the cost of war.

The threat of armed force was a constant and decisive factor in the competition of the great powers for “places in the sun.”  England, possessing the greatest force, everywhere took the lion’s share.  But England’s force was never great enough to take all.  To make sure of the lion’s share, England not only had to threaten, but to bargain, to divide, to throw sops.  By occasional exercise of force, and, more frequently, displays of force, England brought Russia, France, and the greater part of the world to accept the fact of British supremacy, to be content with the crumbs that fell from the British table.  Germany remained the one likely challenge to British supremacy.  So Germany became the world peril.

Says H.N. Brailsford, an Englishman (“War of Steel and Gold,” pp. 42-3):

The difficulty between Britain and Germany was not so much Bagdad or even Morocco, as the general sense that a powerful diplomatic combination and a naval preponderance were being used to frustrate German purposes and to exclude her from `places in the sun’. ... First, we excluded Germany from Morocco, and then we constructed a general league which hemmed her in on all sides.  We 'debauched’ her ally, Italy, we brought Spain into our `orbit’. ... The 'balance of power’ had been violently adjusted in our favor, and in Prince von Buelow’s phrase, Germany felt herself 'penned in’. ... It can hardly be doubted that, for some years at least, the Triple Entente was really inspired by the aims which German alarm ascribed to it.  Its real architects were M. Delcassé and King Edward, and the former, at least, made no secret of his ambitions.

Look at a political map of Africa in 1914, and you find seven-tenths of this great continent in the hands of British and French—the best and most productive seven-tenths.  Germany is credited with several colonies, mostly jungle.  Where this jungle abuts upon the sea, we discover the harbor to be in the hands of some other power, usually England.  In Togoland, points out Herbert Adams Gibbons, an American (“New Map of Africa,” p. 276), “as elsewhere in Africa, the Germans are shut off from a logical and natural portion of their coast line by a projection of British territory.”  Also (p. 232) :

Zanzibar stands to German East Africa as Walfish Bay to German Southwest Africa, the mouth of the Volta and Cape St. Paul to Togoland, and the Niger Delta to Kamerun, an everlasting command—Thou shalt not !

Says Prederic C. Howe, an American (“Why War?”, p. 240-1 ) :

The Mediterranean is, in effect, a British sea.  This is secured through the command of the western and eastern entrances at Gibraltar and the Suez Canal.  The fortresses at Gibraltar are impregnable.  The great guns command the narrow straits through which all commerce to and from the Atlantic must pass, as completely as the entrance to a harbor.  This, with the Suez Canal, gives Great Britain control of the Mediterranean, which is the greatest trade route of the world.  It enables her to menace the commerce of all European countries and to close the door at will upon all ships passing through it to the outside world.  By reason of this fact, all the Mediterranean states are under the potential control of Great Britain.  This is one of Germany’s complaints, for so long as Great Britain controls the gateways and trade routes to the Orient, the commerce of other nations is not really free.

Neutral, American, and even British writers agree that German imperialism turned its eyes toward Turkey because of the success of the policy of isolation elsewhere.  In time, no doubt, the sword would have been employed to insure German control and exploitation of the Turks.  It happens that German imperialism in Turkey never progressed beyond the stage of persuasion and peaceful bargaining.  Germany’s best argument with the Turks was the record of her competitors.  To Turkey, the British peril was a reality.  To Germany, the Bagdad Railway was a means for extending power and influence without war with her powerful neighbors.

The German scheme happened, however, to conflict with British ambitions to acquire control of the same territory.  A much talked of British plan was to colonize southern Mesopotamia with Egyptian peasants, then grab it as Egypt was grabbed, penetrate into southern Arabia as the Sudan was penetrated, connect Persia with Egypt, and so complete the encirclement of Germany.

In pursuance of this purpose, the British press was inspired to raise the cry of a German peril to India and Egypt.  German peaceful penetration of Turkey must be halted at all costs.  The Bagdad Railway as a German project must be smashed;  by diplomacy, if possible;  by war, if diplomacy would not do the trick.

In the end it was smashed.  Throughout, it is a story of sordid intrigue.  The governments of France and England disputed every mile of the road in some way.  The knockout was finally delivered by England.  The Sheik of Koweit was persuaded to disavow the rule of the Sultan and accept the protection of the King of England.  So the Gulf of Koweit, the sea terminus of the road, fell into British hands.  So, to complete the Bagdad Railway as a German project, it would have been necessary for Germany to back the Sultan in subduing the Sheik of Koweit.  That would have meant war with England.  As the German government had backed down in Morocco, so again it backed down in Turkey.  In “agreements” signed with England, France, and Russia, German imperialism yielded up control of the Bagdad Railway to Entente imperialism.  When the Germans were slow to back down still again—in the Serbian crisis the world war began.

President Wilson boldly held up the German activities in Turkey as a cause for war by the United States upon the Imperial German Government.  “Government after government,” said he (to Russia, May 26, 1917), had “without open conquest of territory, been linked together in a net of intrigue.”  The governments were those of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey.  There was none other.

This horrible net of intrigue, spread by four governments which had voluntarily associated themselves together, was directed “against nothing less than the peace and liberty of the world,” said Wilson.  But when he begins to go into details, we discover that the intrigue is, rather, against a collection of states which happened to have been linked together with “open conquest of territory,” and at the time were held together only by iron links of force.  The startled phrases of Wilson name India, Egypt, and Persia, as objects of German ambition !

Supposing there were lurking ambitions ultimately to free these states from British rule—even to impose upon them German rule—of what concern was that to America ?  Supposing there were an immediate possibility of the success of such designs, what difference could it make to democracy ?

The President, for that matter, admitted that the immediate hopes of German imperialism did not fly as far as Egypt, India, or Persia.  To Russia he asserted that Germany was suing for peace “only to preserve” the very questionable advantages already gained (May 26, 1917).  It was after this that the American sacrifices were made !

A year later he declared the German purpose to be merely to erect “an empire that will ultimately master Persia, India, and the peoples of the Far East.”  (Apr. 6, 1918.)

Ultimately !

A stronger Germany, the President told us, indulging in prophecy (same speech) would “overawe” Europe, and—after a while—America would somehow be threatened.

Supposing Germany were placed in a position to “overawe” Europe, what then ?

We have to go back only a few years to find the “Hun” in the very position so darkly painted.  Brailsford tells us (“War of Steel and Gold,” p. 34) :

Europe had a long experience of German `hegemony’ during the quarter of a century which elapsed between the fall of the French Empire and the creation of the Franco-Russian alliance.  Nothing disastrous happened.  No little states were overrun, no neighbors’ landmarks removed, no thrones overturned, no national or religious liberties menaced.  Not even if the Kaiser wielded a military power as great as that of Louis XIV can we conceive of his acting as the Grand Monarch acted.

This from an Englishman.

Why spend one hundred thousand American lives and fifty billion American dollars to place France and England in a position to “overawe Europe,” instead of leaving them to fight it out with Germany ?  Where is the special German depravity that called for the American sacrifice ?

Is it to be found in the blood of the Germans ?  But racially the English are nearer the Germans than the French, the Italians, or the Japanese;  and as for the Kaiser, that gentleman was blessed with a British mother.

Supposing we permit the peril theory to stand or fall on the sole test of capacity.  No country could imperil the world, much less conquer it, without first conquering the seas.  In dominant sea power alone resides the possibility of world aggression.  If Germany ever exhibited the remotest capacity to wrest the control of the seas from England, then the naval experts of the Entente lied and lied again.  Here is a typical declaration of a British statesman :

If Germany had never built a dreadnought, or if all the German dreadnoughts had been sunk, the control and authority of the British navy could not have been more effective [than now].  (Winston Spencer Churchill, Collier’s Weekly, Sept. 30, 1916.)

And here is a typical statement from one of England’s foremost naval writers :

Great Britain’s seas command has not been less, but infinitely greater, than in any previous human experience.  And the result is that a German victory has been made impossible.  (Arthur Pollen, in Metropolitian Magazine, May 1917.)

“Look at the picture,” said Wilson himself (at New York, May 18, 1918);  “in the centre of the picture four nations, ... and against them twenty-three governments, representing the greater part of the population of the world.”  Isn’t it a bit ridiculous—not to say cowardly—to draw this picture, and then, in the next breath, to pretend that the twenty-three are actually in danger of being conquered and governed by the four ?

What supermen the seventy million Germans would have to be, if they were reasonably to be feared by two billion others ! And how fired would each and every one of them have to be with the worst ambitions imputed to their former rulers !

Of course, the enemies of the Germans will be the last to contend that they are supermen, while no one will seriously claim that the German people were entirely passive tools of the Kaiser.  In the war message, the President himself absolved the German masses from complicity in the schemes of German imperialism.  This view he reiterated from time to time during the period of the fighting, and even after his treaty had been signed.  In spite of the execrations heaped upon the German socialists, they were a constant embarrassment to the Kaiser, and in July, 1917, they were strong enough to pledge the Reichstag against “forced acquisitions of territory, and political, economic, and financial violations”;  against “economic blockades and the stirring up of enmity of the peoples after the war”;  for the freedom of the seas;  for “international juridical organizations”;  for “an economic peace,” for “mutual understanding and lasting reconciliation among the nations.”

No pronouncement from the British government, or any branch of it, or from any branch of any of the Allied governments, so nearly endorsed in the concrete the very principles for which Wilson professed to be fighting.

So far as threatening the nationality of others is concerned, the Kaiser never went as far as his enemies, even at the height of his successes.  No responsible spokesman of the German government ever announced that Lloyd George, or the House of Lords, or the King, or President Wilson, must be overthrown as a condition of peace, as Wilson announced that the Kaiser and his Junkers must be overthrown.  The determination to conquer was far more evident on our side than on the side of our enemies.

Even had the Kaiser by some means succeeded in wresting control of the seas from England, or even in capturing the entire British fleet, there is no tenable ground for the belief that he would have abused the power any more than the British government has abused its power.  The Wilson exposition of the German peril is nothing more nor less than a paraphrase of the nursery tale that the British press and the French press had been telling the British and French people for the past decade—for a purpose.

The German peril to the other great powers, so far as it was a reality, was simply a threat to rival imperialisms, exactly as the rival imperialisms were a threat to German imperialism.  The German “threat to the world” was nothing more nor less than a danger that Germany might succeed in compelling England and France to make a re-division, on more equal terms, of “places in the sun.”  Imperialism is the only real peril, but it is not a peril to great states except insofar as they themselves choose to play the game.  It is a real peril, however, to weak states that happen to be rich in undeveloped resources.

World conquest for any nation has so far been an impossibility and is likely to remain so.  Wars of conquest are never profitable to a nation as a whole.  When undertaken on a gigantic scale, the cost is so severe that domestic unrest invariably undermines the strength of the offending government.  The impulse of all peoples is toward peace.  The British Empire has traveled farther toward world conquest, probably, than any other country can ever go again.

There was nothing in the history of the Central Powers, in their form of government, in their political leadership, or in their people, that justified our striking at them rather than at their enemies.  There was no reason to believe that a victory of Germany over England, if that had been possible, would have been worse for America or the world than a victory of England over Germany.  There was no defensible reason why we should not have continued as good friends of the Imperial German Government as of the French bourgeois republic or King George.

On the other hand, the interest of the American people called for a peace without victory.  The safety of the weak nations would have been best subserved by an indecisive contest.  Democracy within what President Wilson termed “the great fighting nations” would have had a better chance if none of them had been victor.  American participation in the European war was a crime against democracy and permanent peace.