Militarism and Democracy

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Militarism and Democracy
by Carl Schurz
An address before the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 7, 1899. The text is from Frederic Bancroft, ed., Speeches, Correspondence and Political Papers of Carl Schurz, Volume VI, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1913, pp. 48-77.


MILITARISM AND DEMOCRACY


The subject of “Militarism and Democracy,” which has been assigned to me for discussion, is at the present moment of peculiar interest. We are apt to speak boastfully of the progressive civilization characterizing this age. While the very foundation of all civilization consists in the dispensation of justice by peaceable methods between nations as well as individuals, instead of the rule of brute force, it is a singular fact that at the close of this much-vaunted nineteenth century we behold the nations of the world vying with each other in increasing their armaments on land and sea, exhausting all the resources of inventive genius and spending the treasure produced by human labor with unprecedented lavishness to develop means of destruction for the defense of their possessions, or the satisfaction of national ambitions, or the settlement of international differences, on a scale never before known.

Thus the very advances in the sciences and the arts which constitute one part of our modern civilization are pressed into the service of efforts to perfect the engineries of death, devastation and oppression, which are to make brute force in our days more and more terrible and destructive, and to render the weak more and more helpless as against the strong. It looks as if the most civilized Powers, although constantly speaking of peace, were preparing for a gigantic killing-and-demolishing match such as the most barbarous ages have hardly ever witnessed, and this at the expense of incalculable sacrifice to their peoples.

Nothing could in this respect be more instructive and pathetic than the appeal in behalf of peace and disarmament addressed last year by the Czar of Russia to all the Powers represented at his court. Of that appeal this is the principal part:

In the course of the last twenty years the longings for a general appeasement have grown especially pronounced in the consciences of civilized nations. The preservation of peace has been put forward as the object of international policy; it is in its name that great states have concluded between themselves powerful alliances; it is the better to guarantee peace that they have developed in proportions hitherto unprecedented their military forces and still continue to increase them without shrinking from any sacrifice.

All these efforts, nevertheless, have not yet been able to bring about the beneficent results of the desired pacification. The financial charges following an upward march strike at the public prosperity at its very source.

The intellectual and physical strength of the nations, labor and capital, are for the major part diverted from their natural application, and unproductively consumed. Hundreds of millions are devoted to acquiring terrible engines of destruction, which, though to-day regarded as the last word of science, are destined to-morrow to lose all value in consequence of some fresh discovery in the same field.

National culture, economic progress and the production of wealth are either paralyzed or checked in their development. Moreover, in proportion as the armaments of each Power increase, so do they less and less fulfil the object which the Governments have set before themselves.

The economic crises, due in great part to the system of armaments à outrance, and the continual danger which lies in this massing of war material, are transforming the armed peace of our days into a crushing burden, which the peoples have more and more difficulty in bearing. It appears evident, then, that if this state of things were prolonged it would inevitably lead to the very cataclysm which it is desired to avert, and the horrors of which make every thinking man shudder in advance.

There has been much discussion as to the motives which may have impelled the Czar to make this appeal. Many of those who consider him sincere, call the manifesto a mere outburst of generous sentimentality which, although laudable in itself, loses sight of existing conditions and of the practical exigencies of the moment. If it really was mere generous sentimentality, it was sentimentality of that sort which in the history of mankind has not seldom served to give impulse and inspiration to great movements of progress in justice and humanity, overcoming with its optimism that dreary and pusillanimous wisdom which reasons that existing evils cannot be rectified simply because they are strongly intrenched in existing conditions. If it was that sentimentalism, it did honor to the Czar's heart, and, inasmuch as it attacks a terrible evil which eventually must be remedied, it did no discredit to the Czar's head.

Others have questioned the Czar's sincerity and good faith, suggesting that the peace manifesto was merely a diplomatic stratagem designed to dupe his competitors for territorial conquest. This is, in view of the solemnity of the Czar's words, so atrocious an imputation that only hardened cynicism will readily accept it. It is, however, all the more to be deplored that the Czar, at the time when the belief of the world in the sincerity of his benevolent purposes is so important, should himself endanger that belief by ruthlessly suppressing the constitutional rights and liberties of the good people of Finland, which he had solemnly sworn to maintain, and which his predecessors, even so stern a despot as Nicholas I., had faithfully respected. The performance of two acts so different in character by the same person may be explained on the hypothesis that in the one case the Czar, being sincerely alarmed by what he himself experienced of the evils and dangers of excessive armaments, could not resist the impulse of attacking them, and did so in good faith, while ordinarily, in doing the business of an autocrat, he may be no better, and in some respects even worse, than others engaged in the same trade.

But however that may be, and whatever results the peace conference meeting in response to the Czar's appeal may immediately bring forth, the most important point is that the statements of fact contained in the Czar's manifesto are true. They are indeed not new. The same things have often been said before. But those who said them were promptly and derisively cried down as visionary dreamers who had no conception of the responsibilities involved in the management of the great business of the world. Now those things are authoritatively proclaimed by the most absolute monarch commanding the largest army on earth, and holding in his hand the destinies of one of the greatest empires — the man whose immediate responsibilities in the management of the great business of the world are not exceeded by those of any other human being.

While the so-called practical men of the age never cease to tell us that the greatest possible security of peace depends upon the greatest possible preparation for war, that autocrat and commander of millions of soldiers tells them that the nations which are draining their own vitality to preserve peace by their preparations for war are doing a thing which, if prolonged, “will inevitably lead to the very cataclysm which it is desired to avert, and the horrors of which make every thinking man shudder in advance.” Thus it is no longer merely the idle and irresponsible dreamer but the practical potentate charged with the farthest-reaching powers and the highest responsibilities who warns the world that if the policy of increasing armaments, which we call militarism, be persisted in, it must produce ruinous mischief, and end in incalculable disaster and calamity.

The comparative weight with which militarism, that is, the system which makes the maintenance of great armaments one of the principal objects of the state, burdens different nations, depends upon their respective wealth, the length of the terms of military service, their administrative organization and the nature of their political institutions. Upon nations which are unable to bear heavy loads of taxation, or whose finances are in a precarious state, or which suffer from official incapacity or corruption in their administrative organization, or which withdraw their young men for long periods of time from productive employments without offering through the military service any valuable compensation by way of instruction or training, the burden of great standing armaments weighs of course more heavily than upon nations whose material resources are great, or which can easily raise ample revenues, or whose administrative machinery is honest and efficient, or whose terms of military service are short, or whose young men receive in that service at least some discipline, instruction and training calculated to increase their working capacity in productive pursuits, and thus to compensate in some measure for their temporary withdrawal from such occupations.

For the purposes of this discourse the workings of militarism in France are of especial interest, on account of the political institutions of that country.

In a monarchy a standing armed force is a thing congruous with the nature of the government, and it is the more so, the more the monarchy is of the absolute type. The standing army in such a monarchy may be said to be the enlarged bodyguard of the monarch. The monarch represents an authority not springing from the periodically expressed consent of the people, and relying for the maintenance of that authority, if occasion requires, upon the employment of force, even against the popular will. An army is an organization of men subject to the command of a superior will, the origin or the purpose of which it is assumed to have no right to question. The standing army is in this sense, therefore, according to its nature and spirit an essentially monarchical institution.

But France is a republic. She calls herself a democratic republic. A democratic republic is, or should be, government by public opinion as expressed in legal form — public opinion as it issues from discussion in which all the people are free to participate, and the outcome of which they are to determine by their freely given suffrages. The army, inasmuch as it is in all things subject to the will of superior authority without discussion or question, must therefore be regarded as an incongruous element in a democracy. The authority to which it is subject may indeed be a government created by public opinion and supported by it. But as such a government may happen to become faithless to its origin, or fall out of accord with the public opinion of the time, the army, as an organized force subject to its will, may be used by it for ends and purposes adverse to the interests or the will of the people.

It is for reasons like this that the true democratic spirit has always been jealously opposed to the maintenance of large standing armies. It has always insisted that the organizations of armed forces that may be necessary for the enforcement of the laws and the keeping of order at home, or for the defense of the integrity or the honor of the state in foreign warfare, should remain as much as possible identified with the people themselves — should be, in fact, of the people in their origin, their interests, their sympathies, as well as in the character and aspirations of those commanding them; and that, if a standing army as a permanent institution be indeed indispensable for certain necessary objects, it should, in point of numerical strength, be confined to the narrowest practicable limits.

That democratic spirit has therefore always demanded that the armed force should be composed principally of the militia, the citizen soldiery, or, in extraordinary emergencies, of volunteers called out from the ranks of the people, to serve as soldiers for certain well-defined and stated purposes, and then, those stated purposes being accomplished, to return to their civic pursuits. So it has hitherto been with us. In Switzerland, where the democratic spirit is much alive, but where on account of the geographical situation of the country a large and well-drilled force is thought necessary, they have organized the whole male population capable of bearing arms, in military bodies, some of which are called out for instruction and drill for a limited period every year, to be restored to civil life after the shortest possible interruption of their ordinary occupations, the only thing resembling a standing army being certain small staff corps which are kept in permanent service. All this rests upon the leading principle that the soldiers of a democracy as well as those commanding them should, while temporarily submitting to military discipline, remain in all essential respects active citizens without any interests, or sympathies or aspirations in any manner or degree different from those of the general citizenship.

France furnishes the example of a republic maintaining a large standing force, and the history of that country is peculiarly instructive as to the relations between standing armies and democracies. The first French Republic sprang from the great revolution of 1789. The most famous of French armies were organized under the inspiration of the revolutionary enthusiasms of that period. They were then to a large extent composed of volunteers who had rushed to arms to defend the territory of the Republic, and then went forth to bring “liberty” to the world outside. Thus they won victory and glory and conquest. And then, having gone forth to fight for liberty, they proceeded, intoxicated with glory and conquest, to turn their victories for liberty to the advantage of a personal government animated with insatiable despotic ambitions. I am far from saying that the spirit of the army was the only cause for the downfall of the democratic Republic. But it is a matter of history that the army, which had been created for the service of democracy, was, by the glory and the conquests it achieved, transformed into a willing and most effective instrument of usurpation and tyranny at home and of oppression abroad. And it may be said that the Napoleonic system of government which was thus created was the beginning of that militarism with which Europe is now afflicted.

The second French Republic sprang from the revolution of 1848. It was the prestige of the name of Napoleon, the glamour of the Napoleonic legend of military glory, that made the election of Louis Napoleon to the Presidency of the Republic possible. Usurpation followed. I do not pretend that the spirit of the standing army alone caused the transformation of the second French Republic into the second French Empire. But it can certainly not be denied that the army again lent itself as a willing tool to the schemes of the conspirators who had planned the destruction of the Republic, and the erection of a monarchical government upon its ruins.

After the disastrous collapse of imperial rule in the Franco-German war, the third French Republic was proclaimed in 1870. It has now lasted well-nigh twenty-nine years. But the greatest dangers that have threatened its existence came from the position in it of the standing army. One of its chiefs, MacMahon, while President of the Republic, was drawn into the intrigues of the monarchist parties; another, Boulanger, plotted revolution and usurpation, probably for his own benefit; and now, in these latter days, in consequence of the hideous Dreyfus affair, the administration of justice has, in the interest of the chiefs of the army, been subjected to a perversion calculated to undermine the very foundations of legal government, and, it is to be feared, ultimately to effect the total subversion of republican institutions. The domineering spirit of the army is such that it claims to be above discussion and criticism, assumes to dictate the decisions of judicial tribunals, and actually seeks to substitute for what in other countries is the crime of lèse-majesté, the crime of lèse-armée. At any rate, whatever the future may bring, it is no exaggeration to say that the attitude of the army in France has dealt the reputation of republican government a staggering blow, and that all this may turn out to be only a prelude to new usurpations.

It is idle to pretend that all the historical facts I have enumerated were owing only to the proverbial inconstancy of the French temperament; for it should not be forgotten that even in England, when the parliamentary forces during the so-called Great Rebellion of the seventeenth century had assumed the character of a standing army, that army, in spite of its origin, became in the hands of Oliver Cromwell a ready instrument for the transformation of the republic into a personal government essentially monarchical, and finally, under the leadership of Monk, served to bring about the restoration of the monarchy with all its forms and attributes by the return of the Stuarts. Thus we see that it was not a mere French peculiarity which made a strong standing army a danger to republican institutions in Europe, but that the large standing army has always played the same part in European republics, regardless of race. I need not go into the history of the republics of antiquity, modern instances being sufficiently instructive.

As I remarked, militarism on a great scale began in Europe with the French Revolution and attained a high degree of development under the first Napoleon. It declined somewhat under the influence of the reaction which was caused by the general state of exhaustion after the Napoleonic wars. It revived again after the revolutionary movements of 1848 when the new French Emperor sought to fortify his throne by warlike prestige, when Italy and Germany moved for the accomplishment and maintenance of national unity, when continental Powers, following the example of England, became ambitious of colonial expansion and when new inventions in the appliances of warfare stimulated the Powers in a course of nervous rivalry. It is thus that the deplorable conditions came about which are so pointedly set forth in the peace manifesto of the Russian Czar; that millions of young men at the period of their greatest vigor are withdrawn from productive pursuits; that “the intellectual and physical strength of the nations, labor and capital, are largely diverted from their natural application and unproductively employed” in gigantic preparations for possible conflicts of arms, and that the nations are burdened with very onerous taxes for the purpose of providing engines of destruction.

For the burdens European nations are thus bearing, the advocates or apologists of the system have a ready plea of justification. It is that the nation refusing to bear those burdens would soon be at the mercy of its ambitious and possibly hostile rivals. The Frenchman tells us that, aside from his desire to take revenge for the defeats suffered in the German war, France must strain every nerve in preparation for a possible conflict, to be reasonably secure against German aggression or British encroachment. The German reasons that, the German Empire being wedged in between France and Russia, whose sentimental alliance may on occasion be turned to hostile purposes, the fatherland must be armed to the teeth according to the latest fashion, in order to maintain the integrity of the empire, and that it must also have a strong fleet to hold its own in the race for colonial power. The Russian insists that unless his country be provided with bigger armies and navies, British and possibly also German jealousy will become dangerous to its vital interests. The Englishman maintains that Britain must have a fleet superior to those of any probable combination against her, and also a strong fighting force on land to protect the safety of her isle and of her widespread possessions against the ill-will of other nations which would be likely to avail itself of any favorable opportunity to strike at her with effect.

And thus no sooner has one of those nations taken the slightest step to increase the numerical strength of its armaments or their efficiency in killing and destroying; no sooner has it begun to augment its battalions, or squadrons, or batteries; no sooner has it introduced a new model of musket or of cannon; no sooner has it built a warship upon a new plan promising to do better execution, than all the others with nervous anxiety will follow suit or even try to push a step farther ahead. And this process must be gone through again and again, whole armies must be newly armed, and whole fleets must be rebuilt, as the crack ships of yesterday have become little better than old iron to-day. And all this, no matter what burden be put upon the backs of the people, nor how the taxpayer may groan. In fact, those Governments claim that they are not permitted under these circumstances to adapt their policy concerning their armaments to what may be their own wishes, or to what they might consider good for the welfare of their people. Their necessities in this respect are determined, not by themselves, but by the performances of their neighbors and rivals. And so the ruinous competition goes on and on without end in sight, the moloch of militarism being insatiable.

A striking example of this race of competition was recently furnished in England by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Mr. Goshen, when he asked the House of Commons to appropriate the enormous sum of £26,554,000 ($132,770,000) for the British navy, saying that so startling an estimate had not originally been contemplated, but that it had been framed after a careful study of the programs of the other Powers; that the United States, Russia, France, Japan, Italy and Germany had under construction 685,000 tons of warships, and that England was compelled to shape her action accordingly. He prayed that, “if the Czar's hopes for disarmament were not realized, those who proposed to attack the country's expenditures would not attempt to dissuade the people from bearing the taxation necessary to carry on the duties of the empire.”

In France the Minister of War not long ago dolefully intimated that he apprehended France had reached the end of her possibilities, not having men enough to match the increases of the much more populous German Empire. As a member of a republican government he might have said more. He might have added that a large standing army makes a monarchy more monarchical, but that it makes a democracy not more, but less democratic; that the more absolute a monarchy is, the more a large standing army will fit it, but that the more democratic a republic is, the less a large standing army will be suitable to it; that to a monarchy it may be a standing support, but that to a democracy it will be a standing danger.

So far the American people have been exempt from most of the evils springing from this system. From the foundation of the Government it has been the consistent policy of this Republic, following the true democratic instinct, to adapt its armaments to its own needs, without permitting itself to be drawn into the vortex of rivalry with other nations. As to the maintenance of peace and order at home, it has ordinarily depended upon the local police forces and the militia. It kept a small standing army stationed at a few military depots, a few coast defense fortifications or at posts in the Indian country. It kept a small navy just sufficient for an occasional showing of the flag in foreign waters and for doing its part of the police of the seas. Whenever an extraordinary emergency arose, such as a war with a foreign Power or an insurrection of formidable proportions at home, it organized armed forces on a larger scale by calling out volunteers who were enlisted in the service of the Republic, not as a regular standing army is, for doing whatever task might turn up, but for a well-defined, specific purpose, to be disbanded again as soon as that specific purpose was accomplished.

So it was held on the notable occasions of the war of 1812, of our war with Mexico and of our great civil war. And I venture to say that no nation ever presented to the world a grander, more characteristic and more inspiring spectacle than this Republic did when, after the close of the civil war, hundreds of thousands of men who had been organized in great armies, as soon as their task was done, quietly dropped their guns and as good citizens went home to devote themselves to the productive work of the country — the vast armies disappearing as by magic. It was a grand spectacle, I say, grander in its way than the most splendid victories those armies had achieved. That this Republic, against the misgivings entertained abroad even by our friends, proved such a thing to be possible without the slightest difficulty, was one of the finest lessons ever taught by a great democracy to mankind.

Such was our normal policy during the period between the foundation of the Republic and our days. Times of war excepted, the Republic was, compared with other nations, substantially unarmed, and, considering the condition of our coast fortifications, substantially defenseless. And yet it cannot be said that, since the war of 1812, it was, in consequence of its unarmed state, at any time in serious danger of foreign aggression or of a serious denial of its rights by any foreign Power. Not as if all foreign nations had been our sworn friends, eager to keep us from harm in our innocence — for there were people enough in Europe, and even in America, who disliked us and would not have been sorry to see this Republic perish; nor as if in our intercourse with foreign nations we had been over-anxious to spare other people's feelings — for the tone of our diplomacy was not always a model of politeness. No, it was because in the main we took little interest in matters which did not concern us, and because every foreign Power understood that, considering our vast resources and the compactness and substantial impregnability of our great continental stronghold, a serious conflict with the United States would mean to our antagonist a test of endurance which no European Power could undergo without offering seductive opportunities to its rivals or enemies in the old world, and that therefore it was wise to avoid so hazardous an embroilment at almost any cost. This feeling became especially distinct in Europe after the unexpected display of strength the United States made in the civil war, and after the equally unexpected reconciliation between the North and the South so soon after the close of the conflict.

The American people were therefore perfectly right in their sense of security while in an unarmed condition. There was really no danger to threaten us, unless we ourselves provoked it. Even the warning which we heard now and then among ourselves, that our foreign commerce would not be safe without being protected by a larger war fleet, was groundless. For it is a matter of history that even before those demonstrations of our strength in the civil war, when we had with our sailing ships a very large part of the carrying trade of the world, without any navy worth speaking of for its protection, our foreign commerce proved as safe as that of any other nation having ever so many guns afloat. In fact, ever since the war of 1812, we have not had a single difference with any European Power that could not be settled on fair terms without our having any ready armament to enforce our will. The proof of this is in the historical fact that they were so settled. It is a matter of speculation whether they would all have been settled so peaceably if we had possessed an armed force ready and itching for a fray.

Thus the policy of this Republic was in entire harmony with that democratic instinct which abhors large standing armaments, and our position among the nations of the world was singularly favorable to the maintenance of that policy. None of those anxieties arising from the possible hostility of powerful neighbors, which keep European nations in a heavily armed state, existed here. Absolutely nothing to alarm us. Neither was there any reason for apprehending that those happy conditions would change, unless we ourselves desired to change them. There has indeed, of late, been much talk about the necessity of enlarging the field of our foreign commerce, and of increased armaments and even of the acquisition of foreign territory to sustain our commercial interests in foreign quarters. But while that talk was going on, our commerce was very extensively enlarging its foreign fields without big fleets and without colonies, by its own peaceful action. We simply produced, in our factories as well as on our farms, more things that other nations wanted, and we could offer them at prices with which other nations could not compete. This golden key of industrial progress and peaceful commercial methods opened to our trade many doors which seemed to be closed against it by all sorts of artificial obstructions; and this peaceful expansion of our foreign commerce went steadily on, while other nations that had an overabundance of battalions, batteries and warships vainly struggled to keep pace with it. These are facts, undenied and undeniable.

But what will happen to us, commercially, if other nations seek by force to monopolize certain fields of trade for themselves, and in the course of that effort come to blows with one another? Then a sober and circumspect calculation of the advantages to be gained, and of the price they would cost, will probably lead to the conclusion that in such a case a strong neutral Power would enjoy very favorable opportunities and in the end have the best of the bargain. And when I speak of a strong neutral Power, I do not mean a neutral Power so fully armed that it might at once successfully cope with any of the belligerents, but I mean a neutral Power strong enough in its resources and in its position to make each belligerent extremely anxious to abstain from anything that might drive it to the other side. Such a neutral Power this Republic was not, in its infant state, during the Napoleonic wars preceding our war of 1812, when both belligerents, France as well as England, thought they could kick and cuff this Republic with impunity; but such a strong neutral Power this Republic, with its seventy-five millions of people and its immense wealth, would be now. No belligerent would dare to disregard its neutral rights; and at the end of the fight, the combatants well exhausted, it would probably be in a fair position to exercise a very powerful influence upon the terms of settlement.

Such a policy, harmonizing with our principles as well as our traditions, safe as well as advantageous, would not oblige us to keep up large and costly armaments; and it would at the same time teach our business men to rely for profit, not upon benefits to be gained for them by force of arms, subject to the fortunes of war, but upon their own sagacity in discovering opportunities, and their own energy in using them, which in the long run will prove to be after all the only sound basis of a nation's commerce under any circumstances.

There seems to be, then, in all these respects not only no necessity, but no valid reason for our turning away from the old democratic policy and embarking in that course the pursuit of which costs European nations so dearly, and which they justify only on the ground that the constantly threatening dangers of their situation actually force them to follow it. On the contrary there would seem to be overwhelming reason for doing everything to preserve our happy exemption from such dangers and necessities, as a blessing so exceptionally great that the American people could not be too grateful for it.

But we are told that there are certain populations in distant lands to whom it is our duty to carry the blessings of liberty and civilization, and that this may require larger armies and more warships. However laudable such a purpose may be, if sincere, it behooves us as sensible men soberly to consider the consequences of the attempt. I have already spoken of the armies of revolutionary France, that went forth to fight for general liberty, and that conquered for despotism. It cannot be denied that those French armies brought to some of the peoples they overran certain beneficial reforms. But with those reforms they brought foreign rule, and most of the “liberated” peoples found foreign rule more hateful than they found the reforms beneficial; and they availed themselves of the first favorable opportunity to throw off the foreign rule of the “liberators” with great slaughter.

We may flatter ourselves that, as conquerors, we are animated with purposes much more unselfish, and we may wonder why not only in the Philippines, but even among the people of Porto Rico and of Cuba, our benevolent intentions should meet with so much sullen disfavor. The reason is simple. We bring to those populations the intended benefits in the shape of foreign rule; and of all inflictions foreign rule is to them the most odious, as under similar circumstances it would be to us. We have already seen in the Philippines the beginning — for it is a mere beginning — of the resistance to foreign rule by one of our “liberated” peoples — a bloody game far from exhilarating. We may expect by a vigorous application of our superior killing power to beat and disperse Aguinaldo's army; but it is by no means unlikely that more insurrections against foreign rule will follow. They may be suppressed, too, but the surviving spirit of them will oblige us to keep much stronger forces on the ground than we ever anticipated, in constant apprehension of further mischief. Our rule will continue to be foreign rule then with the smell of blood on it.

Nor is it by any means impossible that the vulnerable spots thus added to our dominions — a point of weakness we so far have never had — may encourage some jealous and unfriendly foreign Powers to take advantage of our embarrassments and to involve us in broils which so far we never had any reason to dread. Or the apparent necessity to protect what conquest we have made, by further conquests, or the ardor of military or naval commanders a little too anxious to serve their country with their guns, may plunge us into the most hazardous complications. Of the chances to which we shall thus be exposed in many places, the utterly absurd Samoan affair furnishes an illustration. We may assume that the greatness of our resources will enable us to issue victorious from such conflicts too. But it will not be denied — in fact, it is already conceded — that persistence in such a course will oblige us very materially to enlarge our standing armaments, and subject us more and more to those burdens which what is called “militarism” is imposing upon the groaning nations of the old world. Patriotism as well as ordinary prudence demands us to consider what those burdens are likely to be.

In 1897 our standing Army consisted of 27,500 officers and men. The appropriations for the support of that Army amounted for that fiscal year to $23,278,000, which sum did not include expenditures for fortifications. The average cost of each man in the Army was therefore about $850. It is generally admitted that if we continue the so-called new policy, we shall need a standing Army of certainly not less than 100,000 men — probably more, perhaps a good many more. I do not pretend that the average annual cost of a soldier will under all circumstances rise or fall with the size of the Army. But it will not be questioned that such average cost will be much higher when the troops are used in distant places beyond seas, especially in tropical climates, where the soldiers have to endure very unfavorable sanitary conditions. Even if there be little or no active campaigning to be done, it is certainly a moderate assumption that the service of a large part of the Army beyond seas in tropical regions would raise the average cost of a soldier to $1000 a year. This would make an Army of 100,000 men cost at least $100,000,000, or over $76,000,000 more than our Army cost before the Spanish war. But if active campaigning is to be done, if the “mowing down” of “insurgents,” fighting for their freedom and independence, lasts long and has to be carried on during the sickly season, the replenishing of the depleted ranks, the feeding of the troops, the maintenance of an effective hospital service, the restoration of destroyed war material, the transportation of reinforcements to the theater of operations, and of the wounded or sick back to the home country, and all the multifarious things incidental to warlike action even on a small scale, would cause expenditures beyond the possibility of accurate computation.

We are not a very economical people. We are apt to become lavish and wasteful upon the slightest provocation. Even a little war will cost us much. Whether the little war with Spain, which was practically over in three months, has cost us less or more than $500,000,000 may still be a matter of doubt. I speak here only of the cost in money. The cost in blood and misery I leave you to think of.

That, if the new policy be persisted in, our naval establishment also will have to be much enlarged, is generally admitted. How much — who can tell? Certainly, we can not tell. For it will not depend upon us how many new battleships, and armored or unarmored cruisers, and light draft vessels, and torpedo boats, and destroyers we shall want. It will depend upon the naval armaments our rivals and possible enemies have on the field of competition. Until recently, when we were proud, not of possessing large armaments, but of not needing any, it has afforded us much occasion for compassionate amusement to observe the almost hysterical nervousness into which old world Governments were thrown when one of them began the building of new warships by which the proportion of power on the seas might be disturbed. Already we begin to feel that nervousness in our bones, and we cannot tell how many and what kind of warships we shall be obliged to have in order to maintain what is so vauntingly called our new position among the Powers of the world.

Nor will any amount of new construction set the matter at rest for any certain time. We do not know when we shall have to rebuild the larger part of our fleet; for, as the Czar truthfully says in his manifesto, “the terrible engines of destruction which are to-day regarded as the last word of science, are destined to-morrow to lose all value by some new discovery in the same field.” All forecasts as to the expenditures for naval purposes which the new policy will impose upon us in the course of time are, therefore, futile. But whatever they may be, the people will have to pay the bills.

Moreover, we have to bear a burden of which other nations know comparatively little. During the last fiscal year we paid over $140,000,000 in pensions. More than one hundred years after the Revolutionary war, more than eighty years after the war of 1812 — for we still have some widows of soldiers in those wars on our pension rolls — fifty years after the Mexican war, and thirty-three years after the civil war the number of pensioners was about one million. And still they come. It is estimated that the recent Spanish war will add $20,000,000 to our annual pension expenditure. It will probably be much more. The pension attorneys and Members of Congress looking for the soldier-vote will take care of that. But if we continue the military occupation of tropical countries there will be a constant stream of new pensioners owing to tropical diseases; and if we have any active military operations in those tropical regions, that stream will be heavy beyond calculation. And it will be without any end in sight. We must therefore look for a considerable increase of the pension charge for an incalculable period — the number of new pensioners over-balancing the number of those who in the natural course of things may be expected to drop out — that dropping out being notoriously very slow. Our annual pension expenditure now exceeds the whole cost of the great German army on the peace footing, its pension roll included. As our pension charge threatens to become, it may approach for a time the annual cost of the whole peace establishments of the empire of Germany and the kingdom of Italy combined.

Taking it all in all, assuming our standing Army not to exceed 100,000 men, but a large part of it to be engaged in the tropics, and our Navy to be gradually enlarged to the strength which it “must have” in order to enable this Republic to play the part of a colonial Power, we are sure to have, including our pension roll, an annual expenditure for army and navy purposes not only far exceeding that of any European Power, but not falling very much short of two-fifths of the expenses for the same purposes of all the six great Powers of Europe together — that is not far from $400,000,000 a year. By honest and strenuous effort we have paid off the bulk of the heavy National debt left by the civil war, and we have been very proud of that achievement. We are now in the way of running up a new National debt, of which, if we go on with the new policy, nobody can foretell to what figures it will rise.

It may be said that the American people, owing to their large and ever-increasing numbers and to their extraordinary resources, will be much more capable than other nations of bearing such taxation, and therefore feel it less. That is true. But it is also true that it will yet be a painful burden upon the labor of the people, and contribute neither to their well-being nor to their contentment unless the burden, as well as the resulting benefit, be equitably distributed. To justify heavy taxes for military purposes beyond absolute necessity we should, therefore, economically speaking, show two things: (1) that the benefit derived from the employment of the money raised by such taxation will exceed the value of the money thus taken out of the pockets of the people; and (2) that such benefit will accrue to the several taxpayers, or classes of taxpayers, in substantially just proportion to their respective contributions for the purpose in view.

Thus it would in our case be necessary to prove: (1) that if we increase our taxation so many hundred millions a year for the purpose of enlarging our standing armaments to the end of establishing and maintaining our rule in the West Indies and the Philippines, the profits from the expansion of our business enterprise accomplished thereby would exceed that amount — a matter about which, to say the least, there is extremely grave doubt; and (2) that such profits from whatever increase of business there may be will directly or indirectly redound in substantially just proportion to the people who pay the taxes — in other words that, while the taxes to sustain our foreign enterprises are levied upon the great mass of the people, the poor as well as the rich, they will redound really to the general benefit of the people, and not merely, or mainly, to the profit of a comparatively small number of capitalists who are able to take advantage, in a more or less speculative way, of the chances that may offer themselves in those distant regions. About this, too, there is exceeding grave doubt.

These are points which I have no time to elaborate here in detail; but I commend them for serious consideration to good citizens who are disposed to look before they leap; for they involve not only an economic question, but also one of justice.

Let me now pass to the institutional aspect of the case as it concerns this Republic in particular. I am far from predicting that the organization and maintenance and use of large armaments will speedily bring forth in this country the same consequences which they did produce in England in Cromwell's time, and in France at the periods of the first and the second French republics. With us the “man on horseback” is not in sight. There is no danger of monarchical usurpation by a victorious general — although it is well worthy of remembrance that even here in the United States of America, at the close of the Revolutionary war, at the very threshold of our history as a republic, a large part of the Revolutionary army, “turned by six years of war from militia into seasoned veterans,” and full of that overbearing esprit de corps characteristic of standing armies, urged George Washington to make himself a dictator, a monarch; that, as one of his biographers expresses it, “it was as easy for Washington to have grasped supreme power then, as it would have been for Cæsar to have taken the crown from Antony upon the Lupercal”; and that it was only George Washington's patriotic loyalty and magnificent manhood that stamped out the plot. However, usurpation of so gross a character would now be rendered infinitely more difficult, not only by the republican spirit and habits of the people, but also by our federative organization dividing so large an expanse of country into a multitude of self-governing States.

But even in such a country and among such a people it is possible to demoralize the Constitutional system and to infuse a dangerous element of arbitrary power into the government without making it a monarchy in form and name. One of the most necessary conservative agencies in a democratic republic is general respect for constitutional principles, and faithful observance of constitutional forms; and nothing is more apt to undermine that respect and to foster disregard of those forms than warlike excitements, which at the same time give to the armed forces an importance and a prestige which they otherwise would not possess.

No candid observer of current events will deny that even to-day the spirit of the new policy awakened by the victories and conquests achieved in the Spanish war, and by the occurrences in the Philippines, has moved even otherwise sober-minded persons to speak of the Constitutional limitations of governmental power with a levity which a year ago would have provoked serious alarm and stern rebuke. We are loudly told by the advocates of the new policy that the Constitution no longer fits our present conditions and aspirations as a great and active world Power, and should not be permitted to stand in our way. Those who say so forget that it is still our Constitution; that while it exists its provisions as interpreted by our highest judicial tribunal are binding upon our actions as well as upon our consciences; that they will be binding and must be observed until they are changed in the manner prescribed by the Constitution itself for its amendment; and that if any power not granted by the Constitution is exercised by the Government or any branch of it, on the ground that the Constitution ought to be changed in order to fit new conditions, or on any other ground, usurpation in the line of arbitrary government is already an accomplished fact. And if such usurpations be submitted to by the people, that acquiescence will become an incentive to further usurpations which may end in the complete wreck of Constitutional government.

Such usurpations are most apt to be acquiesced in when, in time of war, they appeal to popular feeling in the name of military necessity, or of the honor of the flag, or of National glory. In a democracy acting through universal suffrage, and being the government of public opinion informed and inspired by discussion, every influence is unhealthy that prevents men from calm reasoning. And nothing is more calculated to do that than martial excitements which stir the blood. We are told that war will lift up people to a higher and nobler patriotic devotion, inspire them with a spirit of heroic self-sacrifice, and bring their finest impulses and qualities into action. This it will, in a large measure, if the people feel that the war is a necessary or a just one. But even then its effects upon the political as well as the moral sense are confusing. When the fortunes of war are unfavorable, almost everything that can restore them will be called legitimate, whether it be in harmony with sound principle or not. When the fortunes of war are favorable, the glory of victory goes far to justify, or at least to excuse, whatever may have been done to achieve that victory, or whatever may be done to secure or increase its fruits.

History shows that military glory is the most unwholesome food that democracies can feed upon. War withdraws, more than anything else, the popular attention from those problems and interests which are, in the long run, of the greatest consequence. It produces a strange moral and political color-blindness. It creates false ideals of patriotism and civic virtue.

Nobody is inclined to underestimate the value of military valor. But compared with military valor, we are apt to underestimate the value of other kinds of valor, which are equally great and no less, sometimes even more, useful to the community. I do not refer only to such heroism as that of the fireman, or the member of the life-saving service on the coast, who rescues human beings from the flames or from the watery grave at the most desperate risk of his own life, and whose deeds are all the more heroic as they are not inspired by the enthusiasm of battle, and pale into insignificance by the side of any act of bravery done in killing enemies in the field. I speak also of that moral courage more important in a democracy, which defies the popular outcry in maintaining what it believes right, and in opposing what it thinks wrong.

Blood spilled for it on the battlefield is often taken to sanctify and to entitle to popular support any cause, however questionable. It is called treason to denounce such a cause, be it ever so bad. It is called patriotism to support it, however strongly conscience may revolt against it. Take for instance the man who honestly believes our war against the Filipinos to be unjust. If that man, faithfully obeying the voice of his conscience, frankly denounces that war, and thereby risks the public station he may occupy, or the friendship of his neighbors, and resolutely meets the clamor vilifying him as a craven recreant and an enemy to the Republic, he is, morally, surely no less a hero than the soldier who at the word of command and in the excitement of battle rushes against a hostile battery. You can no doubt find in our country an abundance of men who would stand bravely under a hailstorm of bullets. But many of them, if their consciences condemned the Filipino war ever so severely, would be loath to face the charge of want of patriotism assailing everybody who opposes it. This is no new story. War makes military heroes, but it makes also civic cowards. No wonder that war has always proved so dangerous to the vitality of democracies; for a democracy needs to keep alive above all things the civic virtues, which war so easily demoralizes.

You will have observed that I have treated the matter of militarism in the United States in intimate connection with our warlike enterprises, as if they were substantially the same thing. I have done so purposely. As I endeavored to set forth, the development of militarism in European states can be explained on the theory that each Power may think the largest possible armaments necessary for the protection of its safety among its neighbors, and for the preservation of peace. With us such a motive cannot exist. Not needing large armaments for our safety — for this Republic, if it maintained its old traditional policy, would be perfectly safe without them — we can need them only in the service of warlike adventure undertaken at our own pleasure, for whatever purpose. And here I may remark, by the way, that in my opinion, although such a course of warlike adventure may have begun with a desire to liberate and civilize certain foreign populations, it will be likely to develop itself, unless soon checked, into a downright and reckless policy of conquest with all the “criminal aggression” and savagery such a policy implies. At any rate, that policy of warlike adventure and militarism will, with us, go together as essentially identical. Without the policy of warlike adventure large standing armaments would, with us, have no excuse and would not be tolerated. If we continue that policy, militarism with its characteristic evils will be inevitable. If we wish to escape those evils and to protect this democracy against their dangerous effects, the policy of warlike adventure must be given up, for the two things are inseparable.

I have referred to the current events of the day only by way of illustration, without giving full voice to the feelings which they stir up in my heart, and the utterance of which might be somewhat warmer than what I have said. My theme being the relation of militarism to democracy in general, and to this great American democracy in particular, I may be permitted to express, in conclusion, my views of what our policy as a democracy should be in order to keep the vitality of the democratic Republic unimpaired.

We should, in the first place, restrict our standing armaments to the narrowest practicable limits; and those limits will be very narrow, if this democracy does not suffer itself to be carried away by the ambition of doing things which, as history has amply shown, a democracy cannot do without seriously endangering its vital principles and institutions. There is no doubt that a regular standing army is a more efficient fighting machine, especially at the beginning of a war, than citizen soldiery. But our experience has been that, in the peculiar position we occupy among the nations of the world, we need not have any war unless, without any compelling necessity, we choose to have it. It would be most unwise to shape our whole policy with a view to the constant imminence of war, there being no such imminence, unless we ourselves choose to create it. We should have as our main armed force, and as the natural armed force of a democratic republic, the citizen soldiery, to be called out for specific purposes in extraordinary emergencies, the efficiency of that citizen soldiery to be increased by the training of men to serve as officers, and by the organization of staff corps, upon a plan similar to that adopted in Switzerland. We should have a Navy strong enough to do our share in the police of the seas, but not a navy rivaling those of the great naval Powers, for, as our history has conclusively taught us, we shall not need it if we keep out of quarrels which do not concern us, and cultivate peace and good will with other nations — a disposition which the rest of the world will be glad to reciprocate. In this way we shall avoid the burdens and evil influences of militarism, and give even our pension roll at last a chance to decrease.

Following a policy essentially different from this we may have our fill of military glory and conquest, but with them other things which in the course of time will make the American people ruefully remember how free and great and happy they once were with less military glory and with no outlying dominions and subject populations.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).


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