National Geographic Magazine/Volume 31/Number 4/A Tribute to America
A Tribute to America
By Herbert Henry Asquith, formerly Prime Minister of Great Britain
An address in the House of Parliament, April 17, 1917
It is only right and fitting that this House, the chief representative body of the British Empire, should at the earliest possible opportunity give definite and emphatic expression to the feelings which throughout the length and breadth of the Empire have grown day by day in volume and fervor since the memorable decision of the President and Congress of the United States.
I doubt whether, even now, the world realizes the full significance of the step America has taken. I do not use language of flattery or exaggeration when I say it is one of the most disinterested acts in history. For more than 100 years it has been the cardinal principle of American policy to keep clear of foreign entanglements. A war such as this must necessarily dislocate international commerce and finance, but on the balance it was doing little appreciable harm to the material fortunes and prosperity of the American people.
What, then, has enabled the President—after waiting with the patience which Pitt described as the first virtue of statesmanship—to carry with him a united nation into the hazards and horrors of the greatest war in history?
Not calculation of material gain, not hope of territorial aggrandizement, not even the pricking of one of those so-called points of honor which in days gone by have driven nations, as they used to drive individuals, to the duelling ground.
It was the constraining force of conscience and humanity, growing in strength and compulsive authority month by month, with the gradual unfolding of the real character of German aims and methods. It was that force alone which brought home to the great democracy overseas the momentous truth that they were standing at the parting of the ways. The American nation had to make one of those great decisions which in the lives of men and nations determine for good or ill their whole future.
What was it that our kinsmen in America realized as the issue in this unexampled conflict? The very things which, if we are worthy of our best traditions, we are bound to vindicate—essential conditions of free and honorable development of the nations of the world, humanity, respect for law, consideration for the weak and unprotected, chivalry toward mankind, observance of good faith—these things, which we used to regard as commonplaces of international decency, one after another have been flouted, menaced, trodden under foot, as though they were effete superstitions of a bygone creed.
America sees in this clear issue something of wider import than the vicissitudes of the battlefields, or even of a rearrangement of the map of Europe on the basis of nationality.
The whole future of civilized government and intercourse, in particular the fortunes and faith of democracy, has been brought into peril. In such a situation aloofness is seen to be not only a blunder, but a crime. To stand aside with stopped ears, with folded arms, with averted gaze, when you have the power to intervene, is to become not a mere spectator, but an accomplice.
There was never in the minds of any of us a fear that the moment the issue became apparent and unmistakable the voice of America would not be heard. She has now dedicated herself without hesitation or reserve, heart and soul and strength, to the greatest of causes, to which, stimulated and fortified by her comradeship, we here renew our fealty and devotion.