Popular Science Monthly/Volume 86/January 1915/Europe's Dynastic Slaughter House
|EUROPE'S DYNASTIC SLAUGHTER HOUSE|
THUS, half a century ago, he forecasted what is now happening on the other side of the Atlantic, who was perhaps America’s most subtle reasoner. He is commonly classed as a poet—this man, Walt Whitman—lauded as such, reviled as such. He was really a prophet; though, as it is presumed to be well known, "High Criticism" in final analysis declares that the words prophet and poet are synonyms.
The younger Scipio Africanus has left an account of his observations of a great battlefield; of the battle fought between Syfax and Hasdrubal, the Carthaginian, and Massinissa, an ally of Rome. Scipio chanced to be present in Africa when this battle was fought, and was able to witness every manoeuvre from a height near the field of conflict. From the account thus transmitted to modern times has come the adage that "Onlookers see most of the game."
Manifestly, however, Scipio’s observations would have served little if he had been a common peasant or mere civilian. He was able to comprehend the tactical movements and their relations to the strategy of the contending forces solely because his military training enabled him to understand the meaning of isolated movements and their bearing upon the final result.
While strategic principles remain to-day in precisely the same condition that they were at the beginning of the last Punic war, it is of course no longer possible for a neutral observer to station himself upon a height and overlook a battlefield. The numbers engaged are too great, the field far too vast, the range of projectiles too extended, the obscurity of the "battle cloud" too dense. For data of military events the reporter, critic and interpreter is compelled to rely upon reports, official or otherwise, and these always more or less romantic, or actually mendacious, and usually garbled, censored out of all correct perspective in the endeavor to deceive both friend and foe, to meet supposed military or political expediencies.
The scope of the observer of military operations at the present day has not only been immensely broadened, but wholly altered in character. The critic of strategical combinations and tactical movements must now be equipped with information undreamed of in the days of the Romans and Carthaginians, dreamed of doubtless, but as yet subsisting only in dreams during the Napoleonic wars, and which for virtually the first time in the long record of man’s inhuman struggle with his fellow man, has become vitally essential.
To carry out the figure, the modern Scipio, viewing from a height in America the great war now waging in Europe (at present localized along the lines of the Aisne and Vistula) must be “expert” in a multitude of branches of knowledge, if he wishes to know accurately, either for his own satisfaction, or the worthier object of conveying information to others, with a view possibly to mitigating some existing horrors, or to avert needless calamities. Such an observer must possess a fairly complete theoretical knowledge of the science and art of war. He must be informed as to topographic conditions, not only at the immediate scene of combat, but in all directions wherever new lines of offense or defense could be established. He must know thoroughly conditions of transportation, provisioning, armaments, offensive and defensive, powers, ranges, etc., of ordnance and small arms of combatants, and not only available present supplies, but resources, near and remote, of every possible kind. And his knowledge must take into account in this day of novelty everywhere of sea-forces and air-forces, an approximation at least to familiarity with all recent devices of mines, torpedoes, submarines, etc., and a sufficient working knowledge of all varieties of war-craft and scout-craft of the air.
But besides all these informing utensils of elementary “militarism,” the onlooker must have an intimate acquaintance with the general trend of history, not only of warfare, but of social, financial and political conditions, and besides he must be able to pick out unerringly the true meaning of those past events (like points on an orbit to the astronomer) which have gone to the influencing of those of to-day. But above all else this onlooker’s acquaintance with the basic actuating and initiating function (commonly called “common sense”) of human nature must be impregnable. This is in fact the chief ingredient in the puddler’s flux, which (while individual actions elude all attempts at prophecy) give value to reasoning, and may be safely reckoned upon to provide trustworthy data for foreknowledge.
Viewing then the vast field of conflict now raging in Europe it is evident that bases for ascertaining the inevitable final resultant must be sought—not in any temporary incidents or conditions, nor from segmental logic, however well founded, but upon the data practically axiomatic—components equivalent in force and value to those of Euclid.
The inventor and constructor of a machine, which he is confident is entirely capable of performing its work—gratifying the vanity of the projector, adding to or making his fortune—is always restless, uneasy and dissatisfied until he has tested that machine in action.
This axiom of human nature applies to any machine whatever, especially to a novelty, and includes the vast, complicated, and diversely constituted mechanism of “blood and iron” which goes to the making of a standing army. The military system of the German empire was such a machine. The opportunity came to test its efficient action (fortune adding or making, or merely defending, it is all one) and immediately the opportunity was availed of. Germany was prepared to mobolize and she did mobolize, admirably and with wonderful celerity. She was prepared to attack, and doubtless with no thought, or but trifling thought of failure or even serious impending, she did attack. Owing to the rather unexpected and stubborn resistance of Belgium, and the entirely unexpected and most masterly strategy, credited, and it is probably correctly so, to General Joffre, the dynamics of offense—the sudden and overwhelming crushing of France—failed. The static energy still remains, as yet unimpaired, capable perhaps, though that is unlikely, of further offensive movement on a large scale.
What has been said of Germany’s utilization of her wonderful war organization must not be taken as solely applying to the German empire. Certainly to debit the Kaiser, or the “ruling military class” or the mass of the Germanic peoples with a deliberate desire to incite war, is to assume an intention of murder-plotting which did not exist. France, as well as Germany, possessed a highly organized and (as has been amply proved in the field) effective military machine, which she would have employed with equal readiness aggressively, but for the ever-present doubt as to whether it would work in practise. France sighed as she thought of the alienated provinces, contemplated the preponderance of power of the neighbor who had filched them, exorting the billion of loot, sighed, shook her head with a doleful, C’est trop dur, and was at least partially consoled by the reflection, not that she felt herself more moral than Germany, but that “the inevitable was not debatable.”
We come now to a candid, impartial, and unprejudiced consideration of another and quite different phase of the continental conflict.
Rivals in any line of activity are never very scrupulous as to utilizing—or sometimes even creating—opportunities to cripple, or even to destroy each other. This is especially cognizable in business affairs (from corner-groceries to empires). But a rival, however unscrupulous, feels in these modern days when public opinion is a force, a compulsion (called by some “moral”) to defer to that force. It is incumbent upon him to find a pretext, real if possible, certainly plausible, for his crippling or destruction.
Russia, for the chances of an open Bosphorus and a permanent-ice-free port welcomed the challenge to arms, not with very great alacrity, but still it was welcome. France, because of possibilities that the future might disclose of reclaiming the lost provinces of Alsace-Lorraine, was not unwilling to accept the challenge. And this challenge that Russia welcomed and France accepted not unwillingly, was responded to at once by Great Britain, cordially and greedily. For many years Germany had been insidiously encroaching upon Britain’s supremacy in commerce—making and selling more available goods, and more and more displacing her rival in the markets of the world. To cripple or to destroy German commercial rivalry was desirable.
Of this desire, however strong it may have been, not a hint is to be found in any official paper or utterance. On the contrary, the so-called “white papers” and those of other colors, disclose an endeavor, even most strenuous effort, to avert war, and that only the high ethical ground of upholding the validity and obligation of treaties, and especially the integrity of the guaranteed neutrality of Belgium, precipitated war. These endeavors and efforts prove either the pacific incentives of individuals of the British foreign office, or the marvels of adroitness of publicists in power seeking to clothe a pretext in a garb of immaculate plausibility, probably both.
One of the wise fables of Æsop relates that a hound, reproached that his quarry, the hare, had outstripped him, replied that it was “one thing to be running for your dinner, and another for your life.” The idea embodied in this fable may have had some place in bringing on the present war; it certainly has the very first place when questions are raised concerning the return of peace and the conditions of peace.
As to affixing “scientifically” (that is with knowledge) the responsibility for the terrible conditions prevailing, the factors are far too numerous and complex. The claim of the Allies of having had war thrust upon them is well taken; it was thrust upon them. The claim of Germany that she was forced to assume the “offensive-defensive”—that she fights for self preservation—is also well taken. On the surface, the seeds of war were sown when M. Berchtold, in the name of Austro-Hungarian dignity, exasperated beyond endurance by murder-plots in Servia, culminating in the assassination of Prince Ferdinand in Bosnia, in the attempt to exact a righteous reparation, overstepped a legitimate right of sovereignty. However guilty—or however much a conniver at guilt—Servia’s moral right to resist an assault upon her independence can not be questioned. She went far enough in way of concession.
Several problems now present themselves which perhaps the future may solve, chief among which is found this: Would Austria have taken so strong a ground without definite assurance of support from the north? Whatever solution to this may finally be uncovered, and to other problems of like order, the certainty of responsibility goes further back, being found in a gross departure from the righteousness that should exalt a nation. By this is meant that the holding of Bosnia and the Slavic peoples wherever they dwelt under Austrian rule was wrong— worse than wrong, it was folly. Imagine the clear-headed wisdom, which is of itself grandeur, that in the settlement of Balkan frontiers, with willingness and cordiality had furthered the cause of Servian nationality, not “grudgingly or of necessity” declined territorial aggression, and permitted—nay, invited Servia to a sea-port on the Adriatic.
Such highmindedness was not to have been expected of ruthless nationalism, as yet feudal, medieval, neither civilized nor Christian. What really happened was the outcome of age-old precedent, exponent of piracy and brigandage, that “they should take who have the power, and they shall keep who can.” Such an action would (who for an instant doubts it?) have averted the war. Idealistic? Yes. Sentimental? Yes. But it would have been something else, something better by far than idealism or sentiment—it would have been clever—what we rude Yankees call “smart.” In general it may be said that it is better to be clever than to be good, for cleverness includes morality; but “though thou shouldst bray a fool in a mortar yet will not his foolishness depart from him.” There are all kinds of fools, but none so foolish as the fool who is sure of wisdom founded upon power, and not “broad-based upon the peoples’ will.”
Returning to the subject of a correct forecast of the future, undoubtedly neither Russia nor France has at stake very much more than losses—land, money and prestige. Though the ultimate success of German arms should be complete, neither Russia nor France need fear any spoiliation that time and economy can not retrieve from the most ruthless enforcement of the right of conquest. Of course France would again have heavy damage exacted; but Germany would be willing enough to “cry quits” with her gigantic Slavic neighbor. Both nations are (to use the apt simile of Æsop) “running for their dinner” and no more. Permanently to annex further French provinces would merely embarrass Germany, and already she has enough discontented and hostile Slavs without adding to their number.
But between Germany and Great Britain the relations—present and prospective—are and will remain until a final settlement, vastly different. These nations are both fighting “for their lives.” With them it is war à l’outrance, to end only in the destruction or humiliation of one. As to which one this must inevitably be it needs hardly any “gift of prophecy” to forecast.
In considering the path and progress towards the inevitable, factors numerous, complex, and perplexing, crowd and jostle one another demanding recognition as important or conclusive. Current journalism is full of them, some occasionally suggestive, but mostly merely silly, being generally based upon partial, imperfect, or erroneous information, or upon prejudiced optimism. Just a few among many having real relevancy, may be casually mentioned. The German war-ships, self-interned at the Kiel canal, may at any time prove a very active menace; much more probably than those Zeppelins, the very talk concerning which has thrown a chill to the heart of England. It was premature; the big Zeppelins are very vulnerable, rightly assailed, and—happily for English comfort—they realize it.
On the other side there lies the inviting coast of the former Danish province of Schleswig. Behind the Sylt the waters are shallow, but it would not be difficult to land an army there. In time something similar may be reckoned upon—a force, probably all British, with suitable ordnance, to advance upon the canal and its fortifications on the north, to demolish these at leisure, and afterwards try conclusions with the fleet, unless it had slipped out, warily into the Baltic or boldly into the North sea. This project of invasion is instanced, not as imminent, but rather a strong possibility of the future. Its efficacy is found in facilitating operations, in affording a third “face” of attack.
In considering the outcome the element of time is of course a very uncertain quantity. But time is an ally of the Allies, the most stanch, most certain and trustworthy ally. All told, Germany can perhaps count upon about one hundred millions actually or nominally loyal to her cause. Russia, Britain, and France combined can count upon at least six hundred million, with equal or greater confidence of loyalty. Germany is badly handicapped. The greater general intelligence of her population; its greater diffusion of freedom of thought; these in time will begin to ask questions, to urge demands.
During our civil war, a rude mountaineer was brought into camp as a prisoner somewhere in east Tennessee. At first surly, at last he softened. “Say!” said he to his guard, “what anyway is you-uns fightin’ we-uns for?” If ignorance could be brought to put so admirable an enquiry, how much more likely—at the right time—the “psychological time,” will intelligence!
Day after day, slowly the equality between opposing forces will be diminished, replaced by increments of preponderance of the Allies. The effective strength of numbers will slowly crumble on one side, slowly accumulate for power of offense on the other. The very successes of German arms point the way to her ultimate downfall. The day of the facile fall of the Vauban-planned fortifications of Antwerp, added to by every device of science and steel, was a great one for the cause of universal peace, far greater than anything effected by the Hague Tribunal, or by all the peace treaties ever signed. The meaning is—or ought to be—evident—that the day of armored defenses as defenses against the ponderous ordnance constructed by the Krupps is at an end. Even at this hour there are several object lessons to invite scrutiny, notably that Verdun continues impregnable, not because of its being invulnerable as a bastioned work of the first class, but that the French burrowing in the ground are holding off the enemy to so great a distance that effective batteries can not be planted.
For many months the question of food supplies will not be pressing for the Germans. But in time this will bear its part in the final catastrophe, by adding to the distress that is certain to come. In times of peace the empire is almost—but not quite—self supporting. With war on both—or all—borders forbidding any considerable importation of provisions, the deficit greatly augmented by war’s inevitable waste, will result in scarcity, eventually in localized deprivation or even a degree of actual famine.
How the end will come, or when it will come, is beyond all human foresight, or possibility of even approximate prediction. That it will come is certain. When at last—in a year, two years, or after many years, after incidents perhaps of horror beyond scrutiny or imagination—when Germany lies prostrate and defenseless, what then will happen?
Europe was once before similarly afflicted, similarly desolated. From first to last the history of the Parisian revolt against the excesses of the Bourbons, striking—as revolution often does—at the least excessive of them all, is before us. We know the rise of the plebeian, Bonaparte; his good work for French liberty; his misplaced advancement of French “glory,” his futile “militarism,” finally crushed by counter-militarism vaster in numbers. After Waterloo (or La Belle Alliance) the victorious allies of 1814 dictated at Paris terms that restored a system not a whit an improvement upon the past of Louis XVI., but which yet was compelled to accept or adopt improvements. Even with Napoleon at St. Helena, his work—because it advanced the cause of human freedom—lived and grew; it had life abiding in it.
This portentous precedent, with many others more remote, are before us. Guided by them alone it would not be difficult to approximate to the onerous and degrading terms which it has been the invariable habit of victory to impose—enormous money compensation, extending to virtual impoverishment, even the enforced elimination of the Hohenzollerns and the total dismemberment of the empire. That indemnities will be exacted in huge amounts, mortgaging the prosperity of the Germanic people for many decades, even generations, is hardly doubtful. The provinces of Alsace and Lorraine will naturally be restored, Russia will probably acquire whatever additional Slavic territory may seem to her desirable; and Belgium be recompensed for her loyalty and losses by donations of Luxemburg and of sufficient of Rhenish Prussia most amply to compensate her. That Schleswig and Holstein, filched from Denmark in 1864, may be restored is highly probable, of course under rigid guarantees of international usage of the Kiel canal. Italy’s position is easier to define than her prospects to risk prophesying; to-day neutral (because to fulfill her obligation of the “Triple Alliance” was too dangerous), to-morrow perhaps openly antagonistic to Germany (because satisfied that thus only can she share in the spoil), those sections of country known as Italy Unredeemed may become hers.
The Austro-Hungarian empire will suffer nationally even more than the states constituting the empire of Germany; but probably to the decided betterment of the several races. It is of course not impossible that partition of the monarchy may be averted by a separate peace, though Austria can hardly expect to retain intact her heterogeneous segments. The Balkan peninsula will again be remapped, and (provision being made for canalization of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles) Moslem rule at and near Constantinople will be replaced by a “zone” that self interest will respect, power cause to be respected, and a new and more equitable “balance” established in measurably stable equilibrium.
At the present time (mid-December, 1914) while the contending forces are locked in a life or death grapple on the west, and are swaying to and fro, now one having advantage, then another on the east, there are many good people, well-meaning people, appalled at the losses of life and waste of substance, who would seek to end the hideous horror by urging immediate pacification.
But to end the war now, even if it were possible, would be most deplorable. Doubtless to seem to advocate a continuance of bloodshed and destruction must to these people—”peace-at-any-price” people—appear wantonly cruel. Scanning the course of human progress, it is clearly to discern from remotest epochs incidents (lights shining in the darkness uncomprehended by the darkness) tending to ameliorate the unhappy conditions of the masses of men. It is not this generation alone, its sentiments and ideals, but all coming generations whose welfare and happiness it should be for men of to-day—actors and thinkers alike—to toil for and to plan for.
There is a current phrase, prated of for the most part ignorantly—”getting back to nature.” Rightly understood the idea is admirable. But in final analysis, nature is indifferent, implacable, impartial, and so cruel. Nature cares nothing for individual lives, everything for life; nothing for men, all for man; nothing for artificial nations, all for races and for peoples.
Action and thought should emulate nature. In the terrific emergency now thrust upon the world, nothing should restrain us—no consideration of expediency, or even of temporary humanity—from holding fast and upholding firmly the ways and means that tend to the destruction of destruction, to establishing new and sure and safe guarantees. Fortifications of stone were found to be of no avail against the bombardment of the Columbiads and the Armstrongs and the Whitworths; replaced by bastions and scarps and turrets of steel, these also before the fire of colossal ordnance crumpled like parchment. In any new settlement or alignment shall nations be invited, encouraged or permitted once again to enter upon a ghastly rivalry of forces, to construct again so called defenses incalculably stronger, but destined in some future war to annihilation? Such a settlement is unthinkable; peace established at a prospect of cost to our coming race would indeed be cruelty.
Let us renew the query: when Germany lies prostrate and defenseless, what will happen? And let us add—not sentimentally or morally, but practically, and “scientifically”—what ought to happen? To many Americans, probably to a majority even of those not ill informed as to matters of negotiation in the early days of our national existence, it appeared singular that Great Britain consented with so little show of reluctance (it was in fact with suppressed alacrity) to modify so seriously the old Clayton-Bulwer treaty, by which modification we gained a very practical control of the interoceanic waterway. In few words it was because Britain’s far-sighted diplomacy easily recognized in the United States a prospect of profitable alliance, unwritten and un-“entangling” though it were, by which the mistress of the seas shifted upon America (on account of our “Monroe doctrine”) the expensive and disagreeable duty of policing the Western Hemisphere. With quiet and well-founded confidence immediately after the ratification of this treaty, Great Britain withdrew her war ships from American waters. The value of this treaty—this “scrap of paper,”—lay not at all in any especial reliance by Great Britain upon American national righteousness or friendliness, but upon that which in every exigency of human affairs, with nations and individuals alike, is more trustworthy than all professions of friendship, than all righteousness—enlightened self interest, mutual benefit.
Much has been written, and with very great ability and high sense of the obligation of “ethical values,” concerning the establishment hereafter of an international “posse comitatus,” to the end of enforcing peaceful relations, and of compelling acquiescence in the decrees of an international court of arbitration. The weakness of such an arrangement—most admirable if it could be assured in perpetuity—lies in this: that its permanence would depend not solely upon mutuality, but largely upon comity, upon a “scrap of paper,” a contract voidable at any moment by one or the other of the “high contracting powers.”
It is a military axiom that “one bad general is better than a dozen good ones,” and an axiom of very practical business that for utility and prompt acceptance a novel invention must “utilize already existing plants.” These two sayings, axiomatic or merely aphoristic, as one chooses to regard them, may find unexpected, but very practical application in the future, near or remote. It is by no means impossible that in the inevitable new alignment of European influence and power, a doctrine of Great British diplomacy may arise akin to that so notorious as of Monroe. It would mean a policy of “policing” applied to the eastern continent, and its similarity to our own benevolent protectorate would be pronounced, since very recently the United States has been joined by the strong and self-sustaining republics of South America, Brazil, Chile, and the Argentine. In effect we have become merely primus inter pares on this side of the Atlantic, and that would be the position of Britain upon the other.
Because of her vastly preponderant sea-power Great Britain would be able to enforce virtually whatever police authority she desired to assume. Her assumption of permanent leadership, certain to be resented and opposed if by a premature and unnatural patching up of amicable relations, the old antagonistic order were resumed, would be concurred in, not only by the partners of the present alliance, but by the feebler nations, who would further it cordially, for economy, for safety, for practicability; but only in the event of the establishment of a new order founded upon an enduring equity.
How then will it be possible and practicable to ensure equity? Eventually upon Great Britain alone will rest the supreme responsibility. In conjunction with her allies the rights, obligations, and privileges of nations and races will be readjusted on the European continent; but her interest extends, and her power for good or evil, throughout the world. In the past (as history amply testifies) British greed has seldom been thwarted very seriously by British sentiment. Either by conquest or artifice she has proceeded slowly but surely in the process of “benevolent assimilation” of alien and often unwilling peoples. At the time of the conclusion of the present war numerous and plausible excuses will not be lacking for a continuance of this deplorable policy. Such a course, not unjustifiable as applied—in the interests of civilization—to barbaric tribes, would be wholly inapplicable and inequitable arbitrarily enforced against Germany’s colonies. Most certainly the extension of dominion by right of conquest over East and West Africa would dissipate at once ideas of enduring equity conditioning any leadership of a “posse comitatus.” No movement towards a new and true order of national and racial relations will be possible unless from the very first any selfish policy of spoliation is repudiated.
Apart from those highly proper exactions in way of repayment for injury and destruction (as to which the common consent of mankind will be freely accorded) no excessive or wanton tribute should be imposed upon the German people. Whatever form of government, retained, accepted, or set up externally or internally, by or for Germany, the German people should be encouraged to restore as speedily as possible for themselves their own prosperity.
Heretofore in the world’s history the rule of the right of conquest has been indubitable: to the victors all; to the vanquished nothing, or nothing not conceded as a gratuity. In lieu of former tyrannous exactions, it will be for Great Britain to stand steadfast lest floodgates of rapacity open wide; to initiate a new order, not as ethical, but as equitable, correcting the cruel law of might and of greed, by the law of right, not because it is good, but because it is great.
It will be only by the unquestioned forbearance of the West that the East can be effectually restrained. There lies the future’s peril. The wisdom of the first Napoleon was not astray in declaring that Europe was destined to become “all Republican or all Cossack.” It will be for men “of good will,” not apathetically to await fiats of Omnipotence concerning peace on earth, but rather to make and enforce peace themselves in the only way by which permanent peace is possible.
Instances of historical generosity (so bestial is the natural man) are rare indeed. Of the few of record the following may be briefly mentioned: After the defeat of Pompey’s army at Pharsalia Julius Caesar, instead of ordering a general massacre or enslaving of the conquered, issued an order according to every man of his own forces the privilege of ransoming one of the enemy. It was thus that Julius made himself Caesar. After the fall of La Rochelle, the English knights taken prisoners and without means to ransom themselves, were sent under a flag of truce home to England and there set free. The English, not to be outdone, chivalrously restored to the French an equal number of captive knights. From this incident came the custom of exchange of prisoners, so greatly ameliorating war’s horrors.
The interchange of kindly courtesies between Grant and Lee after Appomattox furnishes an American instance of the practical value of generous actions. And another deserves recording: when the greathearted, wise-minded Lincoln, reproaching the vindictive of his cabinet who stigmatized playing the delightful air of “Dixie” as “treasonable,” said: “Not so; we captured that tune with the other effects of the ‘Lost Cause.’”
In the coming readjustment of European affairs, armaments, and frontiers, America will surely be called upon as counsellor or arbitrator. Her opportunity will be splendid. Already into American hands in every capital of the contending nations antagonistic interests have been committed. These, our envoys—ambassadors, ministers, and charges—should be of one mind as to the spirit and purpose of mediation when the time for mediation shall come.
Doubtless it is more difficult for the onlooker to judge justly as to events and policies of his own country and time than of activities of which he is merely a spectator. At this very hour discussion is rampant concerning the course that the United States should assume to protect its territory against possible foreign aggression. Some—so-called “Militarists”—would advocate a huge standing army; others, actuated by motives of Christian principle, find in complete disarmament, the surest defense. As to our duty—having due regard to both practicality and spirituality—perhaps a few homely illustrations may not be out of place.
Imagine a devoted missionary left alone in a land peopled by cannibal savages. Doubtless Christ-like peaceableness, gentleness, and good will, together with self-possession, and perhaps a trifle of this world’s craft and subtlety, might avert assault, and secure a hearing for sound doctrine. And yet (as even the most amiable “peace-at-any-price” person will admit) immunity would depend largely upon other factors, say, the degree of hunger of the cannibals and the edibleness of the missionary.
The situation is not dissimilar when an ordinary citizen finds himself in the midst of a gang of toughs in a “boom town” or in a slum of a city. Good intentions alone can hardly be reckoned upon for protection. Let such a man beware that his dress does not violate local conventions; let him beware of any “swagger,” or a hint of superiority. If he has no real errand or “call” to that neighborhood, he had better simulate one, for there is nothing a barbarian so resents as unwarranted curiosity and intrusion.
As to armament, it may be admitted that often (under circumstances above instanced) defenselessness might be the best defense; even the barbarian possesses an intuitive chivalry. Certainly the display of a weapon would irritate, as much, but no more, than a truculent manner. But it must be remembered that there is a kind of armament that no one thinks of resenting, the natural kind, undoubted fine muscular development, a carriage of body and glance of eye, denoting neither timidity nor a challenge. If in addition the citizen can call to his aid a reputation for force and courage, if he is known as “bruiser,” he may be said to be invincible.
As with the individual, so is it with the nation. We talk glibly of “International Law,” as if such a thing existed. There is a body of precepts, practises, and precedents, which have won a general toleration and partial acceptance, but this is custom, not legality. Law (to be worth anything) is a rule of action with a penalty for violation—a penalty enforceable. In establishing the Hague tribunal an attempt was made to legalize the peaceful consensus of opinion of civilization. In Germany’s violation of Belgium’s neutrality, the total failure of pacific contracts is found and the futility of a covenant not backed by overwhelming force. That Germany asserts a vital necessity serves only to emphasize the truth that “necessity knows no law.”
It is for our military men, for the peace-lovers, legislators, and all good citizens, not to demand literal interpretation of these illustrations, but to think them out, “each for himself and not for the other.” Whether with our insular possessions we have intruded insolently; whether in our Monroe doctrine we have “swaggered”; these are possibly debatable questions. I do not say that our altruism will remain unrewarded by conversion of savages; but it is not yet definitely decided that the cannibals are not land-hungry, and it is very certain that the missionary is very, very edible.
The question of our national defending, not for aggression, but to prevent aggression, on sea and land, beneath the seas and in the air; this needs to be thought out and legislated out, and acted out. Upon this however full reliance may be placed: that until our great cities can dispense with an adequate police force, the nation will require the defence which trained defenders alone can insure.
Some of us, especially as to activities and non-activities in Mexico, have openly sneered at the administration’s policy of prudence—of so-called “watchful waiting,” candor compels confession that for one having had a military training, and withal having the strongest admiration for “strenuous” action, to refrain would have been difficult indeed. Nevertheless, in view of what is happening in Europe, the feeling can not be repressed that this policy will find justification, not in premature urgency as to our good offices, but when the day comes, as it surely will come, for an umpire, disinterested, unvexed and unhampered by affinity or collusion, as a sincere friend to all nations and to humanity, to urge and to demand guarantees of an enduring peace.