The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 1/Where We Stand To-day

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2939801The Bohemian Review, volume 1, no. 2 — Where We Stand To-day1917Charles Pergler

Where We Stand To-day


Events are following fast one upon another. Things that three years ago would have been sensational or would have caused unusual agitation, today are accepted quietly and calmly, if not with indifference.

When Secretary Lansing a while ago declared that this country is being brought to the very verge of war, he was severely criticised. Yet today we are standing on the very brink. On the docket of the recording angel of history a new case has been registered, that of the United States of America vs. The German Empire. While our movement originated in the hope of contributing to freeing the land of our ancestors from foreign yoke, yet our first duty now is to declare unequivocally where we stand in this latest of world controversies.

It is indeed strange what a superficial view people occasionally take of matters of supreme importance. Not a few voices have arisen in this country that President Wilson erred in severing diplomatic relations with the German Empire because of the ruthless German methods of submarine warfare. People taking this position do not seem to realize that beneath the questions of violation of international law and of the laws of humanity lie matters of even deeper import. Very likely the violation of international law of itself would be justification enough for the step the president has taken. Even in times of war there are certain things that should be observed. The tendency has been at least to attempt to mitigate the very barbarities of war, and any government or nation reverting to primitive methods of warfare is guilty of a crime against civilization which cannot be condoned. But Germany by its last decree arrogates to itself sovereign powers over the nations of the earth. America and American citizens on the high seas have certain rights which cannot be invaded by any other power, and if another power attempts to abridge them, that power is invading the sovereignty of the United States of America, and attempting to make of it a vassal nation. When Germany attempts to dictate to this country that only one vessel a week shall pass between American and English ports, marked with certain stripes, she is invading American sovereignty, she is attempting to do a thing which only a sovereign can attempt to dictate to a subject, and when the president takes measures to show that this nation has not become a subject nation of Germany, we are with him to the end.

I am willing to go even farther than that. We are all opposed to unjust wars of aggression. But the verdict of mankind is that during the last two and one-half years Germany has conducted a struggle for world dominion. I would be the last man to underestimate the influence of such factors as economic considerations in bringing on wars. Yet it requires a peculiar sort of narrow-mindedness to declare that this war has been brought on by munition makers and profit-seekers, and nothing else; that the United States have been brought to the very verge of war by munition makers and profit-sekers, and nothing else. This conflict is a good deal more than all that; it is also a clash of conflicting ideas and conflicting civilizations. Possibly the supreme question raised by this war is whether the Prussian drillmaster shall govern Europe with his rod and perhaps the major part of the world. The issue of such a conflict cannot be a matter of indifference to Americans.

Pacifists resent to be called peace at any price people; yet most of them are crying out against war under any circumstances, and under any conditions; they want war stopped, apparently regardless of terms. In the abstract they undoubtedly want justice done; in the abstract they undoubtedly want right to prevail, but they have only themselves to blame if those of us who do not agree with them in all respects hear at the present time only their cry of peace, peace and peace, when there is no peace, and there can be no peace until all the questions which led to the present conflict are solved, solved right and solved permanently.

Our pacifists would do well to recall the words of Wendell Phillips at the outbreak of the Civil War: “In my view, the bloodiest war ever waged is infinitely better than the happiest slavery which ever fattened men into obedience. And yet I love peace. But it is real peace; not peace such as we have had, not peace that meant lynch-law in the Carolinas, and mob-law in New York; not peace that meant chains around Boston courthouse, a gag on the lips of statesmen, and the slave sobbing himself to sleep in curses. No more such peace for me; no peace that is not born of justice, and does not recognize the rights of every race and every man.”

We of Czech and Slovak origin are peculiarly happy at this juncture that American interests and those of our kinsmen in Europe coincide. We are demanding today independence for Bohemians and Slovaks. In effect, as far as they are concerned, the Czechs and Slovaks are endeavoring to abolish the Austro-Hungarian government and to institute a new government. In this they are acting consistently with the Declaration of Independence, which maintains that governments are instituted among men to secure the right to life, liberty and happiness, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed, and that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute a new government. The Austro-Hungarian government has never been anything else but destructive of such ends; it has attempted to denationalize the Czechs and Slovaks; it has attempted to rob them of their native tongue; it has exploited them economically, and during the last two years it has sent thousands of them to the gallows, or forced them to face the Austrian firing squads, and it has imprisoned their spokesmen on trumped-up charges. The Czechs and Slovaks therefore have the perfect right to attempt to abolish this government and to institute a new one. Indeed, the center of gravity of the world’s reaction has shifted to Vienna. Austria-Hungary is a land of unlimited and unbridled absolutism, and in struggling for independence the Czechs and Slovaks are also fighting for democracy in the best sense of the term.

The American people and the American government have never hesitated to express their sympathy with peoples struggling against alien domination and for independence. It is well to remember that the famous message of President James Monroe, dated December 2nd, 1823, formulating the doctrine now bearing his name, also sympathetically speaks of the Greek war for independence in the following words: “A strong hope has been long entertained, founded on the heroic struggle of the Greeks, that they would succeed in their contest, and resume their equal station among the nations of the earth.—From the facts which have come to our knowledge, there is good cause to believe that their enemy has lost forever all dominion over them; that Greece will become again an independent nation. That she may obtain that rank is the object of our most ardent wishes.”

The right conceded to the Greeks is the right Czechs and Slovaks claim for themselves, and they believe that they are entitled to the same sympathetic attitude the Greeks enjoyed.

When the American government made a move which looked like an attempt to recognize the Hungarian Republic by America, Daniel Webster did not hesitate to declare: “Certainly the United States may be pardoned even by those who profess adherence to the principles of absolute governments, if they entertain an ardent affection for its popular forms of political organization which have so rapidly advanced their own prosperity, their happiness, and enabled them in so short a period to bring their country, and the hemisphere to which it belongs, to the notice and respectful regard, not to say the admiration, of the civilized world.”

And on another occasion he was bold enough to express himself in favor of Hungarian independence, Hungarian control of her own destinies, and Hungary as a distinct nationality among the nations of Europe. What a pity that the Magyars themselves have turned oppressors of others since they regained independence! But may we not with propriety expect that as regards Bohemian and Slovak independence the American attitude should be summed up in these words: “Bohemian independence, Bohemian control of her own destinies, and Bohemia as a distinct nationality among the nations of Europe”?

President Wilson several times has declared that there can be no peace without justice to all nations, be they big or small, weak or strong. Indeed this he declares to be one of the conditions of permament peace. Our whole movement therefore is in accord with American traditions as represented by official, as well as unofficial, expressions, beginning with the Declaration of Independence, and ending with the latest of state papers by Woodrow Wilson.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1954, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 69 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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