The Writings of Carl Schurz/From President Roosevelt, September 8th, 1905

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Oyster Bay, N. Y., Sept. 8, 1905.

I thank you for your congratulations. As to what you say about disarmament—which I suppose is the rough equivalent of “the gradual diminution of the oppressive burdens imposed upon the world by armed peace”—I am not clear either what can be done or what ought to be done. If I had been known as one of the conventional type of peace advocates I could have done nothing whatever in bringing about peace now, I would be powerless in the future to accomplish anything, and I would not have been able to help confer the boons upon Cuba, the Philippines, Porto Rico and Panama, brought about by our action therein. If the Japanese had not armed during the last twenty years, this would indeed be a sorrowful century for Japan. If this country had not fought the Spanish war; if we had failed to take the action we did about Panama, all mankind would have been the loser. While the Turks were butchering the Armenians the European Powers kept the peace and thereby added a burden of infamy to the nineteenth century, for in keeping that peace a greater number of lives were lost than in any European war since the days of Napoleon, and these lives were those of women and children as well as of men; while the moral degradation, the brutality inflicted and endured, the aggregate of hideous wrong done, surpassed that of any war of which we have record in modern times.

Until people get it firmly fixed in their minds that peace is valuable chiefly as a means to righteousness, and that it can only be considered as an end when it also coincides with righteousness, we can do only a limited amount to advance its coming on this earth. There is, of course, no analogy at present between international law and private or municipal law, because there is no sanction of force for the former while there is for the latter. Inside our own nation the law-abiding man does not have to arm himself against the lawless simply because there is some armed force—the police, the sheriff's posse, the national guard, the regulars—which can be called out to enforce the laws. At present there is no similar international force to call on, and I do not as yet see how it could at present be created. Hitherto, peace has often come only because some strong and on the whole just Power has by armed force, or the threat of armed force, put a stop to disorder. In a very interesting French book the other day I was reading of how the Mediterranean was freed from pirates only by the “pax Britannica,” established by England's naval force. The hopeless and hideous bloodshed and wickedness of Algiers and Turkestan were stopped, and only could be stopped, when civilized nations in the shape of Russia and France took possession of them. The same was true of Burma and the Malay states, as well as Egypt, with regard to England. Peace has come only as the sequel to the armed interference of a civilized Power which, relatively to its opponent, was a just and beneficent Power. If England had disarmed to the point of being unable to conquer the Soudan and protect Egypt, so that the Mahdists had established their supremacy in northeastern Africa, the result would have been a horrible and bloody calamity to mankind. It was only the growth of the European Powers in military efficiency that freed eastern Europe from the dreadful scourge of the Tartar and partially freed it from the dreadful scourge of the Turk. Unjust war is dreadful; a just war may be the highest duty. To have the best nations, the free and civilized nations, disarm and leave the despotisms and barbarisms with great military force, would be a calamity compared to which the calamities caused by all the wars of the nineteenth century would be trivial. Yet it is not easy to see how we can by international agreement state exactly which Power ceases to be free and civilized and which comes near the line of barbarism or despotism. For example, I suppose it would be very difficult to get Russia and Japan to come to a common agreement on this point; and there are at least some citizens of other nations, not to speak of their Governments, whom it would also be hard to get together.

This does not in the least mean that it is hopeless to make the effort. It may be that some scheme will be developed. America, fortunately, can cordially assist in such an effort, for no one in his senses would suggest out disarmament; and though we should continue to perfect our small Navy and our minute Army, I do not think it necessary to increase the number of our ships—at any rate as things look now—nor the number of our soldiers. Of course our Navy must be kept up to the highest point of efficiency, and the replacing of old and worthless vessels by first-class new ones may involve an increase in the personnel; but not enough to interfere with our action along the lines you have suggested. But before I would know how to advocate such action, save in some such way as commending it to the attention of the Hague Tribunal, I would have to have a feasible and rational plan of action presented.

P. S. It seems to me that a general stop in the increase of the war navies of the world might be a good thing; but I would not like to speak too positively offhand. Of course it is only in continental Europe that the armies are too large; and before advocating action as regards them I should have to weigh matters carefully—including by the way such a matter as the Turkish army. At any rate nothing useful can be done unless with the clear recognition that we put peace second to righteousness.[1]

  1. To a letter of April 30, 1896, to Mr. Schurz, Mr. Roosevelt, when Police Commissioner, jocosely added the following:

    “P. S. Some time I wish another chance to discuss war and peace with you, oh Major-General, Cabinet Minister, Senator and Historian! I only hope all of you international arbitration people don't finally bring us literally to the Chinese level.”