Above the battle/XI
LETTER TO FREDERIK VAN EEDEN
January 12, 1915.
My dear Friend,
You offer me the hospitality of your paper De Amsterdammer. I thank you and accept. It is good to take one's stand with those free souls who resist the unrestrained fury of national passions. In this hideous struggle, with which the conflicting peoples are rending Europe, let us at least preserve our flag, and rally round that. We must re-create European opinion. That is our first duty. Among these millions who are only conscious of being Germans, Austrians, Frenchmen, Russians, English, etc., let us strive to be men, who, rising above the selfish aims of short-lived nations, do not loose sight of the interests of civilisation as a whole—that civilisation which each race mistakenly identifies with its own, to destroy that of the others. I wish your noble country, which has always preserved its political and moral independence among the great surrounding states, could become the heart of this ideal Europe we believe in—the hearth round which shall gather all those who seek to rebuild her.
Everywhere there are men who think thus though they are unknown one to another. Let us get to know them. Let us bring together each and all. Here I would introduce to you two important groups, one from the North and one from the South—the Catalonian thinkers who have formed the society of Amis de l'Unité Morale de l'Europe at Barcelona—I send you their fine appeal: and the Union of Democratic Control founded in London and inspired by indignation against this European war, and by the firm determination to render it impossible for the diplomatists and militarists to inaugurate another. I am having the programmes and the first publications sent to you. This Union, whose general Council contains members of Parliament, and authors like Norman Angell, Israel Zangwill, and Vernon Lee, has already formed twenty branches in towns in Great Britain.
Let us try and unite permanently all such organisations, though each has its racial characteristics and peculiarities, for all aim at re-establishing the peace of Europe as best they may. With them let us take stock of our united resources. Then we can act.
What shall we do? Try to put an end to the struggle? It is no use thinking of that now. The brute is loose; and the Governments have succeeded so well in spreading hatred and violence abroad that even if they wished they could not bring it back again into control. The damage is irreparable. It is possible that the neutral countries of Europe and the United States of America may decide one day to interfere, and endeavour to put an end to a war which, if it continued indefinitely, would threaten to ruin them as well as the belligerents. But I do not know what one must expect from this too tardy intervention.
In any case I see another outlet for our activity. Let the war be what it may—we can no longer intervene; but at least we must try to make the scourge productive of as little evil and as much good as possible. And in order to do this we must get public opinion all the world over to see to it that the peace of the future shall be just, that the greed of the conqueror (whoever it may be) and the intrigues of diplomacy, do not make it the seed of a new war of revenge; and that the moral crimes committed in the past are not repeated or allowed to stain yet darker the record of humanity. That is why I hold the first article of the Union of Democratic Control as a sacred principle: "No Province shall be transferred from one Government to another without the consent by plebiscite of the population of such province." We must oppose those odious maxims which have weighed too long on the populations they enslave and which quite recently Professor Lasson dared to repeat as a threat for the future, in his cynical Catechism of Force (Das Kulturideal und der Krieg).
And this principle must be proposed and adopted at once without any delay. If we waited to announce it until—the war being over—the congress of the Powers were assembled, we should be suspected of wishing to make justice serve the interest of the conquered. It is now, when the forces of the two sides are equal, that we must establish this primordial right which soars over all the armies.
From this principle we can deduce an immediate application. Since the whole of Europe is disorganised let us profit by it to set in order this untidy house! For a long time injustices have been accumulating. The moment of settling the general account will be an opportunity of rectifying them. The duty of all of us who feel for the brotherhood of mankind is to stand for the rights of the small nations. There are some in both camps: Schleswig, Alsace, Lorraine, Poland, the Baltic nations, Armenia, the Jewish people. At the beginning of the war Russia made some generous promises. We have registered them in our minds; let her not forget them! We are as determined about Poland, torn by the claws of three imperial eagles, as we are about Belgium crucified. We remember all. It is because our fathers, obsessed by their narrow realism and by selfish fears, let the rights of the people of Eastern Europe be violated, that to-day the West is shattered, and the sword hangs over the small nations, over you, my friends, as over the country which is befriending me, Switzerland. Whoever harms one of us harms all the others. Let us unite! Above all race questions, which are for the most part a mask behind which pride crouches and the interests of the financial or aristocratic classes dissemble, there is a law of humanity, eternal and universal, of which we are all the servants and guardians; it is that of the right of a people to rule themselves. And he who violates shall be the enemy of all.
De Amsterdammer Weckblad voor Nederland, January 24, 1915.
- "To let a people," he said, "or still more a fraction of a people, decide international questions, for instance, which state shall control them, is as good as making the children of a house vote for their father. It is the most ridiculous fallacy that human wit has ever invented."