The League to Enforce Peace

The League To Enforce Peace  (February 1917) 
by Theodore Roosevelt

The Metropolitan [1]

The League To Enforce Peace

By Theodore Roosevelt

Germany has just perpetrated a new and dreadful offense against that moral law which should govern nations even when they are at war with one another. She has deported thousands of civilian non-combat ants, men and women, from France, and tens of thousands from Belgium, and announces that she will deport hundreds of thousands more. These captured civilians are to serve as state-slaves in Germany, and by their toil to make easier the conquest by Germany of their fellow countrymen. Nothing approaching this outrage has been perpetrated since the close of the dreadful religious war of the seventeenth century. Germany's act is one of infamy; and the act of any nation, or set of men, or individual man who fails to protest as strongly as possible against it, or whose conduct tends to distract attention from it, is in the interest of the wrongdoer and is itself infamous. The agitation of the "League to Enforce Peace" at this time is, therefore, a move against international morality, against our own national honor and vital interest, and in the real interest of international barbarity.

I abhor unjust or wanton war. I do not believe that under normal conditions even a just war should be begun until the nation has first tried by every honorable means to secure the righteous end, which can alone make the war just. Every sensible man desires peace; although every upright and far-seeing man, of course, understands that peace is merely the most desirable means, and that the end itself, which must at all hazards be secured, is righteousness, justice, the high and honorable insistence upon and fulfilment of all moral obligations.

The survival in our civilization of the barbaric system of warfare among nations means appalling cruelty and suffering in time of war; and also, to the extent that it represents the professional spirit of caste militarism which treats war and conquest as in themselves desirable ends; It is not only immoral, but represents an enormous waste of resources and impoverishment of workers in time of peace—this being the reverse of what happens under the admirable system of universal military training and service as practised in peace-loving, self-respecting democratic commonwealths like Australia, Switzerland and Argentina. Wherever possible—and within large limits it is entirely possible—provision should be made for the settlement of international disputes by judicial and other peaceful means.

While I was President I did my best to secure an international agreement for the limitation of naval forces; but the effort met with no success whatever; and the development of submarine and aerial warfare since that time shows that if successful in the form then advocated by the peace agitators it would have produced no good result.

The attitude above set forth is in its essentials the attitude I have held all my life long. Frequently, foolish persons, who meant well, have at the time said that it represented "militarism." Occasionally, knavish persons, who did not mean well, have, in retrospect, called it "pacifism." The first category unconsciously, the second consciously, said what was not true. I care for the facts of the matter, not for terminology. I am for righteousness. Ordinarily, I believe that peace serves righteousness. But if peace Serves unrighteousness, then I hold, with Washington and Lincoln, that it is our duty to stand for righteousness at the cost of war.

During my presidency, however, the American people were able to do a good deal for peace. They gave Cuba independence and self-government, and promptly intervened to restore order when a recurrence of the revolutionary habit was threatened. As an incident to building the Panama Canal, they established on the Isthmus a peace which has lasted for thirteen years—a far longer and far more perfect peace than the Isthmus had previously known in all its checkered history. Peace was definitely established in the Philippines, and has ever since prevailed; and the islands have, in consequence, known a greater prosperity than for the four hundred years since the Spaniards discovered them. In San Domingo peace was established and lasted until recently, when our own government went to war with it. Peace was established between Russia and Japan. The voyage of the battle fleet around the world was an immense service to peace. Americans were nowhere wronged by any foreign government, and were everywhere given protection. None of these services could have been rendered had it not been that, first, we acted justly toward all nations, kept our word, and made no promises which we did not redeem: and, second, we kept ourselves in such shape that by our prepared strength we secured the respect of every great military power.

I then welcomed, and I now welcome, every movement which tends to produce for this nation the peace of strength, and for this and all other nations the peace of righteousness. I then opposed, and I now oppose, all movements to secure to this country the peace of cowardice—the base and evanescent peace of cowardice and weakness; and I also opposed, and now oppose, all movements, nominally for peace, which put peace above righteousness and justice.

We Have No Tendency Toward Militarism

I oppose the proposals of the League to Enforce Peace because under existing conditions, and at this time, and in view of the past performances of most of the leaders of the movement, and especially in view of the action of our government and people during the last two and a half years, the agitation or adoption of the proposals would be either futile or mischievous. At this time, in view of our utter national unpreparedness, and of our utter recklessness in making promises which cannot be, or ought not to be, kept, and of our utter failure to keep the promises we have made which ought to be kept, the movement can do no possible good; it might, if adopted by our Government, do very serious harm; and in the more probable event of its proving merely futile it will tend to make us ridiculous.

There are honorable and upright men who have taken part in the movement. These men I believe to be misled. There are large numbers of well meaning and enthusiastic men who, because of failure to know the facts, seem to regard the movement as promising something of worth. These men, I believe, should have the facts put before them.

Many, probably most, of the leaders of the present movement are following in the footsteps of (and in many cases are identical with) the various professional pacifist agitators who during the last quarter of a century have so deeply discredited the whole peace movement. They have in the past opposed preparedness, or advocated the disarmament of this nation and of the other-free nations of the world—a disarmament which would leave all the free peoples at the mercy, of every militaristic despotism or barbarism. They have advocated all-inclusive arbitration treaties, to include the arbitration of all questions of national honor and vital interest. They have advocated the refusal to protect the lives of our men and the honor of our women in foreign lands. They have advocate the silly and wicked peace-commission treaties which have actually been adopted our government during recent years; treaties which in any serious crisis this nation would certainly break; treaties which it would be dishonorable to break, and far more dishonorable, as well as utterly disastrous, in any serious crisis to keep.

Remember, I am not criticizing the professional pacifists or peace-at-any-price men merely on the ground that their acts are impractical. I criticize them on the ground that their acts are immoral and their purposes unworthy. In so far as they have had any influence at all on this country, it has been an influence of unmixed evil. There is not and has never been in this country the slightest tendency toward militarism. Our tendency toward evil has lain along the lines of a gross materialism in money-making; a soft materialism in slack self-indulgence; and an unhealthy sentimentality which corrodes all healthy moral fiber. Every one of these tendencies for evil has been strengthened by the actions of the professional pacifists.

So much for the effects of their agitation on the moral fiber of the American people. From the standpoint of international peace this agitation has been utterly futile. All the pacifist agitation of the last thirty years has been proved completely worthless as soon as the first serious test came. These apostles of feeble folly have been shown by the event to have failed to meet in even the smallest degree any of the evils for which they glibly proclaimed they had found infallible patent remedies. And now, when their failure has been so ignominious that they are not even objects of ridicule in Europe, they come forward here, with piping voices, to offer yet one more quack nostrum for international wrong.

Their failure in the past has been complete. But this is not all. It is a continuing failure. They are failing in duty at this present moment. The Hague conventions have been treated as scraps of paper by Germany; and the United States, a signatory power, shares the guilt because of her failure as a Government to protest. The immense majority of the leading advocates of the League to Enforce Peace have failed as individuals to protest. This explains the fundamental reasons why they have failed to accomplish anything worth while in the past, and why they are not entitled to confidence as regards anything they say about the future. They do not keep their promises. On this count alone their proposals should be disregarded.

The proposal itself is not new. In some form or other it has been made now and then for centuries. It was outlined by me in May, 1910, in my address to the Nobel Peace Committee, delivered as a sequence to being given the Nobel Peace Prize for the Peace of Portsmouth between the Russians and Japanese. It was elaborated by me in the chapter entitled Utopia or Hell, in my book, "America and the World War," written two years ago; the plan thus elaborated being the only plan, even remotely feasible, which has yet been produced. But at the time I explicitly insisted that the plan was as yet in the realm of mere speculation, and that the essential prerequisites for action in reference thereto on our part were, first, that we should in good faith live up to the promises we had already made; and second, and even more important, that we should put ourselves in position to defend our rights by completely preparing ourselves in naval and military matters, the preparation to include the obligatory military training of all our young men. Until we have, first of all, met these two requisites, all talk of an international League to Enforce Peace represents a mere mischievous sham.

The proposals of this League vary somewhat from time to time; but in their essence they are that nations shall arbitrate all questions, and that they shall all agree to enforce the decrees of the arbitral court by war. Dealing with the present, not the future, this means that we would have to submit the question as to whether we would admit Asiatic immigrants to our shores, or whether Mexico should be taken possession of and made orderly by some European power, or whether Japan should be allowed to take possession of Magdalena Bay, or whether the Monroe Doctrine should be abolished, to an arbitral tribunal on which Chinese and Turkish judges might deliver the casting votes. It also means that if in some quarrel of doubtful quality such a tribunal decided in favor of Siam against France, or Persia against Russia, we should be obliged, under penalty of breaking faith, to devote our whole military and economic strength to a long-drawn and bloody war for a cause in which our people had no concern and of which they had no knowledge, and in some place where we could hardly exert even a tiny fraction of our strength, and that only at enormous expense.

Either the proposed movement will require us to submit to just such proofs, or it means nothing whatever. Let its advocates specify precisely what they desire us to undertake in such cases; and then, before asking us to go into such an undertaking, if they are both far-sighted and patriotic, let them first insist that we keep the promises we have already made, and next that we fully prepare that military strength the lack of which would make our entering into such an agreement an empty sham.

Fortunately, the sincerity of the leading advocates of the League to Enforce Peace can be tested at once. The worth of any promise lies in readiness at once to make it good. Are these men ready to take the action they recommend now, at this moment? If not, then their announced eagerness to promise to take it at some undefined date in the possible future represents a peculiarly mean and odious hypocrisy.

Clamoring for Visionary Schemes

The Hague conventions still exist—as scraps of paper. They explicitly guarantee in the present the rights which these proposals of the League to Enforce Peace are supposed to guarantee for the future. They make this guarantee in the specific case of Belgium to-day as strongly as it can be made to apply to any small, well-behaved, civilized nation when brutally wronged by a stronger neighbor in the future. No man who has not raised his voice in specific and emphatic protest against the brutal wrong done to Belgium, and in specific andb emphatic denunciation of the wrong-doer, Germany, and of our own Government for refusing to take any action in reference thereto, is entitled to speak on behalf of any proposal to prevent such wrongs in the future.

At the time the wrong was committed it was natural and proper that our people should wait as long as possible in order to let the American President speak; for only the American President could speak with authority for the American people. It was natural and proper that people should support the President up to the very limit that it was possible to do so, and not prove false to America and humanity; and it was far better to err by supporting him too long than by not giving him the chance to work out his policy—if he had one. I myself did so. For the first sixty days I accepted and adopted the President's declaration that it was our duty to be neutral and that we had no responsibility for Belgium; accompanying my statement, however, with the further statement that this showed that the pacifist theories had utterly broken down, and that we must immediately prepare to the utter most for our own defense. But week by week the wrongs against Belgium accumulated; week by week the ruthlessness of Germany toward her became more evident; and week by week, cumulatively, I grew more uneasy; more doubtful whether we were performing our duty; and finally, on the arrival of the Belgian delegates to this country, I determined to look into matters for myself; and I speedily found that the President's conduct had represented the abandonment of national duty on our part. From that time I bore testimony against it.

But the professional pacifists who now advocate the League to Enforce Peace did not bear such testimony. They do not bear it now. They have not dared to protest against triumphant wrong in the present. They pass by tortured Belgium with hurried steps and averted faces, and then seek to gratify their timid vanity, with safety to their bodies, by clamoring for visionary schemes under which, forsooth, they promise that they will do in the future what they lack the courage and high mindedness to do in the present. These professional pacifists raised paeons of exultation over the Hague conventions and announced that they had provided against all future war; and in view of this demanded that the United States should cease building up its navy. But from the moment the treaties were violated they ceased to utter a syllable about them. They dared not as much as raise their voices against the powerful and unscrupulous violator, lest thereby they might conceivably run some slight risk to their own worth less skins. Instead, they at once started a new movement, to make new promises for the future, so as to cover this shirking their duty in the present; promises which, if ever the moment to redeem them came, these persons would instantly repudiate by action or inaction—and then seek to cover their repudiation by making yet other promises about some yet more distant future.

There were men in this country who stood by the Hague conventions, and urged that we do our duty under them to Belgium; who stood for the old American ideals, and for the performance of international duty to humanity; but no professional pacifists were to be found in their ranks.

These American pacifists promptly broke faith, and left Belgium and the allies of Belgium in the lurch. They did badly. The British pacifists who have supported them have done worse. Many public men and publicists in England, men more or less deeply tainted with the spirit of professional pacifism, have for at least a generation striven to make their native land impotent to defend itself. Millions of other Englishmen are now paying with their bodies for the past folly of these professional pacifists. At the moment these English pacifists are rather afraid that it would be unpopular to preach their doctrines for England, So, although the American pacifists have in servile fashion played Germany's game against Belgium, and have shown themselves the most abject servants of German Schrecklichkeit, these British pacifists praise them and uphold their representatives in American public life—London vying with Berlin—and chorus their approval of the schemes such as the League to Enforce Peace, which are meant to divert our people at the present time from doing their duty to themselves and to others.

I cannot in this article discuss at length all the considerations which make the proposal for such a league mischievous folly under existing conditions. Among other things, it does us moral harm by still further encouraging our people to make grand iloquent promises, with no consideration as to how they are to be kept and no serious intention of keeping them. More evil still is the unquestioned fact that the agitation is adroitly used as a means for defeating the movement for thorough military preparedness. To adopt it will divert men's minds from their real duty of soberly and with foresight and with self-dedication to make effort, preparing this country for its own defense. Plenty of well-meaning but ill-informed people are only too ready to clutch at the thought of a patent remedy against war; to abandon their reluctant support of preparedness, and to lull their partially roused souls back into the slumber of national sloth and helplessness. It is a wicked thing from the standpoint of national honor and interest to agitate the proposal at all until we are well embarked on a thoroughgoing policy of complete national defense. To urge it at this time necessarily means a halt in the vitally necessary effort to prepare our own strength for the protection of our own hearthstones.

Those foremost in the movement, and the adroit, unprincipled politicians who with loud insincerity appear as its frothing champions, may, and very probably will, gain some temporary acclaim or advantage. But they will gain it at the expense, possibly the heavy expense, of this country and to the slight detriment of mankind. Much has untruthfully been said as to munition manufacturers financing the movement for preparedness—a falsehood, with no foundation in fact. Speaking truthfully, it would be difficult to over estimate the harm done to this country by the pacifist movement financed by Mr. Carnegie. Capitalism has had no sinister influence whatever on behalf of Preparedness. Capitalism has been used against the honor and welfare of the country with the most sinister effect on behalf of professional pacifism.

The most "scrupulous militarists abroad heartily—and naturally-engage pacifist movements in this country. Pacifism in this country is the strongest aid and encouragement to militarism in every military autocracy abroad. Germany is obviously anxious to end the War, so long as it can be ended to her advantage; and it seems likely that with this end in view she will encourage and praise her dupes on this side of the water in the movement for a League to Enforce Peace. England seems likely to take the same position; perhaps from similar reasons; more likely for reasons of home politics, in order to placate or fool the English pacifists. Both Berlin and London will act in their own interests. If our future resembles our recent past, Washington will let both of them profit at our expense—but especially Berlin, for Washington is more afraid of Berlin.

There are, as I have said, upright and honest men among those engaged in the Peace League movement. But they seem to be palsied by the timidity, or lack of vision, or lack of sincerity of the professional pacifists who furnish the motive power of the movement. Otherwise they would demand action in the present for the great objects they have in view, instead of making the demand merely for the remote and nebulous future, and treating it as a cover for failure to do duty in the present.

There is no question whatever as to what the Germans have done, and are doing, under the orders of the German government, in Belgium. Arthur Gleason's book gives the facts seen, by an American eye-witness. The Bryce report gives further dread: ful facts. An American lady, Frances Wilson Huart, in her book has given a frightful glimpse of the horrors inflicted by the German army on women, and in the houses wherein they stay. I have before me as I write photographs of many German proclamations. One, dated at Liege, August 22, 1914, and signed by General Von Buelow, runs that, for the offenses of the little town of Andenne, "by my authorization the general in command has reduced the city to an ash-heap and has had 110 persons [civilians, sex not specified] shot." Another, signed by General-in-chief Van Fasbenden on September 3, 1914, states that for cause "a contribution of 650,000 francs is imposed on the commune of Luneville," and that "whoever hides any money or seeks to withdraw his goods from seizure will be shot." Governor Von der Goltz, at Brussels, on October 5, 1914, issued a proclamation as follows: "In the future, places situated near the point where a railroad or telegraph line is cut will be punished without pity, without regard to whether they are or are not guilty of the acts. With this object hostages have been taken from all the places situated near the railroads menaced by such attacks; and at the first attempt at the destruction of the railroads, telegraph lines, or telephone lines, they will be immediately shot." Within the last few weeks the Germans have inflicted on regions in northern France, but specially in Belgium, wholesale depopulation of workers, mostly men, but sometimes women; these persons being taken to labor as serfs for their conquerors, and thus to make it easier for their fellow countrymen, who still are free, to be conquered in their turn. Such enslavement of populations was common in antiquity. It was supposed to have been abolished by Christianity. That it has not been is due almost as much to the timid and selfish “neutrality” of the United States as to Germany's able and efficient barbarity. Against unoffending and well-nigh defenseless Belgium, Germany has waged war as Alva waged it against the Dutch, as Cromwell waged it against the Irish, as Louis XIV. waged it against the Huguenots and the Germans of the Palatinate.

All this dreadful wickedness—Schrecklichkeit—was perpetrated because Germany believed that there by she could cow her opponents and that neutral nations would also be afraid to protest. She was right as regards the most powerful neutral, the United States. The professional pacifists who have engineered the Peace League movement are more than any other people responsible for the fact that our country has not effectively protested against this hideous wrongdoing. They have shrieked for a base "neutrality" in the present. And now, uneasily anxious to seem to do something, and yet to escape all risk and effort, they propose a "League" which is permanently to do away with all neutrality in the future! And they propose this without first devoting their whole energy to putting this country in a condition of preparedness! Such folly is not merely astounding. It is in the highest degree unpatriotic. If their principles are right, let them reduce these principles to action immediately, in the concrete case, by action now about Belgium, Armenia, the Syrian Christians; and let them insist on immediate and thoroughgoing military preparedness in this country; and until they have thus shown that they are trying to make good their promises in the present, and are preparing the strength necessary to put behind these promises in the future, let them avoid asking this country to make promises which will be impossible of fulfilment so long as the professional pacifists and their political allies exercise any control whatever in our political life.

A movement good under certain circumstances may be most mischievous under other circumstances. Throughout the Civil War there was a succession of Peace Movements in the North. Many of the principles laid down in these Peace Movements were excellent under normal conditions; and in our internal relations we are now applying them, and ought to apply them. But at the time, these excellent principles were invoked—often by honorable but misguided men—in a cause the success of which spelled ruin to the nation.

Pacifism is the ally of Schrecklichkeit. The efficient fighting spirit, in its highest form, may be evoked as the peacemaker, and as the only enemy dreaded by Schrecklichkeit. Let Americans turn for a moment to the "Life and Letters of Charles Russell Lowell," who fought and died in the Civil War. He was a student, a worker, a reader of Emerson and Kant, a man of fine and gentle soul. He was also an extremely efficient soldier. He was a born leader and commander of men. He rose to be a brigadier-general. He habitually fought hand-to-hand with the saber. He had fourteen horses shot under him. In his last fight, when hurt to death, he was helped on his horse again, and was killed charging at the head of his troops. He despised the weakness of silly sentimentality. He killed a mutineer with his own hand. He had a deserter shot without waiting for orders from Washington when he found that desertion was encouraged by a ruinous clemency at Washington. But he fearlessly opposed any barbarity, being quite regardless whether or not by such opposition he hurt his own prospects at headquarters. When a deserted town was burned by black troops—an act which during the last two years in Belgium would have passed without notice, for American troops have never under any circumstances been guilty of conduct even remotely resembling the organized and official Schrecklichkeit of present day German militarism–Lowell wrote to the War Department: "If burning and pillaging is to be the work of our black troops, no first-rate officers will be found to accept promotion in them-it is not war, it is piracy . . . . Expeditions in which pillaging is attempted by order will infallibly degenerate and instead of finding ourselves at the end of the season with an army of disciplined blacks, we shall have a horde of savages."

It is our young men of the stamp of Lowell upon whom this country will have to rely when any serious crisis comes, and the "scraps of paper" of the pacifists are torn up, and the naked blade drawn. If the worthy persons, who in the present Peace League movement have joined those most unworthy persons, the professional pacifists, have their way, there is grave danger that this nation will once more be lulled into the sleep of careless sloth and blindness and will not prepare. In that case, when it is too late to remedy our unpreparedness, the lives of the young Lowells of the future will be spent in vain; disaster will come to our people; we shall be unable to help others or to defend ourselves; we shall become a byword and a hissing among the nations of the world.

We can never accomplish anything either for ourselves or for any one else by mere words, used to cover inaction, slackness and fear of effort, of risk and of danger. It is wicked at this time to press any movement which interferes with the all-essential movement for spiritual and material preparedness. We must make promises only after careful thought, and keep them, even to our own hurt, when made, and we must do this now —not promise to do it in the indefinite future. We must resolutely face the fact that the true ideal of service to ourselves and for others can only be achieved when with forethought and vision we have fitted our souls an our bodies for labor and danger. We must love peace. But we must be ready to face war, if only through war it is possible to achieve the Peace of righteousness and justice.

Our first duty is to arouse in our souls the old American spirit of Washington and Lincoln, of Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay, of the soldiers of Grant and the soldiers of Lee. We must be in very fact one people. It matters not at all in what way we worship our Creator. It matters not where we ourselves were born or from what land our fathers or remote forefathers came. We must all be Americans, and nothing but Americans.

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.