A CONFERENCE OF NEUTRALS
WITH the military party in power in each country, taking the censorship of the press into their hands, the whole stream of communication which ordinarily makes for international public opinion in Europe has been stopped.
One of the first practical services of a conference of neutrals would be to supply a clearing-house to be used by the different groups in the belligerent countries who have programs they wish to propose as bases for negotiations. For example, many English people say that they would be willing to talk peace after the Germans have been driven out of Belgium; on the other hand, there is in Germany a large Anti-Annexation League, of which the secretary of state, Hans [Delbrück], is a member, declaring that Germany must not keep Belgium. The group in England, with no way of communicating with the anti-annexation group in Germany, have assumed that the Germans must be driven out of Belgium irrespective of the amount of bloodshed involved; while the people in Germany have assumed that England, bent upon a military victory, would receive no negotiations.
Not only is this true in respect to interchanges between different nations, but within the countries themselves, whatever sentiment there is for peace can find small outlet through the press.
With a group of neutrals, however, sitting in some city as The Hague, or Berne, or Copenhagen, the Union for Democratic Control, with its very reasonable program, could say to the conference what it could not publish in England; and if the conference gave this out, it would become news and would be published throughout all England, without subjecting newspapers handling it to the charge of lack of patriotism.
This is even more true of the situation in Germany and France. The general tendency of the press at present, as described by Mr. Buxton, M.P., in a public address in November, is to publish only the most inflaming statements issued by the extremists in the countries with which they are at war.
Further, while the labor men of France have broken off communication with the labor leaders of Germany, they could find out each other's programs through such a neutral conference, and doubtless discover that in many respects unknown to themselves, their programs are identical.
While it is no doubt true that governments have sources of information through their foreign offices, this is not true of the masses of the people among whom groups with definite programs for terms of peace are growing.
If this war is to be ended by public negotiations and by discussion on the part of the people themselves of the terms of peace, it can only be done through some such clearing-house as a conference of neutral nations would afford. Otherwise the people will know nothing of the terms of peace until these are practically ratified; and the only way popular opposition could then express itself would partake of the character of revolution.