Patriotism and Pacifists, Spring 1917

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In the stir of these heroic times when men's minds are easily driven back to the primitive obligations of patriotism and when, almost without violation, the emotions move along the worn grooves of blind admiration for the soldier and of unspeakable contempt for him who, in the hour of danger, declares that fighting is unnecessary, it is perhaps inevitable that only those Americans who are urging immediate war, should be considered patriotic.

We pacifists are not surprised, therefore, when apparently striking across and reversing this popular conception of patriotism, that we are called traitors and cowards. It makes it all the more incumbent upon us however to demonstrate, if we can, that the advocacy of the alternative to war does not necessarily imply lack of patriotism or cowardice. In addition we would if possible make clear our position; that war, although exhibiting some of the noblest qualities of the human spirit yet affords no solution for vexed international problems; and that moreover after war has been resorted to, its very existence in spite of its superb heroisms and sacrifices obscures and confuses those faculties which might find a solution.

The similarity of sound between the words passive and pacifism is also misleading, for most pacifists agree with such statements as that made by Mr. Brailsford in The New Republic of March 17th that this war "was an act of insurgence against the death of in life which acquiesces in hampered conditions and unsolved problems. There was in this concerted rush to ruin and death the force of a rebellious and uncomfortable life. It was bent on a change for it knew that the [page 2] real denial and surrender of life is not physical death but the refusal to move and progress." Agreeing with this analysis of the causes of the present war, we pacifists so far from passively wishing nothing to be done contend on the contrary that it is unspeakably stupid that the nations have failed to create [an] international organization able to make the necessary political and economic changes when they are due, through rational and peaceful means. Because the throw-back of this great war has turned the attention of thousands of indifferent men to an international organization through which in the future each nation without danger to itself, may recognize and even encourage the impulse towards growth and change in other nations, we believe that the present world [crisis] should secure such an organization. Being further convinced that there is an unprecedented opportunity at this moment for leadership in an international movement which would fairly revolutionize the existing "outlaw relations" between nations, as good patriots as well as pacifists we naturally crave this great opportunity of leadership for our own beloved country.

To justify our patriotism along historic lines, we venture to remind our fellow citizens that when the founders of this Republic adopted the Federal Constitution and established the Supreme Court they were venturing upon a great [political] experiment of whose outcome they were by no means certain. The thirteen colonies somewhat slowly came into the federation ↑and↓ some of them consented very reluctantly to the use of the Supreme Court. Nevertheless the great political experiment of the United States was so well established by the middle of the 19th century, that thousands of American citizens [page 3] shed their blood for the principle of federal government and for the contention that the decisions of the supreme tribunal were binding upon sovereign states.

We pacifists believe that the United States at the present moment is facing an opportunity to perform a great service in the international field, by demonstrating that the same principles of federation and of an interstate tribunal may be extended among widely separated nations as they have already been established between contiguous states. Stirred by enthusiasm over the great historical experiment of the United States it seems to us incredible that American patriotism should not be able to rise to a supreme effort in this [crisis] and we ask why the United States should follow the beaten paths of upholding the rights of a separate nationalism by war when her own experience has so thoroughly committed her to federation and to peaceful adjudication as every-day methods of government.

Many factors conspire to make it possible at the present moment ↑for the United States↓ to push out well established procedure of political action into the international field.

To mention an unimportant factor first; the political party in office at this moment has traditionally been in favor of greater freedom in trade. This is important ↑has a certain significance↓ because the party with a long cherished belief in the protective tariff would more easily distrust the formation of an international organization which later indicate that open markets were a factor in securing peaceful intercourse between the nations or might even wish to abolish preferential tariffs altogether. At any rate it is an advantage not to be obliged to stop in a [crisis] like this in order to [disentangle] high tariff from patriotism with which it has been so long entwined in the minds of high tariff [partisans].

Secondly, the office of President is filled by a man so able to detach himself from the purely nationalistic point of view that he had already outlined a plan for a federated league of nations with the [page 4] supreme tribunal for the adjustment of international differences; he had urged the warring nations themselves to abandon the hope of victory through success of arms and had assured them that only such terms of peace as could be obtained through negotiations, could be durable. His recent speech before the Senate embodied such a masterly restatement of American principles, that thousands of his fellow citizens dedicated themselves anew to those early political ideals and to finding a method for applying them in the wider and more difficult field of international relationships.

Liberal men in all of the warring nations, heartsick over the reaction of long continued war upon their own democratic institutions and the inevitable exaltation of military power above civil authority, congratulated themselves that at least one great nation was keeping alive the usages of popular government and had not yielded to the contagion of war. Liberals on both sides of the Atlantic, occupied even now in creating devices which should make the declaration of future wars more dependent upon the will of the people venture to hope that the nation which in its internal policies had been able to break with European conditions almost a hundred and fifty years ago, might ↑now↓ be willing to push the principles of federation and adjudication into the shifting area of international relations. They realized that this would be comparatively easy at a moment when the long war had challenged the validity of the existing status as it had never been questioned before and when radical changes are being proposed by the most conservative of men and of nations.

As conceived by the pacifist the constructive task laid upon the United States in this crisis calls for something more than diplomacy and the old type of statesmanship. It demands a penetration which [page 5] will discover a more adequate moral basis for the relationship between nations and the sustained energy able to translate the discovery into political action. The exercise of the highest political intelligence just now might not only establish a new scale of moral values in international relations, if one great nation under provocation to war should magnanimously insist upon a new standard of conduct but it might hasten to a speedy completion for immediate use, that international organization which has been so long discussed and so ardently anticipated. For there is another similarity between the end of the 18th century and the present time; [quite] as the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution had been preceded by much philosophic writing on the essential equality of all men and on the possibility of establishing [self-government] among them, so the new internationalism has long had its fingers thinkers who have a foundation of abstract principle. Then as now however the great need was not for more writing nor even for able propaganda but for a sober attempt to put them into practice, to translate them into concrete acts. In spite of the fact that nothing arouses the animosity of his fellow citizens so quickly as the tendency in the pacifist to strengthen his case by citing religious teaching, I will venture to remind Christians that the great test of "the doctrine" is the ability to "do the will." Has the United States the spiritual stamina to put into practice that doctrine of rational internationalism which it so recently preached to the world?

The third and greatest equipment possessed by the United States for courageous action in this crisis is found in its very composition. [page 6] The very ↑varied↓ population in ↑of↓ the United States, whether we will or [not], would make it easier for us than for any other nation to establish an international organization founded upon understanding and goodwill. There are in this country thousands of representatives from the central powers, to whom a war between the United States and the Fatherland would mean exquisite torture. They and their inheritances are part of the situation which faces us. They would be a source of great strength in an international venture as they are undoubtedly a source of weakness if we take the old fashioned purely nationalistic position. These ties of blood binding us to all the nations of the earth afford unique equipment for an international task if the United States could have the courage to assume it, did it but push forward into the field of internationalism and refuse to be overwhelmed by that excessive nationalistic feeling which so swamps a nation at war.

Modern warfare is an intimately social and domestic affair. The civilian sufferings, and in certain regions, the civilian mortality is as great as that endured by the soldiers. There are thousands of our fellow citizens who cannot tear their minds away from Poland, Galicia, Syria, Armenia, [Serbia], [Romania], Greece where their own relatives are dying from diseases super induced by hardship and hunger. To such sore and troubled minds war has come to be a hideousness which belongs to Europe and is part of that privation and oppression which they left behind them when they came to America. Newly immigrated Austrian [subjects] of a dozen nationalities have come to their American friends during the past few weeks of suspense, utterly bewildered by the prospect of war. They had heard not three months [page 7] not three months ago that the President of the United States did not believe in war -- for so the Senate speech had been interpreted by many simple minds -- and they had [illegible] concluded that whatever happened some more American way would be found. Disillusioned, they hear again the old war slogans of Europe; much talk about "national honor," of a "war of defense," of "standing by" the head of the nation, and many others for in our spirit of imitation we have not invented a single one. The vast number of newly immigrated Austrian subjects, some of them at home loyal to the Kaiser and some of them striving to throw off the yoke of Austria, all believed that when they emigrated to America they were coming to a new world which would be new in political ideals as well as in economic opportunity. They are bewildered when they hear extolled on all sides the value of war and [militarism] which are the very backbone of the political regime they left behind.

The multitude of German subjects who have settled and developed certain parts of the United States have, it seems to me, every right to be considered in this crisis. The men of '48 are as truly responsible for our national ideals as the Puritans of New England, the Quakers of Pennsylvania or the Russian revolutionists of the [illegible] '90's. How valuable that gallant spirit of '48, spreading as it did from one European country to another, could be made in the task lying to our hands, it is difficult to estimate. If our Presbyterian Cabinet were as Calvinistic as their forebears they would say that an international course of action had been thus clearly "foreordained."

It has been said that this great war "will prove the bloody [page 8] angle at which mankind turns from centuries of warfare to the age of peace." But certainly this will not happen automatically nor without leadership founded upon clear thinking and international sympathies. The revolution of international relationship which has been steadily approaching for three hundred years and is long overdue may have to be postponed for another generation if one more great neutral nation throws itself into the collective homicide of the race because it has failed, either in intelligence or courage to find a better ↑method than war for↓ way to [establishing] the ideals of democracy. It is difficult to see how one more nation by going to war, which is itself [an] extralegal process, can either conserve or add anything valuable to the present code of international law already so inadequate because such law as exists has been largely evolved through war and ↑the code↓ is the result of efforts to restrain the animosities of illegal warfare rather than to obtain the finer flower of abstract justice.

The existing code dramatically proved itself inadequate for the needs of Europe in 1914 when certain tendencies were steadily pushing towards large changes which in the end made war because the system of peace had no way of effecting those changes without war, no adequate international organization which could cope with the situation. The conception of peace founded upon the balance of power or the undisturbed status quo was so negative that frustrated national impulses led to war, quite as any hampered mechanical force or suppressed vitality exhibits violence when it at last breaks through. But because the ↑as we↓ pacifists recognize the irrepressible tendencies in all living nations as in all living men towards the unhampered employment of their creative [page 9] energies, is ↑we are↓ not surprised that the existing [illegible] international organization is inadequate. This very breakdown, however, [reinforces] his contention that there is need of an international charter -- a Magna Charter indeed -- of international rights to be issued to the nations great and small with large provisions for economic freedom. We believe that the beginnings of such a charter can best be undertaken by a nation which [illegible] found war [too] clumsy and barbaric for its use and insists that mankind can use reason and goodwill in their international relations as they have learned to do in so many other relationships.

With this vision of international justice filling his mind, the [pacifist] is always a little startled when those who insist that justice can only be established by war, accuse him of caring for peace irrespective of justice. Many of the pacifists in their individual and corporate capacities have long since striven for social and political justice with a fervor certainly equal to that employed by the advocates of force and we realize that a sense of justice has become the key-note to the best political and social activity in this generation. Although this ruling passion for justice juster relations between man and man, group and group, or nation and nation is not without its sterner aspects, among those who dream of a wider social justice throughout the world there has developed a conviction that justice between men or between nations cannot be achieved save through understanding and fellowship and that a finely tempered sense of justice which alone is of any service in modern civilization cannot be secured in the storm and stress of war. This is true not only because war inevitably arouses [page 10] the more primitive antagonisms but because the spirit of fighting blights and burns away all of those impulses certainly towards the enemy, which foster the will to justice. To the [critics] of the pacifist who claim there can be no peace until justice has been established through war we can only cite the precedents of history, that such justice as has been obtained in the past and codified into the common law of nations has come when men's minds were free to consider finer personal relationships and that the most notable achievements in the jurisprudence of which we are a part, was attained by the barons only after the "king's peace" had been established.

As every pacifist is chagrinned by the charge that he cares nothing for justice, so [we] is ↑are↓ thrown into despair over the difficulty of making his ↑our↓ position clear, when he is ↑we are↓ accused of wishing to isolate the United States and to keep his ↑our↓ country out of world politics. He is ↑We are↓ of course urging exactly the reverse, that [this] country should lead the nations of the world into a wider life of coordinated political activity, that the United States should boldly recognize the fact that the vital political problems of our time have become as intrinsically international in character as have the commercial and social problems so [illegible] closely connected with them; that modern wars are not ↑so↓ much the result of quarrels between nations as the rebellion against international situations inevitably developed through the changing years which admit of adequate treatment only through an international agency not yet created. The fact that such an agency has been long desired and the necessity for it clearly set forth by statesmen in all the civilized nations, makes the situation only more acute. [page 11]

↑When as↓ The pacifists ↑we↓ thus [urge] a courageous venture into international ethics which would require a fine [valor] as well as a high intelligence experiences the sense of anticlimax when we are told that because we do not want war, and preparations for it that we would imperil national honor for mere safety, that we place human life, physical life above the great ideals of national righteousness.

But surely that man is not without courage who seeing that which is invisible to the majority of his fellow countrymen still asserts his conviction and is ready to vindicate its spiritual value over against the world. Each advance in the zig zag line of human progress has traditionally been embodied in small groups of individuals who have ceased to be in harmony with the status quo and have demanded modifications. Such modifications sometimes prove to be in the line of progress and sometimes not, but they always excite opposition which from the nature of the case is never so determined as when the proposed changes touch moral achievements which are greatly prized and have been secured with difficulty. Bearing in mind the long struggle to secure and maintain national unity the pacifist understands why his theories seem particularly obnoxious just now. They are brought into sharp contrast to the virtues which war places in the foreground, of discipline and obedience and a keen sense of a separate national existence. His fellow citizens are caught up by a wave of tremendous enthusiasm that carries them out into a high sea of nationalistic feeling just when the pacifist bids them act upon principles which are not yet codified into [international] law, still totally ignored by the diplomats and only partly recognized by liberal governments. [page 12]

We realize that we are naturally disliked and distrusted and we can only remember that [illegible] social advance has been obtained -- slow and unsatisfactory as it has been -- by the unified will and purpose of those who differing from the majority, have stated their position with such clarity as they were able to achieve.

↑As pacifists↓ we earnestly hope that the United States will not be drawn into the fringe of the present world war by the enthusiasm of those who consider our participation righteous and inevitable, because we believe that an adequate organization ↑between the civilized nations↓ can be secured after this war only by the exercise of that rational understanding which has hitherto been so small a factor in international politics and because we believe that the United States would ultimately if not immediately, be of much more use in such an undertaking when the final "Peace Conference" considered it as the leading neutral nation rather than the fifteenth belligerent nation. That as a neutral the international good will and the interpretative powers which the United States undoubtedly possesses would not be challenged; that free from any suspicion of [partisanship] she would naturally be expected to place the great international interests above those of either alliance; to contend that the [underdog] could hope for justice only through the findings of an international body dispensing justice irrespective of the military powers of the litigants.

As pacifists we ask if anything is to be gained in this crisis by adding to the sum total of that hyper-nationalistic feeling already so excessive that it is tearing the world to pieces? Could we not say in all sincerity that at present Europe exhibits a spirit of [page 13] of nationalism which is ↑obviously↓ defeating its own ends by trying to obtain through patriotic wars what can only be secured through international organization? Nationalism is clearly overdeveloped when it sets millions of men loyal to one international alliance to fight millions of men loyal to another international alliance because of an inability to make an alliance including them all, as different Christian sects once went to war with each other in the name of a religion which had no reason for existing save as it united all men in peace and goodwill.

Ever since the great great European struggle began the United States has been conscious of a failure to respond to a moral demand; she has vaguely felt that she was shirking her share in a world effort toward the higher good; she has had black moments of compunction and shame for her own immunity and safety. Can she hope through war to assuage the feverish thirst for action she has felt during three years? There is no doubt that she has made the correct diagnosis of her case, of [weariness] with the selfish materialistic life and of her need for concerted self-forgetting action. But is bloodletting a sufficiently modern remedy for such a condition? Will she ↑lose↓ [illegible] her sense of utility and her [illegible] consciousness or moral failure when war has been declared and when thousands of her young men are facing its dangers? Will she not at the end of this war still feel her inadequacy and sense of failure if she then suspects that she misinterpreted a great moment and aroused herself to a nationalistic patriotism expressing itself in war at the very moment when thoughtful men in every nation were challenging the validity of war and hoping that one great nation might possess the intelligence and courage to lead the world out of the impasse [page 14] in which it found itself?

It is difficult for us to make clear that the generous ardor and [self-sacrifice] as characteristic of youth, could be enlisted for the vitally energetic role which we hope our beloved country will assume in the international life of the world. We recognize the passionate desire of youth not only for adventure and change, but deeper still for that [self-effacing] effort in which he loses his identity in the service of a great cause. But because it is so easy to arouse the ardor and rebellion of youth against this dull world full of sloth and injustice, it is all the more necessary that this precious energy should be directed not into the worn paths of warfare but into the more difficult and original paths of constructive international effort. As pacifists we know that the world will not be organized by passing a series of resolutions, we realize that it is only the ardent spirits, the lovers of mankind who will be able to break down the suspicion and lack of understanding which has so long stood in the way of the necessary changes upon which international good order depends, and which will create a political organization enabling the nations to obtain without war those legitimate ends which they now vainly seek to secure upon the battlefield.