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Toward a Foreign Policy

ISSUE:  Autumn 1929

That it was the principle of self-preservation which defined the line of conduct of all of the belligerents in the great war has been forced upon me by a careful study of the causes leading up to that titantic struggle. This deduction fills me with alarm. It tends to remove the villain from the tragedy. It thus makes doubly, difficult the future conduct of the United States. It convinces me that our co-operation with Europe should be confined to the irreducible minimum. It satisfies me that we should do nothing which might or could involve tying our hands in any way whatsoever. We do not understand the continent of Europe. It is, taken as a whole, hermetically sealed to our mentality. A community of language, of nursery rhymes, and of oaths permits us, in many, cases, to fathom what the Englishman has in the back of his head.

While we should carefully avoid anything approaching an entente with Great Britain, or even an orientation of our diplomacy in that sense, the cornerstone of our foreign policy should be a sincere desire to seek to comprehend the British point of view and to support it in all cases where we are certain that we have grasped it, where the problem means anything to us, and where we know that our interests harmonize with those of Britain. But this should be done in a manner so deft as not to create the impression that we are but a tail to England’s kite and that she has only to call the tune for us to dance to her music.

It was in 1922 that I began the investigations which have led to my, writing this article. I spent some ten weeks in Germany in the summer of that year. I talked to every German who crossed my path and who seemed to be likely to give me an insight into the soul of his people. I collected every political article, pamphlet, and book that offered any prospect of telling what was running through Germany’s mind. It is no exaggeration to say that I ran through thousands of pages of this literature. From this mass I culled a great deal of material which I read with care during my holiday and after my return to Egypt.

I was particulary interested in “best sellers” because they clearly, define the drift of public opinion at any given moment. I found that there were then at least three books which from one end of the land to the other most clearly answered this definition. They constitute a sort of trilogy. Their titles, translated into English, read: “Unconquered on Land,” “Unconquered on Sea,” and “Unconquered in the Air.” They, formed a fitting refrain to what I heard on every hand. This was that the socialist revolution and ! not the Allied armies had conquered Germany.

And I repeatedly ran across a popular calendar which bore the inscription: “German land in the enemy’s hand.” It contained 365 views, some depicting scenes in Denmark, others in Russia, Poland, and Alsace-Lorraine, and others in Czechoslovakia and the Tirol and I know not where else. In a word, the result of all that I saw, heard, and read was 1 that Germany was unrepentant, unconvinced that she had been conquered, and unwilling to let bygones be bygones. And I also bought all of the memoirs and apologies of warriors and statesmen that I found displayed. I likewise made arrangements to have such publications sent to me if, as, and when published. These works received my best attention. I shall give my opinion of them after I shall have spoken of the other lines of inquiry which I followed.

In this same year I spent about two weeks in Italy. I did my best to gather together all available material giving the Italian point of view. But I did not go about matters with the same thoroughness that had characterized my German search. The reason for this was quite simple. I had spent from two to twelve weeks in Italy during each year of the war. I had stumped Tuscany in Italian in 1918 as the American member of an inter-allied propaganda committee. I, therefore, was in touch with conditions obtaining in the land which had not as yet had Mussolini’s personality impressed upon it. It was only when Fascism dominated the Peninsula that I gave contemporary Italian political literature minute attention. But as early as 1922 I sought to co-ordinate my general knowledge of what obtained south of the Alps.

And I did the same thing witli France, although in so far as the latter country is concerned my task was even easier, for I have kept in close intellectual touch with French thought ever since my student days. In 1924 I determined to wrestle with Spain. I visited that land. I saturated my mind with every line bearing upon modern politics, in the broad sense of the term, that I could find in the kingdom of Alphonso XIII. I boiled all of this latter research into an article on “Spanish Politics of Today” which The Nineteenth Century and After published over my signature in June, 1926.

I was not able to go into the soul of other peoples because my knowledge of their language was nil. But a short while ago G. P. Gooch’s outstanding book on “Recent Revelations in European Diplomacy” came within my grasp. It presents a truly remarkable analysis of the postwar literature of all of the countries of Europe. The vastness of the author’s reading, his judicial temper, and his appositeness of expression make me green with envy. This volume formed a climax to my studies.


It was Austria’s declaration of war against Servia that was followed by the opening of hostilities. I shall, therefore, first essay to catch the Austrian and the Servian points of view. I should like to insist at the outset, however, that in seeking to set forth the angle of vision of the different belligerents I am not championing any, cause, f My self-imposed lot is that of an interpreter. I have, as Schiller said, “merely a mandate and no opinion.” With this clearly understood, I shall begin by saying that Austria, in issuing her momentous ultimatum, found herself, as she thought, confronted by a wall that had but one outlet.

Bismarck, in 1866, had driven her out of the German Confederation. But it was not the policy of the Iron Chancellor to humiliate Vienna. On the contrary he wanted Prussia’s pristine rival to grow strong and to prosper at the expense of the Slavs. He, therefore, saw to it that Bosnia-Herzegovina came within the orbit of the Dual Monarchy. This “Drang nach Osten” accordingly, percolated into the Austrian mind and began to crystallize that nation’s aspirations towards leadership. The Habsburg monarchy considered itself a great power and was sincere in believing that self-preservation constrained it to look towards the southeast for its elbow room.

Austrian politicians like Szecsen, Burian, and Plener, soldiers like Conrad and Auffenberg, and courtiers like Margutti and Nikitsch-Boulles have rushed into print since 1919. The archives of the Ballplatz have been thrown open. Nothing in these writings or official records shows any criminal intent on the part of those responsible for the policy of Vienna and Budapest. What has been published reveals a state of nerves, an unhealthy frame of mind, if one prefers this form of expression, but nothing approaching a cynical longing for blood. The leit-motiv of all available data appears to be that these capitals feared strangulation, annihilation, and obloquy. Francis Joseph’s advisers therefore, in self-defense, preferred the gage of battle to an indignity which they considered to be but a forerunner of the suffocation of Austria-Hungary. And the relatively poor case that Servian governmental circles have made out for themselves as to their non-complicity, in the Serajevo murder enables one to grasp what underlay that brutal ultimatum.

I think that I am able to fathom what was back of the minds of King Peter’s ministers. They were not pink-tea statesmen. They were sons of a civilization that had suffered so much for centuries that undetected political assassination did not convey to them the same meaning that it does to you and to me. Nor must it be forgotten that in 1905 King Alexander and Queen Draga of Servia were murdered by their own officers with heartless brutality. I have no proof that any of the regicides formed part of the 1914 Belgrade ministry. The cabinet of that year was, however, the beneficiary of conditions brought about by, unclean daggers. It could not, therefore, give to the pursuit of political crime that same whole-hearted energy that would have characterized a regime that had not had a baptism of blood.

And, besides, the Serajevo plotters honestly believed that they were working for the welfare of their race. The rape of Bosnia-Herzegovina called out to them for vengeance. They looked upon Francis Ferdinand as an incarnate fiend who symbolized foreign domination, reaction and bigotry. They felt that in making war upon him they were fighting for the emancipation of Slavs. His presence in their midst on the anniversary of the battle of Kossovo was accepted by them as a challenge. His murder was, therefore, not a commonplace assassination but the outward expression of the national aspirations of a crude, imperfectly civilized, sanguinary people who had seen murder applauded in 1905 and who employed in 1914, for the liberation of what they considered their soil, the same methods which others had successfully adopted for doing away, with an objectionable dynasty. The authors of the crime of June 28, 1914, were convinced that they were face to face with a situation which called for a desperate remedy. Their idea was that if Francis Ferdinand were not summarily removed the subjection of fellow Slavs would become even more oppressive than ever, The principle of self-preservation once again comes into play, for the motive back of the conspiracy, I repeat, as it shaped itself in minds which are closed books to Americans, was to save kinsmen from the heel of Austrian tyranny.

Germany, as she saw things, was morally estopped from failing to support Austria in what both of the Germanic powers conscientiously believed to be an unprovoked attack by assassins condoned by a neighboring State. One is able to obtain a good insight into what Berlin thought not only during the fateful four weeks which preceded the war but during the previous years. This results not merely from the reams of paper that Emperor, Crown Prince, soldiers, statesmen, and others have published but also from the opening up of hitherto secret archives. The Wilhelm-strasse is no longer a closed book. One may now get to the bottom of things. All of this light reveals a morbid love for sword rattling, a diseased mentality, and an inordinate vanity. It shows, however, that once Bismarck had definitely disposed of France his entire diplomacy worked consistently and unremittingly towards the maintenance of peace. One may retort that it was a German type of peace based upon Prussian hegemony. The answer is, nevertheless, that it involved the elimination of bloodshed and the furtherance of peace in the sense admitted by all dictionaries.

And this programme was not departed from by William II, or to be more accurate, he was not conscious of having deviated from it. He came to power when Germany was in the midst of a gigantic trade expansion. The Fatherland had, after 1870, ceased exporting men. It then began to ship merchandise abroad. The development of the German merchant marine was the logical consequence of this new activity. The desire to have these German greyhounds and cargo boats protected by German cruisers was but a corollary that flowed from these two primary propositions. German statesmen did not desire that their battleships should be considered as provocative armaments. They talked about them so much that they convinced themselves that the mission of these cruisers was eminently pacific.

And then came 1904, when France said to England: “You may, have Egypt if you’ll give me Morocco.” This hurt Germany’s pride, for it implied that with all of her brass helmets, goose steps, and prestige no place in the sun was allotted to her. But while all that I have read tends to prove truculence, aggressiveness, and cocksureness, neither the Kaiser nor his advisers appear to have deliberately gone about preparing the great holocaust. Ludwig, in his “William II,” has drawn a vivid picture of the warped mental development of the Kaiser. He shows that the Hohenzol-lern was a congenital misfit but criminal intent results neither from his sketch nor from the official documents or the testimony of those who have found publishers. The worst that can be said is that all of this evidence may be construed as establishing that the exaggerated ego of the German people changed a great nation into a race of paranoiacs who in good faith strove to fasten upon the world their type of peace and who fought only when they were convinced that England, France, and Russia were determined to isolate them and then crush them. A war waged under such conditions is one entered into in behalf of the maxim of self-preservation.

The Bolsheviks have done their best to establish the war guilt of the Tzarist government. They have ransacked every available secret file and have done so, as lawyers would say, with malice aforethought. I have read the French edition of their “Black Books.” They have been obviously, prepared with the idea of damning Isvolski and Poincar To my mind all that they prove is that the Russian had unspeakable contempt for French bureaucrats and politicians and worked for Poincars elevation to power because he looked upon the latter as a man of brains and energy who would give vitality to the defensive policy incorporated in the FrancoRussian alliance. Nothing has been adduced to show that the Tzar or his advisers wanted war. But the sentimental j ties that bound them to Servia were such that they were unable to remain quiet and see a Slav nation wiped off the map by Austria. The call of the blood, not a thirst for blood, caused Russia to come to the defense of her race. When Russia intervened Germany, under her treaty with Austria, was obligated to draw her sword. France, as a consequence of this, had to respect her signature and enter the fray. A local war thus became a European war and in time a world war. But a spirit of aggression moved neither St. Petersburg nor Paris, if one is willing to be guided byall of the available evidence.

The motive back of Italy’s neutrality bothered me until I read Erzberger’s “Erlebnisse im Welthiege.” The south German pointed out that Austria and Germany ignored the Quirinal during all of the discussions with Servia that preceded the war. And then, when I studied Giolitti’s Memoirs, I learned that during the previous Balkan troubles Italy had officially advised both Austria and Germany that she did not consider that an attack by the former upon Servia would fall within the purview of the Triple Alliance. Italy’s neutrality being thus consistent with her treaty obligations, self-preservation in time threw her into the arms of the Allies for, had she failed to help them to win, and thus perhaps have rendered their defeat possible, chastisement would have been meted out to her. I shall say nothing about England, Belgium, and America. The reasons back of their action are too well known to require amplification.


This good faith fills me with concern for it emphasizes the perils of the situation. If Germany and Austria had shown criminal intent it would be possible to put them in moral quarantine and to treat them as lepers. But where men have acted under what they have believed to be just provocation, ostracism becomes almost an impossibility. And yet, to my way of thinking, we are now where we were in 1914, for Germany considers herself unconquered on land, unconquered on sea, and unconquered in the air, and has become convinced, by her study of the war guilt problem, that her militarist leaders did not provoke the war. The result is that the Reich has not been cured of that mentality which created an outlook upon life that made war inevitable at some more or less indeterminate date.

I have spent some of the happiest months of my life in Germany. German literature has an affectionate hold upon my heart. I have many German friends of whom I am very fond. They appear to me to be peaceful and peace loving. Yet, with my study of the circumstances connected with the 1914 explosion I cannot close my eyes to the salient fact that militarism dominates Germany and that the war has not effectively attenuated this spirit or weakened the German’s confidence in the supremacy of his fighting machine or in the pacific intentions of the old guard. He is now accepting a Republic and has given it a Hohenzollern facade by choosing Hindenburg for President. He is marking time and sawing wood. The Socialist group is republican at heart but that heart itself is not free from a tinge of militarism.

And all of these books that I have read, and these Kautsky and Bayetische Dokumente which I have not had time to peruse, teach this extreme left faction that what Treitschke preached, Bismarck arranged, and Moltke executed was nothing but unadulterated righteousness. This campaign against war guilt which is now going on in Germany is bound to rehabilitate the moral prestige of the Kaiser William government. This will inevitably mean a recrudescence of truculence, for men who are convinced of their own good faith and of their prowess do not sit down and accept defeat.

I cannot see in a League of Nations, World Court, Kellogg Pact, or any device based upon wax and parchment a solution to the problem thus presented. I shall not speak of the first alternative for we have definitely rejected it. As to a World Court, all that I shall say is that judges reflect the civilizations from which they are recruited. English judges are impartial because traditions have so moulded their mentality. Certain countries have a corrupt judiciary because their state of mind forgives venality in high office. Other nations make of their courts part of their bureaucracy and condone political decisions.

I recall the dispute between Italy and Greece which grew out of the frontier murders. As soon as the League of Nations was seized with the question two South American Republics, which have large Italian colonies, wired their delegates to vote in favor of Italy. The problem was submitted to what was called the Ambassadors’ Conference. We were not represented thereon. There was not a scintilla of evidence adduced to show that Greece had sinned by omission or by commission. Yet these ambassadors, acting as judges, mulcted weak Greece in heavy damages in favor of powerful Italy. When ambassadorial justice keeps such an ear to the ground World Courts should be fought shy, of until civilization advances a bit further. In accepting, at the present moment, any form of an international judiciary we would be taking seats around a green table where our idea of how gentlemen should conduct themselves would be looked upon as quixotic naetby many of those presumably bound by the same oath and by like standards of right and wrong.

And one should envisage the possibility of a similar result flowing from any international device that the ingenuity of man might create, including the Kellogg Pact. I see as our best means of escape from a further world war the candid acceptance of two postulates. One is a recognition of the fact that Continental Europe thinks along lines so radically different from our preconceived ideas that we are living in fool’s paradise if we imagine that we can see eye to eye with these Latins, Teutons, and Slavs. The other is a willingness to understand England.


If the two great branches of the English-speaking world will learn to trust one another, as do the United States and Canada, a moral force will spring from this good will which will prove irresistible. An alliance would be a tactical blunder. An entente would be a mistake. Any commitment, undertaking, or exchange of assurances would be an error of judgment. There should be allowed simply and solely to germinate, grow, and expand such a sentiment of mutual esteem and confidence as will guarantee that in any emergency each of the two friendly powers will be assured that the other will lay all of its cards before it and set forth its point of view with that candor which characterizes the relations between men who know one another intimately and who respect one another.

I do not favor any “hands across the sea” nonsense. I desire an alert, trained, and courageous American diplomatic service whicli will be worthy of the incomparable British Foreign Office. Our people must be justified in believing that our State Department is ruled by men who will not be putty in any nation’s hand. We, therefore, have an internal problem to solve as well as an international one with which to cope. If we adjust satisfactorily these two factors Germany or any other power which may develop an acute case of militarism or be brought to the brink of war as the result of chronic militarism will think twice before taking the plunge if it mean encountering an Anglo-American veto, not ordained by a treaty but springing spontaneously from the enlightened public opinion of two great democracies both guided by equally well-informed, patriotic, and fearless diplomatists.

If the existence of this moral force percolate into the minds of European statesmen they will look, stop, and listen before appealing anew to the God of Battle. But I cannot too strongly urge that in working towards this ideal we must carefully abstain from participating in the solution of problems that do not vitally affect us. We must confine not only our interference but our moral censorship to issues that immediately affect us. We must do nothing that will tend to bring us into the maelstrom of European intrigue. We must know what are our rights and avoid committing ourselves to any policy, which might lead us blindfolded into hot water. And then when we have taken our stand we must see to it that our freedom of action always remains unimpaired.


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