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What of the Night?

ISSUE:  Winter 1941

In the stormy darkness of the early hours of December 5, 1841, there arrived at New York, after a tempestuous voyage, the steamer Humboldt, bearing the famous Hungarian patriot and orator, Kossuth. In spite of the hour, he was welcomed by a long-waiting delegation whose spokesman assured him that “from the pine-forests of Maine to the sugar-bottoms of Texas, from the coal-fields of Pennsylvania to the golden mountains of California—in all that vast region washed on the one side by the stormy Atlantic and on the other by the calm Pacific,” his name not only would “unlock every heart” but also would be “the signal for the uprising of eighteen millions of people.” The keynote having been thus sounded, what followed was for a time in an ever-rising inflection. The flame spread as the orator progressed. Public men and private persons, the civil and the military, judges and lawyers, political societies, Sons of Liberty, European democrats, omnibus proprietors, volunteer fire companies, and naturally the great bulk of aspirants for public office joined in the acclaim. Encouraged by this demonstration, Kossuth cast off all reserve and, in his so-called “official capacity” as the representative of Hungary, made an appeal for aid. Europe was, he declared, on the eve of great events, and he could not doubt that the people of the United States had resolved to “throw their weight into the balance” in which “the fate of the European Continent was to be weighed.”

The emotional tide continued to rise until the distinguished agitator, after unusual Congressional and other demonstrations in Washington, called upon the President of the United States, and, above all, upon Henry Clay, the father of Pan-Americanism. President Fillmore received his visitor with great propriety, but, while expressing towards him personal respect and kindness, intimated that there was to be no departure from our established policy. But it was Henry Clay who effectually extinguished the flame. With entire candor, he told Kossuth that he must protest against the policy he proposed. Waiving for the moment, he said, the grave and momentous question whether the United States had the right “to assume the executive power among nations for the enforcement of international law,” or to dictate to other nations what their relations one with another should be, the practical aspect of the matter must be considered. This in the end necessarily meant war, and, if the United States could, according to its conceptions, interfere in the affairs of other nations, so reciprocally could those nations interfere in the affairs of the United States. While we professed to believe their doctrines wrong, they might, on their part, believe them to be essential to their peace, their security, and their happiness, and would, if attacked, naturally deem themselves to be fighting a war of self-defense against unjustifiable aggression. Far better, said Henry Clay, would it be for the cause of liberty throughout the world that the United States should keep its lamp burning brightly in its own domain, as a light to all nations, than to hazard its extinction amid the ruins of fallen or falling republics in Europe.

After his reception at Washington, Kossuth toured the country, passing through the West and the South, and then through the North and East. Returning finally to New York, he sailed for England. His departure was scarcely noticed. The popular excitement died out with a suddenness proportionate to its extravagance.

I have given prominence to the visit of Kossuth not because it was the first or the last occasion on which the American people have manifested a tendency recklessly to sacrifice their national well-being in foreign wars, but because it vividly exemplifies that propensity. When, in 1793, Genet came to the United States with instructions from the revolutionary government in France to bring about “a national agreement” under which the two peoples should “defend the empire of liberty wherever it can be embraced,” he was greeted with popular demonstrations that would have justified a detached observer in believing that the populace was wholly composed of partisans of France and partisans of Great Britain, the former constituting a vast majority, and that the Administration might be safely flouted and defied. Nevertheless, on April 22, 1798, George Washington, as President, with the counter-signature of Thomas Jefferson, as Secretary of State, issued the proclamation of neutrality which continued until 1917 to guide the policy of the United States in regard to foreign wars, and particularly in regard to those in Europe and in the Far East.

The circumstances of our departure in 1917 it is not now my purpose extensively to discuss. President Wilson, in his address to the Congress of April 2, 1917, while invoking the entrance of the United States into what he called “the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization seeming itself to be in the balance,” declared that we should “fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free.” That this was, in commercial parlance, what is known as a “large order,” no student of history will deny. Nor do people all agree as to what freedom is, or as to its necessary limitations. In the present instance the aspiration turned to ashes.

Nor has the popular impression that the war then in progress was unprecedented in its extent and destructive effects any actual foundation. It is indeed wholly at variance with the facts. The current titles “World War” and “First World War” merely betray a misconception of history. Marshal Foch (“Des Principes de la guerre,” 1918. Preface IX) has truly said that the principles which govern the art are immutable, and that among them is the harmonious employment of all the national resources in men, materials, and money. It was so in the wars of ancient Persia, of Greece, of Rome, and of Carthage. At the close of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), the population of the old German Empire was reduced from sixteen million, or slightly more, to about four million, and only one city was left with its ancient walls. In the wars of the Spanish Succession (1700-1718), the losses of the belligerents, among whom were Austria, England, France, Holland, and Spain, were enormous in their totality as well as in their proportions; the population of France alone was computed to have fallen nearly fourteen per cent. In the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), in which George Washington fought as a British subject, although the general drain upon the belligerents, among whom were Austria, England, France, Prussia, Portugal, Russia, and Spain, and incidentally the British, French, Portuguese, and Spanish colonies in America, was less heavy, Prussia was estimated to have lost, simply on the field of battle, more than six per cent of her population. The losses in life and property and in commerce and industry in the wars growing out of the French Revolution (1792-1802) and the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815) are beyond computation; and it is said that in France, in 1813, the average height of young men coming of age began to show a decline. It is obvious that the popular impression as to the effect of steam and electricity in increasing the area of wars is erroneous, and that the lack of rapid transit did not prevent the European powers from winning and losing empires in conflicts which they fought face to face not only in Europe but also in America, in Africa, and in Asia. Although they reached their objectives more slowly, they gained them not less surely.


No contrast could be greater than that between the treatment of France under the peace treaties of 1814-‘15 and the treatment of Germany under the Versailles Treaty of 1919. The war of the coalition against France began in 1793. At the head of the coalition was Great Britain, then France’s traditional rival and inveterate foe; and among Great Britain’s allies were Austria and Prussia. The series of wars that followed, including the Napoleonic wars, continued with little interruption until 1815; and, after all the mutations of the intervening years, there appeared with Great Britain, in the first line of the victors, Austria and Prussia, of whom Castlereagh spoke as “the two States which were to form the immediate bulwarks of Europe.” The day after Waterloo there were, it was said, few families in England that were not in mourning. And yet, by the treaties of 1814-‘15, the boundaries of France were hardly diminished, no pecuniary burden was imposed that she could not readily bear, and she was subjected to no degrading conditions. Thus was exemplified the old peace psychology now out of fashion and deeply despised.

Let us now turn to the new and advanced psychology—the psychology of phrasemaking, of frenzied oratory, and of vengeful retribution. A century later, at Versailles, the vanquished were summoned to accept, without negotiation, the doom pronounced upon them in their absence, with its rending of historic ties, its dispersal of peoples, its dismemberments, its extorted confession of guilt, its confiscations of private property, its demand for the imposition on Germany of the entire cost of the war, and for the hanging of the Kaiser as a crowning proof that the world had been “made safe for democracy.” Nor do I have in mind only the Treaty of Versailles. I am also thinking, and in some respects even more, of the connected treaties of St. Germain and Trianon, of which the United States was also a signatory. These treaties related to southeastern Europe, which I happen to know not only by the study of history and the conduct of diplomatic correspondence, but also by personal inspection; and I do not hesitate to say that what was done in that quarter, and particularly in the dismemberment of Hungary and Austria, was as lacking in sagacity as it was vengeful, and that it could not possibly endure.

Let us now become backward-looking; let us turn our eyes back to 1815, toward the dark ages in which railways, steamships, telegraphs, telephones, and the radio had not illuminated the human understanding and knit men together in common brotherhood; to the days in which the “will to peace” did not clamor for economic sanctions, for boycotts, and for threats and acts of war as the appropriate means of assuring universal concord and permanent tranquillity. As we turn toward the past there looms out of the darkness the heroic figure of the Duke of Wellington, the Iron Duke, the man of deeds, who knew the agonies of war and the blessings of peace. He had in time of war governed alien populations under martial law—by the will of the military commander. But, what was his will and what did he do? He has himself told us. He governed with such moderation that political servants and judges who at first had fled afterwards returned and acted under his direction, the judges sitting in the courts of law and administering justice according to the laws of the land. Consulted in 1814) as to whether Great Britain should not demand, as a condition of peace with the United States, the retention of the territories she then occupied in the latter country, he answered in the negative. If the new “ideal,” of which the Duke of Wellington represents the antithesis, correctly interprets what is meant by making the world safe for democracy, it is obvious that something is needed either to make democracy safe for the world, or to save the world from it.

President Wilson’s predicament in Paris was from the beginning impossible. The head of a state, he lowered himself to the official level of his foreign competitors, whose governments at home could disavow or revise their acts, while his own associates were his subordinates and subject to his command. Nor have I ever doubted that, as a matter of law, when the President of the United States went to Paris there occurred the precise situation in which the Constitution provides that, in case of the President’s “inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said office” they “shall devolve on the Vice-President.” By this was meant, not only a permanent inability, such as may be caused by death or by an incurable and disabling disease, but an actual inability to discharge the ordinary functions of the office. President Wilson arrived in Paris on December 14,1918, and, with the exception of less than a month’s visit to the United States, remained in Europe until the signing of the Versailles Treaty on June 28,1919. His actual absence from the United States thus amounted to at least six months. The powers and duties of the President do not relate solely to foreign affairs, but, even if they did, he could not effectively perform them when residing abroad.

In September, 1922, I attended the entire annual meeting of the League of Nations at Geneva. I went there to adjust some matters relating to the Permanent Court of International Justice. More than three years had then elapsed since the signing of the Versailles Treaty, and yet no step had been taken towards the admission of Germany to the League of Nations. This seemed to me to be altogether inconsistent not only with President Wilson’s original conception of the League, but also with what a league for peace should be. I particularly urged this view on an old friend, then a member of the League’s Council, a man usually very considerate and gentle, and his reply was, “Oh, she would only be a nuisance.” It had occurred to me that it must be the chief preoccupation of the League, if it was to be worth anything, to deal with nuisances and, if possible, abate them. I do not subscribe to the doctrine that conciliation in the affairs of this world is useless. It is, in my opinion, a vindictive and provocative doctrine, springing from the assumption that those who differ with us are prompted to do so by malevolent or at any rate wholly selfish motives. While I have never cherished the illusion of perpetual peace, I have never thought it desirable to create conditions that insure perpetual war.


What we usually read concerning the Far East and our relations with it is for the most part either purely emotional, in the sense of being inspired by an imaginary affection for one group and an ignorant dislike of another, or is inspired by a propaganda craftily designed to induce us to support certain alien interests with which our own are said to be identical. The percolation of the latter phase became copious in the days when John Hay, after serving as our ambassador at London, became Secretary of State. The story is told in Tyler Dennett’s life of Hay by which it appears that Hay’s notes as Secretary of State with regard to the Far East were really framed by a man named Hippesley, an employee of Sir Robert Hart’s customs administration in China, who was secreted in a hotel in New York and with whom Hay communicated through an emissary, W. W. Rockhill, whom I knew well and who often spoke to me of Hay’s pro-British proclivities. So occult was this process that I became aware of it only some years later.

Meanwhile, Japan was systematically advancing towards her emancipation from the system of extraterritoriality. During the first Cleveland Administration we had at Tokyo a minister named Hubbard, who, deeply sympathizing with Japan in that aspiration, desired the United States to be the first to recognize it. In a dispatch transmitting official copies of Japan’s new Constitution and the imperial speech on its promulgation, he predicted that what had been done would not only make the day memorable in the annals of the Empire, “but should be a cause of sincere congratulation from all Western nations.” In acknowledging the receipt of these documents, Mr. Blaine, who was then Secretary of State, observed that what had just taken place was “a bright augury” for the future of a country bound to American people “by so many ties of continued friendship and intimate intercourse.” This attitude, however, was soon modified, when Hubbard was succeeded at Tokyo by a minister who did not share his views,

Meanwhile there came to Washington in succession to Sackville West, who had been dismissed, a new British diplomatic representative, Sir Julian Pauncefote, who began his career in the British colonial service in the Far East, In his conversations with me, which evidently reflected the impressions of his earlier days, he was wont to belittle the pretensions of the Japanese. Neverthless, I was not startled when Great Britain, “viewing with alarm” the conquests of Russia in the Far East, not only led the way in emancipating Japan from the shackles of extraterritoriality, but actually made with her an alliance as a co-equal sovereign power.

In course of time there developed on our Pacific coast an agitation for the application to the Japanese of the rule of exclusion applied to the Chinese thirty years before; an agitation inspired not only by the laborious habits of the Japanese but also by the increase of their holdings of land. The local sentiment in favor of exclusion was general but not unanimous. A dissent was expressed in a letter addressed to me by a Californian grower of cherries, who put his protest in this form: “The Japanese will pick 200 to 250 baskets of cherries a day, while the others pick from 125 to 175. The Japanese pick cherries. The others eat cherries and talk politics; we call ‘em hoboes.” Hiram Johnson, who was then Governor of California, had the good sense and the patriotism to insist that no measure should be adopted that violated our treaties with Japan. The Japanese resented the resulting discriminatory legislation, but, as it did not violate the treaties, never contested its legal validity in the courts.

The British-Japanese alliance served the interests of the Allies—Great Britain, France, and the rest—in the war that broke out in Europe in August, 1914. Moreover, by the Lansing-Ishii agreement, the United States conceded to Japan the principle of the Monroe Doctrine as regarded China. In the Monroe Doctrine there was nothing startling apart from its geographical extent. An inhabitant of the city of New York naturally is more concerned with the acts of a next-door neighbor who disturbs his sleep or threatens his life than he is with the acts of a man across the river, in Jersey City, who similarly annoys those who live on his block, It is chiefly in international affairs, where racial, religious, political, commercial, and all other differences tend to present a competitive and antagonistic front, that the disregard of this dictate of common sense is preached as a necessity and extolled as a virtue.

In the Naval Conference at Washington in 1921-1922, Great Britain forsook her alliance with Japan, both in letter and in spirit, for the purpose of securing the support of the United States in such other matters as might seem to be desirable. In the published record of that conference, the development of the divergence between Great Britain and France can be clearly traced; a divergence that went so far as to cause France to protest against what was done and practically to abandon the conference. The relations between Great Britain and France were then and for some time afterwards decidedly strained, but the British evidently thought that the balance was more than redressed by securing the support of the United States in policies such as they might deem to be for their own advantage, whether in Europe or in Asia, or perchance in other quarters.

It is not a propensity to glorify the past that leads me to think that the conduct of our relations with the Far East has not grown more realistic or more sagacious since the Administration of Theodore Roosevelt, with Elihu Root as his Secretary of State. Under their guidance, the United States was the first to recognize Japan’s absorption of Korea, and this they intelligently did for definite reasons. Not only was the Chinese littoral then studded with the strongholds of European powers, but Russia, having nearly completed the trans-Siberian railway for military as well as for commercial purposes, was moving toward the absorption not only of Manchuria but also of Korea, which had granted to persons about the Russian Imperial Court timber concessions along the Yalu River, the development of which would have made the country practically a Russian province. It was at this critical hour that Japan, believing it to be a matter of self-preservation, declared war. She was mainly financed through the sale of her bonds by Kuhn, Loeb and Company of New York, with a London participation; and it was in the United States, at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, that the peace by which the war was ended was negotiated and signed. Later, the Russian grantees of the concessions sought to revive them and to cloak them with an American character by assigning them to the representative of an important American industrial company at St. Petersburg. But this illicit device completely failed. Washington, Mr. Root being then Secretary of State, refused to countenance it.

The fundamental difference between the course of China and that of Japan in foreign affairs is that China relies on other countries to help her, while Japan relies upon herself. The reason for this is that Japan is a political and racial entity, while what is generically known as China is characterized by diversities and divisions. If the Chinese cannot cure this, then no one else can. No foreign power will undertake it without exacting a reward incompatible with China’s sovereignty. During my various periods of service in the Department of State, I officially dealt with divisions and disorders in China, and in course of time witnessed the Boxer Movement, the overthrow of the Empire, and the setting up of the Republic. But the intervention of foreign powers does not bring harmony or unity to a country, unless, perchance, they have intervened as enemies; and if intervention by enemies cannot bring unity, then nothing can. Should the United States disregard this fundamental truth in the Far East, it would furnish a striking example of the result of a lack of understanding, with disastrous consequences to itself and without benefit to the pretended object of its solicitude.

In 1929 the American Red Cross sent to China a commission to report upon the possibility of alleviating the conditions due to famine. The commission was composed of Ernest P. Bicknell, William M. Baxter, Jr., and Ernest S. Swift. Three better men could not have been selected, and Bicknell was an experienced expert of the first rank. Besides, Mr. Howard Bucknell, Second Chinese Secretary to the United States Legation, was attached to the commission during its entire stay. He had lived nine years in China, spoke Chinese fluently, and had traveled widely in the interior. The commission reached Peking on June 15, 1929; it sailed from Shanghai for San Francisco on August 80, 1929. It sought information from intelligent residents, both Chinese and foreign. It was entertained at Nanking by President General Chiang Kai-shek, C. T. Wang, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and other leaders of the Nationalist administration. In a month’s survey of the famine area, it used specially constructed motor trucks for regions where good roads were almost unknown. It traveled approximately 2,500 miles, and visited the famine areas in the Provinces of Honan, Shensi, Shanso, Suiyuan, and Chahar, and obtained reports from the province of Kansu, which was more inaccessible and where the depredations of bandits were more extensive.

The commission reported that the popular American conception of “famines” in the sense of general starvation for lack of food, due primarily to natural causes, did not exist in China, and probably never had existed on a large scale; that the actual causes were political and economic disorder, due to ambitious war lords whose lawless forces lived upon the countries in which they moved; that military leaders had seized railways, and destroyed tracks and bridges in order to hamper opposing forces; that the commission had seen tons of grain lying unprotected on the platform at a railway junction which was the shipping point for various famine regions; that in recent years retreating soldiers, along with deserters and outlaws, had in large numbers augmented the groups of bandits which ravaged the country; that with few exceptions, and particularly with that of General Yen Hsi-Shan of the province of Shansi, the provincial governors had since the revolution of 1911 set themselves up as independent despots, and, as taxes could not be collected in money, had taken grain, animals, implements, and clothing; that, owing to the rapid increase of the population, the balance between food supply and starvation had become so delicate that any serious interruption of the regular routine of existence precipitated disaster, so that, when reserve stocks had been taken away, starvation conditions quickly followed.

In concluding its report the commission said that China’s enormous and complex problems had been “vastly increased by the political chaos which prevailed almost constantly from 1911 to the end of 1928,” and that the famine of 1928-29 was “an inextricable part of this chaos”; that, while the impression was inescapable that “new China” was occupying the seats of power, only time “could test their ability to unite China’s strong men in the cause of the country’s welfare, to remedy ancient abuses, disband the useless and menacing armies which now prey upon the poverty-stricken people, and inaugurate an era of peace and progress”; and that, unless the government could “exercise the authority and the leadership essential to the unification of the country and the establishment of a reign of law, the noblest plans for elevating the lives of China’s millions must end in failure.” On the strength of this report, no special campaign to raise funds was instituted. But relief in various forms has from time to time since been sent, and this will continue to be done whenever there is a reasonable assurance that it will be effective. It is the mission of the Red Cross to alleviate human suffering.

The fact is well known that the trade of the United States with Japan far exceeds that with China; and this has been so for many years, in spite of the vast differences between China and Japan as regards area and population. But upon this phase of the subject I do not desire to enlarge. What I particularly have in mind is the fact that the many interventions by Western powers in China, going back for generations, have not corrected the fundamental weakness in her condition, but have in some instances aggravated it. No matter how much her predicament may excite our compassion, the remedy must rest with the people of China themselves. While the assumption of the task by the United States would necessarily result in its own impoverishment, the imagination recoils from the attempt to forecast the result in other respects.


In more than one of its phases there is need of a re-examination of our foreign policy. We prate of race equality and this we do while excluding from the United States, with very limited exceptions, various classes of aliens, and particularly the Chinese and Japanese, not as individuals but on grounds of race; nor do I hear from any quarter, either from our professed philanthropists or from politicians, practical or otherwise, any proposal that this discrimination shall be abolished. In reality race equality, especially in the sense of equal representation, is deliberately and ingeniously denied in much of our own legislation, the constitutionality of which has been upheld by our courts. With all this, being neither a professed philanthropist nor a candidate for office, I am not now concerned. But in my categories of psychology, I assign, so far as concerns peace among nations, the chief place to what I call emotional hypocrisy, meaning the propensity to ascribe to those who differ with us some mental or moral obliquity. The world never will be at peace until men and women can, without regard to race, creed, color, or nationality, or to political and social equality or inequality, cry out, with a whole heart and a united voice, in the language of the Litany, “Lord, have mercy upon us miserable sinners I” And as of this I can see no prospect, I would commend, even on purely political grounds, the occasional observance of the sane Scriptural precept, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”


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