Gilbert Murray.

Faith, war, and policy; addresses and essays on the European War online

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Americans, one of whom had been working fourteen
hours a day for the relief of distress in Belgium, while the
other, with a sad disregard for truth and the feelings of
his parents, had passed himself off as a Canadian in
order to fight in the British Army.

I know another man, an American man of letters, who
went off at his own expense at the time of the Ger-
man advance in Poland to help the Polish refugees. He
worked for months on end among people starving and
dying of typhus, often going without food himself and
entirely abstaining from some of the most ordinary com-
forts of life. When I last met him he had seen a thou-
sand people dead around him at one time. He was then
on his way back to continue his work, and I felt some
nervousness on hearing he was to pass through England.
I have an inward feeling that some one at this moment is
explaining to him that Americans ask no questions about
the war except how much money they can make out of


it, and the one thing you can be sure of about a Yank is
that he will be too proud to fight.

This particular man will very likely not retaliate. He
will smile sadly and search his conscience, and reflect
sympathetically that people who are suffering cannot
help being irritable. But some millions of his fellow
countrymen will answer for him, and they have rather a
pretty wit when they set about answering. A placard
over a certain large cinema show in New York once put
the point neatly: ENGLISHMEN! YOUR KING AND

The beauty of that statement is that it finishes the
matter and leaves nothing to argue about. But if you
are unwise enough to wish to argue, you will find ample
material. Think of all the things, to begin with, that
are said against England by Englishmen. Remember
all the things that your most Radical friends have said
in the past against the Tories and imperialists, and add
to it all that the Tories used to say about Lloyd George;
double it by all that the U.D.C. on the one hand and
Mr. Maxse and the " Morning Post" on the other are
saying about every one who does not worship in their
own particular tabernacles; sum them all together, and
put in front of them the words: "Honest Englishmen
themselves confess — "! The effect will be quite sur-
prising. It would be no wonder if the simple-minded
American should feel some prejudice against a nation
whose leaders are all in the pay of Germany and whose
working-classes spend their lives in a constant debauch ;
a nation which makes up for its inefficiency in the field
by riotous levity at home, by ferocious persecution of
conscience and free speech, and by the extreme blood-
thirstiness of its ultimate intentions towards the enemy.


The wonder is that he feels it so little; that some sane
instinct generally helps him to know the grosser kind of
lie when he sefcs it, and some profound consciousness of
ultimate brotherhood between the two great English-
speaking peoples is so much stronger than all the recur-
rent incidents of superficial friction.

The main cause of friction is, without doubt, that in
the greatest crisis of our history we expected more from
America than she was disposed to give. We felt to her
a little as the Danes felt towards us in 1864, as the
French felt towards us in 1870. When Belgium was
invaded, when the Lusitania was sunk, the average Eng-
lishman did, without doubt, look expectantly towards
America, and America did not respond to our expecta-
tions. Were those expectations reasonable and natural,
or were they not?

The answer seems to me quite clear. They were en-
tirely natural, but not quite reasonable. We could not
help feeling them; but it was not at all likely that the
average American voter would feel as we did. How
should he? One need not speak of the six million Ger-
mans, and the innumerable other aliens in the United
States; nor yet of the traditional anti-British feeling in
the political "mob." The plain fact is that nations do
not go to war for remote philanthropic objects. They
get near it sometimes, as we got near it with Turkey in
1895, over the Armenian massacres. But they do not
go over the edge, except where the philanthropic in-
dignation is reinforced by other motives or causes of
quarrel. And even there, time is needed to awake a
whole nation. Mental preparation is needed; the culprit
must have a bad character already; the proof of the
crime committed must be exceedingly clear. None of


these conditions was present in 1914. The Germans were
greatly respected in the United States. There had been
a powerful and assiduous court paid to American opin-
ion. Every single crime committed by Germany was
accompanied by a cloud of dust and counter-accusation.
It was the Russians who insisted on war; it was France
which invaded Belgium; it was the Belgian women and
children who committed atrocities on the German sol-
diers; it was the English who used explosive bullets and
poisonous gas; I forget whether it was the Lusitania
which tried to sink the poor submarine, or if that was
only the Arabic; but at every single point at which the
national indignation of America might have exploded
the issue was confused and befogged. We should remem-
ber the immortal words of the Pope, when confronted by
the twentieth or thirtieth demonstration of the bestiali-
ties done by the Germans in Belgium: "But, you know,
they say they did n't." The same answer was always
open, not only to Colonel Bryan (why should that emi-
nent pacifist be denied his full claim to military glory?),
but to men of much less nebulous judgement than he.

No; it was not reasonable to expect the United States
to plunge into war for motives of philanthropy. And if
one begins to put the question on other grounds, then
clearly it is not for us foreigners to decide what course
best suits the interest or dignity of the United States.
They know their own case, pro and con, far better than
we can, and we certainly need not complain of either the
skill or the fervour with which our friends in that great,
strange country have stated our case.

But the matter is decided. America will not join in
this war. Both political parties are united on that point;
and only a few voices of independent thinkers, voices


sometimes of great weight and eloquence, are lifted in
protest. I do not, of course, say that there might not
arise some new and unexpected issue which would com-
pel her to change her policy; but, so far as the issues are
now known, the Americans have made up their minds
to have no war.

Such a decision has, of course, had its consequences.
Any person who, after hesitating, comes to a decision
likes afterwards to have as many grounds as possible for
justifying himself, and the same holds of a nation. If
America had, for good or evil, plunged into the war, she
would have found easily a thousand reasons for being
enthusiastic about it and for justifying her intimate sym-
pathy with us. It is now the other way. She cannot help
feeling a certain coldness towards people who, as she
thinks, tempted her to dangerous courses; who certainly
felt, however unreasonably, a shade of disappointment
about her. What right had we to be disappointed; to
hint by our manner, if not by words, that she had chosen
safety rather than the beau role ? After all, why should
she fight England's battles? Wicked as the Germans
are, — and hardly any normal American defends them,
— is England so entirely disinterested and blameless? Is
Ireland so much more contented than Alsace-Lorraine?
Do the "Black List" and the Paris Resolutions and the
" Orders in Council" suggest that the new Liberal Eng-
land is so very different from the old England that was
America's natural enemy? The President has used lan-
guage which looks like a repudiation of all moral or hu-
man interest in Europe's quarrels: "With the causes
and objects of the war America is not concerned." I do
not believe that the President himself really would hold
to that dictum, and I am sure his countrymen would


not. The principle is too cynical for either. But, so far
as direct public action is concerned, that statement
holds the field. Belgium, Armenia, Poland, Miss Cavell,
the horrors of Wittenberg, the wholesale deportations
of women, the habitual killing of unarmed civilians; all
these are to count as matters of indifference for the ex-
ecutive government of the United States.

But not for the human beings who compose the United
States, whether in the Government or out of it. The
more they have decided not to intervene publicly in the
war, the more they are ready to pour out their sym-
pathy, their work, and their riches to help the distresses
of the war. Never was there a nation so generous, so
ready in sympathy, so quick to respond to the call of suf-
fering. They exceed England in these qualities almost as
much as England exceeds the average of Europe. They
will stand aloof from the savage old struggle, free, un-
polluted, rejoicing in their own peace and exceeding
prosperity, but always ready to send their missionaries
and almoners to bind the wounds of more benighted
lands. The wars of Europe are not their business.

Unless, indeed, after the war, the victor should come
out too powerful? A victorious Germany is fortunately
out of the question ; but a victorious England — might
not that bring trouble? America must after all be
" prepared."


It is hard for an Englishman to understand how a very
great nation, a very proud nation, whom we, accustomed
to range the whole circuit of the world and find our
brothers trading or governing in the antipodes, look


upon instinctively as our own kinsmen and natural
friends, should be content to stay apart from the great
movement of the world and to strike no blow either for
democracy or absolutism; to leave it to others to decide
whether peace or war shall be the main regulator of
national life, whether treaties shall be sacred or not,
whether or not "government of the people, by the peo-
ple, for the people" shall perish from the greater part
of the earth. And many Americans feel as we do. The
most brilliant and magnetic of America's recent Presi-
dents feels as we do. But, as a rule, I believe, the aver-
age American is not only content, but proud to stand
thus aloof and indifferent. The line of thought leading
to such a pride is one familiar to many generations of
Americans, the glory of their immense isolation.

Why should they turn back to mix again in the misery
and blood-guiltiness of that evil Old World from which
their fathers and mothers fled? They will forgive it,
now that they are free and safe. They will forgive it,
they will revisit it sometimes with a kind of affection,
they will pour out their abundant riches to alleviate its
sufferings, but they will never again be entangled in its
schemes and policies, they will never again give it power
over them.

Generation after generation of American settlers
have been refugees from European persecution. Refugee
Puritans, refugee Quakers, refugee Catholics, French
Huguenots, English and German Republicans, in later
days persecuted Jews and Poles and Russian revolu-
tionaries, have all found shelter and freedom in America,
and most of them some degree of prosperity and public
respect. And far more numerous than these definite
sufferers from religious or political persecution have been


the swarms of settlers who, for one reason or another,
had found life too hard in the Old World. In every gen-
eration the effect is repeated. Europe is the place that
people fly from; the place of tyrants and aristocracies,
of wars and crooked diplomacy; the place where the
poor are so miserable that they leave their homes
and families and spend their last shillings in order to
work at the lowest manual labour in the one land on
earth which will really assure them "life, liberty, and
the pursuit of happiness." No wonder it is easy for aa
American to reject all responsibility for the troubles of
Europe !

Nay, when you meet an American who is really in-
terested in Europe, you will be surprised to find how
little he cares for the things that we consider liberal or
progressive. Such things are not what he wants of Eu-
rope. He can get them at home. He likes Europe to be
European. What he asks of Europe is picturesqueness;
old castles, and Louis XIV, and Austrian rules of eti-
quette, and an unreformed House of Lords. When we
reform such things away, he is rather regretful, as we in
England might be at the Chinese cutting off their pig-
tails. In his leisure hours he likes us as we are, and when
it comes to business his only determination is that we
shall never again interfere with him.

I do not say that such an attitude is wise or right;
much less that it is universal in America. But it is a state
of mind which is easily intelligible and which must
always be reckoned with.

A Liberal Englishman will quite understand it. He
may, perhaps, regard it with a good deal of sympathy,
and even imagine that it must lead on the whole to a
feeling of friendliness towards England as contrasted


with the less liberal Powers. But it is not so. Every
large wave of feeling demands a human representative or
symbol, and the course of history has decreed that to
the average American the symbol of European tyranny
is England. He knows, of course, that the Government
of Russia or Prussia or Austria or divers other nations
may be much worse than that of England; but his own
historical quarrel, repeated through many generations,
has been with England, and the typical fight for human
freedom against tyranny is the American War of Inde-
pendence; next to that comes the War of 1812. The
cause is now won. Freedom is safe, and his relations
with England are peaceful, and even friendly. Yet the
price of freedom is eternal vigilance. When he hears the
words "Orders in Council," " Restriction of Trade,"
" Right of Search," " Black List," something argumenta-
tive and anxious rises within him. When he hears that
some person has been condemned as a rebel against the
British Government, he tends to murmur, "So was
George Washington!"

No; he bears no grudge against his old enemy, but
England belongs to Europe, not to America; and she can
stay where she belongs. For his part, what does he want
with other nations?

He is a citizen of the greatest free nation in the world,
and not only the greatest, but, by every sane standard
that he believes in, infinitely the best. It has a larger
white population than the whole British Empire. Its
men and women are more prosperous, cleaner, better
paid, better fed, better dressed, better educated, better
in physique than any others on the face of the globe.
They have simpler and saner ideals, more kindliness and
common sense, more enterprise, and more humanity.


Silly people in Europe, blind, like their ancestors, im-
agine that America somehow lacks culture, and must
look abroad for its art and learning; why, as a matter of
fact, the greatest sculptor since Michael Angelo was an
American, Saint-Gaudens; the two best painters of the
last decades, Abbey and Sargent, were both Americans;
up to last year the most famous English novelist was an
American; the best public architecture is notoriously to
be found in America, as well as the best public concerts
and libraries, and the most important foundations for
scientific research. And to crown our friend's confident
picture, there is no country on earth where the children
are so happy.

A friend of mine stayed last year in a summer camp
of young men and women in a forest in the Middle West,
and never once heard the European War mentioned.
One night, as they looked over a moonlit lake, a young
student spoke thoughtfully of the peacefulness of the
scene, and of the contrast it made with the terrible
sufferings of mankind elsewhere. My friend agreed,
and murmured something about the sufferings of
Europe. "Lord, I was n't thinking of Europe," said the
young man: "I was thinking of the thunderstorms in

If only they could really remain aloof! But they can-
not. There is at least one Power with whom they are
constantly in contact, and whose world-wide interests
are constantly rubbing against theirs both by land and
sea; and that Power is Great Britain.

"When two empires find their interests continually
rubbing against each other in different parts of the
world," said Sir Edward Grey in 1911, "there is no half-
way house possible between constant liability to friction


and cordial friendship." That is the gentle and states-
manlike way of putting it. An eloquent American,
whose speech this year has been circulated widely across
the continent, phrased the matter more strongly. He
advocated definitely a British alliance on the ground
that between two nations so intimately connected and
touching each other at so many points there is no third
way: it must be either alliance or war. Yet alliance,
after what we have seen, seems impossible; and war can-
not even for an instant be thought of. It would be the
last disgrace to the modern world, the final downfall of

Let us try to consider what forces are working in
either direction.


"Either alliance or war"! It sounds at first hearing a
fantastic exaggeration. Yet the words have been spoken
by sober-minded people, and it is worth while trying to
think them out. It is easy for an Englishman to find in
America confirmation of whatever opinions he happens
to hold, and terribly easy for him to get the proportional
importance of such opinions completely wrong. Indigna-
tion with Germany and horror at her cruelties; emotion
about the Irish rebellion and its suppression; irritation
at the Black List; angry alarm at the Paris Resolu-
tions; a general desire for kindness to everybody, and
especially for a quick and generous peace — all these
waves of sentiment, and many others, are to be found in
America, and possess their own importance and influ-
ence. But it seems to me that there are two currents of
feeling that have swept the whole continent, and are


likely, whatever party is in power, to shape the effective
policy of the United States.

The first reaction produced by the war and the de-
termination not to participate in it has been the move-
ment for "Preparedness." It is first a preparedness for
war. England, according to popular opinion, had been
unprepared, and France not much better. America, had
she tried to enter the war, would have been more utterly
unprepared than either. Suppose the German attack
had fallen on her?

The direction of this first movement has gradually
changed with the course of events. The campaign of
" Preparedness" presupposes some possible or probable
aggressor, and it has gradually become clear that that
aggressor will not, for many years to come, be Germany.
The prospect of a really victorious Germany would
shake America to her foundations and probably change
completely the national policy; but there is now no such
prospect. The danger, if there is any, will come from
a victorious Great Britain, allied, as America always
remembers, with a victorious and unexhausted Japan.
Other neutral nations in this war may be waiting to side
with the. conqueror; but America is built on too large
a scale for that. She will arm against the conqueror, and
be prodigal of help to the vanquished.

The "Preparedness" campaign is still in its early
stages and has not assumed its definite form. But it
started as a spontaneous non-party movement; it was
taken up by the Republican Opposition; it was eagerly
supported by President Wilson and his Government; it
has been clearly thought out and firmly developed by
Mr. Hughes. Army, navy, and mercantile marine are
all to be increased and developed; but it is noteworthy


that more stress is laid on the navy than on the army,
and politicians have already uttered the ominous phrase,
"A fleet that shall not be at the mercy of the British
fleet"! More important still must be the preparation
for a great mercantile rivalry. Vast sums have already
been appropriated for shipbuilding, and other steps, too,
are to be taken to secure for America her proper position
in shipping and in foreign trade. No more dependence
upon English bottoms ! Competition will be very severe.
At the end of the war, Mr. Hughes warned the audience
in his Notification Speech, "the energies of each of the
new belligerent nations, highly trained, will be turned
to production. These are days of terrible discipline for
the nations at war. . . . Each is developing a national
solidarity, a knowledge of method, a realization of ca-
pacity hitherto unapproached." Mr. Hughes is too wise
and broad-minded to put his thought in a threatening
shape. But most of his hearers throughout that vast hall
thought of the Resolutions of Paris, and felt that if the
Allies chose to pursue war methods in their commercial
action, America must be ready to respond.

One's heart sinks at the prospect opened out by this
policy. Trade rivalry; severe protection; the State
deliberately entering into the commercial contest with
subsidies and penalties; competitive shipbuilding; the
desire for a strong navy behind the merchant fleet; and
at the end of a vista that prize which has dazzled so
many nations, some of them perhaps not much less
peace-loving and level-headed than the United States,
the position of recognized centrality and supremacy
among the great nations of the world.

Is there no prospect of escape?

Yes, there is. The above is the first great current of


feeling that, in my judgement, has swept the whole peo-
ple of the United States; the second is the antidote to it,
and is almost, if not quite, equally strong. It is the de-
termination that, if America can help it, a colossal ini-
quity like the present war shall not be allowed to occur
again. The feeling needs no explanation. It is that of
every Englishman of moderately liberal feelings, and is
deeply ingrained in the nature of the ordinary American.
It has swept through all political parties and most other
sections of the community, except a few extreme paci-
fists and those pro-Germans who are working for an
inconclusive peace and a second war.

It was first formulated by Mr. Taft, as president of the
League to Enforce Peace. Mr. Taft's series of arbitra-
tion treaties, following on those initiated by John Hay,
made him the natural champion of this further effort
to organize the prevention of future wars. The general
idea is quite simple and well known : a League of Powers,
bound to settle their differences by conference or arbitra-
tion, and equally bound to make joint war on any Power
which, in a dispute with one of them, refuses arbitration
and insists on war.

The plan was immediately welcomed by public opinion
in the States. It spread everywhere. President Wilson
committed himself to it last May in an emphatic speech,
which was perhaps a little too tenderly tactful towards
the Germans to be whole-heartedly acceptable in Eng-
land. But in point of fact most of the leaders of English
thought had already expressed approval of the princi-
ple. It is no less significant that the federated Chamber
of Commerce of the United States, a powerful and ex-
tremely cautious body, has voted by large majorities in
favour of the policy of the League, and by overwhelming


majorities for all the proposals but one. (Just over a
third of the delegates shrank from committing them-
selves to actual war for the sake of peace, though they
were ready to agree to an absolute boycott of the peace-
breaker.) And, finally, Mr. Hughes, in his Notification
Address, has thrown the whole strength of the Republi-
can Party into the scheme. His words are well thought
out: " We are deeply interested in what I may term the
organization of peace. We cherish no illusions. We know
that the recurrence of war is not to be prevented by
pious wishes. If the conflict of national interests is not
to be brought to the final test of force, there must be a
development of international organization in order to
provide international justice and to safeguard as far as
practicable the peace of the world." In addition to the

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Online LibraryGilbert MurrayFaith, war, and policy; addresses and essays on the European War → online text (page 12 of 19)