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To neutral peace-lovers; a plea for patience, online

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Pamphlets on the War.


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A Letter to a Neutral

By the Late Rev. H. M '.WATKIN.

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A Reply to an American Critic.


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A Plea for Patience.

As the war drags on into its third year, a curious
phenomenon is becoming more and more noticeable.
The neutral countries are growing more war-weary
than the belligerent countries — at any rate than those
belligerents who are not subjected to the pressure of
the blockade. And this weariness is having the
curious effect of making the friends of peace-at-
any-price play into the hands of the champions of
war-at-any-price. They clamour for a peace which
would leave all the moral issues of the war un-
determined, if not determined in the wrong sense,
and which would enable Germany to maintain, with
some plausibility, that war had once more proved a
paying speculation for her. To all reasonable peace-
lovers, that must surely seem the one intolerable
disaster. If the German belief in war as ** good
business ** is able to hold up its head at the end of
the struggle, the prospects of enduring peace fade
away into the mists of an immeasurable distance.

In Copenhagen the other day, one of the greatest
of living men of letters, George Brandes, issued
**An Appeal" for peace, obviously inspired by sheer



difficult to answer. But they ignore the other and
still more essential aspect of the case.

When two men are engaged in a fierce wrestle,
they seem, to the casual eye, equally frenzied and
equally criminal. But this may be a quite false
impression. The one may be a highwayman and
the other his victim ; the one may be a maniac and
the other his keeper. It is not madness to seek to
restrain madness, and deprive it of its means of
working mischief. The deeper is our conviction
of the essentially frantic nature of this struggle,
the more is it incumbent upon us to keep firm hold
of the fact that one side knew it from the first to be
insane and entered it only on compulsion, while the
other side, in obedience to long-accepted and loudly
proclaimed principles, regarded it as a manifestation
of the highest sanity, and, as Prince von Biilow says,
went into it ** in high spirits." There can be no
question as to which side hungered for war and
which side shrank from it. I am not thinking,
for the moment, of the immediate responsibility
for the outbreak, though it is abundantly clear that
it does not lie at the door of the Allies. What I
have in mind is the absolutely undeniable fact that
Germany (with her appendages) was the one great
stronghold of the war ideal. She had built up, on
the basis of her experiences from 1864 to 1871, a
philosophy of war as the loftiest and most

exhilarating of human activities — a philosophy to
which she was fanatically devoted. She had con-
sistently and contemptuously obstructed all move-
ments in the direction of world-peace. She had
left her political destinies unreservedly in the hands
of a despotic War- Lord, whose family traditions,
and whose personal tastes, made him the representa-
tive and head of an enormously powerful and arrogant
military caste. She had piled up armaments that
rendered her tremendously formidable on land, and
she had openly addressed herself to the conquest of
the sea — ^an enterprise regarded by her people with
the utmost enthusiasm. She had, in short, com-
mitted herself irrevocably, both in theory and in
practice, to the idea of war as the supreme and
eternal arbiter in human affairs, and had taken every
conceivable measure to ensure that the arbitrament
should always result in her favour.

It was an unspeakable misfortune for Europe
that such a superstition should have mastered the
minds of the ruling classes of a great, and energetic,
and highly efficient nation. But since the misfortune
had happened, and since Germany showed herself
inaccessible to remonstrance or argument, what was
to be done ? A small body of pacifists, headed by a
great man, Tolstoy, answered that armament should
be met by disarmament, violence by non-resistance.
It was at once a logical and a nobly-inspired


doctrine, but it neglected the facts of human
nature in its present phase of development. I am
not one of those who think that human nature is the
same yesterday, to-day and for ever, and that it is
hopeless to dream of modifying it. I believe, on
the contrary, that the balance of human impulses,
on which depends the action both of individuals
and of communities, is constantly shifting, whether
we will or no. But such modifications are necessarily
very gradual, and it is quite correct to say that, at
any given moment, there are certain psychological
impossibilities, as insuperable as any physical im-
possibility. It was psychologically impossible, at
the beginning of the twentieth century, that any
considerable body of men could be induced to adopt
the principle of non-resistance. It was ** not
practical politics.'* Therefore, Germany's neigh-
bours were bound to hold themselves prepared to
meet force by force, while encouraging the spread of
pacific ideas (through the Hague Conference,
arbitration treaties, &c.), and being careful to give
no occasion for just offence. Every year of peace was
a clear gain ; for there were forces even in Germany
that made for peace, and it was always conceivable,
however unlikely, that the militarist mania might
subside, or might be overpowered by the saner
elements in the national spirit. Thus Europe
lived, hoping against hope, from (say) the Bosnian


crisis of 1 909 onwards. There was no great country,
save Austro-Germany, that did not shrink from war,
no country that thought it had anything to gain in
the least commensurate with the evident perils of
a European conflagration. Britain had absolutely
nothing to acquire at the expense of Germany.
It asked only for the safety of its shores, its dominions,
and the commerce on which it lived. France had,
no doubt, in the background of its mind, the regret
for Alsace-Lorraine, Russia the aspiration towards
Constantinople. But both the regret and the
aspiration were more or less dormant. Neither was a
motive promptmg to action. Neither country,
assuredly, would have dreamt of deliberately breaking
the peace in order to snatch at so problematical a
prize. And, still more assuredly, neither would
have had the support of Britain in a war of aggression.
Then came July, 1914J and the powers of
evil broke loose. The Entente made every con-
cession, and suggested every device, that could
possibly preserve peace — all to no avail. The
Central Empires were bent on either crushing the
Dual Alliance or convicting it of total and pitiable
impotence — in either case securing a decisive triumph
for the principle of Might against Reason. With a
strange psychological blindness, they had reckoned
that Britain would be false to her declared sympathies,
and even, like Germany, to her sworn engagement to


Belgium. By the time they had realised their mis-
take, the frenzy had got full hold of them, and there
was no turning back. So insane was their haste
that it took less than a fortnight to drag eight
nations into the vortex of war.

Even the Tolstoyan, though he may think
resistance wicked, must recognise a certain moral
distinction between attack and defence. As for a
non-Tolstoyan neutral, it is hard to see how he can
possibly confound the war-makers and the war-
resisters in one common accusation of insanity.
Do we condemn equally the burglar and the police-
man who apprehends him ? While they are
struggling, indeed, they both do wild and harmful
things ; but the one is fighting for law and order,
while the other wants to be a law unto himself, and
(in the instance before us) vehemently asserts that
his superior morality places him above all moral
restraints. If this be not madness, what is ? And
what is sanity if it be not to resist the putting in
practice of such essentially anarchic doctrines ?

It is true, no doubt, that the demonstration of
the madness of war becomes clearer with each new
participant in the struggle. If Austria had been
suffered to crush Serbia and reduce her to vassalage,
no one would have spoken of madness — the principle
of unscrupulous Might would have had one more
successful crime to its credit, and international


anarchism would have been more firmly enthroned
than ever in Central Europe. If, as Germany for a
moment hoped, France had left Russia in the lurch,
the struggle would doubtless have been short, and
the idea of war as a highly profitable business to the
nation which chooses to give its whole mmd to it
would have acquired fresh mastery over the Teutonic
spirit. If Belgium had offered no resistance to the
German irruption, and if Britain had been base and
craven enough to stand aside, the contest would
have been fierce and terrible, but it is only too prob-
able that it would have been over long ere this, and
that militarism would have attained its apogee in a
triumph that would have made 1870 seem a pigmy
affair. When we think of the state of mind induced
in the German people by the highly qualified suc-
cesses they have actually attained, it is hardly possible
to imagine the frenzy into which an unqualified
victory would have thrown them. And — mark
this ! — the utter hatefulness of war as conceived
and conducted by the Great General Staff, would
have been but partially revealed. There would
have been no Belgian atrocities, no " Lusitania,"
no ** Falaba *' or " Ancona,** and perhaps no
Wittenberg. There is little doubt that it was
exasperation at unexpected, obstinate and finally
successful resistance that led to the worst excesses
in Belgium and Northern France ; and had it not


been for Britain's intervention, there would have
been very little opportunity for U-boat heroism.
** Weltmacht ** would have been achieved at com-
paratively small cost, whether of German blood or
of German honour, and the German philosophy of
war would have attained an unheard-of prestige.

But can any neutral who now realises and bewails
the madness of war hold that it would have been a
desirable thing for the world that that madness
should have been hidden by the glamour of a
stupendous victory for the war-worshippers and war-
makers ? Surely such a position is not only
pusillanimous but self-contradictory. It has all
the pettiness of the petition, ** Give us peace in our
time.' Would Dr. Brandes — if I may take him as
an example — have preferred that the evil principle
should come out triumphant, if thereby his nerves
might be spared the strain of a prolonged con-
templation of unreason and horror ? I am sure that
his concern for the future of humanity is not really
so slight.

This war is, I repeat, the sanest of wars, inasmuch
as it is demonstrating with a conclusiveness hitherto
undreamt-of the hopeless lunacy of the German
militarist creed. It never had a logical leg to stand
on. Nothing is easier than to argue it out of the
field — to show that it is based on false theology,
false biology, false psychology, and more especially


on a false interpretation of the historic conjuncture
of ]870. But you cannot argue a monomaniac
into his senses. Germany — to the world's sorrow —
had become a war-monomaniac, and she is now
listening to the only form of argument to which her
clouded intelligence was accessible. She is listening
to it, she is hearing it with all her ears — of that there
is no question. There are countless unmistakeable
evidences that, whatever may be its actual conclusion,
the war has taught Germany once for all that the
exhilarating experiences of 1870 were due to a very
exceptional conjunction of circumstances, and cannot
be repeated at will, however high may be a country's
organisation, and however unscrupulous its state-
craft. The German people shows admirable power
of " keeping a stiff upper lip.'* It quite naturally
makes the most of its victories, both real and
imaginary. But the iron has entered its soul.
It no longer hopes for any adequate return for its
gigantic sacrifices. I have seen with my own eyes
hundreds of German letters, not specially pessimistic
(or the censorship would never have let them out
of the country), but one and all moaning for the end
of ** dieser unselige Krieg." '* Unselig " — not
merely "schrecklich" or " furchtbar" — is the epithet
in almost universal use. What German ever dreamt
of calling the war of 1870 "unselig"? Every-
thing goes to show that the militarist philosophy


IS at a great discount in Germany. It is even
more depreciated than the mark. Moreover, the
truth as to the origin of the war is beginning to
soak into the German mind. People are gradually
reaHsing that the assertion that Germany was
wantonly attacked, and was in a state of *' Notwehr **
— the assertion which sent the first army corps
jubilant and enthusiastic over the Belgian frontier —
was nothing but a pre-arranged manoeuvre of state-
craft, to which history will apply a briefer and still
more accurate term. This truth, with others no
less salutar>% is slowly forcing its way through the
barbed-wire entanglements of prejudice and
authority-worship, in which the German intelligence
IS enveloped. It is no optimism, but simply a
reasonable interpretation of indubitable symptoms,
which maintains that the war is gradually achieving
its one great end, in restoring the German people to
something like sanity.

We, in England, have realised from the first
that the war, with all its horror and madness, was
unlike most other wars in the absolute clearness and
momentous importance of the issues at stake.
Never was this country — never was any country —
so unanimous in feeling that, come what might,
England had no choice but to stand by her ideals.
It happened that plain considerations of safety
dictated the same course ; but had that alone been


in question, it is quite conceivable that we should
not have had the foresight and the resolution to
make the right choice. We were in no immediate
danger. Had we suffered the German war-philo-
sophy to score a second resounding triumph,
which would have made Germany undisputed
mistress of Europe, it is always possible that we might
have come to some humiliating accommodation with
her that would have left our material prosperity
little, if at all, impaired. We might conceivably
have escaped all positive, palpable evils — except self-
contempt. It was not, then, any consideration of
mere prudence that brought us into the field. We
knew very well that, from the point of view of self-
interest, we were confronting a tremendous and
imminent peril in order to avert a much more
remote and problematical one. What determined
our action (apart from our positive obligation to
Belgium) was the clear and compulsive sense that
here was an Evil Thing to be combated — a hideous
and sanguinary paganism, masking as culture,
philosophy, even religion. How hideous, how
sanguinary it was, we did not at first realise ; but
we knew quite enough to feel no doubt that a world
subjected to German ** Weltmacht ** would be no
world for free men to live in. One or two paradoxists
argued that we had drifted into a mere " balance of
power '* war, like so many of the past ; and a few


humanitarians, tortured by the sheer horror of the
spectacle, sought relief in bewailing what they
reckoned as errors of diplomacy, and blaming
Sir Edward Grey for the defects of the whole
European method of conducting international rela-
tions — as though he had created that method, or
could have reformed it. But these paradoxists and
grumblers were a quite infinitesimal minority. The
common sense and sound instinct of Britain and of
the Empire realised that here was an issue like scarcely
another in history — a clear issue of right and wrong
— an attempt of unscrupulous Might to vindicate in
action its theoretic claim to be the supreme test of
Right and the heaven-appointed ruler of the world.

As the weary months have gone on, though the
main issue has not, indeed, become clearer — for
that was impossible — some of its implications have
emerged into fuller light. We have been able to
place the war in a wider philosophic context than was
at first possible. In this the Germans themselves
have helped us. Abandoning, of late days, the crude
Odin-worship of the ultra-militarists — the dogma
that ** Ye shall love peace as a means to new wars :
and the short peace better than the long *'* — they

*I may. perhaps, be told that Nietzsche is not to be read
literally, and that when he said this he probably meant something
quite different — or nothing at all. My answer is that it matters
not what he meant ; his words, at their face value, express quite
accurately the spirit of the Treitschke-Bernhardi philosophy.


have advanced the claim that a German victory
would benefit the world, since Germany would then
apply her incomparable genius to the organising of
peace. Now many of us have long recognised that
the organising of peace is, indeed, a thing necessary
and inevitable. It was long ago plain that if the
world was to be for ever the scene of the chaotic
welter of insatiate cupidities and blind ** expansive **
instincts postulated in the German war-philosophy,
civilisation was doomed, and a relapse to barbarism
a mere matter of time. This it needed no wizard
to foretell. I myself — one of many — in a little
book published in 1912, wrote as follows : —

" If this race or that is to muhiply until
it is forced by the imminence of famine to
hurl itself, in a war of extermination, on another
and less fertile race, then civilisation can be
nothing but an intermittent gleam between
periodic convulsions of barbarism, compared
with which the horrors of the Great Migra-
tions would seem like child's-play. This is
not, in fact, a possible contingency. In one
way or another it would certainly be obviated
— conceivably by the enslavement of the
world under the iron rule of a military olig-
archy, armed with all the resources of science.
That possibility is perhaps less remote than
we imagine."


It was, indeed, less remote than I imagined
when I wrote these words ; for it is the eventuality
towards which German thought, as chastened by
the Battle of the Marne, is now veering. The
Naumann conception of ** Mittel-Europa " — a Mid-
Europe extending from Antwerp to Bagdad — is
no small step towards the formulation of the wider
ideal. We see, then, that we have a subtler enemy
to contend against than the crudely militarist
philosophy of Treitschke and Bernhardi, which was
always self-contradictory and impossible when you
followed it up to its most obvious consequences.
There is nothing either impossible or self-contra-
dictory in the conception of a world ** organised "
by the German drill-sergeant for the benefit of a
close corporation of supermen, ruling in virtue of
their command of the destructive armory of science.
If any neutral likes the picture let him pray for a
German victory, or counsel the Allies to make a
patched-up and inconclusive peace.

What is quite certain is that, under the surface
issue of Might versus Right, international truculence
and violence versus international amenity and
conciliation, there lies the no less real issue of
autocratic and compulsory versus democratic and
voluntary organisation. Fortunately, it is not in
the least true that German talent for organisation
is anything unique or extraordinary. It is true that


Germany was wonderfully organised and equipped
for war — even down to the incendiary appliances
required for such an exploit as the burning of
Louvain. But the organisation which she had
elaborated for forty years, France and Britain, under
the very stress and anguish of war, improvised in a
twelvemonth. Russia, too, has shown a truly
wonderful recuperative and organising capacity.
Again, the British Fleet is an institution in which
organisation is not entirely lacking. Nor is America,
the home of democracy, quite devoid of organising
capacity. The great trusts and corporations are
too highly organised to suit all tastes. The people
who conceived the vast railway terminals and the
giant sky-scrapers of New York have a good deal of
that grandiose spirit of order which is the essence
of organisation. As for the Panama Canal, it is a
triumph of organisation which throws any single
German achievement into the shade. There is not
the slightest reason to suppose that the power of
organisation is identical with, or inseparable from,
militarist fanaticism. Within a week of the outbreak
of war, we in England realised that we were living in
a state of socialism ; and we were amazed to find
that the new organisation, imperfect as it necessarily
was, worked quite smoothly. Since then it has been
enormously developed ; and though the inevitable
grumbles are heard — (is there no grumbling in


Germany?) — the experiment is, on the whole, an
astonishing success. There is not the sHghtest
reason to doubt that the organisation of peace can
be conducted quite as well on democratic as on
autocratic-militarist lines. The fact that the
Western Allies stand for this principle, and that there
is good hope that even Russia may gravitate towards
its acceptance, is another reason why we hold
ourselves entitled to sympathy, rather than querulous
reproof, from the democratic peoples of the neutral


Printed in Great Britain by Sir Joseph Causton & Sons, Lin it

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Online LibraryWilliam ArcherTo neutral peace-lovers; a plea for patience, → online text (page 1 of 1)