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The Time to Make Peace

April 1915 — International Congress of Women, The Hague, Netherlands


There is a widespread feeling that this is not the moment to talk of a European peace. On the contrary, if we look into the matter more deeply, there are good reasons to believe that the psychological moment is very close upon us. If, in the wisdom that comes after the event, we see that the United States was dilatory when it might have helped to open the way to end bloodshed and to make a fair and lasting settlement, we shall have cause for deep self-reproach.

The question of peace is a question of terms. Every country desires peace at the earliest possible moment, if peace can be had on what it regards as satisfactory terms. Peace is possible whenever the moment comes when each side would accept what the other side would grant, but from the international or human point of view a satisfactory peace is possible only when these claims and concessions are such as to forward, not to hinder, human progress. If Germany’s terms are the annexation of Belgium and part of France and a military hegemony over the rest of Europe, or if the terms of France or England include “wiping Germany off the map of Europe,” then there is no possibility of peace at this time or at any time that can be foreseen, nor does the world desire peace on these terms.

In each country there are those that want to continue the fight until military supremacy is achieved, in each there are powerful forces that seek a settlement of the opposite type, one which instead of containing within itself the threats to international stability that are involved in annexation, humiliation of the enemy, and competition between armaments, shall secure national independence and respect for rights of minorities, and foster international cooperation.

In one sense the present war is a war between the two great sets of belligerent powers, in another and more significant sense, it is a struggle between two conceptions of national policy. The catchwords imperialism and democracy indicate briefly the two opposing ideas. In every country both are represented, though in varying pro portions, and in every country there is a strife between them.

The overriding of the regular civil government by the military authorities in all the warring countries is one of the too little understood effects of the war. The forms of constitutionalism may be undisturbed but as inter arma leges silent so military power tends to control the representatives of the people none the less really because unobtrusively. Von Tirpitz, Kitchener, Joffre, the Grand Duke Nicholas have tended to overshadow their nominal rulers.

Another effect of war is that as between the two contending voices, one is presented with a megaphone and the other is muffled if not gagged. Papers and platforms are open to “patriotic” utterances as patriotism is understood by the jingoes; the moderate is silenced not alone by the censor, not alone by social pressure, but by his own sense of the effect abroad of all that gives an impression of internal division and a readiness to quit the fight. In our own country during the tension with Germany loyal Americans who believe that the case of the United States is not a strong one (and a hundred million people cannot all think alike on such an issue), those who loathe the idea of going to war cannot and will not seek any commensurate expression of their views for fear this may make it harder for our Government to induce Germany to render her naval warfare less inhuman.

Thus everywhere war gives an exaggerated influence to militaristic and jingo forces and creates a false impression of the pressure for extreme terms as a basis of settlement.

Each side, of course, would like to make peace when the struggle, which is in a rough general sense a stalemate, is marked by some incident favorable to itself. Germany would like to make peace from the crest of the wave of her invasion of Russia ; Russia and England from a conquered Constantinople. If the disinterested neutrals, who alone are free to act for peace, wait for the moment when neither side has any advantage, they will wait long indeed. The minor ups and downs of the war are shifting and unpredict able, but their importance is much less than it appears. The gains that either makes are as nothing to its losses. The grim unquestioned permanent fact, which affects both sides and which is to the changing fortunes of battle as the miles of immovable ocean depths are to the waves on its surface, — this all-outweighing fact is burden of continued war.

This fact is that which makes a momentary advantage comparatively unimportant. All the belligerents want peace; though they none of them want it enough to cry “I surrender,” they all want it enough to be ready to [re]treat.

The making of peace involves not only the questions of the character of the terms, of demands more or less extreme — it also involves the question of the principle according to which settlements are to be made. Here too there are two conflicting conceptions.

On the one hand there is the assumption that military advantage must be represented quid pro quo in the terms, — so much vic tory, so much corresponding advantage in the terms. There is even the commercial conception of war as an investment and the idea that the fighter has a right to indemnity for what he has spent.

On the other hand, starting from the fact that the war has thrown certain international adjustments into the melting pot, the problem is to create a new adjustment such as on the whole shall be as generally satisfactory and contain as much promise of stability as possible.

The gains won by force have no claims that any one is bound to respect. The expenditure of blood and treasure is no basis for a demand for reimbursement, no one has contracted to render any return for and it is to the general interest that such expenditure, undertaken on speculation, should never prove good investment. Admitting these things, yet since the arbitrament of war is an arbitrament of force, this fact bound to tell in the resulting adjustment. But a fact that important to understand is that with a given balance of relative strength as between the two sides, an equilibrium may be reached in more than one way, as there are equations which admit of more than one solution. The equilibrium of peace might be secured by balancing unjust acquisition against unjust acquisition or by balancing magnanimous concession against magnanimous concession.

A mediator or mediating group, without throwing any weight into the scale of one or the other side, can help to find the equilibrium on the higher rather than the lower level. We find a parallel in the economic sphere when there is a choice between a balance based on low wages and low efficiency and one based on high wages and high efficiency and when the state, not interfering with the economic balance, yet helps to secure that balance by the socially desirable method.

On the basis of military advantage or on the basis of military costs the neutrals have no claim to be heard in the settlement. The soldier is genuinely aggrieved and outraged that they should mix in the matter at all. Yet, even on the plane of fighting power, unexhausted neutrals arecapable of throwing a sword into the scale and on the plea of costs suffered they have good claim to a voice. It is however as representatives of civilization and the true interests of all sides alike, that those who have not been in the thick of the conflict can and should be of use in the settlement and help to fix it on the higher plane.

The settlement of a war by outsiders not their mere friendly coöperation in finding acceptable terms — is something that has often occurred, exhibiting that curious mixture of the crassest brute force with the most ambitious idealism which frequently characterizes the conduct of international dealings. The fruits of victory were refused to Russia by the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Europe recently denied to Japan the spoils of her war with China, the results of the Balkan wars were largely determined by those who had done none of the fighting. While mere physical might played a large part in such interferences from the outside, there is some thing besides hypocrisy in the claim of the statesmen of countries which had taken no part in a war to speak on behalf of freedom, progress, and peace.

A peace involving annexation of unwilling peoples could never be a lasting one. The widespread sense of irritation at all talk of peace at present seems to be due to a feeling that a settlement now would be a settlement which would leave Belgium, if not part of France, in German hands. Such a settlement would be as disastrous to Germany as to any nation. It might put an end to military operations, but it certainly would not bring peace, if we give any moral content to that much-abused word. Europe was not at peace before August, 1914, nor Poland for long before, nor Ireland, nor Alsace, nor Finland. Any community which, if it could,  would fight to change its political status may be quiet under coercion, but it is not at peace. Neither would Europe be at peace with Germany in Belgium.

The question then, what sort of peace may we hope for now — on what terms, on what principles?

We may be sure that each side ready to concede more and to demand less than ap pears on the surface or than it is ready to advertise. The summer campaign, in which marked advantages are most likely, once over, the belligerents are faced with a winter in the trenches which will cost on all sides, in money and in suffering, out of all pro portion to the gains that can be hoped for. It must be remembered, too, that the ad vantageshitherto won are not all on one side, but that each side has something to concede. The British annexations of Egypt and Cyprus may be formal rather than substantial changes, but the conquest of Germany’s colonies, large and small, Southwest Africa, Togo Land, Samoa, Neu-Pommern, Kaiser Wilhelm’s Land, the Solomon, Caroline, and Marshall islands, to say nothing of Kiao-Chao — and probably Russian gains at the expense of Turkey in the East, give bargaining power to the allies. So, even without success in the Dardanelles, does their ability to thwart or forward German enterprise in Asia Minor and Mesopotamia or possibly in purchasable parts of Africa or elsewhere. Friends of Finland and of Poland must see to it that the debatable lands of the Eastern as well as of the Western front are kept in mind. From the point of view of Poland the main thing to be desired is the union of the three dismembered parts — Russian, German, and Austrian Poland — and their fusion in some sort of a buffer state,independent or at least essentially autonomous. Something like this appears to be the purpose of both Germany and Russia, with the difference that this Polish state would be in the one case under Teutonic, in the other under Russian auspices. No one knows, as between the two, which would be the choice of the majority of the Poles concerned.

Concessions to Germany in Finland and in Poland, especially if coupled with adequate security from nationalistic oppression, might prove to be in the ultimate interest of European peace, and would render it easier for Germany to make the concession on her side of complete withdrawal in the West. Very important too are the con cessions in regard to naval control of the seas that Great Britain ought to be willing to make if the safety of her commerce and her intercolonial communications could be secured otherwise, and this would seem to be the natural counterpart of substantial steps toward disarmament on land.

But all this is speculation. The fact, obvious to those who look below the surface, is that every belligerent power is carrying on a war deadly to itself, that bankruptcy looms ahead, that industrial revolt threatens, not at the moment but in a none too distant future, that racial stocks are being irreparably depleted. The prestige of Europe, of the Christian Church, of the white race, is lowered inch by inch with the progress of the struggle which is continually closer to the débâcle of a civilization.

Each power would best like peace on its own terms, although our common civilization would suffer by the imposition of extreme terms by any power. Each power would be thankful indeed to secure an early peace without humiliation on terms a long way short of its extreme demands. There is every reason to believe that a vigorous initiative by representatives of the neutral powers of the world could at this moment begin a move toward negotiations, and lead the way to a settlement which, please God, shall be a step toward a nobler and more intelligent civilization than we have yet enjoyed.



Source: Women at the Hague: The International Congress of Women and its Results, by Three Delegates to the Congress from the United States, Jane Addams, Emily Greene Balch and Alice Hamilton, (NY: The MacMillan Company), 1915, pp. 111-123.