War Issue to U.S Forced by Kaiser
Burke has said that he did not know how to frame an indictment against a nation. There is a like difficulty in giving praise to most acts of any nation. For nations as a rule do what they do without consciously determining it.
America is not to be blamed nor for that matter as a nation to be greatly commended for entering the war. She wanted to keep out of it. At the polls Wilson's election bore eloquent testimony to this attitude. The approval which followed his not always consistent state papers, that on the one hand demanded the recognition and maintenance of international law, while upon the other hand they maintained America's neutrality, this popular approval demonstrated how entirely the country felt that President Wilson expressed its own attitude. And the like unquestionable approval that has followed, without enthusiasm and without hesitation, upon the President's formulation of the case, for the recognition of a state of war between us and Germany, proves as clearly that the country has felt its inevitability.
The only alternative to war was to cease to have any international relations, to cease commerce, to abandon the high seas, to accept the proposition that the tissue of the society of nations had been rent in twain and that we had no responsibility for reconstructing it, to occupy an entirely isolated position till war was over, to remain the innocent bystander after our international relations and activities had been ruthlessly trodden upon.
Whether the country would have accepted this course had it been recommended by the President is, but for one consideration, a question whose answer is in doubt. That consideration is this, that, had America taken this attitude of isolation and withdrawn its ships from the high seas and agreed to sever its commercial relations with those countries with which our merchants and manufacturers wished to deal, it would have decided the war itself. For this would have brought with it the collapse of the allies and victory of the central powers. If America shrank from the abyss of the war, America shrank still more from the responsibility of surrendering the world to the hegemony of the autocracies of Prussia and Hungary.
Even the pacifists, in their arguments against the justice of America's going to war, had argued upon the unconscious presupposition that France and England would not succumb and that their peoples' governments would not cease from the earth with their precious import for humanity. Failure to adopt the cause of the allies meant becoming the unwilling and ignominious allies of Germany and Austria. There would probably have been no instance in the recorded history of the world in which the very failure to act would have been such decided action, and an action so contrary to the intent of the agents.
This was perhaps the one issue upon which American (sic) could go into the war, and Germany took pains to create it in the form in which America could not avoid it. The triumph of the U-boat meant the surrender of international relations by every neutral nation, just in so far as Germany saw fit to decree it and, therefore, made every neutral nation so challenged, in so far the unwilling ally of Germany. Germany announced to the United States that the triumph of the U-boat demanded the self-effacement of the United States as a member of the society of nations. The triumph of the U-boat meant the defeat of the allies. Thus Germany called not only for our self-surrender, but by the same act compelled the nation to take sides with one party or the other in the struggle, upon our own estimate of what those two parties represented, both for the United States and for the world to which the United States belonged.
As if to remove any question as to this issue, Russian democracy overturned its autocratic government by refusing to accept the formula of no annexations and no punitive indemnities.
Thus Germany said to us, surrender the international rights you have consistently affirmed and bring about the defeat of democratic peoples in their struggles with autocracy, or else go to war against us on the side of France, England and Russia.
Never was an issue more sharply drawn for America, and that by a government which professed to desire our neutrality. We accepted the issue which the German government had formulated and went into this war because, being the nation that we are, we could not do otherwise.
It is vastly important that we should now realize these issues and make them our own for the sake of our determined prosecution of the fight and for the sake of the determination of the terms upon which the war may be concluded.