America's Ideals and the War
That which is most unique in President Wilson's deliverances upon the war is his emphasis upon the relation of American democracy to the international society which this war has embroiled.
Our geographical position, our history, our institutions have been such that we have not needed alliances with foreign nations to defend our borders or our institutions, or our interests in the world beyond our borders. Our fundamental political habits of feeling, thought and action have been such necessary outgrowths of the doctrine that government must be with the consent of the governed that we could never associate ourselves with the imperialistic aims which have so largely dominated the alliances and hostilities of European nations.
This has been most conclusively proved by the exceptions to the rule. After our war with Spain we found ourselves in military possession of Cuba and the Philippines. To the one we gave independence, and in our administration of the Philippines we have uniformly placed their independence as the goal of our occupation. Our recent legislation for these islands has placed that goal in the near future.
Still the rapidly growing intimacy of our industrial, commercial and other social relations with the rest of the world has brought us late uneasy recognition that the isolation that was our protection has largely disappeared. In the problems that have arisen out of the presence of Japanese on the western coast, the defense of the Philippines, our policy with reference to the Panama Canal, but most especially in the problems arising out of the Monroe doctrine the possibility of war has arisen more than once on our national horizon, and yet we have never been willing to accept these threats of war as real dangers for which we were willing seriously to prepare ourselves.
This has been due partly to our dislike of the militarism which an efficient army entails, but the more profound disinclination has been rooted in the belief that readiness to fight is a powerful incentive to the use of the weight of our guns and the number of our bayonets in diplomatic dealings, with the imminent likelihood of making our threats good when the country had no wish for war.
The only definite response on the part of the government at Washington to this disquieting situation has been found in the numerous treaties of arbitration by which we have sought to prepare for disagreements with other nations and our vigorous support of The Hague tribunals and their promise of the adjudication of international disputes. But the uneasiness had not been allayed. We were at the parting of ways and we did not know in which direction to turn and, quite characteristically, left events to determine our future course for us.
It is with this background that we have found ourselves in this war, from which there was no escape which we were willing to accept, and it is this background of political attitudes and habits that America must use if the country is to fight it with whole-heartedness and express itself in the undertaking. No country can put through successfully any undertaking of supreme importance which is not an expression of its fundamental subconscious habits. A nation that by disposition is not imperialistic, that has deliberately put the temptation of imperial rule and dominion behind it, that has no world aim to enforce by a mailfisted diplomacy, that has no international policy to which it has been committed, except that of excluding European imperialism from this hemisphere: that has not sought consciousness of self in the fear it inspires in other peoples, and yet a nation that finds itself so essentially a part of the society of nations that it must enter the struggle contrary to its own traditions, such a nation can fight with grim determination and willingness to exhaust all its resources of lives and treasure only if its aim is to be done with war as the arbiter of international life. If that is clearly the goal of the war, America will fight it to the finish.
This issue is in a peculiar sense American, because our democracy is build upon the attitude of government with the consent of the governed, and warfare, even undertaken in self-defense or for idealistic motives, has always opened the door to domination over others through force, in other words to imperialism.
The people of the United states are the only people in the modern world who have turned their backs upon this will to power when the vision of the kingdoms of this world was spread before them. The seeming renunciation has not been a deliberate sacrifice of an appetite for domination. It has been the expression of their own profound demand for home rule and self-government, which motived the war of independence, their preoccupation with the immense task of taking possession of the stretch of the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific, their acceptance of the slavery as the issue of their formative constitutional period, but not least of all their isolation and freedom from military threat and rivalry. It is not native to the American to feel that he may further his own interests by controlling and governing others.
On the other hand, the democracies of Europe have accustomed themselves to struggle for freedom at home while their governments have ruled with autocratic power other peoples beyond the seas or even at their very doors. It involves no contradiction in habits for the German social democrat to make terms with their government which give the people enlarged power at home while it gives the governing feudal and commercial group dominions stretching from Hamburg to Bagdad and beyond. Our historic development has given our democracy no such adaptability. It has left us with the uncompromising habit of accepting home rule abroad because we demand it at home.
If war as the arbiter of national disputes opens the door to imperialism, and who will deny it who has passed in review the projects which have appeared on both sides for the reconstruction of the map of the world, America will be found instinctively ranging herself with those who seek to make the outcome of this war the forced abdication of military power as the adjudicator between nations. If this is the issue, America will fight with the force of all her history, all her traditions and her whole genius.