A Clear exposition of what we are fighting for
The cause of a war and the object of a war are not necessarily the same. The cause of this war was the invasion of Luxemburg and Belgium. We declared war because we were bound by treaty to declare war. We have been pledged to protect the integrity of Belgium since the kingdom of Belgium has existed. If the Germans had not broken the guarantees they shared with us to respect the neutrality of these little States we should certainly not be at war at the present time. The fortified eastern frontier of France could have been held against any attack without any help from us. We had no obligations and no interests there. We were pledged to France simply to protect her from a naval attack by sea, but the Germans had already given us an undertaking not to make such an attack. It was our Belgian treaty and the sudden outrage on Luxemburg that precipitated us into this conflict. No Power in the world would have respected 10our Flag or accepted our national word again if we had not fought. So much for the immediate cause of the war.
But now we come to the object of this war. We began to fight because our honour and our pledge obliged us; but so soon as we are embarked upon the fighting we have to ask ourselves what is the end at which our fighting aims. We cannot simply put the Germans back over the Belgian border and tell them not to do it again. We find ourselves at war with that huge military empire with which we have been doing our best to keep the peace since first it rose upon the ruins of French Imperialism in 1871. And war is mortal conflict. We have now either to destroy or be destroyed. We have not sought this reckoning, we have done our utmost to avoid it; but now that it has been forced upon us it is imperative that it should be a thorough reckoning. This is a war that touches every man and every home in each of the combatant countries. It is a war, as Mr. Sidney Low has said, not of soldiers but of whole peoples. And it is a war that must be fought to such a finish that every man in each of the nations engaged understands what has happened. There can be no diplomatic settlement that will leave German Imperialism free to explain away its failure to its people and start new preparations. We have to go on until we are absolutely done for, or until the Germans as a people know that they are 11beaten, and are convinced that they have had enough of war.
We are fighting Germany. But we are fighting without any hatred of the German people. We do not intend to destroy either their freedom or their unity. But we have to destroy an evil system of government and the mental and material corruption that has got hold of the German imagination and taken possession of German life. We have to smash the Prussian Imperialism as thoroughly as Germany in 1871 smashed the rotten Imperialism of Napoleon III. And also we have to learn from the failure of that victory to avoid a vindictive triumph.
This Prussian Imperialism has been for forty years an intolerable nuisance in the earth. Ever since the crushing of the French in 1871 the evil thing has grown and cast its spreading shadow over Europe. Germany has preached a propaganda of ruthless force and political materialism to the whole uneasy world. “Blood and iron,” she boasted, was the cement of her unity, and almost as openly the little, mean, aggressive statesmen and professors who have guided her destinies to this present conflict have professed cynicism and an utter disregard of any ends but nationally selfish ends, as though it were religion. Evil just as much as good may be made into a Cant. Physical and moral brutality has indeed become a cant in the German mind, and 12spread from Germany throughout the world. I could wish it were possible to say that English and American thought had altogether escaped its corruption. But now at last we shake ourselves free and turn upon this boasting wickedness to rid the world of it. The whole world is tired of it. And “Gott!”—Gott so perpetually invoked—Gott indeed must be very tired of it.
This is already the vastest war in history. It is war not of nations, but of mankind. It is a war to exorcise a world-madness and end an age.
And note how this Cant of public rottenness has had its secret side. The man who preaches cynicism in his own business transactions had better keep a detective and a cash register for his clerks; and it is the most natural thing in the world to find that this system, which is outwardly vile, is also inwardly rotten. Beside the Kaiser stands the firm of Krupp, a second head to the State; on the very steps of the throne is the armament trust, that organised scoundrelism which has, in its relentless propaganda for profit, mined all the security of civilisation, brought up and dominated a Press, ruled a national literature, and corrupted universities.
Consider what the Germans have been, and what the Germans can be. Here is a race which has for its chief fault docility and a belief in teachers and rulers. For the rest, as all who know it intimately will testify, it is the most amiable of peoples. 13It is naturally kindly, comfort-loving, child-loving, musical, artistic, intelligent. In countless respects German homes and towns and countrysides are the most civilised in the world. But these people did a little lose their heads after the victories of the sixties and seventies, and there began a propaganda of national vanity and national ambition. It was organised by a stupidly forceful statesman, it was fostered by folly upon the throne. It was guarded from wholesome criticism by an intolerant censorship. It never gave sanity a chance. A certain patriotic sentimentality lent itself only too readily to the suggestion of the flatterer, and so there grew up this monstrous trade in weapons. German patriotism became an “interest,” the greatest of the “interests.” It developed a vast advertisement propaganda. It subsidised Navy Leagues and Aerial Leagues, threatening the world. Mankind, we saw too late, had been guilty of an incalculable folly in permitting private men to make a profit out of the dreadful preparations for war. But the evil was started; the German imagination was captured and enslaved. On every other European country that valued its integrity there was thrust the overwhelming necessity to arm and drill—and still to arm and drill. Money was withdrawn from education, from social progress, from business enterprise, and art and scientific research, and from every kind of happiness; life was drilled and darkened.
14So that the harvest of this darkness comes now almost as a relief, and it is a grim satisfaction in our discomforts that we can at last look across the roar and torment of battlefields to the possibility of an organised peace.
For this is now a war for peace.
It aims straight at disarmament. It aims at a settlement that shall stop this sort of thing for ever. Every soldier who fights against Germany now is a crusader against war. This, the greatest of all wars, is not just another war—it is the last war! England, France, Italy, Belgium, Spain, and all the little countries of Europe, are heartily sick of war; the Tsar has expressed a passionate hatred of war; the most of Asia is unwarlike; the United States has no illusions about war. And never was war begun so joyously, and never was war begun with so grim a resolution. In England, France, Belgium, Russia, there is no thought of glory.
We know we face unprecedented slaughter and agonies; we know that for neither side will there be easy triumphs or prancing victories. Already, in that warring sea of men, there is famine as well as hideous butchery, and soon there must come disease.
Can it be otherwise?
We face, perhaps, the most awful winter that mankind has ever faced.
But we English and our allies, who did not seek 15this catastrophe, face it with anger and determination rather than despair.
Through this war we have to march, through pain, through agonies of the spirit worse than pain, through seas of blood and filth. We English have not had things kept from us. We know what war is; we have no delusions. We have read books that tell us of the stench of battlefields, and the nature of wounds, books that Germany suppressed and hid from her people. And we face these horrors to make an end of them.
There shall be no more Kaisers, there shall be no more Krupps, we are resolved. That foolery shall end!
And not simply the present belligerents must come into the settlement.
All America, Italy, China, the Scandinavian Powers, must have a voice in the final readjustment, and set their hands to the ultimate guarantees. I do not mean that they need fire a single shot or load a single gun. But they must come in. And in particular to the United States do we look to play a part in that pacification of the world for which our whole nation is working, and for which, by the thousand, men are now laying down their lives.