The War That Will End War

by H.G. Wells

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Chapter IX - An Appeal to the American People

This appeal comes to you from England at war, and it is addressed to you because upon your nation rests the issue of this conflict. The influence of your States upon its nature and duration must needs be enormous, and at its ending you may play a part such as no nation has ever played since the world began.

For it rests with you to establish and secure or to refuse to establish and secure the permanent peace of the world, the final ending of war.

This appeal comes to you from England, but it is no appeal to ancient associations or racial affinities. Your common language is indeed English, but your nation has long since outgrown these early links, the blood of every people in Europe mingles in the unity of your States, and it is to the greatness of your future rather than the accidents of your first beginnings, to the humanity in you, and not to the English and Irish and Scotch and Welsh in you that this appeal is made. Half the world is at war, 81or on the very verge of war; it is impossible that you should disregard or turn away from this conflict. Unavoidably you have to judge us. Unavoidable is your participation in the ultimate settlement which will make or mar the welfare of mankind for centuries to come. We appeal to you to judge us, to listen patiently to our case, to exert the huge decisive power you hold in the balance not hastily, not heedlessly. For we do not disguise from ourselves that you can shatter all our hopes in this conflict. You are a people more than twice as numerous as we are, and still you are only the beginning of what you are to be, with a clear prospect of expansion that mocks the limits of these little islands, with illimitable and still scarcely tapped sources of wealth and power. You have already come to a stage when a certain magnanimity becomes you in your relation to European affairs.

Now, while you, because of your fortunate position, and because of the sane and brotherly relations that have become a fixed tradition along your northern boundary—we English had a share in securing that—while you live free of the sight and burthen of military preparations, free as it seems for ever, all Europe has for more than half a century bent more and more wearily under a perpetually increasing burthen of armaments. For many years Europe has been an armed camp, with millions of men continually under arms, with the fear of war 82universally poisoning its life, with its education impoverished, its social development retarded, with everything pinched but its equipment for war. It would be foolish to fix the blame for this state of affairs upon any particular nation; it has grown up, as most great evils grow, quietly, unheeded. One may cast back in history to the Thirty Years’ War, to such names as Frederick the Great, Napoleon the First, Napoleon the Third, Bismarck; what does it matter now who began the thing, and which was most to blame? Here it is, and we have to deal with it.

But we English do assert that it is the Government of the German Emperor which has for the last 40 years taken the lead and forced the pace in these matters, which has driven us English to add warship to warship in a pitiless competition to retain that predominance at sea upon which our existence as a free people depends, and which has strained the strength of France almost beyond the pitch of human endurance, so that the education and the welfare of her people have suffered greatly, so that Paris to-day is visibly an impoverished and overtaxed city. And this perpetual fear of the armed strength of Germany has forced upon France alliances and entanglements she would otherwise have avoided.

Let us not attempt to deny the greatness of Germany and of Germany’s contributions to science 83and art and literature and all that is good in human life. But evil influences may overshadow the finest peoples, and it is our case that since the victories of 1871 Germany has been obsessed by the worship of material power and glory and scornful of righteousness; that she has been threatening and overbearing to all the world. There has been a propaganda of cynicism and national roughness, a declared contempt for treaties and pledges, so that all Europe has been uneasy and in fear. And since none of us are saints, and certainly no nations are saintly, we have been resentful; there is not a country in Europe that has not shown itself resentful under this perpetual menace of Germany. And now at last and suddenly the threatened thing has come to pass and Germany is at war.

Because of a murder committed by one of her own subjects Austria made war upon Servia, Russia armed to protect a kindred country, and then with the swiftness of years of premeditation Germany declared war upon Russia and struck at France, striking through the peaceful land of Belgium, a little country we English had pledged ourselves to protect, a little country that had never given Germany the faintest pretext for hostility, and in the hope of finding France unready. Of course, we went to war. If we had not done so, could we English have ever looked the world in the face again?

84And it is with scarcely a dissentient voice that England is at war. Never were the British people so unanimous; all Ireland is with us, and the conscience of all the world. And, now this war has begun, we are resolved to put an end to militarism in the world for evermore. We are not fighting to destroy Germany; it is the firm resolve of England to permit no fresh “conquered provinces” to darken the future of Europe. Whatever betide, all German Germany will come out of this war undivided and German still. Her own “conquests” she may have to relinquish, her Poles and other subject peoples, but that is the utmost we shall exact of her. With the accession of Austria, Germany may even come out of this war a larger Germany than at the beginning. We have no hatred of things German and German people. But we are fighting to break this huge fighting machine for ever—this fighting machine which has been such an oppression as no native-born American can dream of, to every other nation in Europe. We are fighting to end Kaiserism and Kruppism for ever and ever. There, shortly and plainly, is our case and our object. Now let us come to the immediate substance of this appeal.

We do not ask you for military help. Keep the peace which it is your unparalleled good fortune to enjoy so securely. But keep it fairly. Remember that we fight now for national existence, and that in 85the night, even as this is written, within a hundred miles or so of this place, the dark ships feel their way among the floating mines with which the Germans have strewn the North Sea, and our sons and the sons of Belgium and France go side by side, not by the hundred nor by the thousand, but by the hundred thousand, rank after rank, line beyond line—to death. Even as this is written the harvest of death is being reaped. Remember our tragic case. Europe is full of a joyless determination to end this evil for ever; she plunges grimly and sadly into the cruel monstrosities of war, and assuredly there will be little shouting for the victors whichever side may win. At the end we do most firmly believe there will be established a new Europe, a Europe riddened of rankling oppressions, with a free Poland, a free Finland, a free Germany, the Balkans settled, the little nations safe, and peace secure. And it is of supreme importance that we should ask you now—What are you going to do throughout the struggle, and what will you do at the end?

One thing we are told in England that you mean to do, a thing that has moved me to this appeal. For it is not only a strange thing in itself, but it may presently be followed by other similar ideas. Come what may, all the liberal forces in England and France are resolved to respect the freedom of Holland. But the position of Holland is, as you may see in any atlas, a very peculiar one in this war. 86The Rhine runs along the rear of the long German line as if it were a canal to serve that line with supplies, and then it passes into Holland and so by Rotterdam to the sea. So that it is possible for any neutral power, such as you are, to pour a stream of food supplies and war material by way of Holland almost into the hands of the German combatant line. Even if we win our battles in the field this will enormously diminish our chance of concluding this war. But we shall suffer it; it is within the rights of Holland to victual the Germans in this way, and we cannot prevent it without committing just such another outrage upon the laws of nations as Germany was guilty of in invading Belgium.

And here is where your country comes in. In your harbours lie a great number of big German ships that dare not venture to sea because of our fleet. It is proposed, we are told, to arrange a purchase of these ships by American citizens, to facilitate by special legislation their transfer to your flag, and then to load them with food and war material and send them across the Atlantic and through the narrow seas, seas that at the price of a cruiser and many men we have painfully cleared of German contact mines, to get war prices in Rotterdam and supply our enemies. It is, we confess, a smart thing to do; it will give your people not only huge immediate profits but a mercantile marine at one coup; it will certainly prolong the war, and so it 87will mean the killing and wounding of scores of thousands of young Germans, Englishmen, Frenchmen, and Belgians, who might otherwise have escaped. It is within your legal rights, and we will tell you plainly now that we shall refuse to quarrel with you about it, but we ask you not to be too easily offended if we betray a certain lack of enthusiasm for this idea.

And begun such enterprises as this, what are you going to do for mankind and the ultimate peace of the world? You know that the Tsar has restored the freedom of Finland and promised to re-unite the torn fragments of Poland into a free kingdom, but probably you do not know that he and England have engaged themselves to respect and protect from each other and all the world the autonomy of Norway and Sweden, and of Sweden’s vast and tempting stores of mineral wealth close to the Russian boundary. We ask you not to be too cynical about the Tsar’s promises, and to be prepared to help us and France and him to see that they become real. And this with regard to Scandinavia, is not only Russia’s promise but ours. This is more than a war of armies; it is a great moral upheaval, and you must not judge of the spirit of Europe to-day by the history of her diplomacies. When this war is ended, all Europe will cry for disarmament. Are you going to help then or are you going to thwart that cry? In Europe we shall attempt to extinguish that 88huge private trade in war material, that “Kruppism” which lies so near the roots of all this monstrous calamity. We cannot do that unless you do it too. Are you prepared to do that? Are you prepared to come into a conference at the end of this war to ensure the peace of the world, or are you going to stand out, make difficulties for us out of our world perplexities, snatch advantages, carp from your infinite security at our Allies, and perhaps in the crisis of our struggle pick a quarrel with us upon some secondary score? Are you indeed going to play the part of a merely numerous little people, a cute trading, excitable people, or are you going to play the part of a great nation in this life and death struggle of the old world civilisations? Are you prepared now to take that lead among the nations to which your greatness and freedom point you? It is not for ourselves we make this appeal to you; it is for the whole future of mankind. And we make it with the more assurance because already your Government has stood for peace and the observation of treaties against base advantages.

Already the wounds of our dead cry out to you.


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