The Farce at the Hague

Frederick Palmer July 1 1907

The Farce at the Hague

Frederick Palmer July 1 1907

The Farce at the Hague

Frederick Palmer

in Collier's Weekly

MEN who have seen war in the field smile when they think of The Hague. We know that although the dove may be permitted to hover around to eaves Infinite Satire will be the presiding genius of the counsel chamber. The relative importance of each delegate will be measured solely by the killing power of the nation which he represents; for heavy is the tax which international society lays on the “climber.” Japan, which has just “arrived,” paid for the privilege of her ambassadorial rank with the lives of a hundred thousand of her youths and a billion dollars.

In the eight years that have elapsed since the first conference there has been war between England and the United States, Germany and France, Austria and Italy—continual war among all the nations. Witness the record of the battles of the budgets as recorded by the Statesman’s Year Book. The years chosen for comparison are normal, without any extraordinary war expenditures.

From 1897 to 1907 the cost of the leading armies and navies of the world rose from $946,361,379 to a total of $1,547,162,189, or an increase of 63 per cent. The United States, which is the newest “arrival” except Japan, is paying $117,550,308 for her navy -in 1907 as against $34,561,546 in 1897, an increase of $72,988,752, or 240 per cent. We are beaten only by Germany in percentage of naval increase, with a rise from $13,843,000 to $53>734>304> or 288 per cent., while Italy—which had no increase in army expenses—is relieved as an old family among the nouveaux riches from any slight on the score of “shabby gentility” by an increase from $18,992,309 to $53,450,568, or 184 per cent., or by five times as much as France, Japan increased her navy by 200 and England hers by 63 per cent.

But lest these figures be misunderstood, it should be noted that Eng-

land’s actual increase of seventy millions in the ten years represented more than the cost of any other navy except ours. Moreover, higher prices of building in the United States leave the fact unquestioned that England has really added more fighting strength than any other power. For her money Japan far and away gets the most service; and our total of a hundred and seventeen millions represents little more sea power than Germany with her total of fifty-three millions. The cheap soldiers and cheap labor of our rivals put as at a disadvantage in our ascent of the international ladder.

Our army expenses rose from $28,146,880 to $99,361,209, or 253 per cent; Japan’s from $4,823,360 to $19,747,870, or 309 per cent. ; Great Britain’s by 59 per cent., Germany’s by 55 Per cent., and even little Belgium’s by 99 per cent. But the tables speak for themselves. They tell us that every power lives in a glass house. As for Uncle Sam, his “habitation is so brittle that he could not safely throw anything harder than a sponge. In percentage of added totals of increase we stand second only to Japan with 493 against 509. Counting our pensions under the head of war expenses, our total is $357,000,000 annually compared with $229,000,000 for Germany and $326,000,000 for Great Britain. Even little Switzerland has increased her war budget by thirty per cent.

Why not end this debauchery of international extravagance? National prejudices answer. They never languish on the European Continent. England favors disarmament, but selfish interest prompts the high-sounding proposal with which she would embarrass an enemy. Her navy is more than double the strength of Germany’s ; and Germany is forging ahead faster in wealth and population than herself. To maintain the same

ratio, as she suggests, would be to give her permanent command of the sea. The Kaiser refuses the bait. His idea of disarmament would be for England to wait till his own navy reached a size proportionate to Germany’s importance. To the cheers of the music halls, the British Admiralty lays down another Dreadnought in order to frustrate Prussian wickedness.

Oh, Germany is bad, very bad. She ought to be licked, all the British and French dovecotes agree. But no one volunteers. Only the miraculous vigilance of the British press scotching all plots has kept the German army from arriving in London some morning with the milk trains and vegetable wagons. Wordy abuse fills the air of the North Sea. Von Buelow’s every sneeze has some lurking Anglophobic object; and all British thoughts are sinister to the Germans watchful for hidden motives of British perfidy.

And this illustrates the mood in which so-called friendly nations approach a so-called peace conference. What The Hague really amounts to is a clearing-house for small differences. A Conference on the Rules of war or on the Etiquette of Slaughter is an apter name than that given it by the Czar.

The climate of Holland is pleasant in summer. A new excuse for international dining is provided; also a new opportunity for distinguished men to receive high honors. The Conference will be one of the most delightful and exclusive clubs in the world. If peace were really achieved it could rob diplomats of their occupation of preventing war and soldiers of their occupation of waging war. The two professions are here partners in the enterprise of keeping the dove under the eaves in a cooing mood and Infinite Satire in unshaken possession of the speaker’s chair.

As each subject for discussion is brought up, the soldier can tell his colleague, the diplomatist, wherein lies the belligerent interest of their common country. Following the methods of State legislators—as they did in the last conference—allies can

trade votes and caucus on how they shall work together to gain a point. Every delegate is bound when he talks to the newspaper men—outside under the eaves where the dove presides— to put the onus of bloodthirstiness and inhumanity on his national enemy, or, wanting one, on the Germans.

Any delegate who wishes to be suspected of insanity and to create a world-wide sensation need only rise and say: “Gentlemen, in the event of war this proposal would be prejudicial to the nation which I represent, but as we come here to sink selfishness, in the name of humanity I will gladly support it.”

Whatever is accomplished in the great cause of peace will be due to’ the insistence of A on certain measures which do not concern him, but which will be disadvantageous to his rival B, who will have to accept them in response to public opinion. If one nation holds out against any proposition, there is no way of enforcing the will of the majority except by making war, which would surely be an inconsistent thing for a peace conference to do.

The larger questions to be considered at The Hague were either left over from the first conference or revealed by the Russo-Japanese war.

None of the experts of the first conference fully foresaw the danger which was the most startling development of the defense of Port Arthur. Two Japanese battleships—the only two they lost—and one Russian battleship were sunk by mines. Togo had to give up approaching the harbor at all with his big ships. Afterward the mines floated about the Gulf of Pechili. Some merchantmen were sunk and how many Chinese junks went down history will never record.

To what extent, then, may a belligerent go in endangering the public pathway of neutral vessels? As an example, might France litter the British Channel with mines if she were at war with Germany, while England, engaged on neither side, wanted her shipping to proceed as usual?

“To any extent you please,” says the nation with a harbor to defend.

“Not at all,” answers the neutral. France having little commerce and being, generally speaking, on the defensive, would favor an unrestricted field, while England, which would strike with her powerful fleet away from home, would take a contrary view.

There is, too, the problem of the declaration of war, which means literally shouting “Ready!” to the other fellow in order to legalize the murder on both sides. It is an ancient custom, like the buttons on the forepart of the sleeves of some army uniforms —which were put there in the days when the King was trying to accustom the troops to the innovation of handkerchiefs—and owes its origin to the challenges which passed between knights before they engaged. Modern utilitarianism has improved on it, as it has on most polite usages.

The Japanese torpedo boats went among the Russian ships lying outside of Port Arthur before the Russian officers aboard knew that war had begun. Some matter-of-fact soldiers say that declaration is altogether an obsolete form and of no more practical purpose than an overnight-telegram delivered after the news it contained is received by letter. War will begin when one side fires on the other and, having watched each other through the weeks of breaking negotiations and having listened impatiently over the telegraph wires, neither will have any excuse for being taken unawares.

Certain peace idealists suggest a thirty day’s wait after the declaration before beginning hostilities. Apparently they think that the two sides might cool down or die of suspense. By this plan President Roosevelt could press a button opening the game at a certain hour. But the suggestion is ridiculous and impracticable. Once they knew that war was inevitable the adversaries would be bound to exchange shots in sparring for position. A declaration seems the right thing, though it comes after the event. Nations under the leadership of presidents and kings ought to be as decent in their formalities as prize-

fighters. Even the matador salutes the bull before the assassination, though probably the courtesy is lost on the bull.

Another question is what really constitutes contraband of war. Every one agrees that arms and ammunition are. Is cotton, is kerosene, is coal, is food, is lumber, is anything that may assist the enemy in any form or manner whatsoever if it comes into his possession ? '

“No!” says the man with goods to sell.

“Yes, anything that is going to your enemy’s ports is contraband. Starving out your enemy is just as lawful as shooting him to pieces,” says the belligerent maintaining a blockade.

So the Japanese decided. A besieged city may have ammunition but not food enough to hold out, when holding out even a week longer may decide the fate of the war. No one will deny that if the fall of Port Arthur had been delayed two or three weeks the Japanese would never have taken Mukden. One shipload of material would have cheered the garrison to the further effort which would have saved Kuropatkin from his final defeat. Has a belligerent a right to sink a neutral ship which he thinks is on the way with merchandise to the enemy? Shall he hesitate, even if he is in doubt about her purpose, when taking the time to convoy her to a home port might mean another contraband ship could pass over the route he is patrolling?

On the score of humanity toward prisoners and wounded and non-combatants there is need for little further regulation. War can not be more humanely fought than it was, both in South Africa and Manchuria. Necessity, and not intention, is responsible for the infrequent breaking of rules. Gunners can not always tell whether field hospitals and ambulance wagons are under their shells. Often they have not the alternative of discrimination, and sometimes they are suspicious that the Red Cross flag is being abused. Artillery always must and will fire at the spot where it

locates the enemy’s guns, regardless of all conditions.

Nor is there any way to prevent firing on the wounded on some occasions. In a night attack at close quarters you must, in self-defense, try to kill any human being in the enemy’s uniform who is moving. There is no time for examination of witnesses and a judgment by the court. A critical point in the lines may be at stake, and the issue may be decided in a few minutes. The defender who is only slightly wounded would not be red-blooded if he did not go on firing, and while he does he is still a belligerent.

In regulating naval warfare lies the greatest danger of the conference defeating its object by adopting too many rules. On the sea, where the destiny of the world is to be decided, he who is master will ever make regulations to suit himself. There is no clause laid down by The Hague which the British navy could not afford to break and probably would break in case of national danger. The expectation of obedience to regulations under conditions which make compliance humanly impossible may lead neutral nations into a popclar outburst of passion that will force them into the struggle in which they would not otherwise fu-ve engaged.

‘War is hell !” remarked General Sherman, as you have doubtless heard before. But probably you have not heard that, in private conversation, the General qualified his maxim to mean if you were beaten. The good soldier does not propose to be beaten. Mighty responsibilities command the officer to kill first and think of The Hague afterward.

The greater the power for slaughter unquestionably the less likelihood of war. And this brings up the question of the use of dynamite from balloons. The first conference adopted a time-prohibitive clause which has since lapsed. Its passage was due to the fact that no power had developed a good dirigible balloon, and a suspicion by each that some of its rivals might have succeeded better in secret than itself. Now that several

have brought their experiments to a practical stage, which means a positive asset in killing, they take a different view. Besides, each thinks that he may have a better system than the others. Dropping explosives from a balloon is the precise counterpart on land of mines on the sea, which killed outright or drowned most of the crews of the Hatsuse and *the Petropavlovsk in a few minutes. Its terror lies in its novelty. The medieval nations, which used to rape women and give no quarter, adopted an agreement against the use of that ghastly innovation, chain-shot. We, who refuse even to tie prisoners together and care for the enemy’s wounded before our own, think nothing of grape and canister, which mangle and tear their victims.

The sooner an inventor finds a power by which all the fortifications of a port or an army corps can be destroyed at a blow, the betten It is the position and the power of modern weapons of destruction which is responsible for the universal peace which exists in the world to-day. The French, German, and Austrian armies now number few among their officers who have had a baptism of fire. The peace conference meets without a single war cloud on the horizon. The great European nations no longer enter lightly into war as they did in the old days of small, swashbuckling armies. Popular education is common, public opjnion is keen, and wood pulp is cheap. The old maxim that every generation must have its war is obsolete. European youth work off their bravado as conscripts on the drill grounds. The population who furnish the cannon food are not inclined to risk their lives and incur increased taxation without cause. No cabinet is going to the lengths of an ultimatum unless the people are with it. For war to-day more than it ever was before is a captain’s and a private’s fight; and to face the zipping of unseen bullets coming from smokeless rifles requires the backbone of a determined conviction that the object is worth gaining, beside which the old time

charge with the band playing was sheer animal impulse. The campaign for glory which painters illustrate is forever past. We are fighting by measuring the length of our swords without coming to blows. Each change in the ratios of physical strength means a readjustment of the powers which the prestidigitators of the foreign offices watch with concentrated gaze. The game is played with all the cards on the table; and that is the kind of game least likely to require the use of firearms.

In the battle of the budgets some nations have gained victories no less important because they were bloodless. The winners in the last decade were the United States, Germany, and Japan. England occupies a special position. She seems to be content to leave well enough alone.

In France, thanks to the patriotism of German mothers in bringing soldiers and producers into the. world, the ambition for “revenge” is as dead as the presidential ambition in the breast of David B. Hill. But with her army and navy she can command friendships to safeguard her frontier. She now joins Austria as a defensive factor. Both are too preoccupied at home to consider a march southward. Therefore Italy has ceased to compete in the contest of armies and increases her navy to protect her seacoast. Russia, once a check on Germany, has been forced to halt in military expansion. She has vast populations, but lacks cohesion, funds and organized productive power to keep up the pace which Alexander III set for her.

Germany, undisturbed by any third factor, could march to Vienna or to Paris ; she could take German Austria or the Russian Baltic Provinces. So the others form line against her, and the sum of their arms wins without a shot a victory as important as that of the allies against Napoleon. Unless the tenor of modern thought changes, no blood will be shed for sentiment or glory on the Continent of Europe. War will come with a change of the balance of power or the effort of Germany to get room

for her increasing population an«l a field for her broadening efficiency, or when England resists any threat or losing her naval supremacy. Such an eventuality belongs to future generations. There is no need of a peace conference in order to keep the peace from Gibraltar to the Baltic.

The great nations will fight away from home if they fight at all in our time. Stalemate on the Continent of Europe does not mean stalement in the Far East, which is the future battleground of the world. There a great movement is in progress ; there is the awakening of peoples who have yet to find themselves by the compass of war. Japan is strong and ambitious. Russia, fulfilling the destiny of her development, must press eastward. In any clash that comes the United States as a Pacific power is interested. We stand between the policy of remaining at home or stretching our muscles to our full strength, which would mean fifty battleships. It is the fact that we might build the fifty that makes us respected —not Mohonk conferences or brilliant expositions of the Monroe Doctrine.

We are peaceful. Oh, yes, very. We would vote unanimously that we were. So would the other nations. On a proposition to build no more battleships we would vote No. So would the other nations. Therefore, will the soldier delegates as they feed crumbs to the dove smile under their mustaches. They know that war will end at about the same time as animal life on this planet. It is the final expression of national entity If you look down the list of nations you will find that it is the .miserable and the unprogressive which have practised disarmament. Populations festering in degeneracy believe in the gospel of the white liver, the dragging step, and the fatty brain rather than the doctrine of the Big Stick. The anemic Koreans standing by the wayside as the Japanese army passed used to remark in a petulant, abstract, superior manner that it was rude and unfair to rob an ancient people of their country. Venezuela has small army

appropriations, but heavy “extraordinary war taxes.” The countries showing the largest increases in armament are the countries in which human organization is at its highest, in which the percentage of illiteracy is the lowest, and which lead the way in morals, culture, art, invention, scientific discovery, and every form of progress.

A strong arm and a sweet and reasonable temper form a golden rule for nations as well as men. If we had not had a strong arm, then Cuba would not have been freed, and if we had not a sweet and reasonable temper she might have only been delivered from one master to receive another. The eradication of the yellow fever from Havana, the redemption of

Egypt to prosperity and order, the schools at Khartum, the dam at Assouan, a common-school system in the Philippines, the awakening of China, and the opening of Japan could never have been brought about by peace conferences. These reforms are the products of a positive agency in a positive and material world. When Maxim invented a rapid-fire gun with which a pale unit of civilized society could mow down a company of Fuzzy Wuzzies it was a triumph for progress. Modern war, so largely waged with the intellect, has inherent humanities far outstripping the mercies of the Red Cross. It gives strength to those who know how best to use it for the good of the world.